Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Caribbean on a Budget
Updated on December 19th, 2022
What do you imagine when you think of the Caribbean? Pristine white sands? Turquoise crystal clear water? Palm trees swaying against a stunning sunset? An eye-watering price tag? After spending months in the region, one thing I have learned is that a visit here doesn’t have to break the bank. Here I share my top tips on how you too can holiday in the Caribbean on a budget.”
Islands of the Caribbean
When I announced on social media that I was headed to St Lucia and Grenada for two months, one of my friends asked for tips on how to see the Caribbean on a budget. This started my juices flowing to pull on all of my experience so far and do some research as I went.
Before I arrived in the Caribbean for the first time, I was mesmerised by the photos I’d seen of the beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise blue ocean. However, the picture-perfect view I had was of the high-end resorts, with the equally high price tag.
But I am pleased to report that it doesn’t have to be like that. You can have your slice of paradise without breaking the bank. Here is everything you need to know to enable you to visit the Caribbean on a budget.
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Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Caribbean on a Budget
When is the best time to visit the Caribbean?
The high season in this part of the world is between December and March. This is when the prices are at their highest. To save money, go during the shoulder season when things are more affordable in November, or April to June. The official hurricane season for the area runs from July to the end of October, but the risk is usually greater towards the end of that period. As an (unguaranteed) rule, the further south you go in the archipelago, the ‘safer’ you are from being hit by a hurricane.
Low season is between June to August when costs will be lower, but some activities may not be available as businesses are often closed due to lower demand.”
Which are the cheapest Caribbean islands?
This is a big question! Following the advice in this post will cut the cost of visiting any of the islands significantly. Using my experience and a bit of research, you can consider the following as some of your cheaper options. To whet your appetite for each of these islands I have included links throughout to some of the top activities on each:
- Cuba (still my favourite country in the world and a unique place to visit, but also one of the more budget-friendly options)
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico (I’m there next year so watch this space for more!)
- Trinidad and Tobago
- US Virgin Islands
How can you fly to the Caribbean on a budget?
Flights can be expensive but there are a number of tips to get better deals. I recommend starting with Skyscanner, which is an excellent resource for flight information, airlines and routes. It searches for the quickest and cheapest routes which cut out a lot of site juggling when you are looking for the best deal.
For UK readers, Jacks Flight Club is also an excellent find. They search the internet constantly for discounts, hidden offers and error fares which could mean saving a lot of money on your flights. Move quickly when you spot a Caribbean destination. For example, I have just received a deal for Manchester to Barbados flights in November for £359 (usually over £700).
Shop the sales
In addition, keep an eye out for airline sales. All the main carriers will offer discounted fares at the same time each year which you can take advantage of. And book early. The days of last-minute deals are unfortunately behind us and you will generally get a better deal, the earlier you book.
Travel during the peak season will always be considerably more expensive. Just checking the days and weeks before your ideal time, could offer big differences in flight price and availability. Many airlines and comparison sites offer a month’s view, so you can see the cheapest times and make your decisions from there. In addition, the day of the week can have an impact.
Travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is often cheaper. Heading to the more popular islands, will also make the flights less expensive.”
Join loyalty schemes
To visit the Caribbean on a budget, signing up for a few loyalty schemes ahead of your holiday could be hugely beneficial. Many airlines’ schemes such as British Airways offer points in return for free or discounted flights. Up-to-date information on the best loyalty schemes is complex to find but check these links with the UK or US-based details.
Check the schedules
I’ve collected British Airways points for years. But the key for the Caribbean is that most of the flights that come from the UK don’t stop on just one island. For example, flights to Antigua continue to Saint Kitt’s. On the flight I got to St Lucia and then went on to Trinidad. The one I eventually booked to Grenada came from St Lucia and cost me just £11 return (for offsetting the carbon). The rest of it was on my points. Keep your eye out for these extra little flights as they could make it easier to explore more islands for less.
I’m not a fan of big hotel chains and stays here are generally more expensive, but they do have loyalty schemes which means you can collect points for free accommodation. Some may offer credit cards, allowing your grocery, petrol and general shopping to add up to free hotel stays. Marriott, Hilton and all the big names will have resorts on the more popular islands.
For more on this and lots more Top Tips for making Travel Savings, check out my comprehensive post HERE.
If you do want to hop between islands without taking advantage of these extra routes, flights can significantly increase costs and take time. For example, I once took 5 flights and 2 days to get between Antigua and the Cayman Islands. This was all to avoid the extra expense of having to go via the US. Trust me when I say that flying in this region is not straightforward.
Not want to fly?
Before I visited for the first time, I expected there to be regular ferry links between the islands. But it is not like Europe and these are limited. However, depending on where you choose to travel, it is not impossible. For example, check out Bahamas Ferries, QE IV and Road Town Fast Ferry for the US Virgin Islands.
For the most comprehensive ferry service, check out L’Express des Iles which runs passenger boats between the islands of Dominica, St Lucia, Guadaloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante and Les Saintes.”
