I love visiting the Caribbean. The beaches, food, bright colors, and friendly people can’t be matched, and it’s always such a relaxing vacation. When you visit the Caribbean, however, you’ll want to pack appropriately. Basic items can be expensive, and you generally won’t find the selection of shops that are available in the United States.
It’s best to bring whatever you’ll need, rather than try to find it on an island. To get you best prepared, here’s our Caribbean vacation packing list, including printable lists. Purchase what you need in advance, and be fully prepared for your island vacation. If you are traveling on a cruise ship to a tropical destination, you’ll need many of these things as well.
This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. I have visited several Caribbean destinations at no cost for review but have also paid my own way.
Caribbean Vacation Packing List For A Family
Packing For Your Caribbean Flight
Depending on where you live, and where you are going, you may have quite a bit of time on your flight. You’ll want to pack your carry-on bags appropriately so that you’ll have everything you need on your flight.
When I travel with my kids, I make sure they have their underseat luggage packed with everything they need for the flight. This includes all electronic devices and chargers, a water bottle, travel games (including card games), books, journals, and headphones.
For your own carry-on bags, you’ll want to pack anything you’ll need during the flight. This would include diaper bags (if your kids are still in diapers), cell phone, hand sanitizer, prescription medications, travel documents (including passports), electronic devices, chargers, in-flight entertainment, and valuables, and fragile and important items.
If you are flying to another country, you’ll need to fill out immigration forms before your arrival. I’d recommend bringing along a pen so that they are easy to fill out. While the airline will give you the forms, they won’t provide writing utensils.
In many cases, you’ll need to provide the name and address of where you’ll be staying. I’ve seen travelers stuck in the airport trying to find their vacation rental home address and info, so it’s a good idea to have that printed out and tucked safely into your carry-on bag or personal item. You may also need to provide test results and proof of travel insurance – check with your destination well in advance to understand what is needed.
Find Out What Your Resort Provides
Some hotels and resorts (especially all-inclusive resorts) may provide guests some items that they’ll need during their stay. This could include anything from snorkeling gear to beach towels. If these things are provided for you, you can save space in your luggage.
Before you go, you’ll also want to check the dress code for any restaurants you’ll be visiting. That way, you’ll have the right type of clothing packed. You should also check the tipping policy, and if you’ll be tipping there, it’s best to pack small bills.
Essential Items for Your Caribbean Vacation
You are most likely going to have at least one beach/pool day on your trip to the Caribbean. I always recommend packing at least two bathing suits if you are going to go to the beach frequently. Getting into a wet/damp bathing suit is never fun.
Choose your bathing suits appropriately based upon your activities. Having a one-piece may be more comfortable if you are doing some activities. In addition, rash guard shirts are a great thing to pack because they can help prevent sunburn.
You’ll have plenty of things to bring to the beach/pool each day. Having the right beach bag will make it easier to carry those things around.
When it comes to beach bags, you’ll have two options. Either bring a nice, big tote that you can use as a carry-on bag or bring an easily packable bag that you can put in your suitcase. I will generally do the latter, especially if we have a short walk to the beach from our hotel room.
I also like to pack a dry bag. It is great for two purposes – to store wet suits if you are going home right after a beach day, and also to keep valuables dry and secure in your beach bag. This is especially helpful if you are going on a boating excursion. You can find them on Amazon.
When you are in the tropics, you are likely to encounter bugs, including mosquitos. If you need it, you can probably find bug spray in the hotel gift shop or other shops in the Caribbean. However, if you know there are bugs where you are visiting, it’s best to pack some in your suitcase so that you can save money.
Insect repellent generally doesn’t smell great, so you’ll want to pack it in a way that it won’t leak. I put things like bug spray in large sealable plastic bags so if they leak, the liquid won’t get on your clothes or other belongings. You may also want to pack an anti-itch cream in your toiletry bag in case you do end up with any mosquito bites.
If you know me, you know that I always travel with tons of sunscreen. After a melanoma scare, I now make sure that I always wear plenty of sunscreen to the beach and pool.
Like the bug spray, I usually pack sunscreen in plastic bags unless it’s already sealed from the store. One of my favorite brands of sunscreen is Coola, which you can sometimes find Marshalls and TJMaxx. It has a great scent and is effective.
For the face, I like to use mineral sunscreen, which doesn’t irritate my eyes. CeraVe Mineral sunscreen is my favorite – and it also comes in a tinted version. Don’t forget to pack (and use) lip balm with SPF so your lips don’t burn.
If you are snorkeling or going near a reef, you may also want to pack reef-safe sunscreen. It can be expensive to buy in the Caribbean.
You can’t get large sunscreen bottles through airport security, so you’ll need to have them in your checked bag. However, I like to pack a small, travel-sized sunscreen in my carry-on, so I’ll immediately have access to it when I arrive at my tropical destination.
If there is snorkeling available at your resort, it’s possible that they will provide snorkel gear for guest use. In addition, many booked excursions will also offer gear that you can borrow. For sanitary reasons, or if you prefer to use your own, you may want to purchase some and bring it with you.
There are plenty of places where you can purchase snorkel gear, including on Amazon.com.
Necessities for Any Planned Excursions
Speaking of excursions, if you book any, you may have some specific things you’ll need to pack. Some examples would include closed-toed shoes (for zip-lining), hiking shoes, walking shoes, and rain gear. Check all of your excursion details before you leave so you don’t miss out by forgetting something essential (and potentially expensive to purchase).
The sun in the Caribbean can be extremely strong. In addition to sunscreen and SPF clothing, you’ll probably want to have a sun hat. The best type is a wide-brimmed hat that can protect your scalp and your face. If you are in a windy location, you may prefer a baseball cap, which won’t be as susceptible to wind.
Depending on the location you are visiting, water shoes can be a good idea. They are typically helpful if you are traveling somewhere with rocks or reefs. At a minimum, you’ll want to have a pair of flip flops or other shoes that are easy to clean sand off of.
You can find lots of water shoe options on Amazon.com.
The Caribbean is generally pretty casual and carefree. However, some restaurants, especially at resorts, can be formal. Check those details before you leave, and be sure to pack at least one dressier outfit if you decide to go out to a nice dinner.
In many cases, men will need a collared shirt and long pants for a fancy dinner. Often, flip-flops aren’t allowed.
First Aid Products
Whenever I travel, I always bring along my little travel first aid kit. This is especially important when traveling overseas, because it may be harder to find items that you are used to. I always have this kit packed with essentials, but check the expiration dates before leaving.
Other items you may need on your tropical vacation packing list include towel clips, a waterproof phone case, sunglasses, and baby powder (to remove sand).
I offer two downloadable, complimentary beach packing lists. The master beach packing list is for whoever is packing for the family because it contains things that will need to be packed for the whole family as well as personal items.
There’s also a separate child list. Depending on the ages of your kids, you can download this packing list and let your kids pack for themselves. For younger kids, you’ll want to look over their stuff because it goes into the luggage.
This beach packing list also has a master list in the back for larger beach items – in most cases, you won’t have to worry about packing those items for a Caribbean trip. These are usually more commonly packed for a day at the beach close to home.
More Packing Tips Resources: Looking for more packing tips and recommendations? Here are all of our posts including packing lists, product recommendations, and ideas for specific trips.