Caribbean Articles & Reviews
Best Affordable Caribbean Hotels
Smart, stylish places to stay from Jamaica to Curaçao for less than $250 a night. Plus, money-saving tips for exploring the islands.
By Travelandleisure.com Staff
A room on St. Lucia for $55 a night? Your own private cottage in Barbados for $180? No, it‚€™s not too good to be true. The Caribbean is fast becoming known as much for its chic, affordable accommodations as it is for its sugary sands, swaying palms, and island flavors.
Over the past year alone, the Caribbean Tourism Organization estimates some 18.5 million tourists have visited the region‚€”many of whom are seeking smart values. Travelers are booking guesthouses, renting seaside villas, and staying at small inns that are not only easy on the wallet but full of authentic local touches (bougainvillea-fringed balconies, scampering monkeys, pan-fried wahoo), too.
Each island possesses its own unique history and character, so the selection is diverse. At Bonaire‚€™s intimate Hotel Roomer ($100/night), the inn‚€™s owners, a young Dutch couple, see to it that guests are well fed; local ladies dish up Creole specialties poolside under a thatched-roof bar. In cobbled Old San Juan, no fewer than 19 gardens with blooming jasmine and orchids are scattered throughout the lush Gallery Inn ($150/night), comprising six historic townhouses. And just minutes away from a UNESCO World Heritage Site and two idyllic snorkeling beaches on Cura√ßao‚€™s south coast, the Avila Hotel ($230/night) offers breezy loftlike accommodations and a chance to spot royalty (it‚€™s a favorite of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands).
No matter where you stay, there are some smart rules of thumb that every budget-conscious traveler to the Caribbean should keep in mind when exploring the islands:
- When traveling to islands with no nonstop flights, connect from main hubs such as Puerto Rico and St. Maarten by ferry. It can take longer, but it‚€™s more affordable than flying.
- The Caribbean isn‚€™t off-limits during hurricane season (June‚€“October), when flight and hotel prices hit rock bottom. And the southern islands of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Bonaire, and Cura√ßao are generally less affected by hurricanes.
- Consider renting a villa instead of checking into a hotel. If you‚€™re staying several nights, you can get a great deal‚€”and with your own kitchen, you‚€™ll save on eating out.
- Most islands take U.S. dollars, but many give change in the local currency. If you don‚€™t want to go home with a fistful of Netherlands Antillean guilders, for example, be sure to bring small U.S. bills.
Sun-seeking travelers to the Caribbean can now enjoy an idyllic island vacation, no matter what their budget. So, pack your flip-flops‚€”and leave your savings at home!
Antigua: Catamaran Hotel
$95 A short walk west from the center of English Harbour‚€”the island‚€™s sceney boating town on the southern coast‚€”sits the 16-room Catamaran Hotel. The d√©cor is classic Caribbean: bright floral bedspreads, whitewashed walls, and cream-colored tile floors. All of the rooms face the ocean, though the ones on the upper floor have the best views. Book a table on the roomy patio at the hotel‚€™s restaurant, Captain‚€™s Quarters, for regional classics such as ling fish with eggplant and okra.
T+L Tip: At the private beach, borrow a rowboat or a pedalo, gratis, and explore the bay‚€™s hidden beaches and rocky inlets.
Aruba: Arubiana Inn
$75 The Arubiana Inn couldn‚€™t be more different from the high-rise hotels down the road. The cheerful Dutch innkeeper Marjan Snoeij personally welcomes you to the low-slung property, where the 18 cozy rooms are spotless, with tiled floors, big, soft beds, and mini fridges filled with complimentary drinks. The hotel is a short walk to Eagle Beach, perfect for easy afternoons in the sun. At night, guests mingle around the hammock-and-palm-tree-lined swimming pool in the courtyard.
T+L Tip: Aruba has virtually no street signs and can be difficult to navigate; Snoeij will give you impeccable directions to Marina Pirata, a seafood restaurant in Spaans Lagune, where you can sit on a dock while mullet swim in circles below.
Aruba: Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort
$159 If all you need is a palapa and a long stretch of cobalt blue water, look no further than the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. The 72 rooms have either courtyard or ocean views, though you probably won’t spend much time indoors‚€”aside from a perfect crescent beach, there is a freshwater pool, two restaurants, and a bar with a popular happy hour.
