7 Tropical Spots to Visit Before Hurricane Season Hits
Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, so travelers dreaming of a tropical getaway should fly there fast, while the weather is still dry and not too hot.
Best of all, as spring break travel tapers off, it's the shoulder season, making it a perfect time to score flight and hotel breaks and have the beach all to yourself. Here are the best tropical spots to visit before it starts to rain.
Puerto Rico has made an amazing recovery since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Not only have most hotels and tourist attractions re-opened, but some are even better than before. One example is Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which was back in business about a year after the storm hit and features luminous suites with floor-to-ceiling windows, expansive ocean views and outdoor showers.
The island has serious ambiance off the resort circuit, too. The creative Santurce area just outside of Old San Juan has electric street art and vibrant nightlife. For nature enthusiasts, there's El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. Though it's still recovering from the hurricane, the forest is open and receiving visitors as usual.
Getting There: Flying to Puerto Rico from many US hubs is easy -- and because it's a US territory, you won't even need a passport. If you want to fly in style (think: a lie-flat seat in business class) . American operates a Boeing 767-300 with these seats from Miami (MIA) and Philadelphia (PHL), while United operates its B/E Aerospace Diamond-fit Boeing 767-400ER between Newark (EWR) and San Juan (SJU).
You don't have to fret about rain when heading to Aruba; it's one of the sunniest islands in the Caribbean. Although it's not the cheapest destination on this list, visiting in the "low" season in May means you may get a deal on hotel room rates. And there are a number of points hotels to choose from, thank to representation from major brands like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. Wildlife lovers, for example, should stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, where flamingos roam the beach.
AvGeeks should make a detour to the Barefoot restaurant in Oranjestad for lunch. Here, you'll dine on the beach, admiring both the crashing waves as well as the jumbo jets landing at the airport nearby.
Getting There: Carriers like American, Delta and United all serve Aruba, but the TPG way would be to fly in JetBlue's flagship Mint lie-flat seat from either Boston (BOS) or New York-JFK. Although the airline mostly flies planes without Mint, you can usually fly once per week on an aircraft with Mint service from each East Coast city.
This Caribbean island sits directly at the center of the hurricane belt, so it's best to visit in the shoulder season, with the bonus of lower prices and fewer crowds. While the new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana resorts won't be open until November 2019, travelers with Hyatt points looking for a boutique resort are in luck. Hyatt recently expanded its relationship with Small Luxury Hotels, adding two new properties within the country to its portfolio: the Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences (Samana) and the Casas del XVI (Santo Domingo). Redemptions start at 25,000 points per night for each hotel.
Getting There: Fly on large US carriers like Delta, American, United and JetBlue -- or try for a deal on low-cost Spirit. The airline has May airfare prices as low as $217 roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale (FLL).
The Riviera Maya is a dream for travelers seeking sunshine and sandy beaches. Although it may not offer much in the way of authentic Mexican culture, there are endless options for points hotels in spots like Cancún and the resort town of Playa del Carmen. Once you're there, escape the monotony of the hotel zones by visiting nearby Mayan ruins or cenotes, the area's natural swimming holes. To get off the beaten path, head to Isla Holbox, a tiny island that still retains some local charm; or Puerto Morelos, which has a family-friendly town center and a sprawling sandy beach.
Getting There: All the major air carriers fly to Cancún, but United operates its Boeing 777 between Chicago (ORD) and Cancún (CUN) with fully lie-flat seats in business class on Saturdays for a more luxurious flying experience. TPG suggests booking your airport transfer or organizing your car rental ahead of time to avoid being bombarded by drivers and timeshare reps when exiting the airport.
With more than 450 islands and islets (cayes, as they're called in Belize) scattered across the Belize Barrier Reef, travelers are spoiled for choice when visiting this tropical destination. The only Central American country where English is the official language, it's easy to get around -- either by boat to many of the cayes or by car to resort towns like Placencia or Hopkins, down south.
With several eco-hotels and a recent ban on single-use plastics, the country is working hard to keep its reef healthy and teeming with marine life. For deep sea dives, head to the famous blue hole. Here, snorkelers can see a variety of fish, stingrays and sharks in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Getting There: In May, there are some incredible award prices on American Airlines through its economy web specials. Think: 7,500 miles one-way from Miami (MIA) to Belize (BZE).
This island nation received a record-breaking number of tourists in 2018: more than 6.6 million, up from from 6.13 million in 2017. To dodge the rising tide of tourists, it's best to visit in May. With new-ish properties like the Rosewood Baha Mar, The Other Side and the Bahama House, travelers can bed down at a number of luxe properties. Prefer to pay for your stay in points? Consider the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar or a resort at the Atlantis (part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection).
Some of the most popular attractions in the Bahamas include swimming with pigs, dolphins and nurse sharks. Just be sure to interact with these animals and their habitats as responsibly and respectfully as possible. If you'd prefer a more hands-off way of seeing wildlife, snorkel or dive in the Andros Barrier reef (the third-largest fringe reef in the world), where you can see 160 species of coral and fish, plus impressive wrecks and a blue hole called the Lair of Lusca.
Getting There: JetBlue offers nonstop connections to Nassau from the East Coast including Boston (BOS), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), New York-JFK, Orlando (MCO) and Washington, DC (DCA). American operates nonstop routes to Nassau from cities like Philadelphia, Miami and Charlotte and seasonal service from Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and the capital. Using British Airways Avios (an American Express and Chase transfer partner) may give you a better deal on American flights than when using AAdvantage miles.
US Virgin Islands
A set of several islands and islets, the largest being St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island and St. Croix, this is another destination US travelers can visit without packing a passport. Although not all of the island's hotels and resorts are completely up and running after sustaining damage during hurricanes Irma and Maria, visitors will notice a resurgence of tourism and construction across the islands, and your visit can help support further recovery. In fact, a study by Airbnb in late 2018 showed that tourists reservations for the US Virgin Islands were up 600%.
All sorts of new additions are popping up around the islands. Many of the 400 historical buildings on St. Thomas are getting a facelift and St. John has a new eco-friendly swim-up taco bar called Lime Out. While there aren't a lot of points hotels on the islands, there's a Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, and the Westin St. John Resort Villas reopened in January 2019.
Getting There: The Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas will soon begin a $230-million renovation project. You can fly there on Delta, American and JetBlue, as well as low-cost carrier Spirit. From there, you can easily get to the other islands via ferry.