10 Tips to travel the Caribbean local & budget style
The image you have in mind from the Caribbean gets beyond confirmed once arrived. From Tobago tucked away in the south east corner, to little Saba up north, the islands are blessed with tropical rainforests, stunning reefdrops, waterfalls and adventure potential. It is as scenic above as below the surface. The Caribbean are a truly amazing part of our planet, full with character! Scenic wise with all the happy coloured buildings, the tropical flowers and happy bird sounds. But the real characters are the people.
When you walk the street, receiving “good day” and “good afternoon” is more the rule than the exception. Everyone has a good cheer and is happy to make a chat. There are more hairdressers than rumshops. And there are A LOT of rumshops. Looking around NO one has the same hairstyle. The people are kind, funny and 100% unique. Every single one of them. People walk slower, talk slower, live slower so they can be more. There’s lots of entrepreneurs around hustling some business with their fish, coconuts, bread and fruits on boats, on the beach or on land near the streets. Reggae and soca music boosts from the speakers. You only know if it’s a house, bar or supermarket before you walk in there. I love it!
The Caribbean are not designed for budget travellers. The most expensive part of travel in the Caribbean is accommodation. But there’s ways around it. With my curiousity and determination to explore and stay, I have figured out a way to adventure these paradise island with little to pay.
- How to maximize your Caribbean travels on a budget?
- 1. Lend a hand in exchange for food/accommodation
- 2. Go local, with locals
- 3. Pitch (or rent) a tent
- 4. Eat the local foods
- 5. Couchsurf
- 6. Save on the wifi-bars
- 7. Team up
- 8. Explore Nature, it’s free!
- 9. Investigate the cheap stays
- Budget accommodation in Dominica:
- Budget accommodation in Saint Lucia:
- Budget accommodation in Grenada
- Budget accommodation in Tobago:
- Budget accommodation in Saba (Dutch Caribbean)
- Budget accommodation in St. Vincent & the Grenadines
- Budget accommodation in Bonaire
- Budget accommodation in Antigua
- Budget accommodation in St. Maarten
- 10. Avoid: island excursions at cruiseship rush hours.
- Bonus Tip: Hitch-Sail!
How to maximize your Caribbean travels on a budget?
Here are some tips, insights and useful take-aways so you can jump in your Caribbean budget travel adventure! I’ve extensively explored Tobago, Granada, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten, Antigua and Saba. I’ve spend around 5 months in the zone now. Every island is GREAT! In another post I will highlight the where’s and why’s for different destinations. For now, just get yourself over there;). Wherever you go, you probably want to stay forever…
1. Lend a hand in exchange for food/accommodation
- Find out about these kind of opportunities on Woofing, WorkAway and HelpX. Once you’re in the area check out local facebook groups, newspapers and posts on bulletin boards.
2. Go local, with locals
Wherever you go, connect with the locals. The experience of the island will be determined by the interaction of the people you meet! Make an effort to understand the culture and place you are visiting. Why do they do things as they do? Learn what drives them and how they see the world. You get way more out of your visit, out of your life! Be nice, be open and the locals will show you around, share a coconut, and invite you in their houses. No need to pay for taxis, buses, or tourist tours. Give back with your gratefullness and enthusiasm for their country.
You’ll meet them at your homestay, the market, street, in the bus, bar or beach. Check the calendar for festivals and celebrations and see if you can join. Meet locals through couchsurfing forum, facebook groups, and Homestay.com.
Navigate local style. On every island I’ve been taking local buses and hitchhiked. This works well, it’s safe and makes you meet the locals. There are no timetables. The bus stops when you raise your hand. Don’t be surprised when the driver takes a detour via the bakery, his cousin, or market to source or bring some groceries. If you think there’s place for 10 people, x2 that! Buses get loaded. Buses have a great character with colours, local music, awesome hairstyles and names like, ‘the determined,’ ‘Expect the unexpected.’ Do check the price when you hop on for the first time to avoid being overcharged. Bus prices range from 1 – 10 EC. Different per bus and busline, they don’t run after 10PM-ish.
Everywhere it’s also easy to hire a car in the Caribbean, with or without driver. Prices are around 50US/day. This is often cheaper than taking a taxi! Taxi’s from one side of the island to the other can costs up to 100US$ (In Martinique or Saint Lucia). In the other islands I don’t know
3. Pitch (or rent) a tent
- Camping in Dominica:
- Beyond Vitality Eco Camp. Here you can pitch your own tent or rent a hammock in the shelters hammock hut. There are also cottages for rent. The place is one of a kind. Read all about it here.
