The Caribbean is made up of over 5,000 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 vacation to the Caribbean will be extremely expensive and not a viable region of the world for budget travelers.
But that’s not true. After all, this is a huge region and all the islands are different! You can definitely visit the Caribbean on a budget. Sure, while accommodation can be expensive, costs of food and activities 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. Trust me. I’ve been to a lot of the countries in this part of the world (I love a good beach!).
This Caribbean travel guide will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, ways to save money, and everything else you need to plan a great trip!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Caribbean
1. Sail around the Virgin Islands
2. Visit Havana, Cuba
3. Hike the Pitons in St. Lucia
4. Swim with the pigs, Bahamas
5. See Trunk Bay, St. John
Other Things to See and Do in the Caribbean
1. Sample rum at the Mount Gay Rum Distillery, Barbados
Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and Mount Gay the oldest continuously running rum distillery in the world. (They’ve been doing it for over 300 years!) For $10 USD you can tour the Mount Gay Rum Distillery – and you get huge discounts on Mount Gay at the end too!
2. Learn about Reggae’s roots, Jamaica
Jamaica is home to reggae music, and there’s little chance of you going anywhere in Jamaica and not hearing Bob Marley’s beats blaring in the background. Make the pilgrimage to his museum, the large house on Hope Road in Kingston, where he lived and worked between 1975-1981. You’ll learn more about the iconic Rastafarian’s life, with glimpses into his recording studio and bedroom. Admission is $25 USD.
3. Splash around Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica
This is the most popular visitor attraction in Jamaica. Located in Ocho Rios, these falls cascading over plateaus are 600 feet high and are stunning. For those who are adventurous enough, you can climb up them — but for everyone else, walk the trail that follows the river or go for a swim in one of the many azure pools at the base of the falls. Entry $20 USD.
4. Go snorkeling or diving
Divers and even snorkelers can visit shipwrecks and coral reefs in the waters surrounding the islands. In the Bahamas, the Tongue of the Ocean is an oceanic trench that runs along the entire length of the Andros Island coast. The wall of the trench leads to an almost 6,000 feet drop to the seabed where divers can get up close and personal with reef sharks as they swarm in to feed. Two-tank drives start from $120 USD. St. Lucia is another great place to explore the ocean for its clear Caribbean waters and a vast array of sea creatures, including parrotfish, trumpet fish, and needlefish, especially in the Anse Chastanet Reef. Diving costs start around $90 USD for a two-tank dive and snorkeling costs from $60 USD.
5. Go zip-lining in St. Lucia
If you’re looking for an adventurous break from sun-tanning, try zip-lining through the rain forest canopy. Adventure Tours St. Lucia has a total of 12 lines, including the highest, longest, and fastest line on the island. There are also five net bridges and lots of opportunities to catch some gorgeous views over St. Lucia. You’ll pay 230 XCD ($85 USD) for a full day of zip lining.
6. Visit Antigua
Antigua is one of the largest Caribbean islands, with over 365 pink and white beaches (including Dickenson Bay and Pigeon Point Beach). If you’re into sailing, sign up to be a deckhand or observe Sailing Week at the end of April, the world-renowned regatta featuring 150-200 yachts and more than 1,500 participants.
7. See the world’s “wickedest” city, Jamaica
Most travelers don’t venture into Jamaica’s eastern parish of Portland — it’s an area off the tourist trail and a nice alternative to the crowds on the coast. But if you do come here, you’ll be rewarded with peaceful beaches, endless natural beauty, and friendly locals who aren’t afraid to chat you up. While you’re here, visit the Blue Lagoon, see Somerset Falls, and sample plenty of jerk chicken in the town of Boston.
8. 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. One of the best kayaking experiences is with Clear Kayak Aruba. Their clear-bottomed kayaks let you see the reefs and coral beneath you, and a two-hour paddle costs $60 USD. Prices will vary by island (and sometimes your hotel may have rent them out), but you can expect to pay around $100 USD on average for a full-day tour.
