When it comes to weather, the Caribbean is renowned for having arguably the most desirable climate on the planet, with temperatures a gorgeous 24-29°C year round. It’s never cold, never roasting, and rain falls to a fairly predictable rhythm – keeping these tropical islands lush and leafy. The best time to visit the Caribbean is generally considered to be December-April, when it’s slightly cooler (particularly in the northern Caribbean), drier and less humid, and tourists flock to escape the northern winter. May-November can be soggy, with hurricanes possible from July-October – though these are rare in the far south, such as Trinidad and Tobago and the ABC Islands.
Within this, though, the best time to visit the Caribbean will vary depending on your interests, budget and island. Nesting turtles, migrating birds and submarine species all have their favoured seasons. Additionally, May-June and late November-early December provide cheaper rates and fewer crowds – while still experiencing good weather for you to enjoy on a beach virtually empty of other tourists.
Best time to visit the Caribbean
WHERE TO GO & WHAT TO DO
Greater Antilles, inc. Jamaica, Dominican Republic.
Hugely popular due to their proximity to the USA, abundance of cheap flights and accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, the Caribbean’s largest islands are bustling from Christmas to spring break, with another peak season in the summer holidays for families. Aug-Sep is the main hurricane season, with big ones hitting roughly every decade, and rains lasting through til November. Winters are pleasantly cooler, with a minimum of 20°C.
As frosty relations with the US finally begin to thaw, Cuba is poised for a change. If you want to witness the island of your imagination, the best time to visit Cuba is, quite simply, now. For the best weather, March-mid April are warm, sunny and mostly dry – before the rains begin in May, with hurricanes a risk from Aug-Oct. Jan-Feb are cooler but generally cheaper than the Christmas and Easter peaks. The further east you go, the hotter, wetter and stormier it gets.
Leeward Islands, inc. Virgin Islands, Antigua, St Kitts These islands enjoy balmy winters with an average temperature of 27°C – mid-Dec – mid-April are the peak months, with Nov and early Dec offering slightly cheaper rates but good weather. The Leeward Islands experience heavy rains from July-November, and lie squarely in the path of hurricanes – though the trade winds keep temperatures more pleasant during the summer than elsewhere in the Caribbean, and prices are low.
Windward Islands, inc. St Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique The Caribbean’s littlest islands follow a typically Caribbean weather pattern, with Dec-April the peak months (drier, cooler, less humid) – and Sep-Oct the most prolific for hurricanes, with rains starting in June. More mountainous islands, including St Lucia and Dominica, experience higher rainfall than those at a lower elevation – though this does make them lusher and lovelier for birdlife and waterfalls.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, formerly known as the Dutch Antilles, sit well inside the Caribbean, off Venezuela’s north coast. Consequently, they are far south of the hurricane belt and enjoy a much drier climate. This is a brilliant spot for an off-peak Caribbean holiday as April-August are warm but tempered by trade winds, with no storms, few visitors, no cruise ships and low prices. The winds are also fantastic for windsurfers.
Sitting between the cooler climes of North and South America, the Caribbean Islands attract birds from both continents. Though colourful species can be seen year round, South American migrants visit from May to September, while North American species are more likely to be seen from October to March – with Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and St Lucia the region’s birding hotspots.
Hiking Muddy trails, high humidity and downright soggy weather mean that the storm season is not the best time to visit the Caribbean if you’re planning to do hiking or nature walks – late autumn to early summer offer much more pleasant conditions. Unfortunately, the hillier regions that offer the best walking (St Lucia, Dominican Republic, eastern Cuba) also attract the most rain – but this “liquid sunshine” can be a relief from the heat – and replenishes the waterfalls and natural pools.
The Caribbean Sea is always deliciously warm, of course, but visibility is at its best from January-August, with May-July offering the best conditions throughout most of the region. Cuba’s waters are calmer from December-April, thought whale sharks are most common in November. The dry and breezy ABC Islands have incredible diving but are sheltered from the worst of the weather – so diving takes place year-round.
Each year from March-September, hawksbill, green and giant leatherback sea turtles haul their huge bodies onto sandy beaches up and down the Caribbean, with nesting peaking in April-June – and hatchlings emerging a couple of months later. Trinidad is a particular hotspot, though St Lucia, the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, among others, also offer turtle tours and conservation programmes.
A riot of colour and culture, carnival is a love it or hate it experience. Preparations start after Christmas, so one option is to come in January to enjoy the rehearsals – without the full blown spectacle. If you do visit one of the islands with the biggest celebrations – particularly Trinidad, but also Dominica and Martinique – then book well in advance and be prepared for steep prices. The region isn’t shy of a good knees-up though, so you can catch other festivals throughout the year.