Caribbean Weather in December: 5 Top Winter Getaways
Visitors to the Caribbean in December will find that the weather is great in some locations and not so great in others.
December weather marks the first month after the end of the annual hurricane season.
It also is the first month of the winter getaways for northerners seeking to escape the cold and snow.
But not all destinations in the Caribbean allow visitors to bask under a hot sun, lounge in the beautifully blue seawater and develop a healthy tan.
After more than a dozen visits to the Caribbean, I can say with confidence that temperatures and rainfall vary greatly from one destination to the next and one month to the next.
Yes, most islands are usually warm in December, especially compared to the U.S., Canada and Europe during the winter.
But the low 80s Fahrenheit during the day and low 60s during the night can result in chilly seawater for swimming and chilly beaches for sunbathing. Strong trade winds can make the chill factor even worse.
In fact, trade winds of 15-20 miles per hour are not uncommon and can result in a major wind chill factor.
For these reasons, vacation planners should go farther south to Aruba or Curacao and avoid more northern destinations such as the Bahamas, Cancun or Turks and Caicos.
When to go to each destination requires careful planning and taking advantage of historical weather data that reveals which destinations are the best choices.
December Temperature Chart
3 Tips about Caribbean Weather in December
- Warm and dry: Aruba, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Thomas.
- Hottest locations: Limon, Trinidad, Aruba, Cayman Islands and Curaçao.
- Destinations with most rain: Dominica, Martinique and Belize.
Best and Worst Times for Caribbean Weather
December Visitor Statistics
US Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
Turks & Caicos
Best December Temperatures
Now that the rainy season is over, temperatures in December matter much more because it is the beginning of winter and cooler weather for the Caribbean.
Yes, even the Caribbean has cool weather, especially at night.
Some destinations are too cool for swimming during December, January and February. Anyone who loves going to the beach should avoid them.
The Caribbean Sea is more than 1 million square miles stretching from the coast of Mexico and Central America to the north coast of South America and back up to Cuba.
The Bahama islands are often included in planning for Caribbean vacations because of their similarity to the rest of the Caribbean, but they are not technically part of the region.
Regardless, they are a major cruise and vacation destination and have a spot on this list.
Why it matters is the varying temperatures for all the locations. The Bahamas are north enough to experience cool temperatures that make them popular for land activities but not water activities.
The above chart using 30-year historical data shows that average daytime temperatures (in red) reach into the 90s Fahrenheit for some locations but only into the 70s for the Bahamas.
The chart shows that the destinations with the highest temperatures are:
1) Limon Costa Rica
3) Aruba (tied with Cayman Islands)
4) Cayman Islands (tied with Aruba)
5) Curaçao (tied with U.S. Virgin Islands)
6) U.S. Virgin Islands (tied with Curaçao)
Most Popular Destinations
Popular locations are not always the warmest locations.
The chart on the right shows the most popular Caribbean destinations in December, according to the most recent statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Dominican Republic leads the list followed by Cuba (popular with Europeans and Canadians), Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the slightly chilly Bahamas.
The fact that the Bahamas maintains some popularity during December is more due to its convenient location and many top-level golf courses.
Dominican Republic is always the most popular destination in the region because of its beaches, easy access and all-inclusive resorts.
Jamaica also is popular for its all-inclusive resorts, and San Juan Puerto Rico is a major embarkation point for many Caribbean cruises. Jamaica also tends to stay warmer than most destinations.
December marks the beginning of the western Caribbean cruise season, so places such as Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel start to see a big jump in visits.
They are more popular in part because western destinations start to go through a dry season.
December Rainfall Averages
December Weather Poll
Which of these top 10 destinations do you want to visit in December?
Then there is the rain. Total rainfall in December declines from November because it is the first month after the annual Caribbean hurricane season.
Still, some places do well with rain in December and some do not.
The above chart shows that Dominica usually gets drenched during the month. But keep in mind that the island is a popular eco tourism location with dense rain forests and many waterfalls.
Belize, Guadeloupe and Martinique also receive a higher than average amount of rain.
The five locations with the lowest rainfall:
4) St. Thomas
5) Cayman Islands
Again, it's important to emphasize that these are 30-year averages and will vary from year to year.
The five locations with the highest average rainfall:
5) San Juan
The western Caribbean does much better with rain and sees a spike in cruises to places such as Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Roatan.
Beat the Weather with Last Minute Trips
Some Caribbean destinations in December are popular but also have higher than average rainfall such as Barbados and San Juan.
Anyone with a flexible schedule might consider trying a last-minute vacation deal based on the weather.
Some forecasts go as much as 10 days out and will help with a decision on when -- and whether -- to go to a particular destination.
Look at the eastern Atlantic in weather radar maps to see the amount of cloud cover. Caribbean weather usually begins there and moves to the west.
If the forecasts look good, a last-minute deal might make the most sense. They often end up with lower prices.
But they also have some risk. The best rooms or cruises might be sold out or prices won't be as good as other times of the year.
Vacation planners will find it helpful to start tracking prices at the same time they start tracking the weather forecasts.
Why Cruises Matter
A Caribbean cruise can make a big difference for anyone wanting to visit the region but concerned about getting the best weather.
Cruise lines increase or decrease the number of available cruises during certain times of the year based on popularity. That popularity is often based on weather patterns.
For example, eastern Caribbean cruises are less likely to visit Dominica in December because of its high average rain. Western cruises jump in popularity thanks to the start of the dry season for those destinations.
Cruise ships usually go to destinations with some of the best weather and avoid ones that have consistently bad weather. Cruises also can avoid exceptionally bad weather -- or at least try to avoid it -- by altering course.
They are less likely to alter course for mildly bad weather because of the extra fuel costs
© 2014 Scott Bateman