Now that we have a way of organizing our information, what should we be looking for to prepare for our trip? Everyone has different interests, but here is a list of the categories I start with when researching an upcoming trip:
Restaurants – Where are they? What are they known for? What’s the price point? Do they take credit cards? What days are they open/closed? Do they have live music? On what days/nights?
Beach Bars – Where are they? What are they known for? What days are they open/closed? Do they have live music? On what days/nights?
Music – Where will you find local music? What nights? What times?
Beaches – Where are the best beaches? Most secluded? Most beautiful? Best shelling? Best snorkeling? Are there any local restrictions on taking shells, etc. home?
Historic Places – What’s the history of the island? Are there any ruins? What’s the oldest structure? Are there any haunted houses?
Natural Phenomena – Are there any caves? Any cenotes? Mountains? Waterfalls? Hiking Trails?
Religion – What are the predominant religions practiced in the area? Where are the oldest churches? When are services? Any special practices of which you should be aware?
Shops – Where are the best local shops? Bakeries? Art? Handmade gifts? Local artists?
Sports & Games – What are the local sporting activities? Cricket? Horse racing? What do locals do for fun?
Local Farms/Industry – Are there any local farms you can tour or which sell items? Are there any local factories? Rum? Batik? Chocolate? Pottery?
Tours/Equipment Rentals – Are there any local tour companies? What do they offer? Mountain hikes? Touring historic places? Where can we rent bikes, boats, snorkeling gear, diving gear, etc?
Car Rental/Taxis/Water Taxis – Is it cheaper to rent a car for the week or taxi? Do they charge by zones? Do they take credit cards? Are the vehicles insured? Air conditioned? 4WD if needed?
Ferry Schedule – When do the ferries run? When does the last one leave? What’s the fare?
Events – Are there any local festivals? Carnival? Art fairs? Regattas?
Grocery Stores – Where are the best stocked grocery stores? Which is closest to where we are staying? Which is closest to the airport so we can stock up upon arrival?
Liquor Stores – Where are the best stocked stores? Closest to where we are staying? Closest to the airport?
ATMs – Where are the ATMs on the island? Do they take US currency or do I need to convert? How much cash will I need to bring with me?
Cruise Stops – When are the cruise ships on the island, so I can avoid the big crowds at certain places?
Now that we have the questions, where do we find the answers? Most people start with sites such as Trip Advisor, and I don’t need to educate you on the information provided there, other than to let you know that you should not overlook the forums. Although the information organized on Trip Advisor is great, many of the nuggets of useful information, such as which car rental guys take credit cards or where to find the best beach for snorkeling, can be found in the forums. It may be a bit more tedious to find the information, but past travelers are very generous in providing the information.
While we are on the topic of forums, they are not limited to Trip Advisor. Many destinations have their own forums with loads of great information. My favorite source for information on Anguilla is the Anguilla Guide Forum. The forum is well-organized, and is manned by locals as well as tourists, providing a great deal of information on the best restaurants, places to stay, and attractions on the islands. For the British Virgin Islands, check out Travel Talk Online. Click “The British Virgin Islands and Bareboating” forum. The contributors are largely sailors, but the information shared is useful to boaters and landlubbers alike. In preparation for this trip, I have been frequenting the Eleuthera Forum. Unfortunately, they suffered an attack of spammers which resulted in the loss of a great deal of information, but the forum is back and the rebuilding has begun.
Do not overlook the usefulness of the private blog or website for information. If you’re going to Anguilla, a must stop is the Anguilla Guide. Also, be sure to stop in at Anguilla-Beaches.com run by Nori Evoy. She and her family traveled to Anguilla for years, and subsequently built a home on the island. Her site is loaded with useful information on the best of everything Anguilla has to offer. Some sites are not as detailed as Nori’s, but many bloggers, even if they have only visited once, offer useful insights that the tourism board just does not offer. For information on Eleuthera, don’t miss Eleuthera Paradise, eleuthera-map.com, and My Harbour Island.
