The Caribbean is a fun-loving destination that, at its best, combines the laid-back atmosphere of island life with with the sizzling passion of Latin culture. From Aruba to Puerto Rico to Cancun, you'll find nightclubs pumping out hot dance music like salsa and soca till the sun comes up, and even smaller islands have weekly beach parties where locals and tourists can drink and dance all night (to learn more -- including which parties are safe for visitors -- ask your hotel concierge).
Of course, the hottest Caribbean party of all is Carnival, the biggest social event of the year and an opportunity for island residents and visitors to let loose before the solemn Easter season begins. Carnival is legendary for its skimpy and sexy costumes, rum-fueled parades and parties, and, yes, casual hookups (there's a reason Carnival bands include condoms in their "survival kits" for marchers, after all).
Prostitution and Sex Tourism
Prostitution is illegal in most Caribbean destinations, but there are two notable exceptions: the Dutch Caribbean islands and the Dominican Republic. Unbeknownst to most tourists, Bonaire, St. Maarten and Curacao have legal brothels; the biggest is the Campo Alegre Adult Resort in Curacao, which has been in business for half a century and can have up to 150 girls available for liaisons on a given evening. The "Happy Camp" does attract some tourists as well as locals, and even welcomes women and couples on Tuesday nights.
In the Dominican Republic, prostitution is also legal, and there are a number of resorts that cater to (male) tourists with the offer of willing female companionship along with a pool, beach bar, and other "amenities." In tourist destinations like Sosua (Puerto Plata) and Cabarete, men and women alike may encounter prostitutes offering their services in nightclubs, bars, etc.
The movie "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" helped shed light on the issue of female sex tourism in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Barbados and Cuba. Some women travel to the islands with the intention of seeking out a holiday fling with a "beach boy," and some local men are more than willing to accommodate them in exchange for gifts or money. Women may have romantic notions about such liaisons, but locals often view these hookups disparagingly: older white women who seek out younger black lovers in Jamaica, for example, are known as "milk bottles" for the color of their skin and their need to be (ful)filled.
The Dark Side of Sex in the Caribbean: HIV/AIDS and Other Dangers
The morality of paying for sex is endlessly debatable: some view the Dutch model of tolerance as simple acceptance of the world's oldest profession, while others look at the huge economic disparities between Caribbean prostitutes and their foreign clients and see a clear-cut case of exploitation. Experts estimate, for example, that tens of thousands of Dominican girls are driven into prostitution by simple economic need, and the island nation is seen as one of the biggest exporters of prostitutes in the world.
The wisdom of any sexual encounter in the Caribbean also needs to be weighed against the very real risks of disease, sexual violence, or worse. The Caribbean has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world: at least 230,000 people in the region have the disease. The same kind of question applies to encounters with fellow travelers you may find attractive but whose sexual past is a mystery: Just how much do you think you know about this person you are about to sleep with?
As in any sexually charged setting involving alcohol and relative strangers, the risk of violence also is a consideration. To prevent problems:
- Mind your alcohol use. A few drinks may serve as an icebreaker, but getting drunk lowers your inhibitions and awareness -- not a good combination when in a foreign country and/or in the company of strangers
- Keep an eye on your drink to prevent it from being spiked with a so-called "date rape" drug
- Don't go to bars or nightclubs alone. Clubbing with friends is best; if you're traveling solo, consider the hotel's own bar or nightclub, where you'll at least be within easy reach of your own room or staff members able to assist a guest who runs into trouble.
- Avoid going into secluded areas with someone you barely know. Always let someone know where you are going before you go.
- Carry a working cell phone (your phone from back home may not work in the Caribbean) and enough money for cab fare if a date doesn't work out or you need to escape from an uncomfortable situation.