The Caribbean is made up of over 5000 islands, reefs, and cays, each with its own unique attractions and price ranges. In recent years, even very secluded islands have been transformed into some of the world’s most exclusive vacationing destinations. There is a misconception that a trip to the islands will be extremely expensive and not a viable destination for budget travelers. While accommodation can be expensive, costs of food and activities can vary greatly island to island. With so many places to choose from in this guide, you’ll find a corner of the Caribbean suitable to your budget.
Accommodation – There aren’t many hostels or campgrounds to be found in the Caribbean, but the ones that do exist will cost around $20 USD per night. A basic room in a 2-star budget hotel in a room that sleeps two starts around an $80 USD per night average. Airbnb is also available throughout the Caribbean and you can find entire homes (usually studio apartments) starting around a $50 USD per night average. You will find more inventory if you look around $95 USD or above, though. While there are a lot of islands in the Caribbean and prices vary widely, remember that overall, this is an expensive part of the world.
Food – Food typical of the Caribbean includes dishes with lots of beans, plantains, rice, sweet potatoes, coconut, pork beef, chicken, and fish. Prices vary considerably depending on which island you are on (Is it big? Small? Does it have a large local population? Or does it cater to tourists?) but you’re looking at between $10-20 USD for a meal at a restaurant. Prices go up from there. If you can find food at the local markets, those will cost around $5. My advice for the region: avoid restaurants near cruise ports and resorts, find the local markets, and cook your food as often as you can. Rarely are the fancy meals worth their exorbitant price!
Transportation – Bus services on the islands are inexpensive, rarely more than $3 USD. You can hitchhike safely around most of the islands too (save Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti). On islands without a bus system, a taxi may be the only form of transport with fares getting up to $15 USD for even a short journey. To get between islands, you’ll need your own boat or to fly. In the Lower Antilles, there are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option.
Activities – In general, tours, historical, and architectural attractions are relatively inexpensive ($5-20 USD), while diving trips usually costing a minimum of $125 USD. Snorkeling can be found as low as $20 USD for the day.
Suggested daily budget – $60-100 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
While each country guide has specific tips, here are some general money saving tips for the region:
- Travel off-season – Prices for vacations plummet the third week in April. You can save 30% or more are possible during the “summer” season (April–December 21st).
- Drink local alcohol – Rum is around 1/3 the price in the Caribbean than in the US, and many islands have their own local beers which are much cheaper than the more famous imported beers (such as Corona, Budweiser etc.).
- Camp – Some islands allow visitors to camp on the beach for around $10 USD. This can be a good way to save money on accommodation on some of the safer, less inhabited islands or on those where typical hotel prices are astronomical.
- Take a cruise – Cruising can offer a low-cost way of seeing various islands, as well as getting your transport, accommodation, and food paid in advance. Many cruises can be as cheap as $50 USD per day, especially if booked far in advance or very last minute. You won’t see much of the culture of each place but if you’re short on time, this gives you the most for your buck.
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is a website that connects locals and travelers. It’s a form of cross-cultural exchange as well as a means to get a free place to stay each night! There are hosts all over the region and, with accommodation costs so high, this is a sure-fire way to save money and meet locals who can take you to all the cheap places on each island!
- Get food at the supermarkets – Buy food in the supermarkets, and cook your own meals. Restaurants are expensive here as they cater mostly towards travelers with a large budget.
- Book online – If you’re planning on going diving, or doing any other expensive activities, be sure to check online for discounts before. You can usually find some deals if you do a bit of research.
- Travel off-season – Travel during the North American spring and summer as well as when kids are in school and save up to 30% on prices. Everyone comes here during the winter and school break and prices skyrocket. Avoid those times!
Top Things to See and Do in the Caribbean
- Visit Antigua – 365 pink and white beaches can be found in Antigua, one of the largest Caribbean islands. If you’re into sailing, sign up to be a deckhand or just observe Sailing Week, the world renowned regatta.