9. Pretend you’re a pirate, Bahamas
If you’re looking for more pirate culture, check out the Pirates of Nassau Museum in the Bahamas dedicated to the history of piracy. You’ll walk around replica pirate ships, visit the dungeon, and learn through interactive exhibits about how pirates set up base here between 1690 and 1720. Admission is $13.50 USD for adults and $6.75 USD for children.
10. Go nude at Salomon’s Beach, St. John
Once a secluded nude beach, authorities have been cracking down in recent years on anyone caught not wearing clothing. Nevertheless, many people push their luck and hit the sand in nothing but their birthday suit. Are you bold enough to risk the $100 fine?
11. Lose yourself in the clouds, Jamaica
Holywell National Park lies in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica and is one of the most accessible areas in the mountains. Several short treks around here will have you wandering upward into a cloud forest, surrounded by colorful birds (like hummingbirds!) and screeching monkeys. A short drive from Kingston, this tropical park can easily be visited in one afternoon. Park entrance is $10 USD.
12. Celebrate Carnival, St. John
St. John’s Carnival takes place in late June and traditionally culminates with a 4th of July parade, as Islanders also celebrate the United States’ Independence Day. It features mocko jumbies, calypso music, the crowning of Ms. St. John and the Carnival King. Spectacular fireworks are shot into the air at the festival.
13. Explore the Hato Caves, Curacao
These caves were once hiding spots for escaped slaves who would hide in them for weeks or even months at a time. You can take a guided tour and see the stalagmites, stalactites and cave drawings, which date back 1,500 years. Admission is $9 USD, including the tour. It’s open daily from 9AM-4PM, and tours are every hour on the hour.
14. Visit the Baths, British Virgin Islands
After crawling through a tiny opening, you are surrounded by gigantic granite boulders nestled on each other with streams of water flowing all around them. There are nooks and crannies to explore everywhere. After wading through, enjoy the calm and beauty of Dead Man’s Beach. Simply, the Baths are beautiful.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Caribbean Travel Costs
Accommodation – There aren’t many hostels or campgrounds to be found in the Caribbean. Most islands don’t cater to budget travelers. For the ones that exist, a bed will cost about $30 USD per night for a room with four-six beds. A dorm with eight beds or more costs from $20 USD per night.
A small double or twin bed with an ensuite bathroom in a hostel starts at about $40 USD per night for one person, or $50 USD for two people.
Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about $45 USD in St. Lucia, $55 USD in Jamaica, and $100 USD in Curacao. Most affordable hotel rooms you’ll find on St. John start from $195 USD per night.
Airbnb is widely available all over the Caribbean. In Aruba, shared accommodations (like a bed in a dorm) start at $34 USD per night, while it starts at $25 UD per night in Curacao. For a private room, expect to pay from $40 USD per night on Aruba and in the Bahamas, while private rooms on St. John start from about $90 USD. A full apartment on Curacao starts at about $135 per night. Aruba averages about $150 USD per night for an entire apartment, but it’s as high as $345 USD per night in the Virgin Islands. As you can see, prices vary drastically!
Food – Many hotels and resorts around the Caribbean offer free breakfast for guests. In Aruba, a bagel sandwich at a café starts from about $4 USD, while you can grab a ham-and-cheese sandwich at Superfoods for $3 USD. In the BVIs, the cheapest meal I saw around the islands was a small sandwich that cost $8 USD. However, you can find fresh fruit and fruit juices at food stalls all over the place for $1-2 USD.
A McMeal costs about $8 USD on average. You can grab a filling Jamaican patty from a street vendor for about $1 USD. In general, $12 USD will get you a fish or chicken plate or a burger, and a meal of conch fritters or a large plate of peas and rice will cost from $9 USD.
For main courses, steak, fish, or seafood, you’re looking at $20 USD or more. At an upscale restaurant (like at a resort), you’ll pay between $35-50 USD for a fish or steak main course, and a glass of wine to wash it down is about $10 USD. A beer starts from $2 USD at most restaurants.
Avoid restaurants near cruise ports and resorts, and find the local markets and cook your food as often as you can. Basic groceries for the week (milk, eggs, bread, chicken, fruit, and veggies) will cost between $50-70 USD.
