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.
Stylish Steal: Numero Uno Guesthouse is a darling 15-room inn right by the beach in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan (numero1guesthouse.com, from $149).
Quick! What's the number one overseas destination for Americans? Venice? Paris? Guess again. It's Cancun, on Mexico's Caribbean coast. Here on this islet, 14 miles of beach and legendary nightlife draw hordes during Spring Break, but the real Cancun, with its Mayan roots, offers something much deeper than a party scene. The beach at Playa Tortugas is festive, with bungalow restaurants and bars under the palms; Playa Delfines, in contrast, is an escapist white-sand beach for aspiring surfers and those who crave some quiet. Don't miss a day-trip to the Riviera Maya with its beachfront ruins at Tulum and the jungle temples of Coba. If you insist on indulging in Cancun's nightlife, head to Coco Bongo, a 1,800-person temple to excess with dancing, nightly trapeze acts, and rock-star impersonators.
Stylish Steal: The Royal Islander is a beachfront resort with humdrum décor but a great location (and a seaside pool) in the Zona Hotelera of Cancun (royalresorts.com, from $120).
U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Croix is a bit of a curiosity in the Virgin Islands. It's bigger than St. Thomas and St. John put together, but draws the fewest visitors because of its remoteness and relatively undeveloped landscape. It also happens to be the easternmost point of the United States. That means that, without a passport, you can immerse yourself in a culture that blends Caribbean, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and Danish influences all in a package less than 23 miles long and eight miles wide. With all the expected to-dos you associate with an island paradise (swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, fine dining, and golf), St. Croix also offers the old-world architecture of Christiansted, with homes dating back to the 18th century, and a "rain forest" near the western shore. (It's not technically a rain forest, but private land open to visitors, with a bounty of tropical flora and colorful hummingbirds, warblers, and other birds.)
Stylish Steal: Hotel Caravelle is near Christiansted's historical sites and has a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool, and spa onsite (hotelcaravelle.com, from $136).
Sitting all alone in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, Bermuda is a true outlier. It's not anywhere near the Caribbean Sea, and its food, architecture, and customs are far more British-colonial than tropical paradise. Still, the island (actually an atoll) has found an easy alliance with its neighbors to the south, sharing in tourism efforts and reaping the benefits of their counterbalanced seasons: The Caribbean booms in the winter, while peak season in Bermuda runs from spring through fall. Though Bermuda is always pricey—four of the five most expensive destinations in the Caribbean are here—visitors traveling off-season can find lower airfares, reduced golf fees, and hotels that may be more than 40 percent off summer rates. It's not quite sunbathing weather: December days average 70 degrees.
Stylish Steal: The 200-year-old main house of the Greenbank Guesthouse & Cottages incorporates cedar beams that were used as ballast in transatlantic trading ships (greenbankbermuda.com, from $145).
The Caymans are practically synonymous with two wealthy pursuits: deep-sea diving and offshore banking. Dive 365, an initiative launched by the islands' Tourism Association, inspired by the notion that the Cayman's should provide a unique diving experience for each day of the year, is making at least one of those more accessible to regular folks. One of the most noteworthy dive projects is the decommissioned U.S. naval ship Kittiwake, a 251-foot submarine rescue vessel that now sits in 62 feet of water off Seven Mile Beach. Because the top is only about eight feet below the surface, the vessel is also accessible to snorkelers.
Stylish Steal: Affordable hotels on Grand Cayman are rare, but one good pick is 130-room Sunshine Suites, just a stone's throw from the Ritz-Carlton; each room has a fully equipped kitchen (sunshinesuites.com, from $158).
Trinidad & Tobago
Tobago is like Trinidad's backyard, a 116-square-mile haven just a 20-minute flight on Caribbean Airlines from its bigger, noisier sibling. Where Trinidad has restaurants, nightclubs, and 96 percent of the country's population, Tobago has empty beaches, calm bays, and spectacular brain-coral reefs. There are also almost three times the number of exotic bird species as there are hotels, and the birds have free rein in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, one of the oldest protected forests in the western hemisphere.
Stylish Steal: When it comes to human nesting, it doesn't get more peaceful than the four-room Gloucester Place Guest House in Parlatuvier, on the island's north coast. Shaded by coconut palms and mango trees, the guesthouse even has its own natural waterfall and an infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean (gloucesterplace.com, from $100).
SEE THE ISLANDS!
Budget Travel Real Deals
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