- Splash around Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica – This is the most popular visitor attraction in Jamaica. At 660 ft, it consists of an impressive waterfall and collection of plunge pools which lead directly into the ocean. You can add bouldering to your tour for a more energetic way to get back to the beach. Entry is $20 USD.
- Visit Havana, Cuba – Often eliciting images of revolutionary heroes and a turbulent history, Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean. However, in recent times, the city has emerged as a tourist hotspot, rich in history, architecture, and culture. Try to visit the country in July when Santiago (the second-largest city) celebrates its annual Carnival de Santiago de Cuba. From July 24-26, the streets fill with music and dancing, a real sight to behold.
- Go snorkeling or diving – Divers and even snorkelers can visit shipwrecks and coral reefs in the waters surrounding most islands. In general, diving trips can be expensive, averaging around $150 USD per person, but if you bring your own snorkeling gear you can enjoy the underwater sights for free.
- See Trunk Bay, St John – Frequently voted one of the best beaches in the world, Trunk Bay is picture perfect with white sands and clear water. It does cost a few dollars to get onto the beach, but the coral and marine life you’ll see while snorkeling will make it all worthwhile. A day pass is $5 USD.
- Tour the Mount Gay Rum Distillery, Barbados – Barbados is famous for its rum, and Mount Gay is one of the oldest and most respected distilleries in the world. This tour takes you through the history and process of distillation. For $10 USD, take the tour – it’s worth it just for the huge discounts on Mount Gay that you receive at the end.
- The Turtle Farm – This is the most popular attraction in the Cayman Island and is the only farm of its kind in the world as it specializes in controlled breeding. There are plenty of adult turtles weighing in at hundreds of pounds and others that are smaller than a few inches. No matter their size, all seem ready for a photo op. It’s open daily from 8am-4pm and prices start at $18 USD.
- Go zip-lining in St. Lucia – Looking for an adventurous break from sun-tanning? Try zip-lining through the rain forest canopy in St. Lucia. Expect to pay around $75 USD for the use of twelve different zip-lines.
- Learn about Reggae’s roots, Jamaica – Jamaica is home to the reggae music and culture. While Bob Marley’s legacy reverberates throughout the island, you can get the most out of your reggae immersion by visiting the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Marley’s hometown. Admission to the museum is $25 USD and the museum is open daily (except Sundays) from 9:30am-4pm.
- Lose yourself in the clouds, Jamaica – Holywell National Park lies in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica. Walk along the mountain’s edge, and find yourself in a sea of clouds, with birds and monkeys screeching around you. A short drive from Kingston, this tropical park can easily be visited in an afternoon. Park entrance is $10 USD and the park is open daily from 8am-6pm.
- Visit the world’s “wickedest” city, Jamaica – Port Royal, at the mouth of Kingston harbor (Jamaica), once held a reputation as the “wickedest city on earth.” In the 17th century, it was a haven for buccaneers and consisted mainly of bars and brothels. At the end of the century, much of the city sunk as the result of a huge earthquake. Underwater archaeological excavations are underway, but you can still visit some of the ruins and tour a small information center during your visit.
- Kayak around the islands – One of the best ways to explore these islands by water, but if you can’t afford your own powerboat, a half-day kayaking tour is a great alternative. Prices will vary by island, but for example, you can expect to pay around $100 USD for a six-hour guided tour in Aruba.
- Pretend you’re a pirate, Bahamas – If you’re looking for more pirate culture, check out the Pirates of Nassau Museum in the Bahamas, which consists of informative historical exhibits and a replica pirate ship. Admission is $12 USD and it’s open daily 9am-6pm with abbreviated hours on Saturday.
- Hike Gros Piton in St. Lucia – These twin volcanic peaks that rise out of the water are a marvel to behold, but even more of an experience to climb. Gros Piton is open to experienced hikers. Beware, at 2,619-feet, it’s a steep, challenging, but rewarding climb.
- Sail around the Virgin Islands – Sailing around the islands is one of the most popular and fun activities you can do. You can get day sails or multi-day trips. I sailed around for a month and had a phenomenal time. (And there’s an art to it, but you can even sail for free.)