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 in to 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.
Destination Guides for the Caribbean
Accommodation – Hostels cost around $20 USD per evening in the off season, with budget hotels coming in at around $80 USD for single or double occupancy. 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 – Prices vary considerably depending on which island you are on, with a cheap to go meal in the Dominican Republic costing as little as $10 USD or as much as $20 USD in Aruba. 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 is about $20 for the day.
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!
Top Things to See and Do in the Caribbean
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.
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.
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.
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 when snorkeling makes it all worthwhile.
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.
Cayman Turtle Farm, Cayman Islands – The Turtle Farm 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.
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 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.
Lose yourself in the clouds – 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.
Visit the world’s “wickedest” city – 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 centre 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 – 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.
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. Here is how to Sail for free.