Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations

Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations
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.

If you find this post interesting, be sure to check out Gadling’s archive of budget-friendly travel stories.

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.

Three extraordinary Caribbean hotels for under $150

Yes, the Caribbean is awfully hot right now. And yes, faithful watchers of weather, hurricane season is indeed upon us. But for the next several months, visitors to the Caribbean will benefit from low-season rates that make the region a great value for cost-conscious travelers. With very few exceptions, low season in the Caribbean lasts until mid-November at the earliest and mid-December at the latest.

Here are three very special Caribbean hotels that are set apart from the pack. All offer double rooms in low-season for $150 per night or less. Uncommon care is taken by the proprietors of these three hotels to create remarkable, unique, and locally-grounded environments. All are hugely successful at their mission.

1. Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Tucked into the hills above Port Antonio, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill feels like a hidden treasure. It’s surrounded by fabulous greenery and operates along comprehensively eco-friendly principles, with local staff, reliance on solar energy and rainwater harvesting, anaerobic wastewater treatment, and the absence of in-room air-conditioning. (On the last count, don’t worry. At this altitude air-conditioning is not essential.) There’s a swimming pool here for guests who don’t want to schlep down to the coast’s beaches. The hotel’s restaurant, Mille Fleurs, which sources much of its bounty locally, is unequivocally fantastic. Doubles begin at $138 per night in the off-season. Mocking Bird Hill may close for a week or two in September.

2. Papillote Wilderness Retreat, Roseau, Dominica.

On Dominica, quite possibly the greenest and least exploited island in the Caribbean, another exquisite eco-resort can be found: Papillote Wilderness Retreat, a true labor of love. The resort stretches over a hillside that doubles as a well-maintained botanical garden. The grounds boast mineral springs (one hot and one cold) for soaking. Rooms are simple but cheerful, and make the most of Papillote’s natural setting. The hotel’s restaurant is top-notch and stocked more often than not with local produce. Hotel staff teem with knowledge about the island’s history and ecology. They can assist in organizing hikes and other tours of the island led by able local guides. Doubles begin at $115 per night. Note that Papillote will be closed in September and the first three weeks of October.

3. Auberge Les Petits Saints, Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe.

This beautifully furnished hotel, with an aesthetic somewhere between ornate country estate and neon-pastel riot, offers lovely views over the island of Terre-de-Haut (see above) in Guadeloupe’s Les Saintes archipelago. There really is a feel of antique abandon here, which is delightful through and through. There is a pool on the property, as well. This is France, albeit overseas France, and the in-house restaurant is of course very good, with a mouthwatering Basque tasting plate and fanciful cocktails as standouts. The cozy restaurant terrace twinkles with lights and conversations at night and is without question a really special place to spend an evening. Doubles begin at €110 (currently $141) per night during low season.

(Image: Alex Robertson Textor)

Trade Mocked

You were a cheerleader, you dated a cheerleader, or you hated the cheerleaders. As I recall, that’s how high school worked.

Thanks to travel PR, that same primeval paradigm lives on long after graduation. That miniskirts-shouting-slogans thing still works, whether you’re a used car salesman, Miley Cyrus on VH1 or the tourist board of a small Balkan nation. When it comes to selling your destination in today’s busy world of busy people, a country’s name just isn’t enough–just like school spirit, you need colors, a pep band, a mascot, a brand and most important–a cheer.

It’s tragic but true: tourist boards don’t trust their country’s name to inspire appropriate thoughts in your brain. Toponyms are too open-ended and too untrustworthy–also, way too obvious. For example, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say . . . Monte Carlo? How about Australia? The Bahamas? Kuwait? The Gambia?

Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not enough. Tourist boards want you to choose their destination over all others, then allocate all of your vacation days to them and then come spend your money on very specific things–like miniature golf by the sea or hot air balloon rides across the prairie. In short, they want your school spirit so much they’re churning out cheers to fill up all the Swiss cheese holes in your mental map of the world.

Like a good cheer, a good destination slogan is simple and so memorable it sticks in your head like two-sided tape. Sex sells, but then so does love: “Virginia is for Lovers”, Hungary offers visitors “A Love for Life”, Albania promises “A New Mediterranean Love”, while the highlighted “I feel Slovenia” spells out sweetly “I Feel Love”. Meanwhile, Bosnia & Herzegovina call themselves “the Heart Shaped Land” and Denmark’s logo is a red heart with a white cross. Colombia and Dubai have red hearts in their logo. Everybody else uses sunshine.
There is a direct correlation between sunshine deprivation and travelers with disposable income–sunny places sell, which is why Maldives is “the Sunny Side of Life”, Sicily says “Everything else is in the shade”, Ethiopia quizzically boasts “13 Months of Sunshine”, Portugal is “Europe’s West Coast”, and Spain used to be “Everything Under the Sun”. Spain was also the first country ever to have a logo-the splashy red sun painted by Joan Miró in 1983. Some destination logos work–like the black and red “I LOVE NY” design of Milton Glaser that’s been around ever since the 70s. Others fail to grasp the spirit of a place (cough, Italia). Reducing one’s country to a crazy font and some cheesy clip art often detracts from that country’s best assets. Like nature.