Getting around the island
Travelling the Caribbean on a budget is not easy if you want to hire a car. Hiring from one of the big international companies can be exceptionally expensive. If you do want to drive yourself, I suggest using a local car rental agent. I did this in both St Lucia and Grenada and saved significantly. If you are planning on driving on any of the islands, then please check out my post on Top Tips for driving in St Lucia. It contains a lot of information about choosing the right hire company and invaluable tips for tackling the roads.
To keep costs down, why not pick 1 or 2 days to go exploring and just book a car for these? If you are not confident to drive yourself, you can hire a driver. For one or two days, safely navigating you around the island, may be an expense you feel is worth paying.
Get on the bus
If hiring a car isn’t an option for you, then not all islands are created equal in terms of reliable public transport networks. However, for those that do, the buses can be great fun to ride, incredibly cheap and a truly authentic island experience. I have caught the buses in the Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominica and Grenada. All fun, mainly cramped, hot, close, chaotic and personal…but fascinating! Generally, however, these buses are not the kind you can travel on with all your luggage. For that kind of transfer, you may need to book something more official and expensive. Check out the options at Bookaway which is a great resource for ground transportation throughout the world.
Transport to and from the airport can add some serious money to the start and end of your trip. Taxis can be expensive and shuttle services limited. So, to save some cash, opt for accommodation close to the airport. For example, in Grenada, Grand Anse is one of the most beautiful beaches in the region and a great base to explore the island. It is also just a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport (US$15). By contrast, to get to one of the most popular places in Saint Lucia (Rodney Bay), the taxi will cost you around US$120.
Where to stay
Staying in the Caribbean on a budget is the next challenge! Hostels and campsites are very limited throughout the region. But why not try Housesitting or Couchsurfing? I was lucky enough to get my first housesitting opportunity in the Cayman Islands where we were also able to use our hosts car to explore the island. Both Housesitting and Couchsurfing involve a yearly subscription but stays themselves are free. The challenge is to find them!
To save money, I would always consider a self-catering apartment. There are a lot of choices, and this will significantly reduce costs on food and drink.”
If resorts are your thing, then bear in mind that the prices will fluctuate, again due to availability and time of year. Keep an eye out for any deals, especially in the off-season. Look at what’s included and consider contacting the establishment directly and ask if they will include extras such as free meals, excursions, or upgrades. Bear in mind that the large resorts although often all-inclusive, are an expensive way to stay on the islands. Sleeping at more locally run places, will not only keep your costs down but also ensure your money stays within the community.
If you are planning to stay at a resort, then beware of booking through the excursion desk as the price you pay for anything will be at a premium. You’re better to book online before you go or speak to a local company when you arrive. There will be no shortage of people offering their services to help you become better acquainted with the island! The price will be far lower and you will also have the chance to negotiate.
Location, location, location
Another way to travel the Caribbean on a budget is to avoid staying in the more popular beach resorts. For example, if you like the Dominican Republic, head away from Punta Cana and you could save significant costs. In Barbados, try the south coast instead of the west, or for a completely different experience, the far less visited east coast.
If you can’t tear yourself away from the resorts, consider that those on the beach itself will charge a premium for the location.
Therefore, if you are willing to stay one or two streets back, you can still get sea views but at a fraction of the price.”
What is important to know is that on the majority of islands, all the beaches are public. This means that no matter whether you are staying at a fancy resort or not, you are still entitled to visit their beach. Sometimes they work hard to make it look otherwise! You may not be able to use the sunbeds, or take advantage of the activities on offer, but you can visit the beach. Check out my post on the best beaches in St Lucia to learn more.
Not sure where to find the service you want or feel uncomfortable going with someone touting on the beach/street? Then head to Facebook and join one or two of the island-specific groups before you leave home. Check out the conversations and ask for recommendations.
While we’re on the subject, women, especially those travelling alone, join “Host a Sister”. This group is geared up as a supportive community for female travellers, offering a local perspective and maybe even a bed for the night. You could well make a friend for life in the process!
What to eat
Due to transportation costs, imported food in the Caribbean is always expensive, especially for international brands. The way to save money is to buy local produce which is most likely to be both organic and seasonal. You will find plenty of fruit and vegetable stalls across all the islands which will be the cheapest place to buy from, along with the local markets. When something is particularly in season people will sell it from the side of the road for pennies. I have regularly been persuaded by a bagful of mangoes for sale on the street.
If you don’t recognise some of the produce, ask what it is and get tips on how to prepare it. You may even find a new favourite!”
Basically, the resorts, on the beach or close to the cruise ports will always be the most expensive options for eating out. Avoid these and you will cut the costs. To make more cost savings, the trick is to go where the locals eat. The food can be amazing in some of the more locally owned shacks around the islands and a much more authentic experience. Seafood is obviously big here but stick to the local delicacies like grouper, mahi-mahi or snapper for cheaper and fresher options.
In addition, you will find lots of BBQs set up along the roadside, particularly at weekends. These can be another excellent place to eat and again experience more of the local culture. If you’re in a party mood, look out for the local Fish Frys on the island. These are always cheap and fun nights out with live music and dancing.
