What we aimed to do
We travelled for nearly 3 months island hopping through the Caribbean and attempted to live on what we consider to be a mid-range budget i.e. $AUS300/$US230 per day for the two of us. That's all inclusive – transport, accommodation, meals and activities. Remember, we are a couple in our 50's. We like a bit of low-cost comfort and we're not going to miss out on doing interesting things, even if it costs a few dollars, as we're a long way from home and not likely to be back in this part of the world any time soon.
What we found at the end of our time in the Caribbean (which started with Aruba in Mid May and ended in Jamaica in August) was that our daily cost average was around $AUS350/$US265 per day. Not far off our target but it did show that we needed to allow a little more. In that time we visited 25 islands (see the full list at the bottom of this post).
The big killer is transport. Unless you have your own yacht many 'hops' can only be done by air and the fares are high. There is often only one or two small carriers, so there's not much competition.
Ferries between islands exist in a few places. Interisland ferries within the same country such as the US and British Virgin Islands and St Vincent and the Grenadines are not expensive (see our posts on these locations for costs). But international interisland ferries are few. The main exception is L'Express des Iles which links St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe. The fares are cheaper than flying but only marginally.
So faced with unavoidably high transport costs the key to budget island hopping is to save on other things.
Here are our Top 10 tips on ways we economised. We've mixed these in with some general tips for travelling in the Caribbean. We hope you will find them useful.
1. Stay in Mid-priced Guest houses and Hotels
While there are not a huge abundance of mid-range options in most islands they do exist and with a bit of work on the internet you can find them. They are often located in the major town(s), which are usually the capitals. While many of the Caribbean's main cities and towns are a long way removed from the glitz and glamour of the resorts, as distances are short it is often easy to access the beaches and other attractions via local transport.
Travelling outside of the high season (generally Nov/Dec to April) will mean lower prices and you might even be tempted to stay in a lower cost resort for a night or two for a bit of luxury.
We also used AirBnB a few times.
2. Use Local Transport
Minivans that cram in as many people as possible roam most of the islands and can get you to a lot of places at minimal cost. They are also a great way to meet and have a chat with friendly local people. See our post on Dominica for an example of the joys of catching local transport.
Taxis are also abundant and can be used to access more hard to reach locations that otherwise you'd only get to on an expensive day tour. Taxis are usually more than happy to return at an agreed time after you've visited that 'to die for' waterfall.
3. Do Day Trips to the Expensive Islands
In some places the 'must see' attractions are also the most exorbitant to stay at. Two prime examples are Virgin Gorda in BVI and St John in USVI. Both of these can be visited as day trips from less expensive neighbours.
Another is Anguilla which can be visited as a day trip from Sint Maarten/St Martin. Do your research before booking that expensive resort to see if there is another way to visit your favoured island. (See our post on the Virgin Islands for more info on those day trips).
4. Do a Bit of Self-Catering
We found that most accommodations didn't provide breakfast, but we often had a fridge. So we carried small fold up bowls and spoons and bought cereal, milk (powdered if there was no fridge) and our own tea and coffee. It sounds a bit daggy, but even just making some savings on breakfast costs can add up over time.
5. Carry your own Snorkel and Goggles (and Flippers if you can fit them in)
If you are planning to do a bit of snorkelling, and given that it is one of the prime attractions of the Caribbean, many people will, then bring your own gear. Apart from the hygiene aspect of having your own snorkel you save on rental costs. You will also find that gear renters are not in all locations, but you'll always be ready for action.
6. Always Carry Your Swimmers with You
Which reminds me, the Caribbean is hot, and after a short stroll down the street you'll be sweating. If you tend to take a small backpack with you most places make sure you have your swimmers in it. We found that many of the city beaches were quite good (eg Oranjestad in Aruba and Bridgetown Barbados). So what started as a walk around the town ended in a refreshing dip before returning to our accommodation.
7. Take Insect Repellent
Even though there is little malaria in the Caribbean there is plenty of dengue fever, zika and chikagunga. You really don't want to catch any of these so take strong, tropical strength insect repellent with you and apply it regularly.
8.Try the Local Foods
This is not so much a cost saving tip as it is an obvious one for enjoying your holiday and throwing yourself into it. Fast food joints with burgers, fries and pizzas are everywhere, so if you want to live on the 'known' you can but you'll be missing out.
The local seafood is invariably fresh and good. In many of the ex-British islands fish cakes and patties (a Jamaican speciality but available in lots of places) are cheap and tasty. And there are all sorts of regional and local specialities – whether that's mofongo in Puerto Rico, akee and saltfish or calaloo in Jamaica, there are plenty of weird and wonderful dishes to try.
9. Greet People
Caribbean folk are very polite and observe greeting courtesies that in our fast paced and anonymous Western cities we've forgotten. Good morning, good evening and good afternoon are the proper way to address people when boarding a bus, entering a shop, restaurant or hotel reception or just when passing in the street. A basic 'hello' just doesn't cut it. And you'll find that people, including waiters/waitresses and shop assistants are more responsive as a consequence. It costs nothing and is a sign of mutual respect. Try it.
10.Try the Rum
Every island has it's local rum. Some, like Puerto Rico, have many. Whether it's a mojito or a rum punch, a traditional daquiri or a rum cocktail with a fancy, over-engineered name, the local Caribbean rums are GOOD. There is no better sundowner. And some of them taste almost healthy. This is definitely a top Caribbean tip!
Caribbean Islands Visited – in order visited
Providenciales (Turks and Caicos)