When chasing the crunchy yuppie granola suburbanite dollar on vacation, you’ve gotta roll out Nature and promise them the kind of purity that lacks from their daily life. British Virgin Islands claims “Nature’s Little Secrets” while Belize counterclaims with “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”. Switzerland urges us to “Get Natural”, Poland is “The Natural Choice”, Iceland is “Pure, Natural, Unspoiled”, Ecuador is Life in a Pure State, “Pure Michigan” is just as pure, Costa Rica is “No Artificial Ingredients”, and like a clothing tag that makes you feel good, New Zealand is simply “100% Pure”. New Zealand also wants us to believe that they’re the “youngest country on earth” but that’s pushing it. The youngest country on earth is actually Kosovo (Born February 2008)–so young they’re still working on their slogan.

And there’s a tough one–how do you sell a country that’s just poking its head out from under the covers of war and bloodshed? Kosovo’s big bad next-door neighbor Serbia asks us frankly to “Take a New Look at Your Old Neighbor”; “It’s Beautiful–It’s Pakistan” steers clear of the conflict, Colombia owns up to its knack for kidnapping by insisting, “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”, and Vietnam nudges our memories away from the past and towards “The Hidden Charm” of today.

Our nostalgia for simpler, better, pre-tourist times invokes our most romantic notions about travel: Croatia is “The Mediterranean as it Once Was”, Tahiti consists of “Islands the Way they Used to Be”, and Bangladesh employs a kind of reverse psychology to insist we “Come to Bangladesh, Before the Tourists.” Such slogans of unaffectedness mirror the push for national validation by tourism, where actual authenticity is second to perceived authenticity, hence Malaysia is “Truly Asia”, Zambia is “The Real Africa”, and the Rocky Mountain States make up “The Real America”. Greece is “The True Experience” and Morocco is “Travel For Real”. Everybody wants to be legit.
country logos
Countries without the certified organic label try merely to stupefy us: Israel “Wonders”, Germany is “Simply Inspiring”, Chile is “Always Surprising”, Estonia is “Positively Surprising”, “Amazing Thailand” amazes, and Dominica claims to “Defy the Everyday”. To that same surprising end, Latin America loves trademarking their exclamation points (see ¡Viva Cuba!, Brazil’s one-word essay “Sensational!” and El Salvador’s “Impressive!”)

Where punctuated enthusiasm falls short, countries might confront the traveler with a challenge or a dare. Jamaica projects the burden of proof on its tourists by claiming “Once You Go You Know”, Peru asks that we “Live the Legend”, Canada insists we “Keep Exploring”, South Africa answers your every question with a smiley “It’s Possible”. Meanwhile, Greenland sets an impossibly high bar with “The Greatest Experience”.

Working the totality of a country’s experience into a good slogan is a challenge that often leads to open-ended grandstanding: “It’s Got to be Austria” might be the answer to any question (and sounds better when spoken with an Austrian accent). Next-door Slovakia is the “Little Big Country”, insisting that size is second to experience. Philippines offers “More than the Usual” and small, self-deprecating Andorra confesses, “There’s Just So Much More” (I think what they meant to say is, “come back please”). Really big numbers carries the thought even further: Papua New Guinea is made up of “A Million Different Journeys”; Ireland brightens with “100,000 Welcomes”.

When all else fails, aim for easy alliteration, as in “Enjoy England“, “Incredible India“, “Mystical Myanmar”, and the “Breathtaking Beauty” of Montenegro. (For more on the correlation between simplistic phrases and high mental retention, See Black Eyed Peas-Lyrics).

The point of all this is that today, the internet is our atlas and Google is our guidebook. It’s how we travel, how we think about travel and how we plan our travel. Punch in a country like Tunisia and you’re greeted with a dreamy curly-cue phrase like “Jewel of the Mediterranean”–Type in next-door neighbor Algeria and you get a glaring State Department warning saying “Keep Away.” In a scramble for those top ten search results, destinations compete with a sea of digital ideas that pre-define their tourist appeal. It’s why we’ll never find that page proclaiming Iran “The Land of Civilized and Friendly People” but why a simple “Dubai” turns up Dubai Tourism in first place, along with their moniker “Nowhere Like Dubai” (which should win some kind of truth in advertising prize.)

That aggressive, American-style marketing has taken over the billion-dollar travel industry is obvious. Nobody’s crying over the fact that we sell destinations like breakfast cereal–that countries need a bigger and brighter box with a promised prize inside in order to lull unassuming tourist shoppers into stopping, pulling it off the shelf, reading the back and eventually sticking it in their cart. I guess the sad part is how the whole gregarious exercise limits travel and the very meaning of travel. By boiling down a country into some bland reduction sauce of a slogan, we cancel out the diversity of experience and place, trade wanderlust for jingoism, and turn our hopeful worldview into a kind of commercial ADHD in which we suddenly crave the Jersey Shore like a kid craves a Happy Meal.

Nobody’s ever asked me to join their tourist board focus group, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own opinions and tastes. For instance, my daily reality is a stereo cityscape of car alarms and jackhammers. Any country that simply placed the word “Quiet” or “Peaceful” in lower-case Times New Roman, 24-point font white type in the upper right hand corner of a double-truncated landscape spread–well, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Better yet–how about a one-minute TV commercial of total silence. (“Oh, wow honey, look!–that’s where I wanna go.”)

This is probably why I’ve never been in a focus group. For all the focus on authenticity and reality, I find most tourism slogans lacking in both. For the most part, they are limiting and unoriginal, easily dropped into any of the above categories. Even worse, today’s slogans challenge actual truths gained through travel experience. One day spent in any place offers a lifetime of material for long-lasting personal travel slogans. My own favorites include Russia (“Still Cold”), Turkey (“Not Really Europe At All”), England (“Drizzles Often”), Orlando (“Cheesy as Hell”), and Ireland (“Freakin’ Expensive”).

As a writer, I must argue against the cheerleaders and in favor of words–the more words we attach to a destination the better the sell. I think it’s safe to assume that Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia has done more for Argentina tourism than any of their own slogans. Similarly, Jack London gives props to Alaska, Mark Twain mystifies us with the Mississippi, and Rudyard Kipling keeps sending people to India. All four authors wrote about love, nature, and sunshine. They wrote long books filled with enthusiasm and punctuated with exclamation marks. They made us fall in love and yearn for places we never saw or knew.

No matter how many millions get spent on tourist slogans, today’s trademarked PR phraseology has generally failed to hit the mark. Perhaps they’ll make us rethink a place–reconsider a country we’d somehow looked over, but can a two or three word slogan ever touch us in that tender way, make us save up all our money, pack our bags and run away?

I don’t think so.

Win a trip to Dominica by showing off your adventurous spirit

As far as travel contests go, they don’t come much easier than this one. Wend Magazine, Adventure Dominica, and Ahnu footwear are joining forces to send a lucky winner, and their guest, off on a tropical escape to the island paradise of Dominica. They’re offering up airfare for two from the U.S. or Canada and five days/four nights stay at the Calibishie Cove Hotel, one of the top eco-lodges on the island, not to mention all the sun and surf you can take in while you’re there.

To win, you simply need to submit a photo that best captures your adventurous spirit. The photo can be from practically any place or any activity, but it needs to show off your adventurous side in the best way possible. For instance, perhaps you’ll need to dig up that photo of you hiking the Inca Trail or kayaking the Grand Canyon. What ever it is, find it, and send it to contest@adventuretodominica.com and if your image is selected, you’ll be on your way to a vacation you won’t soon forget.

Like the rest of the Caribbean, Dominica has plenty of beaches and sun to go around. But it is also an excellent destination for adventure travelers looking for a tropical location to explore. The island has miles of hiking trails that wind through lush rainforests teeming with wildlife and over a thousand species of flowering plants, while hundreds of beautiful rivers flow by, fed by the more than 300 inches of annual rainfall there. And when you grow tired of exploring above the surface, simply head below for something completely different. Dominica is a great diving and snorkeling destination too, with plenty of marine life and colorful coral reefs to explore.

So, dig up that photo and send it off today. It just might earn you that warm weather escape you’ve been dreaming of, and although spring is officially just around the corner, it never hurts to have a little fun in the tropical sun.

Update: Adventure Dominica has a posting on this contest too. You can find it by clicking here. As mentioned, the rules are simple and straight forward.%Gallery-22103%

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Be sure to check out Episode 4 of Travel Talk TV, which features a scuba diving adventure in California, international dating tips, and a sofa in an aquarium!

The 11 coolest flags in the world?

The travelers here at Gadling have seen a lot of world flags. We’ve seen the world’s flags made out of food. We were also amused by this opinionated list ranking the world’s best and worst flags. But we just can’t seem to get enough. In fact, in the interest of your ongoing and insatiable need for world flag amusement, we’ve stumbled across yet another list of the “11 Coolest Flags Ever” and wanted to share it (just because we like you).

This new list has no consistent methodology for selection. And some of the flags represent countries and empires that no longer exist. But leave that aside for a moment and simply admire the sheer visual awesomeness of the flags that were selected. In addition to the bear holding the axe shown above (Yaroslavl Oblast in Russia), this highly scientific list includes a flag with a parrot (Dominica), an flag with an AK-47 and a book (Mozambique) and of course the flag of a guy getting beheaded (Benin Empire – don’t mess with them).

Each of these off-the-wall official banners raises an interesting question. What exactly does a flag represent? Does it tell the story of a country’s history and/or creation? Do the colors of the flag have symbolic significance? Perhaps flags don’t mean anything at all – as you can see from Libya’s flag, sometimes you just don’t even bother. Make sure to check out the list and leave us a comment if you know of any “cooler” flags, either historical or current.