The Best Caribbean Islands To Visit on a Budget
Thanks to its status as a U.S. territory, this exotic island paradise is surprisingly easy—and cheap!—to visit. No passports are required when traveling here, and as a gateway from the U.S. to many other islands throughout the Caribbean, non-stop flights are plentiful and affordable—we’re talking well under $200—from many U.S. airports. Once you’re here, plan your trip around the many free or very low-cost activities: Take a tour of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. parks system; walk the colorful streets of Old San Juan and visit with the town’s famous friendly cats; sip rum at Casa Bacardi (tours go for as little as $15). For the ultimate in affordability, consider staying outside the border of touristy San Juan—in surf-centric Rincon, you can find a stylish one-bedroom suite with a pool for $62 per night.
For an island that has it all—beautiful beaches, Instagram-worthy streets, wondrous coral reefs—you’d expect a five-star price tag to come along with it. But this pristine Dutch territory is surprisingly budget-friendly—so much so that it ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the Best Affordable Caribbean Destinations. (The report takes into account average hotel prices throughout the year.) While you can fly direct from a handful of major airports, finding a cheap plane ticket can take a bit of digging—your best bet, however, is to visit in the off season (between May and November) when you can snag steeply reduced flights and hotels.
If your idea of planning a quick escape means no planning at all, here’s your perfect money-conscious match. The Dominican Republic—which makes up the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola—is rife with all-inclusive resorts that make booking a vacation as easy as one click. While all-inclusive packages typically take care of your airfare for you, more than 50 airlines service the resort town of Punta Cana, making affordable, non-stop flights a cinch to find. U.S. News & World Report suggests visiting from March to May to escape the crowds and steeper prices of winter time.
It takes less than two hours—and, in the off-season, less than $300—to fly from the U.S. to Jamaica’s Montego Bay, but once you’re there, you’ll feel worlds away. The craggy coastline, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and caves offer virtually unlimited adventure at no or low cost. And thanks to the plethora of hotels, inns, Airbnbs, and all-inclusive resorts, finding a deal is relatively simple. Even at the famous Rock House in Negril—a gorgeous 34-room boutique hotel perched atop pristine waterfront cliffs—rooms can be found for less than $100 outside of peak travel times (typically December through April).
As far as Caribbean islands go, Grenada tends to fly a bit under the radar—but the tides are turning on this idyllic Spice Island. (According to the Caribbean Tourism Association, the island experienced the fastest visitor growth rate of any other Caribbean destination this year.) Before the secret is officially out on this hidden gem, budget seekers can still visit Grenada for a deal. According to U.S. News & World Report, the best time to go is late fall, after the rainy season subsides and before the winter crowds move in. If you stay near the island’s famous Grand Anse Beach, you can forego the rental car and get around on foot or minibus; hotels here are discounted up to 40 percent in the off season.
Anyplace that’s a favorite getaway for the royal family is bound to come with a royal price tag, right? Thankfully, not quite. While it’s true that this lush, quiet island—it doesn’t have a single streetlight—boasts plenty in the way of luxury, travelers who don’t mind living like the locals can enjoy the island’s top-notch beaches and seclusion for a fraction of the price. (This adorable sunshine-yellow cabin rents for just $80 per night.) To pass the time, hit the public beaches, climb to the top of Nevis Peak, or stroll through one of Nevis’s many historic sites, like the birthplace of founding father Alexander Hamilton (admission is $5).
There’s much more to this island chain than the tourist-centric sliver of coastline you’ll see from a cruise ship. Just 180 miles from Miami, Nassau offers incredibly affordable flights that leave a little bit of extra cash left over to really get out and see the Bahamas. The Exumas are a pristine, largely untouched part; if you can swing the extra $135 round-trip ferry ticket, you can find a cute rental cottage for less than $90. But even if you stay on Nassau, there’s plenty for the budget-minded, from a free distillery tour to the local Fish Fry, a little strip of beachfront food stands offering fresh seafood at reasonable prices.