The Caribbean on the Cheap—Can I Do It and Get What I Want?

Here’s the situation. I have credit for a flight with Air Caribbean (due to a trip to Jamaica that I canceled) and need to use the ticket within 1 year. I may want to use it in January—next month!

I’m still considering Jamaica, but there are now 9 other possible countries/territories as contenders. And it’s confusing me a bit. I’m sure each destination is wonderful for its own reasons, but several on the list tend to cater to package-deal types and/or could be expensive and/or overrun with tourists. As you know, that’s not my cup of tea.

Reggae Charlie

Reggae Charlie

That’s why I’m reaching out to others, especially those who know the Caribbean better than I do. I’d like to know—can I do the Caribbean on the cheap and get what I want? Perhaps what I/we learn here might help others in a similar situation in the future.

Challenge 1: Choosing the Country/Territory

Here are the 10 countries/territories I can fly to with my particular ticket:

  • Antigua
  • Barbados
  • Jamaica
  • Venezuela
  • Guyana
  • Grenada
  • Suriname
  • St. Maarten
  • Trinidad & Tobago (Port of Spain)
  • Tobago
St. Georges, Grenada

St. Georges, Grenada

Challenge 2: Keeping It Low-Budget

I’d like to keep the trip relatively low budget. My ticket, unfortunately, was a bit pricey (the initial cost–$606–plus the change fee–$125.) I know–yikes! And it’s only 1/2 refundable (if I’d like, I can get back $303.)

I’d love to be able to stay for 10 to 12 days, so perhaps I could spend around $60 a day for a room and one or two meals. If I have to spend more than that, I will, but then the trip will be shorter. The reason: I have to save money for a long trip this summer.

PS: I’m very open to volunteering somewhere for a week. And if that means free or inexpensive accommodation, it would be ideal. Perhaps I could do that and then relax somewhere else the second week?

Challenge 3: Getting What I Want

Here’s what I’d like:

  • a hut or a room–no camping
  • to be within walking distance of a decent beach
  • to be able to go for walks/hikes in nature
  • to have a cultural experience/meet locals (backpackers OK, too, but no “tourons”)
  • a safe place to stay
  • peace and quiet

Challenge 4: Sudden Urge to Go to the DR

Call me loca, but…I have a sudden urge to go to the Dominican Republic (and unfortunately, Air Caribbean doesn’t fly there). Many of my ESL students are from there and I’ve always thought it would be a fun (and inexpensive) trip. Also, I speak Spanish, love Latin music (I’m good at Merengue AND Bachata) and feel very comfortable in Latin countries.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at Barcelo
I sort of wish I could go to Jamaica and take a boat to the DR and do both, but…

Each time I search for this option, I don’t find much. Perhaps it’s not a common journey–or it’s an expensive or risky one. Not sure. And I don’t know if/think it’s worth it to take the 1/2 refund on my ticket and apply it to another one to the DR. Those flights are now creeping up in price, too.

Challenge 5: I May Have Company for Part of the Trip

It’s actually not a challenge, but something that could be really cool. Charu of Butterfly Diary is interested in joining me for 4 or 5 days of the trip. This is not set in stone at this point–just something we’re talking about. A slightly higher-budget traveler than I am, she is open to many of the options on the list.

PS: She has a friend with a house in Punta Cana in the DR! :)

Any advice?

Have you been to any of the countries/territories on the list? If so, what can you tell me it/them? Please feel free to include a link in your comment to a post you wrote about any/all of the following. I’d love info re:

  • airport transfers
  • accommodations
  • island transportation (on the island and to others)
  • cost of food
  • cost of day trips

Which country would:

  • provide a lot of peace and quiet?
  • have trails with shade for long walks in nature?
  • not be overrun with tourists?
  • allow me to stick to a basic (but not extreme) budget?
  • allow for cultural interactions and possible off-the-beaten path adventure?

Deadman's Beach

Thank You!

Thank you, in advance, for your ideas, advice and information. Please feel free to link to posts you’ve written if they provide info that can help with my decision. I look forward to learning more about doing the Caribbean “on the cheap” and to sharing my final decision with you!

Special thanks to the photographers whose photos I borrowed from Creative Commons. Click on their photos to be taken to their respective pages.

