The Caribbean is one of the world’s most iconic travel destinations. The palm trees and sandy beaches bathed in sunshine have fired countless imaginations and spawned thousands of holiday brochures and magazines. Countless tourists and expats flock here every year, but others continue to stay away, concerned that the Caribbean is too expensive. In some places it certainly can be… but is the generalization fair?
Like all generalizations, it holds truth until point. Undoubtedly some islands are expensive here. Many celebrities have homes in the Caribbean, and living next door to Keith Richards or Paul McCartney is not going to be cheap. All Caribbean islands have their luxury districts in the same way every town has its expensive area. Thankfully not everywhere in the Caribbean comes with a steep price tag. If you know where to look, you can find bargains.
If you’re thinking of coming to the Caribbean with a view to living or buying a property, you will need to do some exploring first. This list will give you an idea of where you can find the best value for your money and how much your exploratory mission will cost.
Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and was the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization. Many ruins exist to this day and make for fascinating exploring and hiking.
Belize is also the home of the Blue Hole, the giant oceanic hole measuring 1,000 feet in diameter and 412 feet in depth. Belize also has the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, second only to Australia. Belize is worth investigating if you’re looking to experience marine life in all its diverse glory. It’s a real draw for those interested in diving and eco-conservation.
Belize is the only country in the world with a jaguar reserve and is also a paradise for birds and insects. Conservationists reckon over 500 species of birds and 500 species of fish live in Belize.
The expat community in Belize is well established and welcoming. A number of developments are being built in a wide range of locations. If you’re looking to move to a Caribbean country with a strong expat community, Belize is an excellent option.
Flying to Belize is a steal; you can easily get here for US$150 from the States, though you will need to shop around to ensure the best deal. February and the major U.S. holidays are the most expensive times to visit.
Airbnb is an increasingly useful option in Belize, costing about US$30 a night. Budget hotels will also take you in for US$40. Buying a property in Belize is fairly simple and reasonably priced, and buying with a view to future rentals to vacationgoers is becoming a popular option.
Cost of Drinks
Most bars offer a happy hour, which is an enjoyable way to keep costs down. Drinks are generally cheap at about US$2 a bottle of beer. Avoid the high duty on imported goods by aiming to eat and drink locally. Belize produces a number of sweet fruit wines: Cashew wine, made from the cashew fruit, and Soursop wine, said to have medicinal properties, are common alcoholic drinks in the Caribbean.
Cost of Food
The best places to eat are generally the local eateries that specialize in fresh, local produce. Here you can get lobster for US$12 and most other dishes for easily under US$10. The national dish of Belize is rice and beans. This Creole dish is popular throughout all of Belize.
The Dominican Republic is one of the fastest-growing destinations in the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus stopped here on his way to the United States, and the Spanish who moved after him are responsible for the pleasing colonial-style Spanish architecture that’s prevalent. The best example of this is Santo Domingo: The city dates back more than 500 years, and its Colonial Zone is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Dominican Republic is currently going through a period of rapid development in line with its increasing tourist and expat numbers. Property prices are low, but local financing is also available. A special mention must be made for residency here. It’s super quick and easy, making the Dominican Republic one of the most attractive expat islands in the Caribbean.
You should be able to fly here for under US$300 most of the year. Some budget airlines have deals for as low as US$100 each way.
Lots of the cheapest hotels are not listed online. If you’re prepared to wing it, you can find the best deals on arrival. Away from the tourist areas, if you book online you can find lots of places charging less than US$30 a night for a clean and comfortable double room.
Cost of Drinks
A pint of domestic draught beer will cost about US$2 and a bottle of imported beer, about US$2.50. The national drink of the Dominican Republic is mama juana. This is a brew made with tree bark, herbs, rum, red wine, and honey. It tastes similar to port, and the people here are proud of it. Among its numerous reported benefits, it’s said to be an aphrodisiac as well as a cure-all medicinal drink.
Cost of Food
A three-course meal for two in a decent restaurant will cost roughly US$40, but if you’re looking to save money you can still eat well for US$10 per head. La bandera Dominicana translates to the Dominican flag, but it’s also the name of the national dish. It’s made up of rice, beans, and braised chicken or beef, and is so popular it’s eaten at least once a week in most Dominican households. Although it may not sound the most complex, la bandera Dominicana is considered to be the true test of a chef’s capabilities.
