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What NOT to Do on a Caribbean Vacation

Don't let cultural faux pas, bad planning, or judgement errors ruin your trip


There’s plenty of information out there on what you should do when you are traveling to the Caribbean: what to see, where to go, what to eat, etc. But there also are some pitfalls to avoid -- cultural and otherwise -- if you want to make your vacation as pleasant and conflict-free as it can be:

Don’t overpack.

© Heather Poole via Flikr Creative Commons
One or two nice outfits for evening should be more than sufficient for more Caribbean vacations. The rest should consist mostly of light shirts, shorts, and bathing suits. Especially with checked-bag fees, you’ll want to err on the side of packing light. Plus, you’ll need to save some room for souvenirs, right?

Don’t forget the sunscreen.

© Tom Newby Photography via Flickr
Skin cancer is one Caribbean souvenir you don’t want. You can easily get a sunburn in less than half an hour down here, so never leave you skin unprotected.

Don't wear camouflage clothing.

© Wikipedia
A number of Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, Jamaica, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia, ban the wearing of camouflage by non-members of their military. So unless you want to be fined (or drafted), leave those camo shorts home. Plus, why would you want to wear them to the beach, anyway?

Don’t expect “beach weather” all year round in Bermuda and the Bahamas.

© The Reefs
Despite their Caribbean vibe, these Atlantic (yes, Atlantic) islands are subject to cooler temperatures in the summer, not to mention that the water can get chilly in the off-season. (Ditto for the Florida Keys.) Of course, the weather in Bermuda and the Bahamas is likely to be milder and more pleasant than up north in January or February, but you should at least have a “plan B” as an alternative to the beach if you visit these destinations in the winter, whether that’s playing golf or tennis, getting pampered at a spa, shopping, going on hikes or tours, or visiting local museums or historic sites.

Don’t spend all of your time at your resort.

© Loimere via Flikr
Caribbean culture is rich and diverse, but you won’t necessarily find it at your hotel pool or buffet line. Get out of your perceived comfort zone, go into town, meet some people, have a drink, eat some street food, explore!

Don’t make a beeline for the most familiar foods on the hotel buffet or menu.

© Ritcharnd Moskow via Wikipedia
From ackee and salt cod for breakfast to mofongo for lunch and conch ceviche at dinnertime (not to mention a bountiful selection of fresh, local tropical fruit), the Caribbean has a rich culinary heritage to explore. You can get plenty of scrambled eggs and bacon at home -- be adventurous!

Don't wear your bathing suit into town or, worse, to church.

© paellaking via Flickr
Believe it or not, the Caribbean can a pretty conservative place, which you’ll see on Sunday mornings when local residents dress to the max to attend church services. It varies from island to island, but generally speaking it is frowned upon to wear revealing beach gear when you aren’t on the beach. At least throw on a cover-up or a t-shirt, and if you do plan to attend church, long pants (or skirts) plus a button-down shirt or modest top are most appropriate. Also, it should go without saying, but ... ditto for topless or bottomless!

Don't expect everyone to party with you.

© glennharper via Flickr
Again, don’t mistake the party atmosphere at your resort or at the bar as the norm everywhere. Caribbean residents don’t all have a perpetual rum buzz, and not everyone is getting high and listening to reggae. Most are hard-working and -- while warm and fun-loving by nature -- save their partying for weekends or after work ... just like you do back home.

Don’t assume everyone in the Caribbean speaks English.

© Steve Bennett via Uncommon Caribbean
In some countries, yes, but even in popular destinations like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, a majority of locals speak only Spanish -- particularly outside tourist areas -- and in the French Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc.) it really helps to know at least a few words of French.

Don’t be shy about haggling with beach merchants and in local markets.

© Jemingway via Flikr
The initial price on those souvenir t-shirts and crafts at the Straw Market in Nassau and elsewhere is always set higher than vendors expect to receive, and frankly the tourist who pays full price is looked at as a bit of a rube. Look to pay at least 20 percent less than the asking price.

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