Five Budget Friendly Caribbean Destinations

Budget Friendly Caribbean Destinations

With gorgeous beaches and crystal blue seas, the Caribbean has long since been one of the world’s most appealing travel destinations. However finding a way to visit on a budget can be a real challenge with accommodation costs typically quite high. If you’re travelling with a group of friends, luxury Caribbean vacations can become relatively affordable by sharing the costs of renting a villa.

If you really want to keep costs down though, you have to be a bit selective when choosing your destination. Here we list five places where you can experience a touch of Caribbean luxury whilst keeping costs relatively low.

Five Budget Friendly Caribbean Destinations

Bay Islands, Honduras

backpacking in the bay islands

via John Colby, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Bay Islands still remain something of a secret gem. Travellers either have never heard of them or are simply put off by the dangerous reputation that Honduras undoubtedly has. Some of its cities may be rough, crime-ridden places but the Bay Islands are as close as it really come to a budget friendly Caribbean paradise.

The clear waters and abundant marine life makes this a great snorkelling and diving destination and it is a popular stop for backpackers in Central America. Unlike most other Caribbean islands, you don’t need to fly to get in with ferries leaving the Honduran mainland city of La Ceiba, twice a day. With dorm beds, cheap food and inexpensive activities, this is probably the cheapest of our five budget friendly Caribbean destinations.

Jamaica

via Frank Roche, CC BY-NC 2.0

Jamaica is one of the few islands that attracts backpackers and budget-minded travellers in any sort of quantity. Some of the towns and beach destinations are wising up to this and you can find budget accommodation from around $15/night in Ocho Rios or Kingston for example and with everything else fairly affordable, you ought to be able to get by on $40/day if you are on a tight budget.

With regular flights into either Kingston or Montego Bay from Europe and North America, it’s one of the most accessible countries in the Caribbean too. While like almost everywhere in the region, beaches are a big attraction, Jamaica has a strong cultural identity and for a nation of just 3 million people, it has achieved great international success in fields such as sport and music. Just travelling around the island and visiting different places is a unique experience and helps you to develop a greater understanding of what makes Jamaica tick.

Cuba

There has scarcely been a better time to visit Cuba, with travel restrictions having been eased considerably in recent years. As the largest island in the Caribbean, you have real choice in where to go and it’s perhaps the only country in the region, where you could potentially spend several weeks travelling around with numerous towns of cultural and historical significance.

The best beaches are found by heading East from its fascinating capital Havana and the whole Northern Coast is dotted with great beaches and idyllic islets. Although typical backpacker style accommodation is limited in Cuba, there are reasonably priced homestays and small guesthouses all over the island and the cost of eating/drinking out and transport again is relatively inexpensive.

According to our Cuba shoestring budget, you can get by on as little as $35/day if you are savvy and perhaps less if you’re travelling with a friend and sharing a room.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

via Trip & Travel Blog, CC BY 2.0

The Dominican Republic is the 2nd largest and 3rd most populous Caribbean country after Cuba and neighbouring Haiti. Unlike poverty-stricken Haiti, which takes up the other side of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic has managed to build a thriving travel industry.

Mostly this is geared towards package holidaymakers, who come to one of its many fantastic beach resorts but in Punta Cana at least, it’s very possible to enjoy its golden sands and crystal clear waters on a budget. Dorm beds can be found on Uvero Alto beach from $10/night and although many visit on all-inclusive deals, there is a growing selection of restaurants with cuisine from around the world, so you won’t be stuck for finding somewhere to eat.

There is more than just beach-life to the Dominican Republic though and if you fancy an adventure, head to the Rio Yaque, the longest river in the Caribbean and particularly the town of Jarabacoa, which is a popular rafting destination, home to some impressive waterfalls and cascades.

San Andres, Colombia

via Manuel Villafañe, CC BY-NC 2.0

Although closer to the Central American nations of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, San Andres is a small island owned by Colombia. It lacks the five-star facilities of many other Caribbean islands but that helps to keep prices low and most visitors are Colombians looking for a taste of Caribbean luxury on the cheap.

There are many flights in from the main cities in Colombia as well as Panama City and San Jose (Costa Rica). Therefore it’s a very feasible option for anyone travelling in Central or South America and it’s a long way from the mainland or any other islands, which gives it a real isolated, desert island feel.

Scuba diving and snorkelling are both popular activities, and there are many dirt cheap Colombian restaurants that serve set-meals for the equivalent of only a few dollars so once on the island, it’s possible to get by on a very small budget.

 


 This article was published in March 2017.


Cuba Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Cuba

(Map of Cuba from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Cuba on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 35 CUC

Cuba’s economic and political climate makes it a strange country to visit in many regards and its two-currency system only complicates matters (more on this below). On average Cubans earn just $25 per month yet our suggested shoestring Cuba backpacker budget is $35/day which can take some time to get your head around.

One reason is that locals have an awful amount of basic necessities provided for free via the state, which leaves them with relatively little they need to buy. They are also paid in Cuban Peso rather than the more valuable Cuban convertible peso which is what foreigners use for virtually all transactions, which results in higher prices for visitors. As a result there are almost two separate economies in Cuba and most of your business will be in the pricier tourist-orientated one.

Hostel dorm-type accommodation doesn’t really exist in Cuba so renting private rooms in the homes of people who have a special licence to run what is effectively a small guesthouse (casa particular) is the best value you can really find. As a result paying for accommodation will take up a sizeable chunk of that budget. If you’re travelling solo that can be a real pain but couples or groups travelling together may be able to get by on less than $35 per day by sharing rooms and splitting costs.

