Scroll down to get to the 25 differences between sailing Caribbean versus Mediterranean OR find out why my family and I left the Med in the first place by reading below…
After sailing around the Mediterranean for two years my family and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean
Many sailors start in the Med with intentions to sail further afield yet never make the move. Understandably, the Med is a sailor’s paradise offering different cultures, food, history, stunning anchorages and loads of amazing people. And that’s only mentioning a few of the Mediterranean high points.
My husband and I were motivated to leave the Mediterranean for four reasons:
- If we stayed longer we thought we my get too comfortable and lose the confidence to make the Atlantic Crossing. The Med is so large and so full of amazing things to see that a sailor could easily spend an entire lifetime exploring the area always finding new places to visit. Furthermore, it’s so easy to make friends (both locals and those in the sailing community) – I could feel the grips of the Med encircling us. Part of me wanted to stay because I had developed such a wonderful social circle.
- Our loose long-term plan has always been to sail around the world. Obviously, we can’t make it around the world unless we start sailing west, so part of our decision was based on the fact that we wanted to get on with our plan. In my mind I thought, ‘we can always return to the Med when we’re done circumnavigating the world!’
- Crossing the Atlantic with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) had been a dream for many years. We heard so many amazing stories and great experiences that we wanted to be a part of the event. We crossed with 200+ boats and the experience will certainly go down as one of the most memorable things my family and I have ever done.
- The largest motivator for us sailing across the Atlantic was to finally experience two sailing seasons back to back. Never in my life have I had the privilege of having summer for a full year! (If you haven’t been in the Med between November and May it’s not a nice place. It’s cold, the seas are often terrible and most costal destinations shut down).
So now that my husband, Simon, our five-year-old daughter, Sienna, and I are in the Caribbean what do we think about it? Are there many similarities or is it a whole new kettle of fish?
The big question is: What area is better to sail around –sailing Caribbean versus Mediterranean?
Regarding the similarities, there are a few. Both areas have a good amount of sea to travel around. Whether you feel like a short sail or a long one the area accommodates for both. Both the Med and the Caribbean have loads of anchorages, a variety of cultures and great people (sailors and locals).
The two sailing areas both have set seasons. The Mediterranean season is from May to November. During December to April most full time boaties find a marina to ‘winter’ in. As I mentioned above the weather gets cold and the seas are rough.
The Caribbean sailing season is from November to July. Most insurance companies request that boats are out of the Caribbean by the 1st of July. Boaties have the option of finding a hurricane hole – an area that’s has been deemed safe when a hurricane hits or they have to go above or below the hurricane area.
Other than those very top-level similarities, the Caribbean is substantially different than the Mediterranean!
25 differences between sailing Caribbean versus Mediterranean
In the Caribbean the following are different than sailing around the Mediterranean:
1. Services come to you.
Laundry (pick-up and drop off), ice, water, diesel, boat taxi service, souvenirs, fruit, veg, fish, breakfast (croissants, bread, pastries), pizza and take-away meals. In over two years of sailing in the Mediterranean, we only had three people ever come up to us offering a service. Once in Turkey, an ice cream boat came over and a few times we had fishermen stop by our boat asking if we’d like to buy some fresh fish. In the Caribbean we’ve been offered all sorts. Each country or island seems to have different offers but overall, we’ve been approached at every island from Grenada up to Antiqua with some sort of product or service. At times it can be annoying but overall it’s great to meet the locals, of which are usually full of character, and contribute directly to the welfare of someone that’s gotten off their butt to provide a service in return for an income.
2. There’s wind and often it’s constant.
When crossing between islands it’s often very, very strong. In the Med, our experience was that it was either blowing extremely strong or not at all. We motored at least half the time we were in the Med. In the Caribbean we only turn our engine on to leave and enter a mooring. Any sailor that’s been elsewhere and then entered the Med has been known to state that the Med is actually not a great place to sail.
3. People prone to seasickness will have a more difficult time in the Caribbean.
As per above, the wind blows so the seas are big and boy are they swelly. In the Mediterranean I got seasick every now and again. In the Caribbean I have to sleep when we sail to avoid turning green more often than not.
