If there was ever a winter to take a break, it is surely this one. The viral gloom has gone on long enough; once lockdown is lifted, the idea of a carefree week or two lying on a tropical beach will surely be more enticing than ever.
Suddenly, instead of something to avoid because of the potential health risks, long-haul travel looks like something to embrace – a much-needed escape from a grim reality. And, just for once, there has been some good news for winter sun-seekers in the past couple of weeks. The Seychelles and – most importantly from a budget point of view – the Canary Islands have all been added to the Government’s “green list” of destinations, which means that you don’t have to quarantine on your return.
But, can either of these quite match the appeal of the Caribbean? Surely nowhere has a better winter climate – reliable sunshine, tropical temperatures eased by the sea breeze and a balmy sea in which to cool off. And when it comes to the pandemic, you can take heart from the fact that the region has been fortunate enough to escape quite lightly so far. Certainly, infection rates are generally much lower than here.
But where should you head? That’s the point of this week’s Caribbean special: our expert writers review the best options, including our top 10 best Caribbean holidays this winter. Nigel Tisdall reports back from Barbados, which has tempered its quarantine rules to allow tourists to stay in their resorts. James Henderson reviews the newest plantation hotels and ponders their troubled history. And Michelle Jana Chan visits the exclusive hideaway of St Barts with its mix of billionaires and bohemians. Plus, we pick out the best birdwatching holidays in the region and give you the latest news on Covid-19 quarantines and restrictions across all the islands (see below).
If you are tempted, and you are thinking of travelling in peak season, don’t delay your booking too long. Tour operators are reporting brisk business, and Christmas, New Year and the February half term are already quite heavily sold. For early December, however, the prospects of finding a deal to take you away from all this doom and gloom are looking pretty good.
From tourist corridors to testing – stay up to speed
Thirteen Caribbean countries and territories – around half the region’s total – are currently on the British Government’s green lists, being both exempt from advice against international travel and not requiring quarantine on return to England. (Among those not featured on these lists are the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.)
Each island has different protocols for arriving passengers, which you will need to consider before booking. You will find it much easier to keep up to speed with this if you book a package holiday with a tour operator specialising in the Caribbean. Consider Caribtours (020 7751 0660; caribtours.co.uk), Tropic Breeze (01752 880880; tropicbreeze.co.uk), Just Grenada (01373 814214; justgrenada.co.uk), Just Bequia (justbequia.co.uk), Elegant Resorts (01244 897581; elegantresorts.co.uk) and Carrier (0161 464 7842; carrier.co.uk).
As well as being well versed on the latest protocols, these companies also offer the reassurance of working with tried-and-tested local agents on their most popular islands, and they should have inside-out knowledge of the destinations and every hotel they feature. They are also promising to be as flexible as possible with bookings.
To visit most Caribbean countries from the UK, you will need evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken before you fly. Tour operators can suggest testing facilities in Britain.
Before choosing which island to visit, be clear about any quarantine and second test requirements. Coming from the UK, these are needed on Barbados but not Antigua or St Lucia.
If heading to a country where you are required to quarantine at an approved hotel for the initial days of your holiday, you might want to add a few extra days to your trip to compensate. Be sure about the hotel’s quarantine arrangements. Will you be confined to your bedroom? If so, make sure it is a nice one with its own terrace or balcony.
All-inclusive breaks on some islands are very popular. Opt for somewhere with a good choice of dining included.
How much will you be able to explore beyond your hotel? On St Lucia, you are not permitted to do so independently, but have to take organised excursions. In Cuba, access is not permitted to some areas, such as Havana, and in Barbados, Antigua and Grenada, should you opt to take a Covid test after four days of your stay and test negative, there are no extra restrictions on where you can go.
For privacy and isolation, consider a villa. Barbados has a good choice of Covid-certified properties.
Consider a hotel on a private island. There are options in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands, and Jumby Bay, off Antigua.
Tour operators are saying that demand for Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados over peak periods in the coming months is high, because of the perception that the islands are a safe bet and that some rival Caribbean islands and other destinations (think Florida, for example) are off limits.