White Bay Villas & Seaside Cottages, on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
You’ll find a relaxed vibe inside the 10 hillside retreats at White Bay Villas & Seaside Cottages, on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. All have spectacular views and are equipped with full kitchens and cool tile-floored rooms, some with double doors leading out to the verandas. $240 per night.
updated 11/6/2009 11:01:04 AM ET 2009-11-06T16:01:04

A room on St. Lucia for $55 a night? Your own private cottage in Barbados for $180? No, it’s not too good to be true. The Caribbean is fast becoming known as much for its chic, affordable accommodations as it is for its sugary sands, swaying palms, and island flavors.

Over the past year alone, the Caribbean Tourism Organization estimates some 18.5 million tourists have visited the region — many of whom are seeking smart values. Travelers are booking guesthouses, renting seaside villas, and staying at small inns that are not only easy on the wallet but full of authentic local touches (bougainvillea-fringed balconies, scampering monkeys, pan-fried wahoo), too.

Each island possesses its own unique history and character, so the selection is diverse. At Bonaire’s intimate Hotel Roomer ($100/night), the inn’s owners, a young Dutch couple, see to it that guests are well fed; local ladies dish up Creole specialties poolside under a thatched-roof bar.

In cobbled Old San Juan, no fewer than 19 gardens with blooming jasmine and orchids are scattered throughout the lush Gallery Inn ($150/night), comprising six historic townhouses.

Avila Hotel, Curaçao
Whitney Lawson
The Avila Hotel has the best of both worlds: the location puts it only minutes away by foot or car from downtown Willemstad, a unesco World Heritage site, and right on Curaçao’s southern coast, with two small coves for swimming and snorkeling. $230 per night.
And just minutes away from a UNESCO World Heritage Site and two idyllic snorkeling beaches on Curaçao’s south coast, the Avila Hotel ($230/night) offers breezy loftlike accommodations and a chance to spot royalty (it’s a favorite of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands).

No matter where you stay, there are some smart rules of thumb that every budget-conscious traveler to the Caribbean should keep in mind when exploring the islands:

  • When traveling to islands with no nonstop flights, connect from main hubs such as Puerto Rico and St. Maarten by ferry. It can take longer, but it’s more affordable than flying.

  • The Caribbean isn’t off-limits during hurricane season (June–October), when flight and hotel prices hit rock bottom. And the southern islands of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are generally less affected by hurricanes.

  • Consider renting a villa instead of checking into a hotel. If you’re staying several nights, you can get a great deal — and with your own kitchen, you’ll save on eating out.

  • Most islands take U.S. dollars, but many give change in the local currency. If you don’t want to go home with a fistful of Netherlands Antillean guilders, for example, be sure to bring small U.S. bills.

  • Sun-seeking travelers to the Caribbean can now enjoy an idyllic island vacation, no matter what their budget. So, pack your flip-flops — and leave your savings at home.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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