- Rodney Wellness (10US/day If you have your own tent) 25US/day to rent a tent. I rented a tent here. Nice spacious with a good matrass in it.
- Camping in Martinique:
4. Eat the local foods
The number 1 reason I love the the Caribbean is coconuts and tropical fruits. Caribbean cuisine is simply amazing. The rich soils produce healthy nutritious fruits, vegetables and spices. No wonder why the Caribbean have one of the highest numbers of centenarians in the world. Breadfruit, cassava, pea soups, abundance of greens, peanuts, and all the herbs, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao, turmeric, ginger, vanilla, and lots of coconut based excitement.
How to enjoy the Caribbean food on budget?
- Walk around the block and discover the local food shacks! Avoid the restaurants in the marina’s and tourism zones where you find mostly the international food restaurants. This can be expensive (& tasteless due to import).
- Get lost and pick your own plants, fruits and coconuts.
- Go to the local market, not the supermarket.Caribbean supermarkets have limited provision options. Most of it is imported from the US, or Europe when you go to Martinique, Guadeloupe or the ABC islands. A lot from that import contains crappy ingredients and dozens of plastic wrappers. There’s way more exciting foods to be found on the street. Support the local produce and local vendor with his family. Try that local exotic fruits instead of the imported familiar apple. Engage in the experience! Best goods are to be found on the street and market. On every island Saturday seems to be market day. While you can provision the other days of the week as well (except for Sunday), on saturday islanders from all across the country (read: other side of the island 20 km away ;)) make their way to the capital to sell their produce.
- If there’s certain foods you really can’t do without, bring them in advance. It’s hard to find ‘things’ in the Caribbean. If you may find that special shampoo or superfood, you will pay the price.
- To the more outer islands you go, the more expensive it usually gets since foods have to be brought over. Plan ahead.
- Get what’s in season.
- What is Caribbean food? Rotis are popular in the Caribbean and go for 5-15 EC (Eastern Caribbean Dollar +/- 3 EC = 1US$/Euro/Pound). These are dough rolls filled with a curry of meat, fish or veggies. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are so huge, and it’ll be the only meal you need that day. Definitely try a Callaloo soup. It’s a superpower veggie soup (sometimes with fish, double check if you’re vegetarian/vegan). At the roadside you’ll find soupmasters and (breadfruit – corn – plantain) grill masters selling delicious things. Corn soups are great as well. Caribbean are vegan heaven! I started a Pinterest board on Vegan Caribbean Food with all this yummyness. I’ll continuously be updating that one as I explore for more:)
- Also fish and lobster are popular on the local menu. Unfortunately, many endangered species are on the menu as ‘catch of the day’. Take it easy on the tuna, grouper, swordfish and marlin for your own and oceans health. It takes many years and dozens of pounds of other fish for these giants to mature and reproduce. There’s not much left. The higher up the food chain and the older the fish, the more contaminated it is with mercury and other metals. The best fish choice is the Caribbean is Lionfish. It’s an invasive specie in the Caribbean and devastates local plants and animals. You actually help the environment by catching and eating this fish. Young plant eating fish are the second best choice. The very best choice is explore some more and try the ‘Sea moss!’ A real superfood from the sea! This sea vegetable makes a delicious drink with the local cinnamon spices/ coconut / cacao and/or peanuts! It’s the purest source of omega’s and so much more.
- Have Farine for breakfast and you’ll only get hungry again the next day! Farine is derived from the cassava root. Supersuper powerful nutrition bomb! A bit boring in itself but you can pimp it with the tropical fruits, spices, and of course coconut!
- Indulge on the coconuts. You can actually live on just that for months. How much does a coconut cost? Here’s the coconut index 2017 (EC -> Divide the US$/Euro/Pound more or less by 3):
- Dominica: 2 EC
- Grenadines 3-7 EC
- St. Lucia: 2 EC
- Grenada: 3 EC
- Tobago: 15 TT (= +/- 20US$/euro/Pound)
- Climb a tree yourself! It’s free!
- Average price for a beer in the Caribbean: 5 EC. Go to the local shack and get 3 for 10 EC. Go to the fancy bar and pay 8.
Obviously I love coconuts
List your trip dates on Couchsurfing. In St. Lucia, Grenada and Dominica I’ve connected with locals on Couchsurfing and numerous hosts (bots girls and guys) offered to show me around or even a place to stay. Couchsurfing is great to connect with locals. They often love the companionship and to share stories. While typing this I’m couchsurfing, beachfront! I’m the last person he’ll host though so you unfortunately you can’t take over this one;).
