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Popular Travel Routes
Travelers who head to the Caribbean Islands independently usually only visit one island country. Traveling between the countries can be challenging and expensive, and unless you have your own boat, it will likely require a plane flight. Perhaps the most popular alternative for those hoping to visit more than one country is to take a cruise. There are many major cruise lines that visit the area and each has its own niche or style.
The Western Caribbean: The Western Caribbean route is a popular option for cruisers who enjoy snorkeling or diving. There are also many different island countries that have unique cultures in the area. Some of the more popular ports of call include Cancun, Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Belize. You can experience a wide diversity of activities and cultures if you choose to visit this part of the Caribbean.
The Eastern Caribbean: People head to the Eastern Caribbean for its beautiful beaches and convenience. Many of the island countries are very close to each other so you can enjoy several different destinations without too many days at sea. The most popular countries in the area include the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Barbados, St. Barts, and St. Lucia among others. These islands are often smaller and a little less developed than the countries in the Western Caribbean.
Finding the Hidden Deals
Traveling in the Caribbean can, unfortunately, be a very expensive activity, but there are some deals to be had in this beautiful paradise. It's important to think outside the box when you travel to the Caribbean. Look for surprise deals or go somewhere away from the high end resorts. Some of the islands have more local options available than others. Islands like Jamaica, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic all have options besides the large, exclusive resorts. Look for places that are locally owned. They may not have all of the amenities you'd find at a resort, but they're typically more affordable, and many people think these options have more character as well.
Due to an influx of tourists both on package tours and cruise ships, prices tend to be high on many of the islands. Restaurants in particular can be expensive. Stay away from the tourist oriented restaurants and eat where the locals do and you'll save yourself a lot of money. You'll find most local restaurants in town, away from the beach. Also, if you have a kitchen, you can prepare your own meals and save yourself even more money. Buy local fruits and vegetables with fresh seafood at the market and the prices will be low and meals delicious.
Transportation in the Caribbean can be more expensive than most other places in the world as well. This is, in part, because of the limited number of roads on many of the islands. If you're hoping to travel between islands you'll also have to use boats or airplanes to get around. The best advice for traveling on a budget in the Caribbean is to pick only one or two islands, stay at local inexpensive hotels, eat at local restaurants, and don't move around a lot.
Another option for those traveling on the cheap, believe it or not, is to stay at an all-inclusive resort. Great deals can be found especially if you're making reservations at the last minute or are planning well ahead of time. A variety of resort types are available, and some are much cheaper than others. The chain resorts, such as Sandals, may have less character and charm, but they can still be a good deal for a short term vacation.
Relaxing in Style
Activities in the Caribbean are almost always oriented toward the beach and the water. Scuba diving and snorkeling are obvious choices, but there are also any number of adventure sports you can choose from. Don't forget to head inland though, where you can visit rainforests, taste tropical fruit, and see impressive waterfalls. Don't spend all of your time at the beach or you'll miss many of the things that the island has to offer.
The Beach: The tropical paradise atmosphere is probably what draws most people to this part of the world. The weather is warm, the palm trees are swaying, and the water is clear. Some of the beaches are calm and secluded, while others offer festive parties. Beach activities such as kayaking, parasailing, surfing, and snorkeling are also plentiful. The beaches throughout the Caribbean are some of the best in the world, and you can generally expect blue water and white sands.
Scuba Diving: Naturally, the Caribbean Islands are surrounded by tropical waters. As such, these waters are full of an amazing array of undersea life. From the Cayman Islands in the north to Curacao in the south, almost every island offers some type of scuba opportunities. Check out the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands for some great diving spots with shipwrecks. The coral in some areas is thriving more than in others, so if you can find a more remote dive spot you are sure to be rewarded.
Resorts and Cruises: Most of the islands offer at least a few popular resorts that provide every type of amenity in a perfect tropical setting. Usually set along a white sand beach, most high end resorts offer a variety of dining options. These pleasure paradises cater to a wide variety of visitors. Some are for younger, single travelers, some for couples, and some for more mature travelers. No matter what your interests are, there are at least a few resorts that will cater to your desires. Cruises also offer a great way to see the islands, especially since you can take your hotel room with you. Most cruises offer a variety of activities on different islands from beach trips to diving to sailing. Just like the resorts, amenities and prices can vary so do some research before you make a reservation.
Finding Affordable Islands
There are many different types of islands and cultures throughout the Caribbean. The experiences on each island can be very different. Some are more touristy, while others have more of a local flare. Some are more get toward water sports, while others provide more inland activities like rainforest hikes or kayaking. Travel budgets one each island can vary as well. Some places have more local options available, and are generally cheaper, while others are more built up and geared toward a higher end crowd. Make sure you understand what to expect from you island vacation and you'll be better equipped to make the most of your vacation.
Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are perhaps the most inexpensive countries as a whole in the Caribbean. Other deals can be found on other islands, but many cater to higher end and wealthy travelers. Look for islands that have their own currency instead of those that use the East Caribbean Dollar because they tend to be a little cheaper. If you stay in town instead of right on the beach you'll also save yourself a lot of money. Sometimes hotels in town are a little older, but they are also more affordable and you'll be walking distance to many different restaurants.
Resorts can be both cheap or expensive, so do your research ahead of time. Sometimes an all-inclusive resort can be cheaper than a nice hotel once you account for food and activities. Often these resorts make most of their money from alcohol and add-on trips, so consider your budget for those items before you start booking excursions. If you can do the activity independently, it is almost always cheaper. If you cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink, you're sure to save yourself a lot of money as well.
Getting Around Without Breaking the Bank
If you're hoping to travel to several different islands independently, then transportation is likely to be the most expensive and challenging part of your trip. Most connections will require a plane flight, but public ferries do run between some of the islands. You'll typically find ferry connections between those islands that share major airports, are within close proximity to each other, or share a common colonial history. Many of these ferries are fast and modern, but in turn they can be pricey. They usually run every day of the week, if not more often, but pay attention to schedules if you're relying on them. Small puddle jumping airplanes can also be an option, but again, prices vary widely depending on tourist demand. The more popular routes are often cheaper than shorter routes because fuel prices can be split among more travelers. Once on the islands, renting a car or taking a public bus can be quite common. Some islands are large enough to warrant the need for a car. Make sure you research driver's license requirements and safety regulations before you make a reservation. These regulations can vary depending on the islands you plan to visit.