The Caribbean has long been one of the most popular vacation destinations for Americans seeking sun and surf. The clear blue water, a comfortable laid-back lifestyle and stunning scenery are major attractions.
But the Caribbean is also known for hurricanes, which are a constant worry. As hurricane activity has become more intense in recent years, some are questioning whether it makes sense to purchase a vacation home in a region where property can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
The Caribbean includes 13 island countries, from Cuba in the north to Trinidad in the south. The region also includes several counties in Central and South America that have coastline on the Caribbean Sea, such as Belize and Costa Rica.
But not all of these countries are vulnerable to hurricane activity. Like with all things in the world of real estate, it’s all about location.
The Hurricane Belt
Typically, hurricanes form in the Atlantic Ocean, the northern part of the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. The storms then travel further north or west, hitting the West Indies and parts of the U.S., especially the East Coast. Most vulnerable are Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and of course, Florida. Hurricanes rarely travel to the southern portion of the Caribbean.
“When you get really far south, let’s say very close to the equator….you don’t have enough of that force to essentially give good rotation to hurricanes,” says John Cangialosi, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “The ABC islands see a little less activity because they’re fairly far south,” he added, referring to Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Trinidad, Barbados and towns on South America’s northern coast are also out of the hurricane belt.
As hurricane season comes to a close (it runs from June 1 to Nov. 30) Cangialosi says this term has been uncommon. “Even though statistically this was not a very active year, we have just experienced the most destructive hurricane in Florida’s history most likely,’’ he says, referring to Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in late September and left about 150 people dead and caused more than $20 billion in property damage.
If you want to avoid hurricanes, the ABC islands are generally your best bets. Below are short profiles of each island — and we added a fourth for fun.
Aruba is one of the most popular spots in the Caribbean, known as a place where it rarely ever rains. According to Aruba Palm Realtor Jan Falcone, the island is also one of the safest — not just from natural disasters, but also from crime.
Falcone says that every time hurricanes pass through other parts of the Caribbean, her phone heats up with people wanting to look at real estate in Aruba. Some clients are from Florida. “Hurricanes are failing Florida. So I know people that come here, that come in the fall, to get away from Florida, which is the highlight of hurricane season,” she says.
An added benefit to Aruba is that the government doesn’t allow properties to be built in low-lying flood areas. So even if Aruba did get hit by hurricanes, houses are less likely to be damaged.
Falcone says that while America still gives real estate developers free reign to build in places engineers may consider unsafe, that’s not the case in Aruba. “It should be about what the engineers tell you, not, oh you’re a developer and you just want to sell cheap land. That happens all over the United States constantly. But it’s never going to happen here because they protect the people from their own selves,” Falcone says.
She describes Aruba as very developed, meaning there’s lots to do – from Carnival parades to tennis tournaments. Lastly, the island is extremely welcoming to tourists.
“You’re not going to find friendlier people in the Caribbean.”
Bonaire is also another great place to invest if you’re looking for milder weather and lots of sun. This island is 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela, and is one of the southernmost Caribbean islands.
Jenifer Decker, office manager of Sunbelt Realty in Bonaire, says the island is much more tame compared to Curaçao and Aruba, where there are bigger party scenes.
“It’s much more focused on diving, windsurfing, kite surfing, hiking. People look for peace and quietness on the island,” she says.
Kitesurfing in Bonaire. Photo: @visit_bonaire
Luxury condos in Bonaire start at $250,000 and average between $600,00 to $700,000. Home prices range from $400,000 to $1.5 million. She said the average is close to $600,000.
Decker also says the island became more popular during Covid as Americans were looking for safer places to travel. “There were not that many places that people could go to on holiday. So Bonaire was maybe not the first choice but people chose to come to Bonaire and they found out that it was actually nicer than they thought.”
Although Americans are just discovering Bonaire, Europeans continue to be the dominant group of travelers in part because the island is part of the Dutch Kingdom.
Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, with 150,00 inhabitants, and 40 beaches to choose from, compared to Bonaire’s tiny population of only 20,000 residents.
It’s known for its amazing coral reef, flapping flamingos, and even has a mountain for mountain climbing. And according to Livinggoed Real Estate Agent Robin Nahuis, many Americans consider it one of the most gay-friendly Caribbean islands.
“People don’t react to you if you go here with your same sex partner,” he says.
Once again, being a part of the Dutch family, most vacation-home buyers are from the Netherlands, Belgium, or Germany, with some Americans in the mix. If you’re looking for more American-oriented islands, Aruba and Saint Martin are the places to be, yet at a higher cost, according to Nahuis.
In Curaçao, nice vacation homes start at $400,000 and go up to $1 million.
Historically dubbed “The Spice Island,” Grenada is known for its massive exports of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. There’s also amazing beaches, running waterfalls, historical forts and even an underground sculpture park.
But if you’re looking for nightlife, this might not be the place.
“It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere. It’s considered probably one of the safest islands in the Caribbean,” says Richard Robert, co-owner of Touch Realty in Grenada. “People literally sleep with their doors open, unlocked.”
He said the population is mainly local Grenedans, with only 5% being foreigners from places like America and the United Kingdom.
Robert says the southern part of the island is popular for vacation rentals and homes. Tourists frequent that area because the airport, main shopping area, and St. George’s University are all located there.
According to Robert, the average price of a home in the south is $750,000 and can go up to $1.8 million. Yet for the rest of the island, prices start at about $375,000.
And for condos in the south, they start at $250,000 and go up to $750,000.