Activities – Even if you’re on a really tight budget, the Caribbean has plenty of free things see and do – especially if you just want to hang out on the beaches. Museum visits or distillery tours will not cost more than $30 USD.
Adventure tours will cost more money. Snorkeling tours start from $60 USD, while two-tank dives start from about $120 USD. A day sail with lunch included costs from $80 USD, but can be as high as $120 USD in the Virgin Islands. ATV or off-roading tours start at about $100 USD per day.
If you want to do some Caribbean island hopping, you can expect inclusive tours to start at about $175 USD per day.
Backpacking the Caribbean Suggested Budgets
Prices for Caribbean travel vary greatly depending on where you are. You can find islands to fit any budget, but some places (like the Virgin Islands) will be much harder to do on a shoestring.
If you’re backpacking the Caribbean, my suggested budget is about $65 USD per day. This budget will cover hostel dorms, shared Airbnb, or camping (when available). You’ll do limited inter-island travel, eat local street food and cook some of your meals, and enjoy mostly the free, nature activities.
A mid-range budget of about $155 USD will cover staying in a two-star budget hotel room, eating out all your meals, some inter-island travel, and more paid activities like snorkeling or boat tours.
For a luxury budget of about $370 USD per day, you will stay in a four-star hotel or resort, eat out at fancy restaurants, take taxis everywhere, do plenty of inter-island travel, and do any activity you want as often as you want! The sky is the limit.
With all these budgets, the big wild cards will be the room costs (cheaper if you split with a friend), your food (what kind of meals are you having), and how you’ll get around (interisland travel can be expensive). You can lower all these costs (see below), but keep this in mind.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Caribbean Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Individual country guides have more specific information on how to save money, but here are some general tips to help you backpack the Caribbean on a budget:
- Look for discounts and deals – Most individual Caribbean countries have whole sections dedicated to seasonal discounts and deals on their website (mostly for accommodations). Do a quick search, and see what you come up with. Packaged deals are especially popular.
- Use hotel points – Got hotel points? Use them! Hotels like Marriott and Hilton are found all over the Caribbean that can be booked with points. Free is always better than spending money.
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is common. Given that most hosts tend to work on boats, their schedules are erratic, and you’re going to have a low response rate. Make sure to inquire well in advance. The flip side of that is that when they do respond, they almost always say yes.
- Shop around – If you’re going snorkeling, shop around for the best price as equipment and tours can vary widely even along one beachfront.
- Avoid spring break – If you visit during the American spring break season in March, you’ll pay 25% or more for everything (not to mention have to have to deal with all shenanigans those kids cause).
- Enjoy nature – Relax on the beach, go for a hike, or take in a sunset. The Caribbean’s natural beauty is breathtaking and free, so drink it in!
- Hitchhike on boats – Want to hop around the Virgin Islands? Hitchhike on the boats and save thousands of dollars. It’s actually easy to do. Here is how to do it.
- Book online – If you’re planning on going diving, or doing any other expensive activities, be sure to check online for discounts beforehand. Some companies offer discounts for direct bookings.
- Don’t drink the tap water – The tap water isn’t always safe to drink here. A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy — my preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where to Stay in the Caribbean
Looking for the best hostel in the Caribbean? Check out this list of favorites (and for an even deeper selection of favorites, visit our specific country guides for even more options):
- Hostel Room Aruba (Aruba)
- Aruba Harmony Hostel (Aruba)
- Humeshouse @ Hillcrest (Bahamas)
- Bahasea Backpackers (Bahamas)
- Ivan’s Campground (British Virgin Islands)
- Sebastian’s on the Beach (British Virgin Islands)
- Hostel la Creole (Curacao)
- First Hostel Curacao Curacao)
- Mobay Kotch (Jamaica)
- Raggamuffin Hostel & Coffee Bar (Jamaica)
- Casa del Vega (St. Lucia)
- Gardens Hotel (St. Lucia)
- Hotel Cruz Bay (St. John)
- Coconut Coast Villas (St. John)
How to Get Around Caribbean
A key part to visiting the Caribbean on a budget is choosing how you’re going to get around!