T+L Tip: Check out the nearby Caribbean Store, one of the island’s “rum shops.” Locals gather here to sip Aruban brews, and you can pick up provisions (groceries, sunscreen) at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the resort area.
Barbados: Sea-U Guest House
$129 On the island‚€™s rugged, windswept eastern coast, the Sea-U Guest House is a colonial-style inn with hammocks on the wide verandas and sweeping ocean panoramas. All seven whitewashed rooms are furnished with mahogany, bamboo, or teak beds, dark-wood floors, and large deck chairs for catching a glimpse of the scampering Barbadian green monkeys in the garden. Most of the rooms have shared balconies, but if you‚€™re looking for total privacy, try to snag the separate two-bedroom Mammy Apple Garden Cottage ($180 per night; seven-night minimum).
T+L Tip: Don‚€™t miss the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens, more than 50 acres filled with tropical flora, from sago palms to birds-of-paradise.
Bonaire: Hotel Roomer
$100 Just south of this Dutch Antillean island‚€™s main town, Kralendijk, the Hotel Roomer is a 10-room inn run by a young Dutch couple, Martin Franken and Nicole Roomer. It‚€™s not much to look at from the road, but there‚€™s an inviting pool in the courtyard, lounging space under the thatched-roof bar, and bright rooms accented in yellows, reds, and greens. In the evening, order the fish Creole or garlic shrimp, cooked on the spot by local ladies in a hut beside the pool.
T+L Tip: One of the island‚€™s best spots for watersports is Lac Bay, which is blessed with steady trade winds and warm, shallow water‚€”just right for beginner windsurfers. Rent gear at Bonaire Windsurf Place.
Bonaire: Buddy Dive Resort
$121 For those serious about diving (and even those who aren‚€™t), the best place to stay on Bonaire is the Buddy Dive Resort. The 77 rooms are actually small apartments, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units, most with a full kitchen or kitchenette. Stop by the on-site dive shop to gear up, then jump right off the hotel‚€™s dock to explore Bonaire National Marine Park. Courses (from $45) include everything from kiddie scuba in the shallow waters offshore and underwater photography to PADI certifications.
T+L Tip: All that diving will make you hungry. If you want authentic Bonairean food, head to Rose Inn (lunch for two $15) for pan-fried wahoo with a coconut-laced cornmeal pudding.
Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands: White Bay Villas & Seaside Cottages
$240 A four-mile-long fleck of land with only around 180 residents, Jost Van Dyke is one of the lesser-known isles in the BVI archipelago, with influences that embrace Caribe, Dutch, African, and English cultures. Things are simple here: the island didn‚€™t have full electricity until 1997, and you can explore the towns of Great Harbour and White Bay in a day. You‚€™ll find a relaxed vibe inside the 10 hillside retreats at White Bay Villas & Seaside Cottages, which all have spectacular views of St. Thomas and St. John and are equipped with full kitchens and cool tile-floored rooms, some with double doors leading out to the verandas.
T+L Tip: Right on the beach at White Bay, Ivan‚€™s Local Flavor Restaurant & Stress Free Bar is known for its Thursday night beach barbecues and jam sessions.
Cura√ßao: Avila Hotel
$230 The Avila Hotel has the best of both worlds: the location puts it only minutes away by foot or car from downtown Willemstad, a unesco World Heritage site, and right on Cura√ßao‚€™s southern coast, with two small coves for swimming and snorkeling. The hotel recently added the Octagon wing, with 68 spacious loftlike guest rooms that have walk-in showers, oversize beds, and spacious balconies. And if you stay here, you‚€™re in good company‚€”Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands makes this her home away from home in Cura√ßao.
T+L Tip: Literally steps from the hotel is the new ultramodern Moon (lunch for two $60), a waterside beach bar where attractive Dutch locals gather for light lunches of gazpacho or open-face ham sandwiches.
Cura√ßao: Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino
$139 During the past 11 years, Dutch entrepreneur Jacob Gelt Dekker (who made some of his fortune with Kodak One-Hour Photo) bought up eight blocks of the run-down Otrabanda district and, in 2002, opened the Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino. The property has the feel of a brightly colored Dutch village: rooms are set in restored row houses along hilly cobblestoned streets overlooking downtown Willemstad and the Caribbean Sea. Wander down to the 19th-century Fort Rif, which was recently revamped and now houses shops, caf√©s, and galleries.