6. Save on the wifi-bars
Save on the wifi bars and get a local SIM card. Sometimes the local shacks sell them. Many towns have a Digicel or Lime shop. Simcard costs 15EC (+/- 5US$) and you get 10EC credit with it. For 20EC you get 1GB of data. Often the data works better than the wifi! You only need 1 SIMcard and it works across different Caribbean islands.
7. Team up
Accommodation goes per room. If you’re solo travelling you probably can negotiate a little bit of the price but not so much. If you’re 2 or more it’s way easier to find an affordable place to stay.
8. Explore Nature, it’s free!
Snorkel below the surface, walk the shorelines, hike the hills and go swimming in the waterfalls! The Caribbean are a natural paradise. Tip: Bring your own snorkel set so you don’t have to rent this! It’ll be worth it!
9. Investigate the cheap stays
Maybe you don’t feel like couchsurfing, housesitting, camping, or chilling in a hammock. Where to find a budget place to stay? Don’t worry. They are out there, the cheap accommodation budget places to stay in the Caribbean. Just not on the first place in google. Walking and asking around locally is the best way to find a place. And to support the local who needs it most! The coolest local places are not on the internet! In high season you might want to have a cheap room sorted for 1 or 2 nights. Check Booking, Homestay, HostelWorld, Homeaway, Flipkey, AIRBNB, and Trivago. All websites have different offers. There is not much hostel type accommodation in the Caribbean out there. Here’s a few budget places to stay in Caribbean that I discovered. I’ve stayed at most of them or they’ve been recommended to me by fellow Caribbean adventurers.
Budget accommodation in Dominica:
- Beyond Vitality (Castle Bruce): 21 US$/night – Hammock
- Comfort Cottages (Thibaud) 43 US$/night – Room
- Rodney Wellness Big Banana Campground (Soufriere): 25$/night – Comfortable tent with matras
- SeaWorld Guesthouse 50$US/night Beachfront in Roseau. Lovely locals and good place to meet fellow travellers.
- Rivers Dominica has dorm accommodation in Dominica option for 15US$ / night. A cool ecolodge stay in nature!
Budget accommodation in Saint Lucia:
- Uptown Guesthouse in Soufriere (40 euro/night). Stunning views, awesome town in Saint Lucia in the middle of all the adventure action.
Budget accommodation in Grenada
Budget accommodation in Tobago:
- Two Seasons Guesthouse (Mt. Irvin Beach). 30Euro/night. THE place to be. You got to call. Dale, the lovely local owner doesn’t do internet. +1 868-792-9329. Say hi to Dale and all the other awesome local guys at the Mt. Irvin Office from me! I can’t wait to go back there.
- Millers Guesthouse (Buccoo). 40 euro/night. This guesthouse also has dorm room for cheaper. Awesome location between hotspots Mt. Irvin Beach and Pigeon Point. Right next to the location of sunday school (which is a must must must!). Say hi to Winston from me! Lovely local guy.
- Candles in the wind (Close to Pigeon Point). 25 euro/night for (huge ass) dorm room. I met lots of solo travellers here! Cool place. Say hi to Andrew.
Budget accommodation in Saba (Dutch Caribbean)
- El Momo Cottages (70US/night) As low budget as it can get in Saba & eco!
Budget accommodation in St. Vincent & the Grenadines
- Dennis Hideaway in Mayreau (44US$ /night)
- Saint Josephs house in Union Island. Spectacular view from here and walking distance from town.
- Buttercutch Appartment in Kingstown on the main Island
Budget accommodation in Bonaire
- City Inn is the cheapest one out there (44US$/night) In town with a stunning beach just a step away
- I wrote a dedicated blog with more tips on the island of Bonaire here.
Budget accommodation in Antigua
- Media Luna Appartments in Saint Johns. 43US$/night. Basic but cheap and self-contained.
Budget accommodation in St. Maarten
- Over the Hill guesthouse in Gran Case 55US$/night.
Explore Booking, Homestay, HostelWorld, Homeaway, Flipkey, AIRBNB, and Trivago for last minute deals on hostels, hotels, guesthouses in the Caribbean. Sometimes by only booking a day in advance prices drop 50%. Don’t expect too much availability in high season though (December – March).
