This fall may go down as one of the worst for Caribbean islands that were pummeled by multiple hurricanes — not to mention the devastating wildfires in California. For weeks we’ve seen images on the news of wrecked beaches, downed power lines and people in need of basic resources. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit these beautiful destinations.
Virtuoso travel expert Misty Belles revealed to TODAY that despite travelers being afraid of using up valuable resources in these hard-hit places, tourism is their lifeblood. People's livelihoods depend on visitors, and ultimately that influx of spending helps the area's recovery.
But before you go, Belles shares her top tips to consider before traveling to impacted areas:
If you’re headed to the Caribbean...
Though the hurricanes caused significant devastation, only 25 percent of Caribbean destinations were affected. The Caribbean consists of more than 7,000 islands, and only seven were heavily damaged with long-term rebuilding underway, including Anguilla, Barbuda, Dominica, St. Barts, St. Martin, British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It’s important to look for places where the infrastructure (airports, ports, roads, hospitals) have been restored,” says Belles. “Visiting recovering Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico is really about opportunities to help the people rebuild since much of the island is still without electricity, running on generators.”
If you’re looking to have a holiday in the region, consider one of the unaffected Caribbean islands like St. Lucia, Aruba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grand Cayman or Curacao. “These are all Caribbean islands that had minor damage and reopened quickly,” says Belles. “ And if you're waiting to book holiday travel to see if rates will come down, don't. High demand plus less inventory equals no discounting.”
For the latest updates on Caribbean islands impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, visit caribbeantravelupdate.com.
For more information on meaningful travel to the Island, including details on open attractions, hotels, most popular restaurants and more, visit SeePuertoRico.com. Additional details on “Rebuild Days” and volunteerism opportunities will be updated throughout the end of the year.
If you're headed to the Florida Keys...
“The Florida Keys Overseas Highway is in great shape,” says Belles. “Power, water and communications have been restored. Key West's southernmost point marker has been repaired after Irma, airports (Key West and Marathon) are operating normally and the Port of Key West is hosting cruise ships.”
If you’re at all hesitant, know that Key Largo and Key West were the least affected by Irma. Most attractions on the islands have reopened, according to Belles, and 80 to 90 percent of hotels are reopened, as opposed to 75 percent of hotels throughout the Keys overall.
“A number of hotels and other tourism facilities in the Keys are still closed and most oceanside hotels are still recovering,” she says. “Visitors will find an area in recovery, but many favorite restaurants, attractions, and water-sport activities are available again.”
While the high season there is typically Dec. 26 through Easter, it’s too early to tell if rates will see a dip during the holidays. In general though, those visiting before Christmas should see more favorable seasonal rates.
For the official website of the Florida Keys, with complete information throughout the area, go to fla-keys.com.
If you're headed to Houston...
“Houston and Galveston are open for business,” says Belles. “Airports and ports (are) fully operational.” In addition, despite the overwhelming destruction the hurricane caused, 98 percent of more than 700 hotels weren't impacted at all, including popular tourist areas like downtown and the Galleria. Most damage occurred in suburban residential areas, which are still cleaning up.
“Hotel rooms readily available mid-December to the beginning of the year making the holidays a great time to visit when rates are lower,” says Belles.
You can go to visithoustontexas.com for the latest updates.
If you're headed to Napa Valley...
Though it wasn’t a hurricane that hit the famous wine region, Napa Valley had to deal with a disaster of its own: wildfires. While the hillsides that flank the area were charred, the fires burned predominantly in the forested hills. This means the residential areas sustained substantial damage, but the valley floor was untouched.
“In Napa, only one of over 400 wineries is still closed due to fire,” says Belles. “No hotels were burned and all are open, except one. There is actually unprecedented availability now through the holidays and into spring. Hotels are offering third and fourth nights free, even during Festive Week, which never happens. Overall, rates are 10 to 40 percent lower, making it a great time to visit.”
Cabernet season, which begins in November and continues through April, is one of the best times to visit the Napa Valley, according to Belles. “It's a time when the pace slows down, the natural beauty of the vines shine and when the chefs offer heartier meals, which pair perfectly with Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon,” she says. Airfares to nearby San Francisco are also down 22 percent from last year.
To plan your next visit to Napa Valley wine country, go to visitnapavalley.com.