Packing for a Caribbean Vacation

What you pack for your Caribbean vacation may vary depending on your destination

Photo credit: © Sasha Stone

Packing for the Caribbean

Whether you're a list-maker, or a throw-everything-in-at-the-last-minute type of packer, everyone can use a little help when it comes to packing for their Caribbean vacation.

If this is your first trip to the region, you may be wondering what type of clothing is appropriate. If you've visited before, you've probably already got a strategy in place as a way to avoid making any packing mistakes you made during your last trip. Whatever category you fall into, read on for some tips and check out our checklists that will make packing for the Caribbean a much easier process.

As you will see below, we have several checklists to help you out. Click any of the links below to jump right to the list that you want to view.

First and Foremost

Entry requirements vary by country, but one thing is necessary almost across the board: a passport. In order to enter nearly every country in the Caribbean (except for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands if you are a U.S. Citizen), you will need a valid, up-to-date passport. Some countries also require government issued identification, and even birth certificates. You can find out exactly what is required of you by contacting the U.S. Department of State.  Be smart and make copies of all of the documents you carry into the Caribbean, and leave them in a separate piece of luggage. If these documents are lost or stolen, you will want to have a backup plan.

Other important documents to have on hand include prescriptions for your medications, notes from your personal physician regarding any health issues you may have, and a list of emergency contacts.

Many countries also require visitors to pay an entry or departure tax. For this reason, it is important for you to have cash on you at all times.  Although most airlines and ferries will include this amount in the cost of your ticket, there are times when the fee has been overlooked and you'll be asked to pay. 

Finally, you certainly won't want to forget your airline tickets, and confirmation of your hotel and rental car. Paperwork regarding any pre-arranged excursions and activities would be a good idea to keep on you as well.

Important Documents and Money
Items Personal Notes:
Passport, identification, and copies    
Medical and vaccination records    
Hotel reservation confirmation pages    
Insurance information    
Car rental confirmation    
Contact information for credit cards    
Birth Certificates for young children    
Credit Cards    
Travelers checks    


Each country in the Caribbean has its own idea of what is appropriate to wear out in public, and what is not. For the most part, you can dress as you would in your home town, though you'll likely want clothing that will keep you cool in the heat, and comfortable as you explore. Bring along comfortable, light-weight garments in light colors, and natural, breathable fabrics. A pair of linen shorts, khaki pants, t-shirts, and tank tops will work out nicely. Don't forget to pack shoes that you will be comfortable walking around in, like athletic shoes. Additionally, you'll want to remember enough undergarments, socks, and pajamas to get you through your trip.

Some countries are cooler than others, but across the board, there are sometimes cool nights in the Caribbean's winter. A sweater or a wrap to keep the chill away is a great addition to your luggage. Also, air-conditioned restaurants may warrant a lightweight jacket. is another issue you will want to consider. Packing a poncho, rain jacket, or umbrella will be a lifesaver if all of your planned activities take place outdoors.

Formal Wear

Some countries in the Caribbean are more conservative than others, and those that are not may still have locations and occasions that require you to don more formal attire. For these instances, bring along at least one outfit that is considered to be “dressy.” For men, a collared shirt with slacks and nice shoes may be enough. Women should pack a party dress, a nice sun dress, or slacks with the appropriate shoes and accessories.  Overall, though, resort casual is the way to go.

Swim Wear

Depending upon the length of your vacation, you would be smart to pack at least two swimsuits. This will not only give you options, but allow you to leave one to dry in your hotel room while wearing the other.  A rash gaurd will also be a great addition to your luggage if you'll be participaring in any watersports.  Also consider bringing along a cover-up such as a sarong so you can quickly go from the sand into a local eatery or shop, a hat to protect your scalp, face, and neck from the sun, sunglasses, and a pair of sandals to protect your feet from the sometimes scalding hot sand.

ItemsPersonal Notes:
Bathing suits    
Cover up    
Formal dress    
Dress shoes    
Walking shoes    
Beach/pool shoes    
Hiking boots    
Rain jacket/poncho    

Toiletries and Health Care

Any items that you might use on a daily basis will probably be provided to you by your resort. However, many travelers feel more comfortable bringing their own toiletries. These include hair care and dental hygiene products, as well as deodorant. You can purchase travel size containers for all of your toiletries before you leave on your vacation, and pack them all away in a toiletries bag.  Make sure to check with TSA regarding bringing toiletries in your carry on luggage if you plan to do this.  At the time of this printing, all liquid toiletries must be less than three ounces and contained in one gallon zip-lock bag per person.