4. The water is warmer in the Caribbean!
5. The beaches in the Caribbean are like walking on silk…
…and for the most part they’re all very clean. Sure, there are some beaches that aren’t the cleanest but in comparison to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean beaches are so much better. We found the beaches in Italy to be appalling – filled with rubbish, fishing hooks, glass and cigarette butts. The rest of the Med was better (Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, etc) but still not as nice as the Caribbean.
6. It’s easier to catch fish.
We’re not massive fisher-people but hands down, we catch many more fish in the Caribbean than we ever did in the Med. Fishing for us consists of putting two lines out off the back of the boat as we sail to our next destination. We have no strategy or special techniques and we always use the same lure – it’s a squid. In the Med we rarely pulled up more than a Styrofoam case. In the Caribbean we easily pull up a Mahi-mahi, Tuna or Wahoo on all our long passages.
7. There’s more fish to see!
As a lead-on to number 6, snorkeling in the Caribbean is much, much better than the Med. This is probably one of the most noteworthy differences. In the Med, not only would I get cold quickly but also the water was often murky and I’d be lucky to see much of anything. In the Caribbean we’ve seen thousands of fish at once, stingrays, puffer fish, moray ells, barracuda, sperm whales, small colorful fish and loads more. The difference is astounding.
8. Caribbean Island time is far quicker than Mediterranean time for standard services.
What would take weeks in the Med takes days if not hours in the Caribbean. All service providers are quicker in the Caribbean – restaurants, bars, shops.
9. There is way more rain.
Fortunately it’s often at night that a big downpour hits, but it’s not uncommon to have squalls throughout the day. Very rarely does rain last all day long. In the Mediterranean it doesn’t rain nearly as much during the sailing season.
10. On all the islands except for the French Islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Martins, etc.) locals all speak English.
On the French islands there’s usually someone around that speaks English and in the capital cities it’s easier to find English-speaking people. In the Mediterranean, most Greeks know English but the Turkish, Italians, French and Spanish do not. The more touristy the place you are, the more English the locals will speak. NOTE: I don’t think that Europeans should learn English for our sake. I personally have had many amazing experiences with people that can’t understand a word I say. Part of the fun of the Med is figuring out how to communicate. The reason I’ve included this point is that it’s a noteworthy difference.
11. The food is different.
Even the French food on the French islands is unalike from what you get in France. Due to the different vegetables, fruits and availability of meat and fish most dishes are totally different from what you’ll eat in the Mediterranean. Both areas, however, have excellent food.
12. You can get fish and lobster and it’s not the most expensive item on the menu!
Fish in the Med is very expensive. I think it’s a supply and demand thing – the Med has been overfished and there is no longer a good supply. A reduction in supply causes an increase in price.
13. Rubbish is not floating by every few minutes like you find in Greece, and worse, in Italy.
Turkey is very clean but for some reason their neighbors are not as interested to clean up their act. Similar to my comment about the beaches, the Caribbean seems to be cleaner on land and in the sea.
Take a break from this list and make sure to order my book showcasing our first three years of sailing! Click on the book below.
14. The sun burns you quicker as you’re closer to the equator – you have to increase efforts to stay out of the sun.
15. Anchorages seem to have more space.
There are also way more mooring buoys available. Many islands have designated areas for mooring buoys so to help the coral survive. I can’t think of an island or country that doesn’t have buoys in place. Even Dominica has a mooring ball field in Portsmouth now. And when mooring buoys are not in place, there are plenty of good anchorages. In the Mediterranean you can find mooring buoys in a few select places. In Greece they’re not kept up so it’s imperative to dive down to see what you’re attaching your boat to. For Italy, the only place I saw them was off Taormina in Sicily. The Balearics did have a few mooring buoy fields. Overall, it was very uncommon to find mooring buoys in the Med.
