How to Visit the Caribbean on a Budget

When traveling to the Caribbean, your choices are as varied as the islands. But you don’t need to fall for the cliché of expensive beach resorts or secluded boutique getaways costing hundreds of dollars a night.

You can enjoy the same gorgeous beaches and deliciously warm blue waters as the big spenders, and you can do it on a budget — not settling for overpriced all-inclusive mega-resorts with hundreds of tiny rooms and food-filled buffets. fast food. . Cool, interesting and affordable accommodations can be found on islands scattered across these alluring and aching waters, and with smart planning ahead and keeping costs in mind during your stay, you can easily travel the Caribbean. with a limited budget.

know when to leave

During the low season, from June to August, prices drop everywhere. In peak season, from December to March, air fares and fares rise in inverse proportion to temperatures in northern climates. If battling the cold is vitally important, you could look for the first two weeks of December, after Thanksgiving in the US, and again in the second half of January. Don’t expect dramatic savings, but there’s usually a slight lull in the winter crowds during these times.

Shop for flights

There is no cheap secret way to reach the Caribbean – almost everyone not floating around the islands on a cruise ship arrives by air. The most popular islands are served by several airlines from the United States, Canada and Europe. Work on the Internet comparing airfares. In high season, the earlier you buy your tickets, the better, as prices won’t drop close to your departure date.

In the Caribbean, flights can be expensive, so it’s rarely worth flying to an island with cheap airfare and then getting to your destination rather than paying for a flight directly there.


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Book your room

Just like airfares, accommodation prices don’t drop the closer you get to your peak season travel date.

Smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts often have rate cards that don’t change with demand, but larger hotels and resorts offer all sorts of promotions that can mean big savings for those willing to splurge. commit several months before planning their trip. Again, the time you spend shopping on online booking sites will earn you savings. Look for deals including free meals, excursions, room upgrades and more.

Larger resorts and online booking sites may also offer packages that include airfare to the island. These can offer great savings overall, but not always. Check the cost of the flight separately so that you can evaluate the packages intelligently.

Although Barbados is renowned for its swaggering old clubs and resorts, there are some bargains to be had if you know where to look © Getty Images / Tetra images RF

Find a cheap island

You can discover offers on many Caribbean islands, especially the larger and more popular ones such as Jamaica. The following are worth considering as they offer budget options and are great places to visit.

Barbados

Yes, the west coast of beautiful Barbados is renowned for its pretentious old clubs and resorts, but elsewhere you can find great bargains. In the south, Dover Beach has the requisite attractive sand, a chain of budget hotels and access to fabulous windsurfing. There are even cheap and efficient local buses for car-free odysseys around the island.

Bequia

Star of the string of islands called the Grenadines (of St. Vincent and the Grenadines fame), Bequia is a dream of sand and palm trees around a picture-perfect little harbor that might prove impossible to leave . With just 5,000 residents, Bequia isn’t big, but it has plenty of small guesthouses and nice apartments around the main town of Port Elizabeth. Beautiful and laid back beaches are just steps away.

Bonaire

Divers love bargains and for them, Bonaire, surrounded by reefs, is paradise. Even if you don’t dive, however, this tiny island offers pink-hued beaches, pink-hued flamingos, and a rich, well-preserved history easily sampled by bike. The main town of Kralendijk is a pedestrian charmer with many popularly priced bars and cafes. You can easily find single rooms and the competition means divers can find deals on gear hire and lessons.

A Cuban flag with vague holes on a street in central Havana
Cuba is the quintessential economic destination in the Caribbean © julianpetersphotography / Shutterstock

Cuba

The economic destination par excellence in the Caribbean? Cuba offers endless opportunities for adventure, and the more you live like a local, the less you’ll spend. Even Havana is incredibly cheap, especially since the first thing to do – exploring a myriad of streets lined with crumbling colonial and art deco architecture, while savoring the pulsating local life – is free. across the island, particular case offer homestays (often quite nice) for less than $60 a night.

Dominican Republic

The most popular island in the Caribbean offers plenty of budget choices. Step away from the all-inclusive Punta Cana resort and settle into a lounge chair on the seemingly endless white-sand beaches elsewhere on the island. You will only pay a fraction of the cost of a resort vacation.

Porto Rico

San Juan is a fascinating city with a cultural history that spans centuries. Its long beaches between Isla Verde and Condado are among the most beautiful in Puerto Rico and are lined with modest hotels and dozens of condominiums with affordable short-term rentals. And you can easily walk to all sorts of good restaurants, with prices and menus aimed at residents rather than tourists.

Saba

Where? That’s the common response you get when you say you’re going to Saba – obviously music to the ears of anyone looking for a total Caribbean escape. It is fifteen minutes from St-Martin and Sint Maarten. Pretty little guesthouses perch in the pretty main town of Windwardside, and there are home-style restaurants for savory and spicy dinners. What Saba doesn’t have is a beach, except for a small sandy cove that comes and goes with the tides, but there are some great hikes through Eden’s rainforests.

People strolling on the Paseo de la Princesa boardwalk in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico,
On most islands you can have a fabulous time avoiding cars © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock

walk and ride

Save on the cost of a rental car by simply not renting one! The hassle of having a car is only increased by the cost. On most islands, you can have a fabulous time by avoiding cars and renting just one, at most, for a day or two of exploring.

Many beaches are fully accessible on foot. Strolling along the sand to discover a new snorkeling spot or a beach bar is part of a great day. Larger islands like Puerto Rico have decent bus service. And if you only use a taxi once in a while to go out to dinner, you’ll still save a lot on renting a car – and by not driving, you can have another rum-filled drink.

Eat local

Like almost everywhere in the world, if you eat with local residents you will often pay much less and have much better food – and it will certainly reflect local tastes more authentically. Don’t expect a table on the sand with a view of the waves. One thing to note – in the Caribbean people eat dinner quite early, say 6pm.

Be strategic with resorts

Even if you’ve found plenty of resort accommodation, that doesn’t mean you have to do it all through the resort. Think of the station as your printer at home – it was sold at a low price because the printing company makes its money selling you extras like ink cartridges. The same goes for resorts – once they have you in the room, they plan to make their profit by selling you expensive services and extras.

The resort’s operations office is a big profit center. Instead, use an independent activity vendor on the beach. For tours, look for online reviews from local residents offering more fun and personalized trips than the resort’s offerings.

Drink and eat independently. This welcoming beach bar or cafe probably uses the same rum in its drinks as the resort, but charges a lot less. The same goes for that seafood platter or that oozing cheeseburger.

Planning a special event like a wedding? The resort can organize a memorable event that you will never forget, at least while you are still paying. Instead, find out online what you need to do to get a marriage license, then exchange your vows on the beach of your choice.

Daily costs

Hostel room: $30 to $70
Basic room for two: $60 to $200 or more
Independent apartment: $100 to $350 or more
Public transport ticket: $1 to $2
Coffee or tea: $1 to $2
Cheeseburger: $5 to $12
Dinner for two: $40 to $120 or more
Beer at the bar: $2 to $6
Beach chair rental: $10

This article was first published on February 14, 2012 and updated on January 14, 2022

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