We all want the best experience as we cruise through the Caribbean on our favorite cruise line. Those who know me well, know that I love authentic experiences when I travel. Because of that, I try my best to avoid tourist traps.
I’ve visited over 40 countries and have been on dozens of cruises. I love authentic experiences that leave a lasting impression on me years after I’ve visited. Here are the biggest tourist traps in the Caribbean and places you should avoid if you want the most authentic travel experience on your cruise.
Hell in Grand Cayman
If there was one place in the Caribbean that I could label as the biggest tourist trap, this would be it. I’m pretty sure if you looked up the definition of “tourist trap” in Websters, you would see this listed under the description. (If not, it should be.) I visited here on my first trip to Grand Cayman as it was part of tour around the island. After about 30 seconds of walking around, we were ready to head back to the bus and to our next stop. What is Hell? It’s a small rock formation that they built an attraction around.
Let’s be honest, if they called it any other name no one would want to stop there. That right there tells you all you need to know about this tourist trap. If this is part of your island tour, that’s one thing.
But there is zero reason to go out of your way to visit Hell in Grand Cayman. Instead, spend your time enjoying the beauty of Grand Cayman, one of the most gorgeous islands in the Caribbean.
There are three types of shops in Caribbean cruise ports that are tourist traps. The ones that you have to walk through to get to either to the port or back to your cruise ship, those that the cruise line “recommends” that you shop at, and ones you visit on tours.
If you have to walk through a shop to get back to your cruise ship (yes Cozumel, I’m talking about you and the pushy salesmen that hound you every 10 steps to buy tequila on the Puerto Maya Pier), then chances are it’s a tourist trap.
If you are forced to walk through a shop, they are hoping for impulse buys and you likely won’t be getting a good deal. If these stores were really that good to shop that, they wouldn’t need to force everyone to walk through them.
The second type of shops that are tourist traps are the ones that are “recommended” by the cruise lines at the shopping talks and in the shopping guides on the ship. Cruise lines are not recommending these stores because of the quality of merchandise or the customer service that they offer, they recommend them because they are being paid to funnel you to these stores. Yes, the cruise lines receive commission on every sale from cruise passengers in these shops.
Nothing says tourist trap more than someone telling you that you should shop at certain stores because they are receiving a financial kickback.
The last type of shops that are tourist traps are the ones that you stop at during island tours. Usually, the driver is buddies with the owner and is receiving a kickback for taking you there. I’ve had this happen not only in the Caribbean, but also in Hawaii.
What I like to do is find stores that sell locally made items. Instead of helping the cruise lines make more money, you are directly contributing to the local economy of the cruise port that you are visiting.
I’ve never understood why someone would travel to a foreign country that is loaded with cultural experiences and natural wonders but spend their time at Senor Frogs or Margaritaville. There’s a reason why they put these right by the piers at many cruise ports, to suck you in.
The best thing you can do at any cruise port in the Caribbean is to get away from the manufactured port area and go experience something that you can’t see or do at home. Most of the areas where cruise ships dock have been built by the cruise lines.
Want to experience the beauty and culture of the Dominican Republic? Then you’ll need to get away from Amber Cove that was built just for cruise ships. This is especially true for the cruise ports in Falmouth and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Go hike up to a waterfall, snorkel with exotic fish and stingrays, explore a rainforest, or have lunch at a mom and pop restaurant and try the local cuisine. Pay for experiences, not things. I can’t tell you one thing that I bought on my first cruise, and I bought a lot of little crap. But I can tell you about the time I swam with dolphins, hiked a volcano, and walked across a glacier.
As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”