T+L Tip: Try a few words of the native language, Papiamento‚€”“Bondia” (hello), “Danki ” (thank you), “Ayo” (good-bye)‚€”when ordering stewed goat or fresh fish at the rustic food court Plasa Bieu (lunch for two $8), a favorite with locals.
Dominican Republic: Hotel La Catalina
$98 Two hours east of the resort town of Puerto Plata, Hotel La Catalina is set in a Day-Glo‚€“colored tropical garden on a hill overlooking the nearby fishing town of Cabrera. Better suited for peace-seekers than partygoers, most of the 32 quiet suites and condos are equipped with large beds, kitchenettes, and private bougainvillea-fringed balconies (all have ocean views). Swim in one of the two pools on the hotel‚€™s manicured grounds, or head to the beach: some of the island‚€™s best (Caleton, Playa Grande, Orchid Bay, Diamante, La Entrada) are a short drive away.
T+L Tip: Take an early morning hike from the hotel to the nearby waterfall El Saltadero, where you can cool off in the swimming hole and watch daredevils plunge in from a cliff.
Dominican Republic: Hostal Nicolas de Ovando
$185 In Santo Domingo‚€™s beautifully preserved colonial zone, you‚€™ll find the 16th-century Hostal Nicolas de Ovando. The 104 spacious rooms channel old-world romance with high ceilings, solid wood beds topped by snowy white duvets, and shutters on the windows. At the hotel‚€™s French-inspired restaurant, locals and visitors gather for duck breast with honey and ginger.
T+L Tip: The Dominican Republic is known for its cigars, rum, and coffee, and it‚€™s worth making the trip to Americo Melo & Co., a plantation where you can watch craftsmen roast coffee beans. You get to sample the results in the adjacent caf√©.
$125 While it‚€™s nothing like the sealed, all-inclusive compounds that occupy so much of this island, there is something about Rockhouse that makes you never want to leave the premises. It could be the killer sunset views from the hotel‚€™s clifftop perch; the assured friendly service at the spa (book a massage with Joy or Maureen); or the thrill of leaping into the cerulean, snorkel-worthy waters of Pristine Cove each morning, right outside your bedroom door.
T+L Tip: Order a Red Stripe by the pool from affable barmen Adrian and John, followed by curry goat or jerk pork at the hotel‚€™s new Pushcart Restaurant & Rumbar (dinner for two $50). Try the Cartini cocktail, with rum, mint, cucumber, and brown sugar.
Jamaica: Tensing Pen
$116 At the far western edge of Negril, Tensing Pen seems to have been sculpted out of the limestone cliffs that hang dramatically over the limpid bay. The intimate, 21-room resort‚€”open since 1974‚€”has retained its boho beachcomber vibe, while upgrading its facilities to become a favorite location for weddings. Rooms hew to a refined-rustic look: stone walls; louvered windows; lazy fans to stir the sultry air. (Only a few have AC, and none have phones or TV‚€™s‚€”a very good thing.)
T+L Tip: The in-house restaurant is surprisingly ambitious, with atmosphere galore. But definitely pay a visit to the nearby 3 Dives (dinner for two $25), home to the tastiest jerk chicken in town.
Puerto Rico: SoFo Casablanca Hotel
$95 Old San Juan‚€™s burgeoning SoFo area‚€”a once-neglected section of Calle Fortaleza‚€”is the city‚€™s go-to spot: centuries-old pastel-colored buildings have been converted into nuevo-tropical and international restaurants and moody lounges. SoFo Casablanca Hotel, just shy of a year old, has slipped effortlessly into the scene: the 33 rooms are decorated with Moroccan lanterns, mirrored Afghani bedspreads, and hand-glazed ceramic sinks. Public spaces encourage chilling out, either on the hot-pink love seat in the art-lined lobby or in one of five stone plunge pools on the tranquil rooftop deck.
T+L Tip: For live salsa and Latin-inflected jazz, spend an evening at the Nuyorican Caf√©, steps from the hotel.
Puerto Rico: Gallery Inn
$150 Along a winding street on Old San Juan‚€™s cobblestoned lanes, you‚€™ll find local artist Jan D‚€™Esopo‚€™s Gallery Inn, a lush retreat within six connected historic town houses. Inside is a labyrinth of staircases, open-air patios, hidden nooks, and no fewer than 19 gardens‚€”some with night-blooming cerius, others with jasmine and orchids. The 22 rooms have draping floral tapestries, carved wooden headboards, and framed watercolors depicting scenes of the city by D‚€™Esopo herself, who can often be found chatting with guests in her poolside studio.
