The Caribbean isn’t exactly known to be cheap, but you can stretch your dollar pretty far on certain islands — even when traveling during the winter high season. Popular hot spots like the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and others offer great value in terms of easy access and well-priced lodging and dining options.
But some off-the-beaten-path islands, from Montserrat to Tobago, are also worth seeking out for the extraordinary bang for the buck that they provide. All-inclusive holidays dominate the scene on most of these islands — great if you want a worry-free, value-packed vacation, but limiting if you want to experience the destination beyond the resort gates; don’t overlook smaller, locally owned villas and inns for terrific, cost-effective alternatives.
Other surefire money-savers include traveling during the off season (from May to November) and looking to budget carriers for cheap flights — these tips, coupled with our editors' picks for budget Caribbean islands, are guaranteed to leave you with enough cash left over to dole out on those frothy, beachfront piña coladas once you touch down!
It's no surprise that this Dutch-owned island is a popular destination for package holidays — sun-kissed and chockablock with sparkly casinos and pretty beaches, it receives frequent direct flights from the U.S. and has a plethora of all-inclusive options. You’ll find great value on this budget Caribbean island in the form of spa resorts, private villas, and brand-name hotels like Marriott and the Hyatt Regency.
Great Value Hotel — Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa: This excellent-value beach boutique hotel is set on a pristine stretch of sand with a first-rate spa and rooms with fine Indonesian-style furniture, private patios or balconies, and flat-screen TVs. Rates from $169/night; www.manchebo.com
Getting There: There are multiple nonstop flights from the U.S. to Aruba (including recently launched routes on budget carriers like JetBlue, Spirit, and AirTran) — departures are available from Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Miami, and more. Nonstop flights from Miami run about 2.5 hours; from New York it's 4.5 hours; from Atlanta about 4 hours; factor in just over 5 hours from Chicago.
2. The Bahamas
Located about 50 miles from Florida and easily accessible on nonstop flights, this 700-island archipelago is a prime spot for sun-soaked holidays that don’t break the bank. The perennially popular Paradise Island offers sand beaches, stellar entertainment, and mega-resorts along Nassau and Cable Beach; another affordable destination is Grand Bahama Island. The vibe on these budget Caribbean islands suits a wide range of folk, from families to adventurous young couples.
Great Value Hotel – The Cove Eleuthera: Fronting a breathtaking pink-sand beach, The Cove's 26 spacious, island-style bungalows are adorned with iPods, 600 thread-count sheets, and tile floors. The hilltop pool has superb views of Eleuthera. Price-wise, it's peerless. Rates from $199; www.thecoveeleuthera.com
Getting There: Numerous carriers fly to the Bahamas, including legacy and budget U.S. carriers, dozens of small Florida-based airlines, and BahamasAir, the national carrier of the island chain. Nassau is the busiest airport in the Bahamas; from here connections can be made to assorted Out Islands airports. Freeport additionally has generous service options from the U.S. Nassau is a 45-minute flight from Miami; it's 2 hours and 45 minutes from New York; and just over 2 hours from Charlotte.
3. Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic offers both affordability and atmosphere in one fell swoop. Vacationers come for the coral-lined coast, first-class shopping, and Vegas-style casinos and nightlife. Throw in a handful of interesting museums, pulsating culture, easy access from the U.S., and a wealth of all-inclusive resorts, and you get a delightful holiday on a budget Caribbean island that won’t damage your net worth.
Great Value Hotel – Victoria Golf & Beach Resort: Duffers flock to this lakeside Puerto Plata resort, which straddles several holes of a Trent Jones-designed golf course. Fairly intimate by all-inclusive standards with 190 rooms and personalized attention, it marries Victorian style to contemporary convenience. Rates from $113; www.victoriagolfhotel.com
Getting There: There are numerous airports throughout the DR, including in Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, La Romana, Santiago, and Punta Cana (the country's busiest). (Make sure to fly into the airport closest to your destination, as the DR is a big country.) Expect abundant route options and competitive rates, thanks in no small part to the advent of service there by JetBlue in 2004. Flight time to Santo Domingo is just under 3 hours from New York, just over 2 hours from Miami; and 4 hours from Houston.
Jamaica, home to relaxation, reggae, and rum at pocket-friendly prices, is an ideal island destination. This sunny Shangri-la is packed with a broad array of all-inclusive resorts and affordable lodging options. Plus, it’s a breeze to reach this budget Caribbean destination on direct and often very affordable flights (sometimes for as little as $250 roundtrip) from the U.S.
Great Value Hotel – Jake’s: A low-key bohemian hideaway named for the former owners' (notable nationals Perry and Sally Henzel) pet parrot, Jake's is now run by son, Jason, and features 31 cottages, three restaurants, a holistic spa, and saltwater pool. Rates from $95; www.islandoutpost.com
Getting There: With airports in Montego Bay and Kingston, Jamaica is one of the most widely serviced Caribbean destinations from the U.S., with nonstop flights available from more than 10 U.S. cities. Flying time from Miami is 1.5 hours; count on 2.5 hours of travel time from Atlanta.
This fascinating island near Antigua was colonized by Irish settlers in the 17th century and went on to become a rock-star haven in the ’70s and ’80s. Then two volcanic eruptions in the ’90s reduced its capital, Plymouth, to ashes. Now that it’s reopening to tourism, intrepid visitors to this budget Caribbean island can expect eerie sights, fine black-sand beaches (a by-product of volcanic ash), and first-rate diving — not to mention terrific value as compared to other Caribbean isles, bolstered largely by modest hotel rates and tourism board-backed promotions aimed at bumping up visitation.
