When traveling in someplace sunny and warm, your choices are as diverse as the islands. But you don't need to be seduced by the cliché of pricey beach resorts or isolated boutique getaways costing 100's of dollars a night.
You can enjoy the same beautiful beaches and lusciously warm blue waters as the big spenders, and you can do so on a tight budget – without settling for overhyped all-inclusive mega-hotels with countless tiny rooms and buffets piled high with fast-food fare. Cool, interesting and affordable accommodation can be found on islands scattered across these achingly alluring waters, and with smart planning in advance and keeping costs in mind while there, you can easily travel round the Caribbean on a tight budget.
Know when you should go
During the low season, June to August, rates plummet everywhere. In high season from December to March, airfares and rates soar in inverse proportion towards the temperatures in northern climates. If beating the cold is vitally important, you may look for the first two weeks of December, after US Thanksgiving, and again in the other half of January. Pricier dramatic savings, there is however usually a slight lull in the winter crowds over these periods.
Shop around for flights
There's no secret cheap way to reach the Caribbean – almost everyone not bobbing around the islands on a cruise ship arrives by air. The more popular islands are served by multiple airlines from the US, Canada and Europe. Work the web comparing airfares. In high season, the earlier you buy your tickets the greater as prices won't go down near your departure date.
Within someplace sunny and warm, flights can be expensive, so it's rarely worth it to fly to an island with cheap airfares after which hop over to your intended destination instead of spending money on a flight straight there.
Book your room
Just like airfares, accommodation prices don't go down the closer you get to your travel date in peak season.
Smaller hotels and guesthouses often have rate cards that don't change based on demand, but large resorts and hotels do run various specials that may mean big savings for those prepared to commit many months before they plan to travel. Here again, time you spend shopping online booking sites will pay off in savings. Look for deals which include free meals, excursions, room upgrades and much more.
Large resorts and online booking sites may also offer package offers which include airfare to the island. These can offer great savings overall, although not always. Check the cost of flying separately so you can smartly evaluate package offers.
Find a budget island
You will get deals on many Caribbean islands, especially the large and popular ones such as Jamaica. The following are worth considering as they offer budget-friendly options and are great places to visit.
Yes, the west coast of beautiful Barbados is renowned for snooty old clubs and resorts, but elsewhere you can find bargains. In the south, Dover Beach has the requisite beckoning sands, a string of budget hotels and access to fabulous windsurfing. There are even cheap and efficient local buses for car-free odysseys island-wide.
The star from the string of islands known as the Grenadines (of St Vincent and the Grenadines' fame), Bequia is a imagine sand and palms around an ideal little harbor that may prove impossible to leave. With barely 5000 residents, Bequia isn't big, however it has large amount of little guesthouses and cute apartments round the main town of Port Elizabeth. Gorgeous and laid-back beaches are short walks away.
Divers like bargains, and for them, reef-ringed Bonaire is paradise. Even though you don't dive, however, this small island offers pink-hued beaches, pink-hued flamingos and a rich well-preserved history easily sampled by bike. The main town of Kralendijk is really a walkable charmer with lots of popularly priced bars and cafes. It is simple to find simple rooms, and competition means that divers will find deals on gear rental and lessons.
The ultimate budget destination within the Caribbean? Cuba offers endless possibilities for adventure, and the more you reside just like a local, the less you'll spend. Even Havana can be quite cheap, especially given that the number one thing to do – exploring myriad streets lined with crumbling colonial and art deco architecture, all while savoring the pulsing local life – is free. Across the island, casa particulares offer stays in private homes (quite nice) for under US$60 a night.
The Caribbean's most widely used island offers plenty of budget choices. Escape from the all-inclusive resort center of Punta Cana and settle right into a lounger around the seemingly endless white-sand beaches elsewhere around the island. You'll pay a fraction of the price of a resort vacation.
San Juan is really a fascinating city with a cultural history spanning centuries. Its long beaches between Isla Verde and Condado are some of the nicest in Puerto Rico and therefore are lined with modest hotels and lots of condo buildings with budget-friendly short-term rentals. And you can easily walk to all manner of great eateries, with prices and menus aimed at residents instead of tourists.
Where? That's the most popular response you get whenever you say you're likely to Saba – obviously music to the ears of anyone searching for a total Caribbean escape. It is a quick fifteen-minute hop from St-Martin & Sint Maarten. Cute little guesthouses perch within the pretty main capital of scotland- Windwardside, and there are homestyle eateries for savory and spicy dinners. What Saba doesn't have is a beach, except one little cove of sand which comes and complements the tides, but it does have great hiking through Eden-like rainforests.
Walk and ride
Save around the price of a rental car simply by not renting one! The hassle of having a car is just increased by the cost. On most islands you'll have a fabulous stay by going car-free and just renting one, at most, for a few days of exploring.
Many beach areas are completely walkable. Strolling along the sand to look at a brand new snorkeling site or beach bar is part of an excellent day. Larger islands such as Puerto Rico have decent bus service. And if you simply make use of a taxi every now and then for visiting dinner, you will still save a lot over renting a car – and by not driving, you could have another rum-filled drink.
Like almost anyplace on the planet, if you eat with local residents, you'll often pay much less and have far better food – and it'll certainly more authentically reflect local tastes. Just don't expect a table around the sand having a view of the surf. One thing to note – across the Caribbean, people eat dinner fairly early, say 6pm.
Be strategic with resorts
Even should you found a good deal on resort accommodations, that doesn't mean you need to do everything through the resort. Consider the resort like your printer at home – it was sold cheap because the printer company makes its money selling you extras like inkjet cartridges. The same pertains to resorts – after they have you in the room, they intend to make their gain selling you pricey services and extras.
The resort activities desk is a big profit center. Use an independent-activities vendor out on the beach instead. For tours, look for online reviews of local residents offering trips which are more fun and more personable than the resort offerings.
Drink and eat independently. That inviting beach bar or cafe is most likely using the same rum in the drinks because the resort but charging a smaller amount. You have to that seafood platter or oozing cheeseburger.
Planning an occasion like a wedding? The resort can arrange a memorable event that you'll always remember, a minimum of if you are still repaying it. Instead, find out online what you need to do to obtain a marriage license after which exchange vows by the pool of your choice.
Hostel room: $30 -70
Basic room for 2: $60 -200 or more
Self-catering apartment: $100 -350 or more
Public transport ticket: $1 -2
Coffee or tea: $1 -2
Cheeseburger: $5 -12
Dinner for two: $40 -120 or more
Beer in the bar: $2 -6
Beach lounger rental: $10