Flying – Regional airlines will get you just about anywhere you need to go, especially to smaller airports in the Caribbean. Some of the best airlines include:
- Bahamas Air
- Caribbean Airlines
- SVG Air
- Pineapple Air
- and Western Air
These routes are not exactly budget-friendly. For example, a flight from Nassau to Eleuthera starts from $175 USD, Curacao to Kingston starts from $400 USD, and Havana to Barbados is $420 USD. Flights between the Virgin Islands start from $200 USD each way. One-way from Aruba to Curaco starts from $160 USD.
Ferry – The Caribbean surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of inter-island ferry transportation, but the ones available are more economical than flying (and more scenic). Some ferry companies include:
- Bahamas Ferries
- QE IV Ferry
- Road Town Fast Ferry
- L’Express des Iles
In the Lesser Antilles you can take inter-island ferries between many of the islands, from the Virgin Islands all the way down to Trinidad and Tobago. You’ll find ferry between: the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands; Anguilla, Saba, and St. Martin; and Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia; Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat; and St. Kitts and Nevis.
A lot of people make St. Maarten their base so they take short ferry trips to Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Bart’s. For example, the service from St. Maarten to Anguilla is from $20 USD each way.
In the Bahamas, ferry services range between $62-75 USD. Between Anguilla and St. Martin, ferries cost about $20 USD, while a ferry ride between St. Lucia to Guadeloupe is from $55 USD. Ferries between the Virgin Islands cost as little as $6 USD each way.
The Bahamas also has mail boats (mailboatbahamas.com) that sail to the lesser inhabited islands, departing from Nassau to places like the Out Islands and Grand Bahamas, and you can hitch a ride overnight for between $30-45 USD.
Sailing – The Caribbean islands see countless people who rent charter boats, hire captains, or sail their own boats around for as long as the wind can carry them. If you play your cards right, you can hop on someone’s boat — for FREE! You’d be surprised how often you’ll encounter a captain looking for some company on a sail, especially in exchange for cleaning or cooking. I wrote a whole blog post on it.
If you’d rather do a sailing tour, you’ll find no shortage of them starting from about $130 USD per day.
When to Go to Caribbean
May to November is the off-season across the Caribbean when accommodation and activity rates are up to 50% lower than in the peak season. The beaches are much less busy during this time, and temperatures are still hot and pleasant — averaging up to 89°F (32°C) in places like Curacao and Aruba, or 80°F (27°C) in the Bahamas.
December to April are the busiest months across the Caribbean, and this is when hotel rates are the highest as people from the north flee harsh winter temperatures. On the other hand, the water visibility is perfect for diving and snorkeling. Average high temperatures during this time are 87°F (30°C) each day.
In some places, you’ll have to consider hurricane season (between June to the end of November). Places like the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands are in the hurricane belt, but other islands like Curacao and Aruba are outside the hurricane zone.
How to Stay Safe in Caribbean
The Caribbean is very safe for backpacking and solo traveling, but there are scams and petty crime you should watch out for. Avoid wandering around certain areas alone at night, like Kingston (Jamaica) or San Nicolas (Aruba). Guard your stuff in crowded places, especially at the beach, and watch out for people offering you stuff. (Read about these 14 Major Travel Scams to Avoid!)
Be sure to pack sunscreen, including biodegradable sunscreen if you plan on snorkeling in coral reefs. You will also need mosquito repellent, especially in certain areas where the risk of dengue fever or the Zika virus is high. Check to see if the U.S. State Department has any travel advisories listed for where you’re headed. If you’re hiking, stick to the well-marked trails and bring lots of water. Armed robberies sometimes happen on less busy trails, so keep an ear out for any warnings in the area.
When it comes to eating and drinking, dysentery and hepatitis are risks when it comes to consuming contaminated food and water. Check the Center for Disease Control website for any warnings before you travel!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move to a different place.
And, remember, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it here.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Caribbean Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Caribbean. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend. There are a handful of hosts in the Caribbean, including in the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Sabana.
Caribbean Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Caribbean Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago Luz Revilla, a young prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid 1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to ‘island time’. What I loved about this book was the change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was on in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
Caribbean Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more tips for your trip? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Caribbean travel and continue planning your trip: