The lure of warm sunny days, breezy romantic nights, and fabulous beach resorts make the Caribbean one of the most visited destinations on the globe. Mega yachts, cruise ships, and airborne passengers flock to these scintillating islands to rest, relax and play in the shimmering turquoise waters.
The Caribbean is the kind of place where you can spend money like a Donald Trump, or you can find economical dining and accommodation options that won’t break the bank. Here are some tips that will help you save money while traveling the beautiful islands of the Caribbean.
Prices vary considerably in the Caribbean depending on the season. To get the best rates, travel during off-season (from July 1 through September 30), which coincides with hurricane season. Many hotels, restaurants and airlines lower their rates (some, up to 50%!) during this period. Don’t be crippled with worry about storms: some Caribbean islands fall south of the “hurricane belt” and are rarely affected by the rains. High season is generally from mid December through early January, so it’s best to spend Christmas elsewhere (unless you’re Simon Cowell or Beyonce).
Entertain the advantages of renting a villa or condo versus staying at a luxury resort. Some condos or villas can hold between two and twelve people. If you’re traveling with several family members or friends, you can easily find a home that can accommodate your entire party in separate rooms.
A beautiful 3 bedroom villa with a private pool and maid service may only run $2000 for a week. With 6 people traveling, this winds up costing only $47 per night per person — far cheaper than any island resort. There are also small guest houses on many islands that cater to couples and honeymooners. Look into these as they are normally family run, may include some meals, and the prices can be highly affordable.
Some of the very best dining in the islands is the local fare being served from small shanties on the beach grilling fresh seafood or corner stands with scrumptious and budget priced dahls, rotis and johnny cakes. You can gorge yourself on fresh local food cooked by islanders on less than $10 per person. A large dahl in St Lucia (fried puffed bread stuffed with peas) is only $1 USD.
Saturday markets are a wonderful way to stock up on local fruits, breads and vegetables for your villa kitchen. And shopping the markets in the Caribbean is a truly unique experience, with sweet ladies on the sidewalks hawking their little bags of cinnammon, nutmeg, cocoa and ginger. You’ll also find an amazing variety of root vegetables such as dasheen, wild yam and local potatoes as well as the basics of all West Indian cooking: onion, tomatoes, various hot peppers and garlic. Volcanic islands such as Dominica, St Lucia, Grenada, Nevis and Montserrat will have an abundant supply of fresh bananas, limes, pineapple, avocado, passion fruit, star fruit, grapefruit and many others.
Bonus: If you’re in your own villa, you can easily make many of your own meals, cutting costs further.
Drinking can range from very expensive at luxury hotels and bars to really darn cheap at local rum shops. As most islands are duty free, you can purchase bottles of your favorite libations at seriously discounted prices (at least compared to the prices in the United States). Rum is one of the main products of the Caribbean, and almost each island has its own brand. At about $6 a bottle, you’ll find them very good and very inexpensive. Pick up a 6 pack of Coke and a few limes and have yourself a party.
Be reminded that while liquor laws are pretty non-existent, practice safe driving as the roads are small, often climbing treacherous mountains. Driving is on the left side of the road on many islands.
Keep a close watch on travel sites that offer frequent fare sales. Be flexible with your dates and try to travel outside high season to get the very best rates on air fares. Many low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and AirTran have entered the Caribbean market, so there are deals to be found if you’re vigilant.
Buy locally produced crafts such as straw baskets, wood carvings and unusual art work. If your budget is really tight, collect shells from the beach early in the morning or frame your beautiful photos once home. Don’t forget that most islands are duty free, meaning you can save a lot of money on souvenirs such as jewelry, liquor and tobacco products.
One way to bring the islands back to your friends and family is to purchase locally produced honey, spices, nuts and sauces to make a West Indian dinner back home. This is better than a t-shirt any day.
The natural beauty of the islands allows for a variety of activities such as sailing, hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, river rafting, zip-lining, golfing, or touring historical sites. Coupled with the array of beach activities available, it can be fairly inexpensive to find engaging sports for everyone to enjoy.
Of course, most islands also have cultural centers where you can see how life was in the past, as well as museums and other public events.
Save on transportation costs by using public transportation. Most islands have fairly regular bus service for the locals for next to nothing. Rental cars can be very expensive on some islands — as much as $75/day on St John! If you’re not interested in taking the bus, be sure to stay in a resort that offers complimentary shuttle service around the island.
This may seem like common sense, but bringing your own suntan lotion, magazines, sunglasses, snacks and refillable water bottles will save you from purchasing these items at a higher cost once you arrive. Keep in mind that almost everything must be imported to the Caribbean, therefore the costs on simple things like these are surprisingly high, to compensate for shipping.
if you’re really inclined to see the Caribbean in its most natural, pristine light you may opt for camping accommodations. A few islands, such as St John and St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, have eco-lodges with large tents mounted on wooden platforms for the naturists on a budget. In addition to being a bit cheaper, these “tent lodges” offer visitors the chance to get closer to the environment, since they’re built right into the hillsides!
For a trip of a lifetime, relax yourself in the beautiful Caribbean. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg… unless you’re a pirate.