Vacationers considering traveling to the Caribbean are understandably wary of hurricanes. In recent years especially, the news seems to be full of Atlantic hurricanes battering one or more Caribbean islands.
However, the risk of encountering a hurricane varies greatly from time to time and from place to place. Learning more about the nuances of hurricane timing and location will enable you to make more informed Caribbean travel decisions.
One option to consider if you're interested in a Caribbean vacation is a cruise that travels to multiple locations rather than just one specific island. The advantage of traveling on a cruise ship is that it can be flexible and alter its route if there is the possibility of running into a hurricane. You might visit slightly different islands or visit them in a slightly different order, but your vacation won’t be cancelled or ruined. So that’s one possibility to keep in mind.
But aside from that, let’s look a little more closely at when and where Atlantic hurricanes strike, starting with the when.
Hurricane season runs from June through November. This is a conventional designation, not a hard and fast rule. It’s not like hurricanes can happen on June 1 and November 30 but are impossible on May 31 and December 1. But at least it provides a good idea of when hurricanes are most likely.
Within that range, hurricane season has an early peak in June, drops down a bit in July and August, climbs in September past its June totals, reaches a bigger peak in October, and falls off substantially in November. Outside of hurricane season, the few hurricanes that do occur are usually in May or December.
Note that time of year and location are related. Early in the season (June and the smattering of hurricanes before June), storms most often form in the western part of the Caribbean. (Keep in mind that hurricanes pretty much always travel east to west - one exception in the last 113 years - and south to north, so once it’s west or north of a given location, that location is out of its path.) By July, more storms form in the east, around the Lesser Antilles. During August and September, plenty of hurricanes form in both the west and the east, and then as it gets into October and climbs to a peak, the primary location for hurricane formation shifts back to the west.
Hurricanes rarely form in the southern portion of the Caribbean, and since hurricanes move northward, if they don’t form there they don’t pass over there either.
So to put it in terms of specific safe - or at least safer - areas, you’ll rarely encounter a hurricane in the southern Caribbean islands down near South America. So, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, etc.
As you get a bit north of there, in the east by south east portion of the Caribbean around Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, etc., hurricanes become more of an issue. But mostly not during those aforementioned months where the bulk of the hurricanes form in the west. July through September are the riskiest months for this part of the Caribbean.
Even farther north, the Bahamas and the other islands in that area are the worst part of the Caribbean for hurricanes, though again there’s not so much of a risk during those months where hurricanes mostly form in the western Caribbean.
A couple of final hurricane-related points to keep in mind when planning a Caribbean vacation: One, even if you choose wisely and travel at a time and to a location where a hurricane is highly unlikely, see about getting a hurricane guarantee just in case there’s a fluke storm after all. What this does is provide you reimbursement if your trip is disrupted by a hurricane.
Two, most people aren’t going to research all the ins and outs of hurricane likelihood. They’ll just shy away from the Caribbean during hurricane season. Therefore, there tend to be a lot of good deals during these months, not just when the risk is higher, but when casual travelers falsely think it’s higher. You may be able to pick an island and a month where you have only slightly more chance of encountering a hurricane than having an asteroid land on your head, yet the trip will be priced as low as if it were at a time of peak hurricane risk.