Internet searches are useful, but too broad a search will generate thousands of listings for people claiming to get you the best price on your vacation. Specific searches garner the best results. It will be time consuming, but it well lead you to many personal blogs and better information. For example, I knew wanted to visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda, but I knew from reading the forums that when the cruise ships hit Tortola it was thick with tourists. Instead of searching, “Visit to Virgin Gorda” or ” Visit The Baths,” search for “Days Cruise ships are in Tortola.” My more specific search led me to the British Virgin Islands Port Authority site to see when the ships are in port. You’re never alone there during daytime hours, but that site will help you pin down the least crowded days.
With the ease of the internet, it’s easy to overlook the printed word, but as hard as it is to believe, there was a lot said about travel before the internet came into being. For this trip, I read a number of books. I started with “A Brief History of the Caribbean: From Arawak and Carib to the Present,” by Jan Roganzinski, for some general background information. I also read Everild Young’s “Eleuthera – The Island Called Freedom.” This book was originally published in 1966, and although there were many significant events which post-dated this book, including Bahamian independence in 1973, the book is a great resource on the history of the island. After researching haunted houses on Eleuthera, I took an interest in the unsolved murder of Sir Harry Oakes on Nassau. The accused was his son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, who owned property on Eleuthera and reportedly gave French Leave Beach its name. This led to my reading a number of books on this fascinating story, including “Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?,” “King’s X,” and “Conspiracy Of Crowns: The True Story Of: the Duke of Windsor and the Murder of Sir Harry Oakes.” “Conspiracy of Crowns” was written by de Marigny himself, who was acquitted of the murder, and includes his insights as to the true murderer. The history of the event has it all, royalty, the mob, Nazis, love, money, and murder.
The most practical book I found was “The Elusive Beaches of Eleuthera“ by Geoff and Vicki Wells. The book gives detailed information regarding beaches on Eleuthera, including GPS coordinates. I can’t wait to hunt down some of those elusive beaches!
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other travelers. If someone has posted about a trip on their blog, they aren’t shy about talking about their travels. In preparation for Eleuthera, I e-mailed a gentleman named Charlie Costa who has a website with photos from his service in the Navy in the 60’s on Eleuthera and his return trip to the island in 2004. He shared some great information about the island I could get no where else.
Since I’m a visual gal, I like to do image searches on Google or search through photo sites like Flickr for ideas on places I would like to visit. You might just find a great place you never knew you were missing!
Finally, I have found that some maps are particularly useful. Maps published by Skyviews include not only roadway information, but will pinpoint the locations of local restaurants and businesses, those which have paid to be included. These are generally available at the airport when you arrive, so look for them while you are waiting for your bags. If you like to plan ahead, many are offered for sale by Skyviews or the local tourist boards. My favorite map for the upcoming trip is the Franko’s map of Eleuthera. I used Franko’s BVI map on last year’s trip and it was fantastic. It does not list restaurants , but it is very detailed on the locations of beaches, roadways, snorkeling/diving sites, and other points of interest. The Franko’s map is on a nice heavy water-resistant paper so I can’t mangle it so fast. As I do research, I add in places with post-it arrows, so I have it all handy when we are on the road.
Research not only provides you with the information you need to know, but also alerts you to information you didn’t even know you needed. I was reading about visiting the Queen’s Bath, an area on Eleuthera where you can wade in natural pools in the rock adjacent to the ocean. However, it is not safe to visit these areas at high tide because you risk being thrown against the rocks or swept out to sea. What do you need to know? When is it high tide and when is low tide? Wouldn’t it be handy to have that information in advance? If you’re interested, check out the Eleuthera Tide Tables provided by eleuthera-map.com. In addition to the tide tables, that site is a great resource for general information on the island.
Luck favors the prepared. Take away the anxiety by preparing in advance so you can enjoy your time away.
Part 3 of our Trip Planning series brings you tips on what to pack, including our favorite products for our trips to the Caribbean. Stay tuned!
Did you miss Part 1? Read it here!
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