Toiletries and Personal Items
Items Personal Notes:
Shampoo and conditioner    
Toothbrush and tooth paste    
Mouth wash    
Body lotion    
Sun block    
Contact lenses and solution    
Glasses (both prescription and sun)    
Razors and shaving cream    
Lip balm with SPF    
Hand sanitizer    
Toiletries bag    

If you are bringing any medication with you, remember to pack the prescription slip or a note from your doctor along with the medicine. This is in case custom officials search your luggage and question you on the medication, and so that local health care providers can assist you in an emergency.  Packing a travel-sized first aid kit can help as well.

Some areas of the Caribbean, like Jamaica and Cancun are known for unrelenting sand fleas and mosquitoes, while others, such as Puerto Rico and Bermuda have lizards and frogs that keep these bugs at bay. Regardless of where you travel, it would be wise to arrive prepared with bug repellent, and some allergy medication (such as Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream) in case you do get bit.  As for the sun, it goes without saying that you'll want to bring sunblock and apply it constantly throughout the day.  If you are unfortunate enough to get a burn, having some lotion made with aloe vera will help to soothe your skin.

Medication and Health Items
ItemsPersonal Notes:
Motion sickness remedies    
Allergy pills    
Cold Medicines    
First aid kit    
Nausea and diarrhea remedies    
Pain relievers    
Prescription medications    
Insect repellent    

Childcare Products

As always, there is a whole other list of things to remember if you will be traveling with small children. Depending on where you visit in the Caribbean, it can be hot, crowded, and may require a lot of walking around. You know your child best, but some of the items below can come in handy.

Family Items
Items Personal Notes:
Diapers and wipes    
Baby foot and utensils    
Activities for children    
Portable playpen    
Sun hat    
Waterproof sheets    
Changing pads    
Infant carrier    
Car seat    

What Else To Pack

When you're packing, think of the downtime you will have as well. Bring along some things to keep you entertained, such as s good book or your e-reader, an mp3 player, a portable DVD player, a personal journal, a laptop, or a hand held video game system. Don't forget to pack enough batteries or power cords to get you through your trip. It is also important to be aware that the electrical outlets in some countries are different than those in the United States, so you may need to bring along an adapter for your electrical devices. Voltage varies by location, so call your hotel to determine exactly what kind of adapter you will need.

Also, don't forget to bring your camera (a water proof camera is ideal) and all equipment needed to keep it up and running, plus an extra memory card to store the hundreds of pictures you are likely to take as you try to capture all of your Caribbean vacation memories on film.

Gadgets and Electronics
Items Personal Notes:
Camera charger    
Flim/memory card    
Cell phone and charger    
Laptop and accessories    
Portable DVD player and DVDs    
MP3 player or CD player and CDs    

Some other items you may want to have on hand include sewing kits for torn clothing, umbrellas for the rain, and of course guide books to help you explore.  A collapsable cooler is great for storing food and drinks when you'll be hiking or going on a picnic, and a parachute beach blanket made of nylon so that it stays cool in the sun, dries quickly, and is easy to clean is a luxury you should consider.  Also, do not forget addess books and calling cards. You might have a smartphone, but if you loose service, drain your battery, or otherwise cannot use it, you still want to have important number written down somewhere.

Other Miscellaneous Items
Items Personal Notes:
Guide books    
Calling cards    
Book light    
Address book    
Pen and paper    
Sewing kit    
Tote bag    

Packing Concerns

Many travelers worry that they will pack too much or too little. If this sounds like you, take this little bit of packing advice into consideration: pack items that are interchangeable, and can be worn a number of ways while still looking fresh. A pair of cloth shorts, for example, will go nicely with a variety of shirts, and a selection of colored shirts can be layered differently each day for a new look.

If you worry about your luggage being lost by the airline (though this is a rarity), you can be a proactive packer. Include in your carry on bag one full outfit, as well as a swim suit, any small valuables, important documents, and medication. This way, you'll have everything you need to get you through your first and second day in the Caribbean while the airline locates your luggage, or until you have time to make it to a store to purchase what you need.

Preparing for your Caribbean vacation may be an overwhelming process, but packing your luggage need not be. Simply take into consideration how long you will be on the island, and what activities you will be participating in, pair your clothing with these activities, and you are good to go. If you are still worried you'll forget something, write a list and check items off as you put them in your suit case.


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