September in the Caribbean is beautiful: The summer heat and rains have abated, the humidity is low, and skies are robin's-egg blue, dotted with the occasional cottony cloud. Indeed, September would one of the most ideal times to visit the Caribbean if it weren't in the height of hurricane season.
Fueled by moist air rising off warm water, hurricanes swirl into the region from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year. Statistically, the odds are excellent that you'll enjoy a sunny, hurricane-free holiday, but with a forecast of an estimated 8 to 12 hurricanes for the 2010 Atlantic Ocean season, there's always a chance that your vacation could coincide with one of them.
With that in mind, are some islands safer than others? What of the "hurricane belt" -- the so-called line of demarcation separating hurricane-prone islands and those islands that rarely get a hit?
"There is no such thing as a hurricane belt," says Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center. "I hear this all the time: 'Oh, Aruba never gets hits.' Oh yeah? Hurricanes can and will hit most anywhere in the Caribbean."
But experts say this is no reason to stay away. "September is a great time to visit the Caribbean," says Feltgen. "The rates are great, the weather's terrific, the water the perfect temperature." And more and more hotels are staying open year-round, including the venerable Cap Juluca (www.capjuluca.com) on Anguilla. If you do decide to visit the Caribbean in high hurricane season, keep the following 5 tips in mind:
1. Don't go without travel insurance. Feltgen says that the most important thing you can do if you plan to visit in peak hurricane season (the month of September and early October) is buy travel insurance. Specifically, you'll want to get trip-cancellation insurance, which ensures that travelers who have purchased advance airline or cruise tickets and arranged hotel stays will be fully compensated if a storm prevents them from traveling. Recommended insurers include Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/228-9792; www.travelexinsurance.com), Access America (tel. 800/284-8300; www.accessamerica.com), Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com), or Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com).
2. Even indirect hits can wreak havoc. "We always say that a hurricane is not a dot on the map," say Feltgen. "Just because the eye of the hurricane doesn't pass directly over an island doesn't mean it won't be affected by the storm." Hurricanes can sprawl over hundreds of miles of land and sea mass. High winds, heavy rains, and storm-surge flooding can occur even on those islands touched by the storm's outer bands. Check with the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) to determine whether the island you plan to visit will be affected in any way.
3. Read the fine print on any hurricane guarantees. Some resorts offer a hurricane guarantee, but be sure to read and understand the fine print before you go. You may get only a portion of your money back or you may be offered a voucher for a future stay just for those nights your trip was affected.
4. Some Caribbean destinations do get fewer hits by hurricanes, thanks to sheer geographic luck. The South American Caribbean coastline is less frequently affected, Feltgen says, although again, there have been exceptions. And the islands in the southernmost Caribbean -- Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago -- statistically see less hurricane action than their northern neighbors.
5. Don't go incommunicado. It's always a pleasure to unplug on your island holiday, but you don't want to be so out of the communications loop that you're not up on the latest info regarding any impending storms. As sophisticated as satellite imaging and hurricane tracking have become, in some cases you may not have five days of advance warning. Storms form closer and pretty quickly along Mexico's east coast in October, for example. And storms can strengthen or weaken or veer off course depending on the conditions.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Caribbean & the Atlantic Forum.