10 Responses to The Caribbean on the Cheap—Can I Do It and Get What I Want?
  1. Tran
    December 4, 2011 | 12:18 pm

    What a great list of countries to choose from. Like you, I have been itching to go to the DR for sometime because, like you, I also love to SMB. Nice to know we have this in common! Matt and I visited the Guianas last year. You can read a few posts we wrote about how to visit these countries from a logistical standpoint: They are not cheap cheap countries, but you shouldn’t have a problem doing them on your budget. I know @brendanvanson was able to do Guyana for $30/day or something like that. Personally, I think you should spend your 10-12 days on the Suriname River. If you decide to do this, let me know. We have stayed in touch with the Peace Corps Volunteers we met there who can give you tons of tips on how to get around and where to stay. Incredible experience. Choose Suriname!
    Tran recently posted..What is #heybackpacker?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 4, 2011 | 11:05 pm

      Hi, Tran. Sounds like we’ve got similar travel taste! Suriname sounds really intriguing. I will look into it! How were the language challenges there? As for Guyana, I will check in with Brendan to see what he has to say. I’d love to go somewhere in that price range; would be ideal. But I understand that the Caribbean tends to be higher and I accept that.

      What’s the Suriname River like? How far is it from the water? How much are places to stay near it?


  2. Tracy Antonioli
    December 5, 2011 | 1:20 pm

    Just a thought–you say that you’re trying to avoid places that are ‘overrun with tourists’. In this case, you should probably avoid any island that’s heavily visited by cruise ships (looking at your list, that’s at least Barbados, Jamaica, and St. Marteen.) While you may think that a ship in port would only effect the port area, you’d possibly be wrong. Cruise ship excursions are really good at getting people to all ends of some islands. I just did a Bermuda cruise, and even though I went (on my own) to the absolute farthest point on the island from the cruise port, I was still surrounded by other cruisers (this did not bother me, but it definitely would bother someone looking to avoid tourists!) Of course, there aren’t cruise ships docked all the time–but it would be a worthwhile thing to take into account. Even if you want to visit one of those three islands, you need only do a bit of research to find out when and where ships will be docked–and then avoid those dates.

    Happy planning! I’m jealous–I sure could use some sun right now!

    • CB Driver
      December 5, 2011 | 3:06 pm

      Tracy–Thanks for taking the time to share this tip. It’s a useful one, which I’ll definitely keep in mind. I don’t mind some tourists, of course, but 100s of them would probably bother me. Anyway, thank you. Will be interesting to see where I choose to go and what I choose to do!

  3. Erica
    December 5, 2011 | 2:50 pm

    I found the Caribbean to be much cheaper than I thought it would be on a super backpacker budget. The hostels are totally do-able price wise and we were able to have splurge meals on $7 lobster. :P Thus why we spent 5 or 6 months of our backpacking trip PURELY on the Caribbean.
    Erica recently posted..Photo Essay: Cartagena, ColombiaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 5, 2011 | 3:05 pm

      Hi, Erica. I’m really glad to hear that–very cool. I would like to ask where you went, however. Are you referring to the Latin American Caribbean? Let me know as I’m eager to find that balance between what I want and something affordable. Gracias! :)

      • Erica
        December 5, 2011 | 3:11 pm

        Latin American Caribbean. We found a hostel (off season) in Caye Caulker for $25 for a private room for 3 peeps and a few cheap places to eat there. The Yucatan has places you can keep your budget down too if you don’t mind staying off the tourist streets. Utila is cheap for scuba and for staying with the dive schools. I think $8/night as well after you pay for your cert ($240/5 days of class and accomdation). Costa Rica Caribbean isn’t bad if you don’t mind cooking to save budgets. We hardly ever do dorm rooms and found that even private rooms can be affordable.
        Erica recently posted..Photo Essay: Cartagena, ColombiaMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          December 6, 2011 | 3:30 am

          I had a feeling that’s what you meant. Believe me–I wish I could go to one of those locations. I’ve been to Belize and CR and of course, love Mexico (haven’t gone to the Yucatan yet). The problem is that, with my ticket, I can only go to the places I listed (Antigua, St. Maarten, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad/Tobago and the others). Re: private rooms vs dorm rooms–I’m with you. I haven’t stayed in a dorm room for a while now.

      • Erica
        December 5, 2011 | 3:14 pm

        Which, I guess, my moral of the story is, I would probably do Venezuela. I’ve heard good cheap things about it. If you don’t mind a private room in a hostel, you can really save some serious bucks. We spent 2 1/2 weeks on our honeymoon in Barbados and I’m not sure it is possible to stay on that budget and still have fun there.
        Erica recently posted..Photo Essay: Cartagena, ColombiaMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          December 6, 2011 | 3:32 am

          I would consider Venezuela–especially since I’m nearly fluent in Spanish. I wonder, however, about safety. I’ve heard from some pretty hardcore travelers that’s it’s “got an edge” and that Caracas isn’t safe. (Is it possible it’s just the capital?) Of course, I would get in and out of the city as fast as I could, most likely. Anyway, it’s not going to be a long trip and so, I’m not sure if I’m going to want to deal with that sort of thing.

          Thanks for your help!

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