A map of the top ten budget Caribbean Islands
1) Dominican Republic (DR)
Big white beaches, a mass of things to do, low-cost all-inclusive hotels, cheap flights direct from USA, UK and Europe make this destination a tourist winner.
In addition DR has the usual brilliant Caribbean weather, is big enough to offer an interesting colonial history, buildings, rainforest and waterfalls, so it attracts more than just beach lovers. Visitors who wish to take some time off the beach to go wandering, hiking, climbing or getting wired at Cabarete watersports centre will be well content.
Puerto Plata is probably the best budget destination as well as being a little more more authentic than touristy Punta Cana.
Samana is a newish, mid-range township with fine beaches and whale-watching a speciality.
And by the way, DR is cheap because it’s large and has an equally large labour force at hand – keeping costs down, not to mention actually producing a considerable amount of the food and drink consumed here, unlike other Caribean destinations.
Best weather from November to May.
3) Puerto Rico
Playa Esperanza, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
Cheap direct flights from USA, especially New York, though hotels are not quite such a bargain. The old town in San Juan is lovely and local culture is rich while there are plenty of good value beach resorts and public beaches along the coast. Many think the best beach is Playa Flamenco on Culebra Island but Puerto Rico’s main island has many superb beaches with full facilities including restrooms, showers, lifeguards, camping and security.
Rincon, on the west coast is the place for surfing where committed surfers rent local houses or apartments.
PR is perfect for North Americans as it’s an ‘unincorporated territory‘ meaning passports or visas are not required for US citizens, though some kind of ID is necessary. PR is a Spanish-speaking island with English as the second tongue.
Visitors from other countries need to get a visa as if for the USA except for those travelers planning to stay less than 90 days, holding a return ticket and citizens of: much of Europe including UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia; Japan, Korea, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Best weather from December to April.
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, Barbados. Photo by Postdlf.
A British institution and easy to reach from the USA, Barbados is family-friendly, has retained a lively local culture, a huge selection of accommodation options including typical low-budget Caribbean Islands places, many fine white sand beaches ranging from calm Caribbean Sea waters to surf-friendly Atlantic waves, extensive watersports and plenty of things to do. Crane beach is reputedly one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches.
Best weather from December to April; but since Barbados is outside the hurricane belt the best cheap months are June, November and early December.
Aruba, Palm Beach, Caribbean
Loved by many, Aruba is a small, parched pancake near Venezuela that’s mostly about cheap direct flights, bleached powder sand and warm aquamarine waters backed by ultra-efficient, all-inclusive resorts. The beaches are superb and the weather arguably the best in the Caribbean. Scenery? Nope, try Jamaica. Rainforest? Nope, try Dominican Republic. Local culture? Nope, try Jamaica. Visas. Nope, not necessary for most visitors. Sunshine? Yup, lots of it.
Best weather from December to August.
Kralendijk town, Bonaire. Photo by Bgabel.
This is not the place for beach sloths, rather a board surfing and diving mecca with a modest amount of acceptable sand for the accidental tourist. Bonaire is small and flat but offers a interesting history and a walkable, pleasant little city.
The coast is scattered with budget guest houses and hotels adjacent to superb, cheap shore dives – Bonaire’s USP. That’ll save quite a bit on boat trips even if flights are a bit pricey! Best weather from December to August.
Grote (Big) Knip beach with palapas, Curacao. Photo by BalusC.
Dutch territory, the island of Curaçao sits between its smaller siblings Aruba and Bonaire just north of Venezuela, offering tourists a picturesque old port, budget guest houses and apartments along with the posh beach resorts, a large airport with many low-cost competing flights, small but lovely little beaches, good snorkeling and diving, and traditional summer storms seem to pass the Dutch Caribbean by so summer holidays in the region are unusually feasible. Best weather from December to August.
Charlotteville village in Man-of-War Bay, Tobago. Photo by wikifurn.
Trindad’s little brother offers great value beach holidays, as well as excellent diving, fair snorkeling and masses of unspoilt rainforest that’s home to a lot of unusual birdlife.
This is one of the least developed Caribbean islands, no mega-resorts, few cruise ships, no fuss. More like a fantasy desert island than the frequent concrete Caribbean reality.
Locals are relaxed and friendly, not at all like their more commercial cousins on other islands.
Few flights are direct but accommodation and other living costs can be very cheap.
Best weather is, unusually, from January to June.
10) Grand Cayman
7 mile beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman islands
The Cayman Islands are an unexpected entry into our list of budget Caribbean Islands. The Caymans are unusually efficient for this famously over-relaxed region and comparisons between Grand Cayman island and Miami are not uncommon. The weather is brilliant in season, food is sumptuous (sadly rare in cruise-ship dominated Caribbean these days), Seven Mile Beach is one of the Caribbean’s best beaches and scuba diving features large along the coast, both for pros on the reefs and amateurs getting flocked by flat pack beasts in Stingray City.
The Cayman Islands are geographically dull but offer excellent value stay-dive package holidays in the shoulder seasons, guest houses, rental cottages and condos.
Best weather from December to April.
The Bahamas was a contender in the Budget Caribbean Islands category as it’s very easy and cheap to reach from USA, but it lacks low cost hotels and is not actually in the Caribbean! (Nor is Bermuda)
Runners-up in the Carribean/Caribian budget race (as it’s occasionally but incorrectly spelled! )
St Maarten, Montserrat.