If you get all your information about the Caribbean from travel magazines, you might find yourself convinced that a night’s stay in the region will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. The Caribbean’s super posh reputation has its roots in the region’s tourism history; until relatively recently, tourism in the Caribbean was largely restricted to the very rich. And as one might expect in a region that has historically catered to the rich, there are lots of impossibly exclusive luxury properties in the Caribbean today.
But these resorts do not and should not define tourism in the region. There are many spots across the Caribbean where costs are low and the quality of experiences on offer is high. Here are ten destinations where low hotel rates, exciting activities, and compelling local culture make for real budget-friendly value.
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1. Carriacou, Grenada. North of the main island of Grenada is the laid-back island of Carriacou. There are some great beaches on the island (see above for evidence.) A fantastically budget-friendly place to stay is the lovely Green Roof Inn (from $40 for one; from $70 for two) north of Hillsborough, the island’s main settlement.
2. Havana, Cuba. Day-to-day expenses in the Cuban capital can be quite cheap. Casas particulares (owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast establishments) can be found for about $30 for two, and meals can be cobbled together for very little. Cultural events are astoundingly cheap, and reasonable taxi rates can be negotiated. For a listing of good casas particulares, check out CubaParticular and Casa Particular.
3. Big Corn Island, Nicaragua. It is often forgotten that the Caribbean Sea extends to Central America. Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua presents a fascinating mélange of English-speaking Creoles and Spanish- and Miskito-speaking transplants from the mainland. Though undeniably hardscrabble, Big Corn Island has some beautiful territory and some unbelievably cheap hotels. Try Princesa de la Isla (from $60, with excellent Italian meals on offer) and Martha’s Bed and Breakfast (from $50). These are, by the way, among the most expensive places to stay on the island.
4. Saba. Referred to by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen,” Saba is one of the most beautiful and least well-known corners of the Caribbean. A mountain jutting out of the sea, it has no beaches and few obvious tourist draws beyond diving. Visitors discover cute villages full of houses with gingerbread trim, lush hiking trails, and outstanding views. Check out the Ecolodge Rendez-Vous (from $75) and El Momo (from $50 for one; $65 for two).
5. Anegada, British Virgin Islands. It takes a concerted effort to get here, but once on this furthest-flung of the BVIs, accommodations can be quite reasonable. The limestone island boasts some of the loveliest beaches in the entire region, yet has seen surprisingly little tourist development. Neptune’s Treasure offers double rooms starting at $110 in high season.6. Montserrat. Hit in 1995 by a major volcanic eruption, Montserrat saw most of its inhabitants decamping to the UK and elsewhere. Though many Montserratians have returned since then, the island’s tourism numbers have not. This fact translates into all sorts of great deals for visitors, who can busy themselves on the verdant island with beachcombing, hiking, rum shop tours, and visits to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Lodging at relaxed Gingerbread Hill begins at $45 for two.
7. Dominica. This very green island is no typical beach destination. It sees few typical Caribbean tourists, drawing instead eco-minded sorts who come to bask in its physical beauty. Highlights include hiking activities, national parks, striking waterfalls, hot springs, and all sorts of fascinating geological oddities, including the island’s awe-inspiring Boiling Lake. Stay at the remarkable Papillote Wilderness Retreat (from $100) or go fully rustic at the impressively eco-minded 3 Rivers (from $70; camping plots from $15).
8. Bonaire. Divers flock to this bone-dry Dutch island at the southern end of the Caribbean. There are other draws, too: snorkeling, historical tourism, and beachbumming on offshore Klein Bonaire. The island’s budget-friendly secret? Its stock of inexpensive bungalows and inns. Among other picks, check out Lagoen Hill (from $72), Lizard Inn (from $70), and Ocean View Villas (from $100).
9. Guadeloupe. On the surface, this overseas department of France doesn’t appear to be a good place to locate bargains. It’s expensive to access from North America and it uses the euro. But below the surface is Guadeloupe’s collection of very cheap gîtes–essentially b&bs, though often with a mandatory week-long stay required. Another plus is Guadeloupe’s appealing diversity of landscapes, from the mountains of Terre-Basse to the sleepy rum-producing island of Marie-Galante and the terribly cute isle of Terre-de-Haut. Find more than 200 gîtes on Guadeloupe listed by Gîtes de France.
10. Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago. This southern Caribbean island has seen considerable tourist development at its southwestern end. Journey to the island’s opposite extremity and find jungle-encircled beaches that never get packed, and cute fishing towns like Charlotteville where inns and house rentals are inexpensive. Cottages at beachside Man-O-War Bay Cottages begin at $60 for two.