Myth: Caribbean people are always laid back and slow moving.
Reality: Puerto Rico is one of the pharmaceutical capitals of the world, and Trinidad is a major player in the energy industry, so clearly these workers aren't laying around in the sun all day. Yes, life proceeds at a slower pace in the Caribbean, but the people who work in hotels and restaurants in the Caribbean are as industrious as anyone. For many, these jobs are a lifeline for their family, some of the best work around.
Anyway, do you really want to bring your fast-paced habits and expectations on vacation with you? Chill out a bit: your drinks will come soon enough!
Myth: Everyone in the Caribbean smokes marijuana and drinks rum.
Reality: Marijuana (ganga) use is part of Rastafarian culture and religion, which has its roots in Jamaica. However, most Caribbean people do not smoke marijuana, which is illegal everywhere in the region, including Jamaica.
More people in the Caribbean drink rum, and rum shops serve as social gathering spots on many islands. Many of the best rums on earth come from the Caribbean. But, just like everywhere else, most people in the Caribbean drink in moderation, and some don't drink at all.
Myth: Only one type of ethnicity exists in the Caribbean (black).
Reality: The descendants of African slaves usually make up the majority population on Caribbean islands, but you'll also find people who are of white, Indian, Chinese, native American, or mixed descent who are born and raised in the islands. Some destinations, like Trinidad and Tobago, are particularly known as cultural melting pots.
Myth: Spanish is the main language on most Caribbean islands.
Reality: The language you're most likely to encounter on most Caribbean islands is English. Even on those islands where Spanish is the primary tongue (such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic), you will often encounter people -- particularly those in the hospitality industry -- who speak English as a second language. In a few parts of the Caribbean, the primary language is French.
Myth: Everyone in the Caribbean speaks with a Jamaican accent (yeah, mon).
Reality: They may all sound alike to tourists, but every Caribbean island has its own accent, local patois, and slang words. People from the Caribbean can instantly tell where someone is from in the region by the way they speak.
Myth: Caribbean destinations are all basically the same.
Reality: Every Caribbean has its own unique culture and quirks, and of course the geography and level of touristic development varies widely, as well. Laid-back Jamaica is a much, much different place than upscale (and some might say, snooty) St. Barts, for example, and there's little similarity between the lushly forested Dominica and the desert islands of Aruba and Curacao.
Myth: It’s boring in the Caribbean: the only thing to do is lay on the beach and sip tropical cocktails.
Reality: So what's wrong with drinking rum on the beach? For some people, that's exactly why they want to go to the Caribbean, and there are some islands that cater to the notion that your vacation should be all about doing nothing. However, it would take you months or years before you ran out of new places to explore or restaurants to experience in places like the Mexican Caribbean, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, or the Dominican Republic.
Myth: It's really hot everywhere in the Caribbean in the summer.
Reality: While you may be sweating through a muggy summer up north, the trade winds are blowing through Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Even when it's hot in the summer, many islands lack the humidity that can make an August day in New York City so unbearable.
Myth: You can't travel to the Caribbean in hurricane season.
Reality: If you like to save money, this is the best time to travel to the Caribbean. Yes, there's more of a risk of rain during hurricane season, but the odds are pretty slim that you'll actually get caught in a tropical storm or hurricane.
And, keep in mind that the Caribbean Sea stretches from the coast of Central America and South America to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, and Trinidad -- a huge geographic area. Even when a storm is hitting one island, the weather can be bright and sunny in all the others. Also, some islands rarely ever get hit by hurricanes.
Myth: Food at all Caribbean all-inclusive resorts is bad.
Reality: This probably was true at one time, but today you can find all-inclusive options to fit all tastes and budgets, including gourmet food at all-inclusive private-island resorts. Some all-inclusives still earn their reputation for subpar food, but in most places you can at least get something decent to eat for breakfast and lunch.
Most all-inclusives also offer so-called "speciality" restaurants serving Italian, Asian, etc., as an alternative to the buffet for dinner. When in doubt, eat out: you're probably still saving money when you factor in the included drinks and activities at an all-inclusive hotel.
Myth: When you go to a resort in the Caribbean, never leave the property: it’s too dangerous.
Reality: There is crime everywhere in the world, but Caribbean travelers are rarely the targets of violent crime. Petty theft is not unheard of, but most can be prevented if you take some common-sense precautions, like locking your car and carrying money in a front pocket.
There is plenty of poverty in the Caribbean, yes, and living conditions may seem shocking at times. But most Caribbean people are friendly, and you're missing out on a great cultural experience if you spend your whole trip hiding behind your hotel walls.
Myth: There is only one type of music in the Caribbean – reggae.
Reality: You will hear Bob Marley songs almost everywhere in the Caribbean, it's true. Reggae (and reggaeton) remains popular in beach bars and dance clubs, but you'll also hear soca, merengue, calypso, timba, salsa, bachata, and -- for better or worse -- plenty of American and locally produced pop music.
Myth: You shouldn’t drink the water in the Caribbean, you’ll get sick; only drink bottled water.
Reality: You can drink the water right from the tap in most Caribbean locations.
Myth: Caribbean waters are full of dangerous sharks, so don’t go swimming.
Reality: You'll rarely if ever see a shark when you are snorkeling or diving over a Caribbean reef (which is where most visitors go), and if you do it's usually a small, harmless species.
Myth: Caribbean travel carries a high risk of catching a tropical disease.
Reality: Outbreaks of tropical diseases like malaria or dengue fever are not unknown, but most tourist areas are sprayed for mosquitos, which helps prevent the spread of these diseases. It's rare for a Caribbean visitor to return home with any sort of tropical illness; the biggest threat to your health you'll likely encounter is the risk of sunburn.
Still worried? Check the Center for Disease Control's Travel Health warnings for breaking news on tropical-disease outbreaks.