No vacation fund? No worries, mon. We’ve tracked down stylish budget guesthouses, the best street-food spots, and heaps of free or nearly free activities on 10 Caribbean islands. Here’s a quick guide to saving in any season.
Save big in the Dominican Republic when you vacation where the locals do: the Samana Peninsula on the northeast coast. This natural paradise midway between Punta Cana and Puerto Plata is the antithesis of the country’s resort towns but still offers plenty to do.
Do: For $20 to $80 (depending on your bartering savvy), ride horseback into the mountains, past coffee and cocoa plants, to the 120-foot El Limon waterfall. It’s cheap to hire a boat to take you to Los Haitises National Park or the white-sand beaches of Cayo Levantado. From January through mid-March, from the shore, you can see hundreds of migrating humpback whales mating, calving, and nursing in Samana Bay.
Stay: The boutique beachfront Villa Serena Hotel in Las Galeras is $110 to $150 per night and includes breakfast.
Getting there: JetBlue has a new direct flight from New York to the Samana Peninsula for less than $400 this winter. Check the airline’s Samana vacation packages.
Jamaica’s less touristy South Coast is a budget-friendly place to take in the country’s laid-back vibe, Red Stripe in hand. Chat with local fishermen and stretch out on a beach without crowds in Treasure Beach, just a two-hour drive south of Montego Bay.
Do: Find cheap eats at the public beaches, where roadside stands serve up local favorites: curried goat and jerk chicken. Cruise a mile off the coast to Floyd’s Pelican Bar, a middle-of-the-ocean shack fashioned out of driftwood and palm fronds. Don’t miss YS Falls for swinging on rope vines into secluded swimming holes.
Stay: Rates start at $95 per night at Treasure Beach’s Jakes Hotel Villas & Spa, a collection of boho-chic cottages on a private beach. Farm dinners, yoga classes, and a waterfront spa add to the value.
Getting there: Even in winter, round-trip flights from New York City to Montego Bay are less than $500 on JetBlue, Delta, AirTran, and Caribbean Airlines.
A two-hour drive west of San Juan leads to Puerto Rico’s little coastal town of Rincon, where practically everything is negotiable. If you’re a musician, try bartering part of your stay with a performance. Save on activities by pooling together new friends you meet on the beach or in the hotel. In Rincon, the bigger the group, the lower the rate.
Do: Learn to surf in one of the world’s best surfing destinations. Rincon is also a great spot for seeing the humpback-whale migration in the winter. For an inexpensive lunch, try a hummus bagel and a peanut-butter-banana smoothie at Banana Dang.
Stay: Sunsets are spectacular from the Coconut Palms Inn’s studios and one-bedroom apartments ($75 to $125 per night). The grocery store is two blocks away, and local fishermen come to the hotel to sell guests the day’s catch.
Getting there: Many major U.S. airlines fly into San Juan, where you can rent a car and drive the modern toll highway to Rincon.
Shoppers get giddy at the mention of St. Thomas, and with good reason. The U.S. Virgin Islands have the highest duty-free allowance ($1,600) in the Caribbean, and no other spot tops St. Thomas for retail volume and variety. Expect to score deals on perfume, jewelry, and electronics (30 to 60 percent off U.S. prices).
Do: Name your price at downtown shops and Havensight Mall in Charlotte Amalie. Order the $79 Virgin Islands Saver coupon book online to save $150 on boat trips and $50 on zip-line tours in St. Thomas. For reasonably priced Caribbean cuisine, try Cuzzin’s or Gladys’ Cafe.
Stay: Book a St. Thomas inn or B&B package through USVI Tourism in any season to get $50 in dining certificates and $50 in attractions vouchers. Several top-rated TripAdvisor hotels are included.
Getting there: Major carriers as well as low-cost airlines Spirit and JetBlue fly to St. Thomas year-round. Average fares from the northeast are around $360 (but higher in the winter).
This U.S. Virgin Island satisfies budget travelers with affordable activities in every part of its varied landscape. St. Croix has historical sites and museums to explore, mountains and rainforests for hiking, and a marine sanctuary with great snorkeling. Seeing the island’s beer-drinking pigs is a must on a Frederiksted pub crawl.
Do: The Cruzan Rum Distillery factory tour ($5) in Frederiksted takes you around the massive vats and concludes with two mixed drinks at the bar. With the St. Croix Environmental Association, you can join sea-turtle talks, hikes, and other adventures for just $10. Find tasty fish tacos at the waterfront RumRunners restaurant in Christiansted.
Read more: USAToday