A warm, sunny vacation is the perfect way to start the New Year, and what better a place than the Caribbean? High season on the islands is between December and early April, while low season runs between May and November. Bigger crowds during the winter months mean higher resort, hotel and airline prices and bookings fill up quickly, which deters some travelers from planning a trip in January. If you plan smart, though, you can visit the islands in the winter during a small window when crowds and prices are at their minimum, while enjoying mild weather and beautiful beaches.
If you know what to pack, what to expect and where to find the action, it’s definitely worth jet-setting to the Caribbean.
The Caribbean in January
Here’s a pleasant surprise for January vacationers: the best time to vacation in the Caribbean is actually between January 10 and the end of February. This is because Christmas crowds return home and many don’t return until spring, making air and hotel packages much cheaper.
Even though January is considered the weakest month for tourism, you should always book in advance if you plan on journeying to the Caribbean during that time. January is normally driven by cool, rainy and windy weather over large parts of the islands, but warmer, drier exceptions often drive large crowds there much earlier. Hotels aren’t as likely to fill up during this time, but if you book in advance, you can take part in many affordable early bird deals. In many cases, hotels and inns will slash up to 50% from their usual winter rates. Be sure to check out the latest Caribbean airfares, hotel rates and reviews before you head out—visit in the middle of January and try to fly during mid-week instead of the weekends for the best rates.
What to Pack
You’ll find mild weather throughout most of the Caribbean islands and Mexican Caribbean during the wintertime, with occasional cold bursts that usually don’t last long. The average temperatures range from 72°F (low) to 82°F (high) in areas around The Bahamas and Puerto Rico, with warmer temperatures the further south you go. For most travelers, this still constitutes beach weather, so pack whatever you feel is best for the beach. Just be sure to leave room for hiking or diving gear (whichever you prefer) and evening wear for late-night parties.
You might want to consider packing a sweater for nighttime chills. The temperatures can drop to the 60s the further inland you go, especially on mountainous islands like Cuba and Puerto Rico. January is also a rainy month for most of the Caribbean, so bring a raincoat. This is especially true if you’re heading to The Bahamas or Bermuda. And don’t forget sunscreen–even though the temperatures are cooler, the sun is just as strong.
What to Do & See
New Year’s Day is a major holiday in the Caribbean, with festivities at a high the first days of the month and then slowly waning as the month ends. However, January is still an exciting time on the islands if you know where to find the action.
If you are into large festivals and masquerades, join revelers at St. Kitts’ street parades that run the entire month or, the Mardi-Gras style Junkanoo Festival on The Bahamas runs until the New Year and features music and dance and special events, including a sailing regatta. Many islanders celebrate Carnival between February and March, but Aruba, Curaçao and St. Kitts celebrate throughout January. These are also places you might want to avoid if you want to cut costs, as the popularity of these festivities can drive up flight and hotel prices.
Barbados hosts the traditional Barbados Jazz Festival in January, a week-long event that features performers like Erykah Badu and Lee Ritenour. Performers set up venues in plantation homes, rum factories and the island’s national park. Music-lovers can also rejoice in the Blues Festival held on the island of Mustique.
Anglers should check out the Billfish Tournament in Grenada, which includes a boat parade, dinner and prizes for the best boats and heaviest fish caught. If you stay into February, you can even join the Mid-Winter Wahoo in The Bahamas—a fishing event especially beloved among Floridians in the United States.
Beaches & Diving
If you’re looking for warm beaches, consider going to South Caribbean destinations like Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts and St. Lucia. Aruba is also a good choice if you don’t mind the higher prices and bigger crowds. Ocean temperatures range from 75°F in The Bahamas and Puerto Rico and up to 79°F further south.
The best water visibility in the Caribbean ranges from January to August, making it a diver’s paradise. The Cayman Islands offer laid-back Caribbean charm and top-notch diving locations, including coral reefs, shipwrecks and underwater hydrothermal vents. For those traveling to the Central American Caribbean, consider diving in Belize. January is spawning time for groupers and their schools are mesmerizing for underwater explorers. Belize is also home to one of the largest sea holes in the world.
Best Caribbean Destinations to Visit
If you’re heading to the Caribbean in January, know which islands to go to in order to make the most of your winter stay. Resorts in the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia offer rooms for a fraction of the price during busy season.
Or, Cancún offers bargain flights during this time of the year and from there you can head out to Cancún’s famous beachfront resorts or take a short drive to Cozumel or Playa del Carmen.
For those who want to evade the crowds, choose a destination without a range of famous luxury resorts, which usually drive up prices and bring in lots of tourists throughout the year. Quieter islands like Bonaire, Anguilla and St. John are a good option for snorkeling, hiking opportunities and wonderfully warm beaches.
What to Know Before You Go
Be aware that businesses and attractions are closed for New Year’s Day and Three King’s Day on Puerto Rico and other Christian and majority-Catholic islands. Some restaurants and hotels close for the off-season, so it’s always best to check with the resort or hotel before booking.