10 Affordable Caribbean Destinations
Sure, the amazing islands in the Caribbean Sea and off the Southeast coast conjure images of exclusive beaches, posh nightlife, and glitzy shopping. The good news? All of that can be yours without the sticker shock.
Admit it—you've had the Caribbean on your must-see list for years. What's stopping you? For starters, the very word may inspire you to keep one hand on your wallet. But the truth is there's never been a better time to take the plunge—both figuratively and literally—into those turquoise waters. Here, words of wisdom from your favorite experts—the editors of Budget Travel—about enjoying the white sand, world-class restaurants, and rich culture of the Caribbean without breaking the bank. Plus, for each destination, we share a Stylish Steal that will help you book a stay that feels luxe at a smart price.
From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to gorgeous Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite for savvy travelers (airfares fell 4 percent in 2012 and hotel prices fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012). While in Nassau, you can hop a three-hour ferry to the beach of your dreams on Andros Island, join a deep-sea fishing trip for blue marlin, wahoo, billfish, and tuna, and get a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine at Twin Brothers with its grilled seafood combo platters including conch, snapper, and grouper starting at $20.50.
Stylish Steal: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Casino, on Cable Beach, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants are onsite and the casino offers table games and slots (wyndhamnassauresort.com, from $112).
Sure, the western side of this Dutch island is dominated by high-end hotels, casinos, and chic shopping. But venturing off the ritzy path, Aruba offers staggering natural beauty and outdoor activities. Take a jeep tour of cactus-studded Arikok National Park, go snorkeling, horseback riding, or get a bird's-eye view of it all on a skydive. Near the island's northwestern tip, Malmok Beach is a mecca for snorkelers and divers thanks to the sunken Antilla, a 400-foot German World War II freighter that is now a diverse mini-ecosystem that includes ruby sponges, colorful coral, and tropical fish. Take a detour from the wreck to swim in secluded Boca Catalina Bay.
Stylish Steal: MVC Eagle Beach is a 19-room inn with ocean-view terraces, all-white bedding, and dark-wood furniture (mvceaglebeach.com, from $95).
Punta Cana has been a popular beach destination for Europeans for years, but Americans are now getting in on this inexpensive paradise just a stone's throw (well, a two-hour flight) from Miami. Bavaro Beach is the area's busiest, but its white sand, clear water, and offshore coral reef make it worth a visit. Take day-trips to the country's historic capital, Santa Domingo, with its Spanish colonial architecture, and Indigenous Eyes Park, a private nature reserve and jungle park featuring waterfalls and lagoons for swimming. You can also try a surf lesson at Macao Beach, explore the Cordillera Septentrional Mountains, and soak up some history at Casa Ponce de Leon, a museum dedicated to the explorer.
Stylish Steal: NH Punta Cana is a colorful and stylish resort on Bavaro Beach with plenty of modern perks like complimentary Wi-Fi and satellite TV (nh-hotels.com, from $130).
"Liming" in Jamaica means relaxing. And with miles of beaches, Rastafarian culture, and amazing food, this is the place to lime! Doctor's Cave Beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay, a short walk from many hotels, and Seven Mile Beach is a few minutes' drive away. Jamaica's beaches offer not only the sun and fun you'd expect but also tasty jerk chicken and the national beer, Red Stripe. Montego Bay Marine Park is an underwater nature reserve with tropical fish and anemones; it's an ideal place to try snorkeling. Up for something more adventurous? Venture to 180-foot Dunn River Falls in the rain forest in nearby Ocho Rios.
Stylish Steal: Casa Blanca Beach Hotel is a classic Jamaican hotel with old-world styling situated in the middle of Montego Bay's Hip Strip near Doctor's Cave Beach (Casa Blanca Beach Hotel, from $80).
One of the delights of visiting Puerto Rico is that you're still in the U.S. yet a world away at the same time. Old San Juan's narrow cobblestone streets and pastel houses—not to mention its salsa-driven nightlife—invite you to join the party. Stop in at Bodega Chic or Nono's for a drink, or join in a public sing-along in Plaza del Mercado, nicknamed "La Placita." For a great view of the Atlantic, head to El Morro, an old fort that's stood here since the 16th century. The most popular beaches in San Juan are in the Condado neighborhood on the eastern side of the city; get there early to grab a prime spot on the golden sand.
SEE THE ISLANDS!
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