Vacationing in the Caribbean? Educate Yourself Before You Go

Heading off for some sunshine and relaxation in the Caribbean? Nothing is better for the soul than sunshine, beaches, and great food and company. These cultural tips will help you blend into most Caribbean cultures for the most rewarding vacation:

Always Say Hello First

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Before asking directions, ordering food, or doing anything else, always wish good morning, to whoever you are talking to. Whether in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, or Creole, Caribbean cultures always put greetings first and business after. Residents are very proud of this tradition and appreciate when their visitors do their best to remember it as well.

Enjoy the Music and Dance

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The Caribbean is known for its soulful music and energetic dancing. Here are two types of music and dance you should discover:

Soca: An offshoot of traditional calypso, soca music was born in Trinidad and Tobago. The sound combines Indian music with calypso for something rhythmic, energetic, and perfect for dancing. As one of the most popular forms of music in the Caribbean right now, you are bound to hear plenty of it. Don’t be afraid to jump into the dance!

Merengue: Extremely popular in the Dominican Republic, merengue is a Latin dance favored in all Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations. To experience the music and dance for yourself, ask the locals for their favorite dance club and head there for an evening. Many cultural events and festivals will also have merengue dance performances.

Dress Up for the Town

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When packing for Caribbean cruises, remember that you are packing not just for the boat but for the ports of call. While athletic wear and bathing suits are perfectly acceptable on an expedition or at the beach, these clothes are considered too informal for wearing in town. Cover up a bathing suit with a summer dress, or wear board shorts with a shirt and shoes anywhere in town. Scruffy jeans and sweats are also too informal and can offend local citizens or business owners. Most people wear lightweight clothing, so khaki shorts and a T-shirt can’t go wrong.

Celebrate Carnival with the Caribbean Islands

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Traditionally just before Lent, Carnival is the last big festival before the Catholic tradition of 40 days without meat. It has turned into more of a celebration of the cycle of nature and an opportunity to unwind and relax, however. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival is only complete with tons of dancing, music, parties, and wonderful foods.

Every Caribbean nation has its own specific traditions and time for Carnival. Trinidad celebrates Carnival in February with parties, dances, and parades while Barbados celebrates Carnival in August, usually with pageants and soca music. Join in the festivities wherever you are by dressing up in colorful dresses or costumes and going out on the town to dance, drink, and enjoy all the excitement.  You can usually find cheap hotels near the action, but be aware of the fact that tourists will likely be approached regularly by locals with offers to purchase souvenirs and various other items you may not want.  Be respectful and direct and everyone will have a good time.

Holidays, greetings, and music are just the beginning to the varied and vibrant cultures found in the Caribbean. What other cultural tips do you have for travelers?