Curaçao is a Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. The history of Curaçao is dominated by the Dutch and the Spanish, and their combined architectural styles give Curaçao its unique feel. The third influence, Creole, is felt in the cooking and language, although English and Dutch are also spoken here. The Dutch built a number of forts around the island to protect it from pirates and some of these remain well preserved to this day.
Curaçao is something of an undiscovered gem. The tourist board is working hard to promote the island and encourage new visitors, and the long-term prospects look encouraging. The beaches are empty, which for a Caribbean island is a major selling point.
The deep-water nature of the island means the welcome sea breeze is reliable. Curaçao is becoming a top destination for kitesurfing as well as windsurfing and sailing. In fact, the only reason it’s not a competition destination for these sports is that the deep water makes it hard to lay buoys for courses.
Flights from the States start at US$214. Curaçao is not on the hurricane belt and remains a safe destination any time of year. If you’re looking for a cheap flight, the time to avoid is December to April.
Hotels are not prohibitively expensive, but Airbnb is a better bet for cheap accommodation. A few of the hostels are worth investigating and are more like bed and breakfasts than student housing dorms.
Cost of Drinks
Alcohol is slightly more expensive than elsewhere on this list; a pint of domestic beer costs about US$3.50 and imported will set you back US$4. Happy hour is a big deal here though and perfectly timed for enjoying some cold drinks as the sun sets. Curaçao is the home of the blue Curaçao liqueur, and you can tour the distillery here.
Cost of Food
Costs of eating out vary dramatically. Expensive restaurants tend to be, well, expensive. Still, for US$20 a head you can eat a restaurant meal here, and if you enjoy fresh fish you will have plenty of options. During the day, vendors provide a wide range of street food to try. At night, food trucks provide delicious and budget-friendly options.
One of the biggest rum-producing countries in the world, Puerto Rico is also known as the “island of enchantment.” It’s less touristy than some of the other major islands in the Caribbean and still has an authentic feel to it.
One of the main reasons to come to Puerto Rico is the Bioluminescent Bay. Tiny blue micro-organisms light up the bays at night providing a magical experience. Only a handful of places in the world is home to these organisms, and according to the Guinness Book of Records, they’re brighter in Puerto Rico than anywhere else in the world.
The debris from last year hurricanes has been cleared away in most of the holiday areas, and electricity and clean water have returned. Most hotels have reopened, but some restaurants and smaller local businesses are struggling. Any visit to Puerto Rico will boost the local economy and help the island get back on its feet.
You can get flights to Puerto Rico for under US$125. Aim to fly out between April and June, and you will escape both the highest prices and the rainy season.
You can find beachfront hotels for US$50 a night, and the prices decrease as you move away from the beach. Hostels tend to be focused more on backpackers, but Airbnb options are also available.
Cost of Drinks
A pint of local draught beer will cost you US$2.75 rising to US$3.50 for a bottle of imported beer. Wine is also reasonably priced. In Puerto Rico, you will find a range of inexpensive bars. Puerto Rico is the home of the world-famous piña colada… try to drink one without thinking of that song by Rupert Holmes.
Cost of Food
About US$20 a head will get you a basic meal for two. Look out for deals at the seafood restaurants outside the expat areas. A special word must be said for the roadside stands where whole pigs are roasted… the exceptionally tasty and surprisingly cheap national dish of Puerto Rico is a must-try.
Grenada is home to a huge nutmeg plantation, and the scent of nutmeg is what many visitors associate with the island. Grenada has the nickname of the “spice island,” and time and space seem to bend and distort when you arrive… Perhaps it’s the slower pace of life or the turquoise seas.
Apart from beaches, Grenada has a rain forest to explore and hot springs to unwind in. The submerged (and dormant) volcano heats the pools to temperatures of 95°F, making for a truly relaxing experience.
Grenada has some of the most beautiful flowers in the world and a diverse range of species. Grenadians love these flowers and are renowned for making stunning floral arrangements. In fact, Grenada has won 13 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, and the beauty of their flowers is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. With so much to see, smell, and feel, Grenada makes a play to entice all your senses.
Flights here can be had for as little as US$250 even during the peak season between January and May. If you travel outside of those dates you can sometimes get here for under US$200.
Airbnb is your friend in Grenada. The island has a lot of luxury and high-end hotels, but Airbnb rooms and apartments are available for as little as US$30 a night.
Cost of Drinks
Prices here are not expensive when you consider your surroundings. Imported beer costs US$3 to US$4, although a glass of quality wine will cost more than in the States. Rum punch is a signature drink here, made with fresh local fruits. Rum—the best value drink in Grenada—is stronger than elsewhere. Drink slowly!