T+L Tip: Try the traditional Puerto Rican fried red snapper with peas and rice at La Fonda el Jibarito (dinner for two $30), two blocks away.
Puerto Rico: Bravo Beach Hotel
$210 Set on the Atlantic side of blissfully low-key Vieques, Bravo Beach Hotel is a whitewashed nine-room retreat in a former private hacienda with a separate two-room villa. The feel is elegant yet simple: crisp, spare interiors are punctuated by handcrafted teak beds; barefoot guests gather at the bar beside the pool to sample bottles from the island‚€™s best wine cellar. Nothing is more than a few steps from the beach, which draws in-the-know snorkelers for its exceptional reef.
T+L Tip: Book a coconut body scrub or an outdoor massage at the hotel‚€™s new spa (treatments from $75).
St. Bart‚€™s: H√ītel Baie des Anges
$230 Think you can‚€™t do St. Bart‚€™s affordably? Think again. The H√ītel Baie des Anges, on the northwestern corner of the island, has 10 airy white-on-white rooms that overlook Flamands Bay. St. Bart‚€™s is all about the people-watching, and there‚€™s plenty of it here: the property shares its sands with the tony Hotel St.-Barth Isle de France. Do yourself a favor and try the Creole cod fritters or the grilled spiny lobster at La Langouste, the hotel‚€™s casual restaurant, with one of the best-priced menus on the island.
T+L Tip: Pick up snorkeling gear at Marine Service and head to secluded Gouverneur Beach, where you‚€™ll spot angelfish, sergeant majors, sea turtles, and the occasional nurse shark.
St. Bart‚€™s: Normandie Hotel
$178 If you‚€™re looking for a deal that doesn‚€™t sacrifice style, check in to the eight-suite Normandie Hotel. Inspired by the luxury liner Normandie, the look is old-world nautical chic: wood and metal furniture; portholed doors; leather lounge chairs in the bar. If Lorient Beach were not a two-minute walk away, you might never leave the confines of the wooden deck surrounding the pool.
T+L Tip: For a beach picnic, stock up on French delicacies‚€”jambon cru; pork rillettes; Camembert‚€”at Le Minimart.
St. Kitts: Golden Lemon Inn & Villas
$245 The Golden Lemon Inn & Villas was one of the Caribbean‚€™s first boutique hotels, opened by Arthur Leaman in 1963 in a lush garden on the black-sand shores of Dieppe Bay. Set in a 17th-century great house, this little gem has tons of personality thanks to the owner, who has decorated the place with a collection of antiques: mahogany sideboards repurposed for bathroom sinks; bedside tables; four-poster beds; carved armoires. The seven rooms in the great house are charming, but the villas are the ones to book, with their soaring, 25-foot-high ceilings, sunken baths, and private plunge pools. Don‚€™t miss the rum-braised beef stew and grilled lobster, served poolside by candlelight at the property‚€™s restaurant. And expect total relaxation. There are no TV‚€™s or radios‚€“just plenty of black sand and coral reefs.
T+L Tip: Book an island tour on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway (tours from $89), which takes you through tiny villages and pineapple fields and close to an ancient hilltop fortress.
St. Lucia: Coco Palm
$55 On the northern coast of the island, just off Reduit Beach, Coco Palm is perfectly located, not only for easy beach access but also for checking out the boutiques and restaurants in neighboring Rodney Bay Village. The 101-room hotel is a pastel pastiche of Creole style (French-colonial beds; claw-foot bathtubs). At the casual Ti Banane Bistro, which serves some of the best rum cocktails on St. Lucia, a sarong is as dressy as it gets for dinner.
T+L Tip: Take a day trip to Soufri√®re, in the southern part of the island, and soak in the mineral springs at Diamond Botanical Garden and Waterfalls. These are the same warm springs that refreshed Louis XVI‚€™s troops when they were stationed in St. Lucia in 1784.
