There’s no doubt about it – the Caribbean is a long-standing bastion of sun, sand and that unmistakable rippling blue water. From tales of swashbuckling pirates to Jimmy Buffet’s rummy good times accompanied by a steel drum backdrop – if you’ve never been to the Caribbean, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime. The Caribbean is a perfect spot for getting away from it all. And while getting away from it all sounds exotic (and it is), it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are ways around spending a fortune to get to some beautiful island escapes. Here are some of the best ways to get to experience the Caribbean on a budget.
Budget travel tips
Getting the most out of your Caribbean vacation is largely dependent on what you’d like to see and do while on your trip. Many companies offer all-inclusive resort access to a variety of locales spread throughout the islands. Great deals can be had going this route (airfare is often included), but the resort itself tends to be the bulk of the vacation experience rather than the local culture of the place you’ll be visiting. If weather, lounging about the pool, and not having to worry about bringing your wallet with you are what you have in mind when it comes to a Caribbean vacation, then one of the all-inclusive resorts may be for you.
Saving money for the rest of us needn’t be a challenge, however. There are plenty of ways to save money in the Caribbean. Looking for cheap flights is perhaps the first stop for many of us. As aforementioned, many of the all-inclusive resort trips offer prices with airfare included, so that may be an option if you’re looking to save some coin. Some quick tips for the rest of us Caribbean travelers here:
- If you’re going to the Caribbean, consider traveling during the slow season (mid-April until about November). During this time hotels can be had for hundreds less, and the islands are generally less crowded (almost always a good thing). Also, take a look at Delta, JetBlue, and Air Canada, as they’ve all increased their Caribbean offerings in recent months and JetBlue especially flies to some great budget Caribbean stops like Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
- Consider taking a cruise. Cruise ships hit many famous ports of call and cater to a large audience. From dancing waiters to all-hours entertainment, a cruise might just be your best option – especially if it leaves out of a budget-friendly port like New Orleans or Orlando.
- Rent a condo. If you’re traveling in a group, renting a condo is a great way to interact with the local culture and save some money. Condos can be had for much less than hotel rooms, but do require a bit of extra planning. If you’re the type who doesn’t balk at logistics, consider looking up local condo rentals or even housing swaps.
- Consider flying round-trip. Even if you want to see more than one island during your budget Caribbean escape, flying into and out-of the same hub saves you considerable money.
- Take a bus and don’t forget to barter. Buses are a popular method of transportation around the islands and you can help save your pocketbook by using some group transportation rather than hailing a taxi for all your locomotion needs. Additionally, ask your resort/hotel/condo association if they have scooters for rent. Many do, and scooters can scoot you around the island for as little as $20/day.
Budget-friendly Caribbean Islands
So you’ve done your best and planned accordingly. You’ve become an expert on off-season deals, the Caribbean condo market and you’ve even gone ahead and learned how to home-brew your own sunscreen. Now, what are the most budget-friendly Caribbean islands you can visit?
Well, with the above money-saving tips in mind, it might help to have a budget dossier of budget-friendly Caribbean islands at hand. Well, here you go, young gum-shoe:
The Dominican Republic is a great option for the budget traveler. Its capital Santo Domingo is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Americas and one of the Caribbean’s largest cities. There’s great Old World charm here, and plenty of exciting free and cheap things to do. Travelers always love walking the streets of Calle de las Damas (which is the oldest street in the New World), visiting the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, and the Park of Three Eyes of Water – all accomplished for very little coin.
Punta Cana is probably the most visited tourist town, and flights and can found direct and round-trip for under $400 if you plan ahead. Once here, hotels are often cheap (~$74/night) food is inexpensive and full of Caribbean flavor, and your activity selection is incredible. Punta Cana has many outdoor adventure activities to indulge in if you want to splurge (anyone say “dunebuggy ride through the white sand beaches?”), as well as a great many beaches famous for their lounge-ability and their picturesque photo quality. Not a bad stop, I must say.
Next up on one of the best vacation spots for budget-minded travelers to the Caribbean is Jamaica. Another all-inclusive resort haven, there are many on the island and offer great deals to those interested, but if you chose to opt-out there are still plenty of great options that will save you money. Your money goes farther here and that means hotels and food are cheaper while still being wonderfully unique and interesting. Additionally, Jamaica is a great island for those who like to be outdoors and have adventures, and many of these activities are free.
Seven Mile Beach in Negril is routinely touted as one of the best beaches in the world, and Dunn’s River Falls and Park is a waterfall climb and play-fest that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So whether you’re in Montego Bay or Kingston or Negril, you’re sure to have a fabulous time not spending much money.
Puerto Rico is another great budget Caribbean getaway. Here, as a U.S. territory, most everyone speaks both English and Spanish, the local businesses take the U.S. dollar, and you have over 500 years of great architecture and culture to wander through at your own pace. Flights are direct from multiple hub cities form the U.S. and elsewhere, and there are a wide variety of airline carriers to chose from. In addition, if you’re coming from the U.S., it’s only a short trip away. Many further ventures into the Caribbean begin from Puerto Rico, so it’s also a great jumping off point.
San Juan is the capital city of Puerto Rico, and Old San Juan (El Viejo San Juan) is a charming place to have dinner, do some shopping, or simply stroll through and soak up some local culture. It’s also a great romantic escape. If you’re looking to save some coin and get a unique experience at the same time, consider looking into staying in a parador – a small, budget, privately owned hotel often located on retired plantations.
If it’s your first time to the Caribbean, my humble suggestion is a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This little cluster of islands is another U.S. territory, so the dollar is accepted and the islands are serviced by many international air carriers. Flights here are cheap (relatively), as is accommodation. The water is crystal blue, the vibe is laid back, but there are still some nightclubs and adventures to be had.
In addition, the British Virgin Islands are next door, and so one of the best ways to save money is to get a group together and charter your own boat. Combining income, a boat and lively skipper can be procured for much less than you might expect, and you and your friends can sail the high seas exploring the islands at whim. If you’re looking for true escapes and Caribbean feel, then consider the U.S. Virgin Islands a great jumping-off point.
Montserrat. This little island boasts a population of only about 4700 residents and though it may seem trickier to get to than some, makes the list because once here you don’t want to leave. The origination for love stories around the world, this balmy little Caribbean Island has peace, tranquility, and photo opportunities in spades as well as an Irish heritage which you didn’t see coming. Whether you get here by flying in or taking the ferry (more budget-friendly), you’ll have plenty of opportunity to hike the trails here which are rich in palm jungle flora and fauna. As for accommodations, well, there’s only one hotel on the island, but many choose to rent villas for around the tune of $700/week. Not too shabby, and one of the most romantic getaways in the world.
– Hudson Hornick