Food and drinks are pretty good value and if you speak decent Spanish you might be able to travel on the local buses as opposed to the tourist ones and you’ll make a big saving if you do that. Overall though travelling in Cuba is certainly more expensive than many countries in thee region such as Nicaragua and expenses are roughly similar overall to the cost of travel in Panama with accommodation cheaper in Panama but other things being more expensive to balance it out.

See where Cuba ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in Central America.


More Comfortable Cuba Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 45 CUC

Cuba’s travel industry is still in its relative infancy but it is growing quickly and there are lots of different trips and excursions you can do in almost all the main travel destinations now. While it’s not quite North Korea, it’s not that easy to have a totally independent travel experience in Cuba so you will find yourself having to pay for more organised trips than in other countries. By upping your budget to $45/day you’ll have more freedom to take up these options on a virtually daily basis and it’d be a wise option anyway if you’re travelling alone given the lack of hostel/couchsurfing options.


Sample Prices in Cuba

Transport by Astro Bus (mostly for locals) – $2/hour travelled

Transport by Viazul Bus (mostly for tourists) – $4-5/hour travelled

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $5

Meat & rice at a peso place – $1.50

Cuban Libre or Mojito in a bar or restaurant – $2-3

Private twin or double room in a casa particular – from $20/night

Entrance to Museum of the Revolution in Havana – $8

Horseback riding tour in Trinidad (3 hours) – $15

These prices are as of December 2016. All figures are the same in Cuban Convertible Peso.

Compare Cuba prices to the cost of travel in Mexico.


Money

Currency – Cuban Peso (CUP) /Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)

£1 = 33.37 CUP / 1.26 CUC

€1 = 28.10 CUP / 1.06 CUC

US$1 = 26.50 CUP / 1 CUC

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

Cuba’s two currency system can be quite confusing for newcomers. The Cuban Peso is designed for use by locals while the convertible peso, which is pegged to the US Dollar is aimed at foreigners and the tourism industry. Most of your transactions in Cuba will be in the latter although you may be able to get some basic goods and foods in Cuban Pesos and it’s completely legal to do so. If you speak good Spanish it helps and by eating/shopping regularly in the local places, you can probably get by on a fraction of the budget listed above.

Note that when exchanging US Dollars for CUC at a Cuban back, you will be hit by a 10% conversion fee so Euros, Pounds or Canadian dollars are better currencies to bring.


MFT Recommends

No matter where in the world you go, getting travel insurance is highly advisable! We suggest using World Nomads, who specialise in providing cover for backpackers.


Street art in Cuba

street art in Havana, Cuba


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Cuba recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Backpacking Budget for Central America

Central America Backpacking Budget

This page suggests typical shoestring travel costs and recommends a possible backpacking budget for Central America.

backpackers map of central america

(Map of Central America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Central America

$20/day : Nicaragua

$25/day : Guatemala, El Salvador

$30/day : Honduras

$35/day : Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba*, Mexico*

$45/day : Belize

*Not technically part of Central America but popular stops with travellers in the region.

This is based on travelling on the cheap by staying in hostel dorms or basic rooms where it’s cheaper to do so and by using local chicken buses which are a fun if slow way to get around the region. It allows for the odd activity each day but nothing like expensive diving courses or multi-day treks which will add to the cost of your trip. If you have travelled in the region recently and have a different idea of what typical expenses might be then please use the comments section below to let us and more importantly other travellers know. The budget allows for a bit of partying and but you will struggle to stick to this if you are looking to drink and go out every night.

Some travellers combine Central America with a few days or weeks in the United States, which is considerably more expensive. Read our USA backpacking budget for more.

Monthly Backpacking budget for Central America

Based on these costs, a typical total backpacking budget for a trip around Central America might be something like this:

1 month – £740, €850, $900

2 months – £1480, €1700, $1800

3 months – £2220, €2550, $2700

All figures are based on exchange rates correct as of January 2017. If you’re unsure, use dollars as a base and convert it to your currency at current exchange rates.

Touristy areas of Mexico or places such as the Bay Islands in Honduras are more expensive so avoid them if you are worried about funds running out. If you decide to visit Cuba, then the cost of getting there can also add quite a bit to your overall expenses so this budget is primarily based on travel in mainland Central America only.

Please note this does NOT include the cost of flights to/from the region, any visas/vaccinations or travel insurance. These things are impossible factor in as they are dependent on your nationality and where you are coming from but can quite easily double your total budget for the trip.

Read our Central America budget travel overview.


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

South America | Southeast Asia | Europe


How much did travel in Central America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in Central America. Everyone travels differently so there will never be a definitive right budget for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Top 10 Latin America Travel Highlights

Top 10 Latin America Travel Highlights

Ordered geographically from North to South, these are our Latin America travel highlights.

1. Smoke cigars, drink rum and travel like it’s 1959 in Havana, Cuba.

Latin America Travel Highlights

Read our Cuba backpacking budget for more info on travel on the Caribbean island.

2. Explore colourful Central America on Chicken buses.

chicken bus in guatemala

3. Reach the summit of an active volcano in Guatemala.

volcano in guatemala

Check out our Central America backpacking route for some inspiration.

4. Discover Caribbean beach paradise beneath snow-capped peaks in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park.

tayrona national park

5. Sail deep into the vastness of the Amazon.

amazon river

6. Follow the Inca Trail up to Machu Pichhu.

machu picchu

One of several destinations on this list to make our South America backpacking route.

7. Lose yourself in a world of salt at Uyuni, Bolivia.

salt flats uyuni bolivia

8. Party hard at Carnaval in Brazil.

carnaval in brazil

9. Witness the World’s most wonderous Waterfalls.

iguace waterfall

10. Explore the incredible landscape of Patagonia.

patagonia argentina

Take on our Backpacking Route for Patagonia.


This article was published in March 2014.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018  for a full overview of budget travel in the region.