A Caribbean holiday typically summons cringe-worthy thoughts of pricey plane tickets, extravagant resorts and expensive meals. While an overpriced trip to the Caribbean is easy to plan, it certainly isn’t the only way to travel to this stunning region. There are creative ways to find affordable transportation options and budget accommodation – if you know where to look for them.
That’s where we come in. Below you’ll find the five ways you can explore the Caribbean without destroying your budget.
Pick the Right Destination
This is first and foremost. Naturally, some places are more expensive than others, so picking the right tropical location is key to a successful budget Caribbean trip. And remember, these places don’t have to be islands.
The east coast of Mexico, for example, is a great place for a budget Caribbean holiday. Notoriously cheap and gorgeous, Cancun and surrounding areas like Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and the island of Cozumel, are big hits among spring breakers and budget travelers. Bundle a flight from New York City with a 7-night stay in an all-inclusive, 4-star hotel for roughly $800. Bargains like this are easy to find in this area.
The fierce competition between the all-inclusive hotels in Punta Cana in addition to the multitude of direct flights from many U.S. destinations (like Washington D.C., Boston, New York, and Miami) make a holiday in the Dominican Republic totally feasible. If you’re not into the all-inclusive scene, mid-range hotels with high ratings can be found for around $60/night.
You can find shockingly cheap airfare (around $400) from New York City to the island of Curacao thanks to Copa Airlines and JetBlue’s budget-friendly round trip fare in April. Additionally (and also thanks to JetBlue and Delta ), flying into Kingston, Jamaica from NYC, can score you a mid-winter holiday for only $365 round trip.
Travel During the Offseason
This is a tip that never loses its value — literally. Traveling anywhere in the offseason is especially friendly to your wallet. This is also true for Caribbean travel. The peak travel months for this region are December to March, so if you pull the trigger early and travel in fall or hold out until early spring, you’re guaranteed to get the best deals on airfare and hotel stays.
Exceptions do apply, however. Places like Jamaica and Cancun surprise with more-than-reasonable airfare at any time of the year. These are two destinations to check when the mid-winter blues get you down.
Accommodation and airfare are usually the two most expensive aspects of a trip. Once you’ve tackled the flights, accommodation must follow. Loosen up your accommodation expectations and explore an alternative lodging option. You may be surprised to learn that there are camping options all over the Caribbean and pitching a tent in paradise can significantly reduce your spending.
Dominica can be more challenging to get to on a budget (the best and most affordable way is to fly from NYC to Guadeloupe then hop an hour-and-a-half ferry to Dominica for an extra $100), but once you’re there it’s probably the best island to camp on thanks to its lush jungle, wild rivers, waterfalls, and rugged terrain. There are plenty of campsites around the island that go for $20-$30/night. The gorgeous sunset spot of Toucari Beach doesn’t even have a single hotel on it. Camping here keep you well within your budget. If you get tired of roughing it, the treetop cottages overlooking the beach can be found for just $90/night.
Budget-savvy travelers who find themselves in the British Virgin Islands should definitely check out Ivan’s White Bay Campground on Jost Van Dyke Island. A campsite with tent included is only $20/night.
Like the idea of cheap digs, but sleeping on the ground isn’t your thing? The same place rents cabins starting at $55/night in low season. Book an $80 round-trip ferry ticket from Jost Van Dyke and head to Cinnamon Bay, another paradisal campground on St. John where campsites start at $39/night.
Who knew island hopping in the Caribbean could be so affordable?
Jamaica’s popular beach town of Negril has budget-friendly campsites as well. At $15 per site per night (bring your own tent), you can camp on a secluded beach in Negril with Strawberry Fields Together (formerly known as Sonrise Beach Retreat).
Lastly, the Dominican Republic has the potential to be an adventurer’s dream with plenty of remote camping spots all over the island like beach camping with Villa Primavera Las Canas starting at $5/night and SunCampDr for less than $20/night.
Taking a cruise to the Caribbean is an alternative way to see multiple destinations and for much less than you’d pay island hopping with private boats or airplanes.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers 4-night trips departing from Miami and circling the Florida Keys and Cozumel, Mexico for under $200. Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a quick 3-day getaway to the Bahamas for under $300 that includes a free open bar for the length of the cruise. Or how about a weekend escape to the Bahamas aboard Royal Caribbean International for just $276? There are so many options for Caribbean cruises that you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to choose!
If you don’t mind mixing a little work with pleasure then finding a job as a deckhand is an alternate way to see the Caribbean that doesn’t cost a dime. There are websites especially outfitted for those seeking these types of jobs. Websites like Yacrew.com and Workaway list dozens of deckhand positions, some of which state that no experience is necessary. Remember, when applying for these jobs it’s important to highlight any other skills or training you may have — massage therapy, scuba instructor, technical or computer skills, travel experience, water sports knowledge, restaurant/hospitality work, even childcare experience. All these skills make you a more desirable candidate and will get you on your way to cruising the Caribbean, maybe even for free.
About the writer: Fiona is an island-life loving Dive Master, traveling the globe and exploring as much of the world as possible. When she’s not scuba diving, she’s writing about her adventures and sharing them with others.