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Places You Never Thought You Could Afford in the Caribbean

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You: barefoot on an empty white-sand beach. You: rubbing shoulders with celebrities on vacation. You: sipping a cocktail on St. Barts, Anguilla, or Virgin Gorda. The Caribbean's most exclusive and expensive islands may seem beyond your reach, but where there's a will to go, there's a way to save.

Cheaphotels.org recently released a survey naming the Caribbean's most expensive destinations (based on the average price of the cheapest available double hotel room). And while such a designation might scare off some, these islands are simply too fabulous to pass up. And, it turns out, there are ways to significantly cut costs on every one of them. Here's how.

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Leave it to a Rockefeller to turn an unassuming patch of land into the Caribbean's priciest island. When the financier Laurance Rockefeller opened the Little Dix resort on Virgin Gorda in the 1960s, he set a tone of luxurious seclusion that's still prized on the island. With an average nightly rate of $321 per night for a double room, Virgin Gorda is no one's idea of a bargain getaway. But you can still find a great place to stay for much less.

The key to keeping costs down on Virgin Gorda is to think beyond the resort walls. The hundreds of vacation-rental options listed on sites like VRBO and TripAdvisor offer excellent value. For instance, the Coffee & Tea Absolute Beachfront Cottages has a five-out-of-five rating on TripAdvisor and rates from $171 per night. There's also the popular and affordable Guavaberry Spring Bay Vacation Homes, a cluster of ocean-view one-, two-, and three-bedroom units with rates starting at $160 per night in spring and summer and $250 during the winter high season.

Additional Savings Tip: Famous for its natural beauty, many of the best things to do on Virgin Gorda are either free or dazzlingly inexpensive. For instance, entry into The Baths National Park, a collection of sea pools created by massive granite boulders, is just $3 per person.

Anguilla

From the caress of the powdery white sand underfoot to the sea's constantly shifting kaleidoscope of azures, there's a delight for every sense on Anguilla. It's a place that shrugs off the high-rise beach-vacation vibe in favor of simple relaxed elegance. But that unpretentious polish can come with a high price tag. And while the average nightly rate of $315 delivers some pretty special experiences—think watching the sun set over the ocean from your balcony's private plunge pool at the Viceroy Anguilla or savoring a towel-side delivery of sorbet on the beach at Cap Juluca—the rarefied pleasures of the island don't have to be expensive.

Dotting the island are smaller and locally owned properties, many of them on some of the island's best beaches—where you can expect to pay significantly less than you would at Anguilla's famed upscale resorts. Rooms are sometimes modest and amenities simple, but you'll still have perfect proximity to the real reason for being there: gorgeous stretches of beach; warm, clear water; and plenty of island charm. At the intimate Anacaona Boutique Hotel, April rates start at $160 per night. And a recent Expedia search uncovered April rates of around $202 per night at the Anguilla Great House, which offers rooms just steps from the beach on magnificent Rendezvous Bay. Browse the Anguilla Tourist Board's list of small hotels for more affordable inspiration.

Additional Savings Tip: Even if you don't stay at a fancy resort, you can still sample the high life. Book a spa treatment or go to dinner at a resort, and then make extra time to enjoy the vibe, the views, and the grounds.

St. Barts

Long considered a playground for the rich and famous, St. Barts eschews mega resorts and their come-one-come-all atmosphere. Instead, the island preserves its exclusive vibe by keeping hotels small, often 20 rooms or less. And while this limited capacity tends to drive prices up—especially in the most popular areas—there is a trick for sneaking in well under the average nightly rate of $295: The riches of St. Barts are within reach of travelers willing to stay slightly off the beaten path.

Sure, you're most likely to rub shoulders with scions and celebs on Baie de St.-John, but you'll find better prices in the quieter corners of the island. Salines Garden Cottages, which scored a win in TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice 2014 awards for bargain hotels in the Caribbean, offers five comfortable cottages in a quiet location that's only a few minutes from the beach. Rates range from about $135 between late April and early December to $217 during the January to mid-April high season. Similarly, at the Auberge de la Petite Anse, guests willing to trade a central location for waterfront rooms at a great value can find rates that range from $108 to $217 per night.