St. Lucia: Balenbouche Estate
$80 Escape the fast-developing north and head to the empty beaches and forests in St. Lucia‚€™s serene southern half. Here you‚€™ll find the 18th-century Balenbouche Estate (three-night minimum), a former sugarcane plantation now owned by the Lawaetz family, who live in the plantation house and rent out four sweet cottages. The Frangipani guest house was constructed with 100-year-old wood from two houses in the nearby community of Fond St.-Jacques and has French doors framed by organza curtains, a veranda, and a shower made of river stones.
T+L Tip: Anitanja Lawaetz, the family‚€™s youngest daughter, has an on-site jewelry workshop. Her pieces‚€”strands and clusters of seeds, shells, and stones‚€”are a rare departure from the region‚€™s usual shell souvenirs.
Bequia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines: Burke House
$228 In the early 1960’s, American expat Tom Johnston fell in love with the laid-back pace of Bequia. He soon began work on his legacy, Moonhole, an eclectic group of houses near secluded Moonhole Beach, on the island’s southwestern tip. Now you can rent his two-bedroom Burke House (seven-night minimum), a quirky stone-and-timber cottage with a whalebone chair and a four-poster king-size bed made of blue mahoe wood. Take in ocean vistas from both patios or from your bedroom, which has side-by-side picture windows that look out on neighboring islands.
T+L Tip: Make a day trip to the homegrown Oldhegg Turtle Sanctuary, built and operated with astounding dedication by local fisherman Orton “Brother” King.
Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago: Acajou Hotel
$130 The village of Grande Rivi√®re, on the island‚€™s northern coast, is an amped-up version of Oahu‚€™s North Shore, with surfers, jungle trails, and the most active site for nesting leatherback turtles in the Western Hemisphere. The Acajou Hotel has six Indonesian-style cottages with bamboo furnishings, muslin-draped beds, and spacious porches with lounge chairs. Dinner‚€”grilled red snapper with lemongrass and coconut milk‚€“poached kingfish‚€”is served in an open-air pavilion, with the sound of tree frogs humming in the distance.
T+L Tip: At night between March and September, the beach at Grande Rivi√®re is the best place on the island to see the giant turtles clambering out of the surf to lay their eggs in the sand.
Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago: Blue Haven Hotel
$185 The sister island to Trinidad is focusing more on eco-tourism lately, but it hasn‚€™t forgotten its star-studded past. Since the 1950‚€™s, the 55-room Blue Haven Hotel, set on a 15-acre peninsula overlooking a pocket-size beach, has drawn celebrities‚€”Robert Mitchum; Rita Hayworth; Deborah Kerr. It‚€™s easy to understand why this place captivated the old-school Hollywood set when you see the rooms, decorated with four-poster beds, mahogany chaise longues, and wooden chairs on sea-facing balconies.
T+L Tip: Just offshore are the enormous brain coral heads of Angel Reef, which can be viewed in the water ($24 for a dive) or underfoot on a glass-bottom boat ($17), both arranged through the hotel.
Trinidad & Tobago: Bacolet Beach Club
$208 The new Bacolet Beach Club, owned by former model Gloria Jones-Knapp, is a little bit of heaven on earth. The 20 rooms at this boutique hotel have marble floors, mosquito-netted four-poster beds, and cobalt blue walk-in showers in the bathrooms. An infinity pool overlooks the beach, with bougainvillea and bamboo on either side. Cap off your days at the property‚€™s Rok Beach Bar‚€”the view is to die for and the cuba libre might just be the best on the island.
T+L Tip: For live music and some of the tastiest street food around, don‚€™t miss the Sunday School street party every Sunday from 6 p.m., in nearby Buccoo. The hotel can provide directions.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands: Concordia Eco-Tents
$105 Built along a steep hillside on the arid, cactus-dotted southeastern coast are the Concordia Eco-Tents, sister resort to the pioneering eco-destination Maho Bay Camps on the island’s northern side. The “tents” themselves are a collection of 25 cozy solar-powered wooden bungalows with white cotton sofas and beds, canvas walls, and oversize screen windows that let in trade-wind breezes. Views of the two nearby bays are spectacular, which is why most visitors‚€”when not snorkeling with sea turtles at Salt Pond Bay or hiking the adjacent Virgin Islands National Park’s trails‚€”practically live on their oceanside decks. For dinner, the new Caf√© Concordia serves freshly grilled local fish in an intimate, 20-table open-air restaurant.
T+L Tip: Download detailed maps and information about hiking trails all over St. John at trailbandit.org.