How to travel in the Caribbean on a Budget

By Stephanie Pereira, Sper Consulting

Our neighbouring islands have so much to offer. Each can boast of their unique flora and fauna, Festival and Culinary (gastronomic) Tourism. Geographically we are so close, yet, when it comes to traveling and the cost involved, we can feel so far. After speaking to many people in Trinidad and Tobago about their travels within the Caribbean, it’s no surprise that most have visited no more than two islands within the region. I’ve often heard the comment ‘It’s cheaper to fly to Miami than to fly to Barbados’. While this is nothing short of bizarre, there are a few ways to get to know our region, even on a budget! Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll know exactly when and where to look. Ask yourself a few simple questions to get started. Where do I want to go? Why do I want to go? When do I want to go? And of course, how do I want to go?   

There are some travel destinations that are well known for their attractions making them the ‘Who’s Who’ of Caribbean travel which will most likely be the more expensive destinations. So, that takes us to our first question of ‘Where do I want to go?’ Maybe you’ve been captivated by the famous pink sand beaches you’ve seen while browsing online, then Bermuda and Antigua & Barbuda have exactly what you’re looking for! Or maybe you’re looking to island hop and see white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, then the Grenadines is the place for you. Or perhaps you can fly to Grenada or St. Vincent and you’ll be at the doorstep of some of the most picturesque locations at a fraction of the cost! (Bonus tip: The more economical option is to stay on mainland St. Vincent and take a cool day trip to the Tobago Cays or Bequia.) 

If you’re more of an adventure traveler looking for a quiet eco-resort, mountain ridges and lots of outdoor adventures. Dominica is the perfect destination (Tobago also has many Eco-Tourism attractions for the adventure traveler). Whale watching, an experience of a lifetime, is an attraction available in Dominica at a convenient cost compared to other parts of the world. Now, another very important part of where you travel is the currency of the destination, some countries may be more expensive to visit as they work in US$. However, there are many getaways that use currencies that are more affordable for other Caribbean countries such as Belize, Cuba and Eastern Caribbean member states, just to name a few.  

There are so many reasons why we may want to go to other Caribbean islands. So, this brings us to ‘The Why’ of our vacation planning. This question helps us to choose places that are more cost effective while still getting a full Caribbean experience. Are you traveling as a couple? There are so many perfect getaways hidden across the region. Going on a honeymoon? Take a look at St. Lucia, whether you’re looking for an all-inclusive or a boutique hotel there are quite a few options for the budget traveler. When it comes to large family vacations and friends’ trips, instead of the hotels, opt for villas where many more people can be accommodated for less when divided by the number of people. There are also many boutique hotels and warm and friendly options of locals’ homes and Airbnb stays that can offer an affordable action-packed vacation for everyone. If you’re looking to just explore, of course there are places to stay that are rented by the room because let’s face it, we’re on vacation to take in every bit of an island’s culture, you don’t need more than a clean, well kept, safe place to lay your head at the end of the day. Where family vacations are concerned, you can find activities for every member of the family to enjoy in places like Barbados, Aruba, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominican Republic and Cuba,just to start. There are water sports, land sports and more for the entire family to do together, whether it’s day trips to other parts of the country or exploring cultures by visiting local museums and sights. We live in a region rich in history and culture. Each country can boast of their unique heritage and way of life. For example, you can head over to Belize and take a tour of the Mayan Ruins and enjoy cave tubing – all in the same day, ensuring everyone has their share of fun! 

Now, when should I travel? Well, timing is everything! A great way to get the best bang for your buck is to travel when the region is on their off (slow) season. Caribbean destinations will be very happy to welcome new travelers in their quiet time.  For instance, if you’ve ever wanted to visit The Bahamas but thought it was too expensive try traveling there during October and November. Many of their all-inclusive hotels have deals that will call your name! You can have that high-end luxury experience you’ve always wanted for a fraction of the normal cost by just adjusting your travel time. If you want to visit the overwater rooms in St. Lucia or Jamaica, off season is the perfect time to book, although these may still be a bit costly, with the right planning they can be more within your reach. Local tour guides may also be more inclined to offer reduced rates and package deals during the slow seasons. 

How do I travel? This depends largely on the type of traveler you are.  Of course, some of us can ‘rough it’, making budgeting so much easier. One backpack or carry-on and we’re all set for the sun, sand and sea. Others need a bit more to fully enjoy their time away from home, regardless of your preference there is a bit of something for everyone. How you get to your destination can also help you save a few dollars that can be used to experience more of what your destination has to offer. Carriers like Caribbean Airlines and One Caribbean can get you from island to island quite easily and affordably depending on the destination. If you have to go a bit further to reach your destination, consider flying through a hub like Panama which can greatly reduce ticket cost based on the destination you’re going to. Additionally, making multiple stops can actually reduce travel costs if you are willing to sacrifice the extra time. If you are flying with a foreign carrier, consider packing light and purchasing one of their cheaper ticket options to help save on costs as well. While on the ground, package deals are great when on a budget but can sometimes stifle your pocket without you even realizing it. If you’re traveling to an all-inclusive hotel or Bed & Breakfast that is offering lunch and breakfast at $90USD (for example) you may want to think twice. Instead, you can get quick and easy meals from the local grocery to have in your room or get a tasty local breakfast for so much less. All that money you saved on flights and other expenses can now be used on tours and experiences! 

Now, every country has locals that thrive on the Tourism Industry and that includes people who will be quick to take your money! If you’re traveling to somewhere where your mother tongue isn’t their native language be sure to do lots of research before you go and when you arrive talk to the workers where you’re staying for some helpful tips and tricks on getting around and where to go, possibly saving you even more money. Finally, don’t be afraid to move around as the locals do! Try out the public transport if you’re able, you might learn so much more about the country, its people, and their culture. There’s also no shortage of cheap street food in The Caribbean so instead of dining at an expensive restaurant try grabbing a bite from a local vendor at the side of the road. 

Undoubtedly, traveling in The Caribbean is always a special adventure. To feel the vibes of the people, atmosphere and culture of another country is simply phenomenal and something you must experience. The right research can help you find the perfect destination for your budget based on how, when, where and why you want to travel! There have been numerous calls for cheaper travel between Caribbean countries and we are now seeing countries signing on and agreeing to reduce prices of regional travel, the importance of which can’t be overstated, so hopefully as a region, we can enjoy cheaper travel very soon. However, due to the pandemic, it may be a while before travel prices stabilize to what we were used to pre-pandemic, but hopefully it won’t be long before we will be able to explore the beautiful gems scattered across the Caribbean Sea at reasonable prices-the way it should be. So next time you’re considering taking a vacation especially after many of us have not been able to travel for quite some time, I hope you consider visiting a neighbouring island using some of the tips and tricks given here on how to travel on a budget!