Great Value Hotel – Royal Palm Club: While hotels remain scarce, this great-value, residence hotel targeted primarily towards Irish visitors and locals, is a wonderful new addition (it debuted in 2007). Travelers can bunk down in the garden suite or a one-bedroom villa with a pool. Rates from $125; www.montserratroyalpalmclubinn.com
Getting There: Fly to Antigua on American, Continental, US Airways, and Delta; connect to Montserrat on WinAir (up to four flights daily; 20 minutes). Factor in 4 hours of travel time to Antigua from New York and 3 hours from Miami.
6. Puerto Rico
Just a short flight away from the mainland, the U.S.-affiliated, Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico delivers great swaths of sand and rainforest, as well as vibrant culture and an alluring colonial capital, San Juan. Best of all, the budget Caribbean island can be sampled for very reasonable prices — overnights start at $99 and airfare, especially from Miami, can be downright inexpensive.
Great Value Hotel – Numero Uno Guesthouse: Formerly a private home, Numero's 16 rooms and apartments (featuring bamboo furnishings and chic bathroom fixtures) can be snug — so opt for larger ocean-facing units. A small pool and excellent Caribbean restaurant complete the facilities. Rates from $149; www.numero1guesthouse.com
Getting There: Nonstop flights are abundant to San Juan, particularly with American Airlines, which uses the large airport here as a hub for all the other Caribbean destinations it services (on its subsidiary, American Eagle). While the main U.S. gateways are New York and Miami, nonstop flights are scheduled from more than 20 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles. Additional airports such as Ponce and Aguadilla are also serviced nonstop in select markets. Factor in 7.5 hours of travel time from LA; 4.5 hours from Chicago; just over 3 hours from New York; and 2.5 hours from Miami.
7. St. Kitts
Bustling St. Kitts is a leading package and cruise-ship destination, complete with casino-resorts, all-inclusive plans, and self-service chalets. Easy to reach directly from a handful of U.S. cities, cheap public minibuses (with names like "Reggae Master") make getting around to the notable nightspots, golf courses, and wreck-diving shores as easy as the island breeze. It's also more economical than neighboring Nevis (a short, 45-minute ferry ride away), though the romantic nearby isle makes for a worthwhile side trip.
Great Value Hotel – St. Kitts Marriott Resort: Located on the golden sands of the popular North Frigate Bay beach area, this posh property boasts 392 upscale guestrooms and suites, a full-service spa, Vegas-style casino, and an 18-hole championship golf course with amazing ocean views. Rates from $166; www.marriott.com
Getting There: Fly to this budget Caribbean destination nonstop out of New York, Charlotte, Miami, and Atlanta; travelers from other U.S. cities will need to make connections to regional carriers on isles like Antigua or St. Maarten. Allow 3.5 hours of travel time from Miami and 4.5 hours from NYC.
8. St. Maarten
One island with two halves, St. Maarten (owned by the Dutch) and St. Martin (French) is a budget Caribbean hot spot with a cosmopolitan flair. With more resorts, shops, and activities, the Dutch side is where the best-priced all-inclusive trips are to be found; it also hosts some of the Caribbean's best duty-free shopping — plus one of its main airports. With regular nonstop flights from the U.S. (and rooms at all price points), it's a great choice if you're looking to hit the beach on a budget, fast.
Great Value Hotel – The Horny Toad Guesthouse: If you can do without a phone and TV (or pool and restaurant), this cozy find is like staying at your favorite aunt’s 1950s beach-front compound – with spur of the moment BBQs and smashing sea views. Rates from $107; www.thtgh.com
Getting There: The airport on St. Maarten is the second busiest in the Caribbean, after San Juan; nonstop routes are available from several cities (JetBlue launched routes from Boston and NYC in 2008). Flight time from Charlotte or New York is about 4 hours.
9. Trinidad & Tobago
Hugging the Venezuelan coast, these low-profile (though easily accessible) twin islands include the cultural melting pot of Trinidad, with its interesting variety of cuisine and festivals (the island’s Carnival is the region’s best), and laid-back Tobago, known for its fine sands and diving. On both of these budget Caribbean isles, low-cost cafés, guest-houses, and host-homes make thin-walleted visits doable, and provide affordable alternatives to standard Caribbean mega-resort stays. Room rates are slightly higher on more tourist-oriented Tobago, though the blissfully undeveloped beaches make the added expense worthwhile.
Great Value Hotel – Blue Waters Inn: This value-packed Tobago inn offers guests access to private beaches, attractive bungalow accommodations, and the opportunity to practically partake in pillow talk with parrots, thanks to the abundant wildlife on the premises. Bird-watching, diving, and kayaking are just some of the activities on hand at these adventurous accommodations. Rates from $160; www.bluewatersinn.com
Getting There: Caribbean Airlines, the islands’ national airline, provides service to the main Port of Spain airport in Trinidad direct from New York and Miami, also operating shuttles (25 minutes) between Trinidad and Tobago (there are no nonstop flights to Tobago). Flight time from New York is about 5 hours.
10. St. Thomas, USVI
The most popular of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is known for duty-free shopping in downtown Charlotte Amalie, amenity-filled resorts, and a variety of water sports. Beachfront lodgings on this budget Caribbean isle range from massive all-inclusives to quaint guesthouses and vacation villas. On the budget end, overnights can be had for as little as $150.
Great Value Hotel – Bolongo Bay Beach Resort: Tropical-themed rooms, all with waterfront balconies, are just steps from the beach. Complimentary use of water sports toys like sailboats, kayaks, Windsurfers, and snorkel equipment provide plenty to do. Rates from $188; www.bolongobay.com
Getting There: St. Thomas is the most accessible gateway in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with nonstop flights available from several U.S. cities. Flying time is about 2.5 hours from Miami and 4.5 hours from New York.