At this time of year vacation is calling and many of us will be heading for warmer climes. A very popular destination to escape the cold seems to be the Caribbean where glorious sunbaked beaches, tropical flavors and laid-back, island vibes abound. However, be aware…not all is sunshine and fun in these warmer climates, especially when it comes to food and drink. Most of us are aware of the “do’s” and’ don’ts” of what to eat while down south, but perhaps not as clear are the rules of what you should or should not drink.

Drinking water is at the top of the list of concerns among travelers. Even though most resorts and hotels claim they have water purification/filtration systems attached to all the water coming out of their taps, I would not take the chance drinking it, brushing your teeth in it or even rinsing anything in it you are going to ingest. Bathing in it is fine, but consumption should be out of the question, especially if you have any digestive tract issues. Bottled water is always your safest and best bet.

What drink is huge in the islands? That would be rum, of course. Literally, every island produces it and you’ll probably want to try the local swill. Straight up right out of the bottle is fine, however, avoid it “on the rocks” (over ice). Ice cubes are often made from local water and not safe. You might think that the overabundant amount of alcohol in rum would kill off any germs or bacteria, but not so. And what of all those fancy, colorful, tropical, fruity concoctions with little umbrellas that you literally see everywhere?

Just keep in mind that beyond the flamboyant presentations, other mixers (sometimes including local water and ice) and fresh fruit (often rinsed in local water) are utilized and could be problematic.

Many drinks and cocktails in the Caribbean are made with cream or milk. The “mudslide” would be an example. Temperature control of dairy products in hotter temperatures can be very problematic. The heat causes product to break down a lot quicker, so any dairy product that is not kept well-refrigerated constantly can be questionable. Any dairy mixers should constantly be refrigerated other than for immediate use and returned promptly to the cold. If you see any of these dairy products behind the bar that look like they have been sitting out, don’t order a drink made from them. A good idea is to ask the bartender exactly what goes into that fancy drink, where any suspicious ingredient comes from and how it was kept. A little paranoid perhaps, but better safe than sorry!

Bottled beer is always a safe bet down south and is plentiful on the islands. There are many, many breweries creating wonderful, refreshing and interesting brews for you to sample. In my mind, nothing takes the edge off better than a frosty cold one.

Although wine is not produced to any extent whatsoever in the tropics because it’s too hot, imported samples are present everywhere. A relatively safe imbibe that won’t jeopardize your health!

Coffee and tea are usually fine because the water is boiled. Just keep an eye on the cream or milk used. Bottled juice and soda are also fair bets.

Much of what I’ve mentioned here is common sense. Remember that our bodies are simply not used to certain strains of bacteria present in the tropics and we’re more susceptible to them. Intense heat also accelerates bacteria growth much quicker down there. While on vacation we tend to overindulge in many things and it’s easy to forget about these other important issues. Just be cognitive, drink safe and thoroughly enjoy your holiday.

Edward Finstein is an award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. Learn more at

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