Additional Savings Tip: Every one of St. Barts' 14 white-sand beaches is public and free. Check out favorites Gouverneur Beach and St.-Jean Beach.

Nevis

Nevis is a Caribbean fairy tale, ringed with pristine golden beaches, rich in rainforests humming with the songs of birds and vervet monkeys, and crowned by a dormant volcano that inspired Columbus, in a fit of whimsy, to name the island after the snow that the cloud-capped peak resembles. Its unspoiled charms draw visitors longing for a beachy happily ever after. But with an average nightly rate of $254, this isn't a fairy tale for the masses. However, if you look to guest houses and small inns rather than resorts, you can enjoy the enchantment for a lot less.

The modest accommodations you'll find at guest houses are a far cry from the luxe digs of the island's best beach resorts, but what they lack in amenities they more than make up for in affordability, charm, and authenticity. J.P.'s Guest House, located close to both the beach and ferry terminal, has per-night rates starting well under a hundred dollars. The Nevis Tourism Authority maintains a list of guest houses and contact information, which is particularly handy since most of the properties don't have websites.

Additional Savings Tip: For a ride and a guide, find a taxi. Taxi drivers double as guides on the island, and they offer an affordable glimpse into Nevis, whether you're looking for an island tour or simply a way back to your hotel.

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Imagine a Caribbean sans high rises, casinos, or mobbed cruise terminals. Add a national park that covers more than half of the island and you've got the verdant gem known as St. John. The smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John embodies simple, unspoiled beauty. And while there are a number of expensive hotel options on the island—enough to earn St. John the fifth spot on Cheaphotels.org's list, with an average nightly price of $224—there's also camping, a far more affordable option that plunges you into all that's exceptional about this U.S. territory.

Campsites are rare in the Caribbean. On St. John, you can pitch your own tent or opt for a tent cottage, an eco-tent, or a ready-pitched tent complete with beds and linens, all for a lot less than $224 per night. At the Cinnamon Bay Campground, you can get a bare site for $37 per night, upgrade to a platform tent for $67, or splurge on a cottage for $81 to $105. And while the beloved Maho Bay Campground closed last year after the land was purchased, the Concordia Eco-Resort—operated by the same management—continues to thrive. Treehouse-like eco-tents start from $126. The property also has studios and cottages that sleep up to six people.

Additional Savings Tip: Don't have a passport? Save yourself some money: U.S. citizens don't need passports to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though of course, it's always great to have a passport.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands

The waters surrounding Tortola are as much of a draw as the island itself. Easy sailing conditions, picture-perfect coves and bays, and great snorkeling and diving make it an ideal spot for bareboat sailing (chartering and navigating your own) vacations. And just as the yacht-filled harbors suggest, Tortola can be a pricey place. At $217 per night for a double room, the average hotel price is prohibitive for many. But there's an alternative for travelers willing to forgo resort amenities for something a little more local.

Airbnb has an interesting and affordable selection of rooms in private homes, studio apartments, houses, and villas on Tortola. For instance, there's a private room with its own entrance in a house overlooking the beach from $80 per night, a small poolside studio in a guesthouse from $102 per night, or an entire cottage on an organic farm from $210 per night.

Additional Savings Tip: Capital city Road Town is known for its abundance of authentic and inexpensive Caribbean food. Check out local establishments such as Caribbean Flavas and the Roti Palace.

Eleuthera, Bahamas

Eleu-where-a? The Bahamas Out Island of Eleuthera was the first permanent settlement in the country, and today it is best known for its pineapple plantations and pink-sand beaches. And while it has a long history of tourism, Eleuthera remains well off the beaten path, a fact attested to by its place on Travel + Leisure's Best Secret Islands On Earth list. With an average nightly hotel cost of $214, it's not a cheap destination. However, by opting for a condo or villa rental at a resort, you can save money and maximize value in one fell swoop.

Instead of a traditional hotel room, consider booking a condo, villa, or cottage at a resort. You get the space of a vacation rental and the amenities of a resort, all at a reasonable rate. Look for such options at Hut Pointe Inn, Pineapple Fields, Sky Beach Club, and other resorts.