16. The cost of marinas and mooring buoys is WAY CHEAPER!
Many marinas are around the $50 USD/night and mooring buoys are around $10 USD. In contrast, in the eastern to middle Med, marinas will run you around €100 to €200/night. The western marinas can go up to €400/night. Italy in the high season is ridiculously expensive. On the positive side, there are loads of places to anchor and or tie up to a town jetty to avoid having to go into marinas.
17. The crime rate amongst boaters is higher.
You have to always hoist your dingy up onto the davits (rather than leaving it tied onto the back of the boat). You have to lock your outboard and your dingy when tying off to a jetty. Furthermore, whenever you leave the boat, you lock everything up. In the Mediterranean we never locked our boat or our tender accept when we were in Italy and Sardinia due to recent theft reports.
18. There’s a big issue with viruses spreading through mosquito bites.
Luckily for boaters, mosquitos are usually not prevalent in breezy anchorages. As long as there’s a breeze, which is almost always certain, you won’t see a mosquito. The issue, however, is when you go to land. We always get bit when we head to land to grab a bite to eat in the evening. In the Med there are definitely mosquitos but the risk of getting bit by an infected one is non-existent to low.
19. Dedicated dingy docks are available everywhere.
In contrast, in the Med it’s often a real pain to find a dock – usually the best bet is to beach the tender and pull it up onto the sand. Aside from Greece, where the whole country is set up for tourism and boaties, it’s often a real pain to find a place to leave your dingy.
20. WIFI connections suck in the Caribbean.
Thus far the best WIFI I’ve discovered is on the island of Dominica – one of the least touristy countries in the Caribbean! Some islands are still on 3G. Most islands have good enough WIFI for email or Facebook but you can forget uploading blog pictures and uploading video will never happen. Furthermore, there’s not one carrier that properly covers all the islands. The average cost of 1gig with a new SIM card is around the $50 USD mark. You have to buy a new SIM card for every country. In the Mediterranean, Italy comes up on top for Internet connection – not only is it a great connection but it’s the most inexpensive at 15 to 20gigs for 30 euros. In Greece you get 1 to 2 gigs for the same price but at least there is a connection! If you’re a blogger or anyone relying on a good Internet connection (for uploading content) the Caribbean is not the place to sail.
21. Currency is not consistent.
The Caribbean has many currencies – Euro, Eastern Caribbean Dollar, US Dollar…In the Med, the Euro works everywhere.
22. Provisioning is something to be planned for.
There are fewer cities in the Caribbean and in some cases you can visit several islands and not find a grocery store larger than a mini-market. We’re fortunate to have a large freezer so we stock up on meat, frozen veg and bread when we find a good super market. In the Med you’re never too far from a good market, grocery store or hardware store.
23. Chandleries and boat services are not as prevalent as you’d think.
If you’re down in St Vincent & The Grenadines or Grenada you can forget about getting anything boat related. Furthermore, if you have a service or repair part flown out to you can bank on it taking months longer than expected (I didn’t say weeks on purpose)! Getting something sent in the post to you, like a part, in the Caribbean is usually not a good experience. Best bet is to pay a friend to fly out with what you need. That being said, make sure you have a substantial dingy repair kit and core service and replacement parts on board before sailing around the Caribbean. In the Med, the chandleries are hit and miss, however, you can have a delivery from the UK or anywhere in Europe arrive within days of purchase.
24. The history is nowhere near that of what you’ll find in the Mediterranean.
Sure, there are some old carvings on rocks and Napoleon has some forts. There are 19-century ship battles and wrecks in addition to tales of old style pirates but you won’t find any amazing Greek or Roman ruins nor will you see extravagant churches, incredible mosaics or an eclectic cultural history of music and artwork.
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There you have it! The 25 differences between sailing around the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Ultimately I can’t say what is better – the Med or the Caribbean. They’re both amazing for different reasons. Knowing what I now know, however, I’d suggest that anyone sailing around the world starts in the Med and then heads west to the Caribbean…If we started in the Caribbean and went to the Med I think our expectations regarding certain facets of sailing would be too high…but that’s another article 🙂