Cost of Food
You can eat well for US$10 a head, but US$20 will get you a tasty meal with a couple of courses. As I mentioned above, wine is expensive here. Consider drinking a couple rum-based cocktails instead!
The national dish is called oil down. The main ingredients are breadfruit along with yams, figs, and vegetables. Meats such as salted beef, pork, and fish are used along with some fresh meat. Dumplings, coconut milk, and spices complete the dish, which is cooked in a big pot. Oil down has no set recipe, and every place puts their own twist on it.
Jamaica guarantees a warm welcome to everyone who visits. On arrival you will find a wide variety of activities to do here. Golf especially is becoming a major selling point for the island, and a number of excellent courses are attracting tourists from all over the world.
Bob Marley was born here, and his legacy is celebrated and preserved by the Jamaicans. You can visit his house in Nine Mile as well as the Bob Marley Museum. The house where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels is also in Jamaica and is now owned by the Island Records owner who signed Bob Marley.
Another reason to visit Jamaica is the people. Visitors to Jamaica often mention that the people they encounter there are warm and welcoming.
A popular destination for some winter sun, if you fly to Jamaica between November and January you can get some of the best prices. Flights from the States are near the US$200 mark.
You can find plenty of comfortable rooms with Wi-Fi in the US$25 to US$35 dollar range, although you will have to do without air conditioning. Being an island, at midday a sea breeze usually arrives to keep things pleasant.
Cost of Drinks
The local beer is Red Stripe: It is excellent and reasonably priced at US$2 a bottle. Prices vary across the island with the tourist areas being far more expensive than everywhere else. Ginger beer and coffee are Jamaica’s two most famous drinks. The Blue Mountain coffee is particularly recommended.
Cost of Food
Jamaica has some of the best food in the Caribbean; delicious jerk lobster comes in at under US$10 and this is one of the more expensive items on the menu. Your food budget will go a long way here. As well as jerk seasoning, ackee and saltfish is also considered the national dish. The ackee, similar to pear, is combined with scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, and spices. It’s served with salt cod and a side of plantain.
The name Honduras was given by Christopher Columbus and literally means “the great depths.” Columbus is reported to have said “Thank God we’ve left those great depths” upon arrival here.
Honduras has been given a lot of negative press in recent years with the civil war looming large in the public’s perception of this Central American country. Visit Honduras and you will see this is no longer the reality. Tourists are safe here and generally made to feel welcome.
The bad publicity also means Honduras is not as touristy as other Caribbean countries. In fact, it’s one of the most unspoiled countries in the world. About 40% of Honduras is protected land and nature reserve.
Like Belize, Honduras sits on the world’s second largest coral reef. It’s also home to lots of Mayan ruins, several of which are particularly prized for their intact hieroglyphs.
Flights here start at US$150. The cheapest time to visit is during May, October, and November.
Prices are more expensive on the Caribbean coast, but Honduras remains one of the most budget-friendly places around. Airbnb or hotels will provide you with a room for US$40.
Cost of Drinks
Bottled beer costs roughly US$2 for imported; draught beer is hard to come by. Rum cocktails will set you back about US$3. Guaro is a liquor made from sugar cane, which is popular throughout the Caribbean and especially in Honduras. Honduras also produces excellent coffee.
Cost of Food
Honduras is an amazingly cheap place to eat with an abundance of fresh fruit. Again, the Caribbean towns tend to be more expensive but for US$15 a head, you can enjoy an excellent three-course meal at a restaurant. The national dish is called plato típico and combines beef, plantains, cabbage, beans, and tortilla.
All of the Caribbean destinations have a few things in common. One is the temperature; it will be either warm or hot all year. A few of these destinations have a rainy season, but even then, you can expect a few sunny days each week. In fact, the rain often comes in the form of a torrential downpour lasting a few hours with bright sun on either side of the deluge.
Every country in the Caribbean has amazing beaches and diving. The clear waters are perfect for scuba or snorkeling and the marine life varies from tropical fish through to turtles, whales, and sharks. Despite the occasional shark, the beaches here are safe.
The culture varies from place to place according to the country’s history. One thing remains the same though… the laid-back attitude and insistence on taking each day as it comes. If you’re looking for somewhere to escape stress and dismal weather, you should consider the Caribbean. It needn’t break the bank.