And at the weekend, head to the beach as this is when the locals will show up en masse to enjoy their natural island beauty, BBQs and picnics in tow.”
Can you drink the water?
In my experience, most of the islands do have drinkable tap water and this will always be the cheapest option but may not be safe everywhere. For environmental reasons I will always advocate the use of a reusable water bottle. The islands have very limited recycling facilities. Therefore, the fewer plastic bottles you can use, the lower your environmental impact. If you are concerned then why not get a water bottle with an inbuilt filter like the Lifestraw?
Seek out Happy Hours
From a drinking perspective, once again local will always be cheaper. The local tipple is rum and you will generally find at least one distillery on each island. Always select the local spirits if you want to save money. The same applies to beer, the local brands will be cheaper than international ones.
In addition, most bars will have Happy Hours, normally in the early evening, maybe on certain days of the week.
Often, they include two drinks for the price of one. But be warned they will be lethal, and no less so if you are getting two!”
Hitch a ride on a yacht
It would be remiss of me to discuss visiting the Caribbean on a budget without a separate section dedicated to yachting. If you can sail, this is obviously a bonus. However, even if you don’t, ask at the marinas and you could uncover an opportunity for free passage, accommodation or both. If you can offer to cook, clean or pay for the food, then this could enable you to move between the islands at very little cost, if any.
I met a guy in Antigua who had been travelling around the region for 18 months, working remotely and hitching rides on yachts. He was a sailor, but even a novice like me got to spend time living and sailing for free.
If you visit during the regatta season then these opportunities to pick up transport, accommodation and even take part in the races themselves are completely possible if you just ask around in the right places. And once you become part of a crew, there are very “no frills” places you can stay as long as you don’t expect any luxuries.
Obviously, this comes with a HUGE caveat. I would never condone doing anything that puts you at risk, or makes you feel uncomfortable. No free trip is ever worth compromising your safety.”
However, if you do make a connection and feel confident to join a crew, then there could be many fun times and adventures on the sea to be had.
During the five months I spent in the Caribbean back in 2018, I spent three weeks living for free on a yacht in the US Virgin Islands, Easter was spent sailing around the British Virgin Islands and then I took a short trip from Antigua to St Martin on a catamaran. None of this was planned when I left home. It all happened due to the people that I met along the way. None of it felt in any way threatening.
But most importantly…
Enjoy the natural wonders
The beauty of the Caribbean is exactly that, its natural beauty. To get the most out of time spent here is to relax and enjoy your stunning surroundings. For that, you don’t need a big budget.
Bury your toes in the white powder sand on one of its stunning beaches.
Take a dip in its pristine turquoise waters.
Lace-up your boots and hike up into the fascinating rainforest.
Gaze in wonder at a beautiful sunset.
And enjoy the fact that none of these will cost you anything!
I have fallen in love with this archipelago and believe it is there to be enjoyed by everyone, no matter how much money you have at your disposal. I hope I have given you some food for thought and inspiration about how you can travel to the Caribbean on a budget, so you can fall in love with it too!
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Good to know that the buses are a convenient option on the island.
Thank you Anukrati. I love riding the buses anywhere. Always a fantastic way to mix with the locals.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Caribbean, but planning a low-budget trip there isn’t that easy. Your article has given me so much helpful information. Thanks for sharing such a detailed guide!
Thank you Fiona & glad you found it useful. Hope you make it to the region without breaking the bank one day too!
My favorite activity when I visit any island in the Caribbean is hiking. No $ required. If you can climb an island, you can see the world laid out in front of you. Sunsets are also free!
Thank you Terri & very good point! Hiking & sunsets are some of the best things to do anywhere…& always free!
The Caribbean is out “go to” spot for escaping the winter in Toronto. So good to read the tips for saving some money when visiting the Caribbean. We have certainly found that flexibility has saved us money. The bus is absolutely something we would do. But good to know the local car companies are also a good choice. Interesting to think about working on a yacht.
Thank you Linda & I’m glad you picked up a few pointers to save on your next trip.
The Caribbean looks like such a magical place to explore! Your photos make it look so dreamy! I’ve never visited the Caribbean before but I think it has just bumped up a few spaces on my bucket list – especially since it’s possible to plan a budget trip! Thanks for the great tips!
Thank you, Hannah & very pleased to have put the beautiful region on your radar. Enjoy when you get there!
I have really enjoyed all your Caribbean posts over the months and learned a lot. I’ve also saved several for reference as we are returning to the Caribbean next Spring. It’s great to see your photos and get your suggestions. Thanks as always.
Thank you Laureen & really pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed my posts. Hope you have a fab time when you next get there. Very jealous!
What a wonderful post Sue! Living in California, the Caribbean Islands always beckon, if not for the flight expenses 🙂 But your guide will surely help me to plan better. I am especially interested in visiting and experiencing Cuba, a place with such an eventful history, and, of course, Jamaica for the music and cricket. Great post!
Thank you Chirasree & really pleased you found the post useful. I have no doubt you would love Cuba & glad to have helped you plan better.
Great advice! There are so many beautiful, and reasonable, places to visit in the Caribbean!
Thank you & couldn’t agree more!