10. Avoid: island excursions at cruiseship rush hours.
The Caribbean are a popular cruise ship destination. These massive cities arrive in the morning. The +/- 3000 populartion invases the destination and leave in the afternoon to tick another from the ‘been there, done that’ list the next day. It’s an attraction in itself. Cruiseship days are ‘bankdays’ for the locals. Prices for food, drinks and coconuts massively go up. Don’t go to the local market or ‘must see’ waterfall at times the cruiseship is in. You will be seen as a walking ATM and surely pay more for your banana. I’ve got priced coconuts for 10$US, haha! Neh, I’ll climb a tree myself.
Bonus Tip: Hitch-Sail!
How to get around between the Caribbean islands? Or even arrive in the Caribbean in the first place?Whether you take a flight or Ferry, travel between the islands is expensive the regular way. The windward chain is well connected with ferries. A ride between countries, often between 20-40 miles, can easily cost up to 100$US. Especially in the high season, between december and april, there are many sailboats island hopping the Caribbean. Many of them like to share the fun with fellow adventure seekers! There are more berths on a boat than friends they have to fill them with. Distances between the islands are short. You can usually see the next one already lying ahead of you. There are also fisherman willing to take you to other islands. This is cheaper, not always safer. Definitely more adventurous. You do need to make sure that you clear out and in of customs properly. The captain of a sailing vessel needs to put you on the crewlist and get you off the crewlist when cleaning in a new country. I’ve become a pro in hitch-sailing. Learn more about this coolest way to travel on my ‘zero to hero’ sailingblog or buy me a coconut and I answer all your questions.
A few more thoughtful travel take-aways for your Caribbean budget travel trip
- I haven’t felt unsafe 1 single second. Be open and friendly and you will get the warmest welcome wherever you go.
- What to pack for a Caribbean budget travel trip?
- In the Caribbean disposable plastic is the norm. Be prepared to refuse and reuse by packing a reusable Straw, Bag, Cup, take-away box and filter waterbottle
- Biodegradable sunscreen
- Pack for a purpose. See if there’s anything you can bring that can help someone out.
- Make a positive impact. Not just for yourself but for the places and people that you’re visiting. Our travels can bring huge benefits to local communities; it can also destroy a destination. Learn what you can do.
- No need to drag a guidebook around. Get an individual e-book chapter of the place you like to learn more on.
- Spend local and support as much as you can. Here’s why.
Paradise when you give it a closer look. Im in the Tobago Cays: a protected marine reserve, which is great! And let’s assume, no one would litter here. Where does this trash come from? It’s washed up ashore. Today I find fishing lines, flipflops and bottles. Loads of bottles! Eventually they will break down by the sun and salt but this will never dissapear. We’re piling up plastic on the this planet and the only way to turn the tide without plastic is to say no to it and do our very best to use alternative options! Not easy. I know. But we got to for the sake of the oceans and our own health. Looking for ideas on zero waste travel? Check destinationXploration.com for 70 tips to travel with a positive impact. A post shared by Suzanne | The Oceanpreneur (@oceanpreneur) on
Let’s have us paradise forever! We can solve 50% of the plastic challenge by saying no to single use plastic: bottles, cups, bags, styrofoam, straws! These things have an average lifespan of 15 minutes. It just doesn’t make sense. And it never disappears! A post shared by Suzanne | The Oceanpreneur (@oceanpreneur) on
This is also #Dominica Can we blame someone disposing trash in nature? Not really. Not everyone knows that some of this trash never ever disappears, gets eaten by fish, eventually gets loaded with toxics back into us again eating the fish. Not everyone has access to education and the internet! Stuff we don’t want in the western world or have prohibited ingredients, now gets shipped into more developing countries that don’t have ‘BPA’ or ‘microbead’ regulations in place yet. A country like Dominica with very little resources and very little waste management facilities in place has to stay somewhere with the stuff that ‘we’ have thrown in there. The crappy plastic wrapped ‘food’ is often sold cheaper than the locally grown fruits, veggies, spices and nuts. Because we desire those and pay for that so they export. I hope I’ll see more local people eating their ‘oh so delicious’ local produce, on a banana leaf, with a reusable fork. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But that’s how it used to be. And that’s how Dominica got so many centenarians. I’m not so sure how this works out with the next generation… A post shared by Suzanne | The Oceanpreneur (@oceanpreneur) on
Now time to lime and go on island time!
Disclaimer: All tips and recommendations are my own. Some of the links contain affiliate links. If you click through and book, I get a tiny commission at no extra cost for you. It’s a huge help to keep this website going. Also check out my resources page before booking your next trip or buying a reusable straw! Thanks!
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