Additional Savings Tip: The Bahamas Out Islands Promotion Board has a fly free to the Bahamas Out Islands offer that covers round-trip airfare for two people from Nassau with the purchase of a four-night package at five participating Eleuthera resorts.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Once home to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Grand Cayman is now known as a scuba-diving hot spot. With more than 200 established dive sites to choose from, it's no wonder almost half of all visitors to the Cayman Islands come for the snorkeling and diving. And with a nightly average hotel cost of $197, it might seem like sunken treasure is your best bet for affording a stay. However, there's a trick that can secure you fabulous digs for less than a king's ransom.

Instead of paying a la carte, book a bundled air-and-vacation package for your Grand Cayman stay. Why? The sheer number of companies offering packages to the island keeps prices competitive. Funjet Vacations, JetBlue Getaways, Apple Vacations, and CheapCaribbean.com are just a few of the providers with regular sales and deals on Grand Cayman vacation packages. CheapCaribbean.com, for instance, has a package including airfare from New York City and three nights at the Comfort Suites and Resort Grand Cayman for $695 per person. That's a savings of about $200 when compared to a la carte costs for two people. For a full snapshot of providers offering Grand Cayman vacation packages, just do a search using the phrase "Grand Cayman vacation packages," or check out the current set of vacation-provider specials on the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism site.

Additional Savings Tip: Local publications including Explore Cayman and Cayman Free Press have dining coupons and list special promotions and happy hours.

Paradise Island, Bahamas

With a whole lot of everything—from massive casinos to long white-sand beaches and even the ruins of a 12th-century French cloister—Paradise Island packs serious entertainment density into its 685 acres. Connected to Bahamian capital city Nassau by bridge, Paradise Island is both close to everything and the center of its own universe. It's home to the enormous Atlantis Paradise Island resort as well as a smattering of other smaller resorts, and with an average nightly rate of $195, it's not cheap.

The best way to beat the average is to scout for deals when you're ready to book. Look both to individual properties and the Paradise Island tourism board, as well as to vacation-package providers offering air-and-hotel packages that include the island's resorts. You'll likely find discounted rates, resort credits, free nights, and packages offering savings off rack rates. At press time, Atlantis is advertising deals including a fall special with rates from $117 between September 1 and December 25.

Additional Savings Tip: Paradise Island has plenty to entertain, but if you're looking to infuse your trip with a bit of Bahamian authenticity, check out the free People-to-People Experience, a program that brings together visitors with locals who volunteer to share a bit about the culture and way of life.

Runaway Bay, Jamaica

Relaxed Runaway Bay is a far cry from its crowded and crazy neighbor, Ocho Rios. The enclave attracts a well-heeled set looking to escape the nearby cruise-ship mobs. With quiet beaches, some of the island's best snorkeling, and a Bob Marley Museum nearby, the offerings reflect the spirit of Jamaica. But the limited number of resorts drives room prices up, with a nightly average of $187.

So how do you do it for less? Opt out of all-inclusives. Four of the top five Runaway Bay hotels listed on TripAdvisor are all-inclusives. And while this type of resort can be convenient, it's also more expensive. While a mid-April stay at the all-inclusives ran between $300 and $400 per night, a night at the popular non-all-inclusive Cardiff Hotel & Spa was listed at $122. Even less expensive was a room at Piper's Cove, for $89 per night.

Additional Savings Tip: If you're planning on renting a car, compare rates and be sure to include reputable local companies in addition to the big car-rental companies.

More Ways to Save

No matter where you go in the Caribbean, here are some more ways to save on a vacation:

  • Travel during the low season, which on most islands stretches from mid-spring through fall. Hurricane season runs from June through November, but time it right and you'll find both good weather and staggering savings.
  • Restaurants in the Caribbean, especially those geared to tourists, tend to be pricey. Save by sampling the local street food instead. You'll get a taste of authenticity on the cheap. Just remember to be smart about food safety.
  • Once you've arrived, look beyond flights and taxis. Much of the time, ferries and buses can get you between islands and around your destination for a whole lot less.

What other tips do you have for saving on a Caribbean vacation? Share them with others in the comments below!

--By Christine Sarkis

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Read the original story: Places You Never Thought You Could Afford in the Caribbean by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.