Tips for a Caribbean Getaway on a Budget

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Finding the most fun and the best eats in the Caribbean, on the cheap

The calm turquoise waters and expansive, white beaches of the Caribbean often capture our imaginations like few other spots around the globe, but it is not the first region that comes to mind when planning a budget getaway.

MUSIC

Jamaica

Reggae and rum at rock bottom prices — who can beat that? Jamaica is the perfect Caribbean island for an escape backed by soaring cliffs, hidden caves, and a continuous soundtrack of island music. Off the cliffs and beachesin eco-friendly Ocho Rios, a different kind of musical experience awaits — a tour of the birthplace and final resting place of Jamaica’s icon, Bob Marley. For $18, visitors can gather around the crypts of Mama Marley, Bob’s brother, and Bob himself.  A must for every music lover, this is one of those experiences you just have to see for yourself.

 

In casual Negril, it’s all about relaxing on the beach, or heading over to Rick’s Café (pictured) for some live tunes and live adventure — cliff diving off the rocks at Rick’s has made it one of the most famous bars in the world. While professional cliff divers offer the best entertainment, the brave everyman can join the action, too. It doesn’t cost anything; all you have to do is… jump! (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gaz (Yeat!))

In Negril’s West End, One Love Drive (another Marley nod), is ground zero for grub. Hit Serious Chicken for fresh-caught fish salad and, of course, chicken. Try Jacko and Jenny’s for local Jamaican fare. (Tip: Be sure to grab The Passport to Wining & Dining - One Love Style, a magazine featuring all of One Love Drive’s eateries.  It offers 10 percent off meals at all restaurants.)When you’ve had enough music and mayhem for one day, book a villa at White Sands in Negril for $57. Yeah, mon.

CULTURE and ISLAND HOPPING

St. Maarten/St. Martin

One island, two sides. St. Maarten (owned by the hard-partying Dutch) and St. Martin (owned by the more traditional French) offers a two-for-the-price-of-one experience with respect to the cultural learning curve. The Dutch side is home to some of the Caribbean's best duty-free shopping and great values in terms of food and lodging. The most budget-friendly options are usually found in Simpson Bay, and The Horny Toad Guesthouse— often the scene for spontaneous group barbecues — ranks high on the list. On the French side, Les Balcons D'Oyster-Pond delivers exquisite French service and a bit more serenity overlooking busy Oyster Pond for around $85 for couples.

With more than thirty gorgeous beaches, the small island is an easy place to while away the hours on the sand. St. Martin’s Friar’s Bay is a popular swim spot surrounded by a string of beach bars and full-moon parties at night. Looking for a calm place to take in some rays? Head to Happy Bay, a deserted stretch of beach reached by a dirt path — ask any local to point you in the right direction. The bonus of visiting St. Maarten/St. Martin? When you’ve had enough, you can hop over to luxurious Anguilla on a mere $15, 45-minute ferry trip.

Though the French side’s pricey Grand Case, a Restaurant Row-type hub for gourmands, might entice, try the lolos, instead. These Creole roadside shacks clustered by the waterfront are way more authentic… and cheap, at less than $15 for a full meal at dinnertime. Two of the most popularlolos are Talk of the Town and Sky’s the Limit, but go early; grabbing a picnic table for dinner usually requires a bit of a wait. If you happen to find yourself on the Dutch side for sustenance, Hilma’s Windsor Castle is the lolo of St. Maarten choice.Before you depart, make sure to leave extra time for a last meal at Sunset Beach Bar. Located just below the airport runway in St. Maarten, guests eat and drink merrily then run to the sand to pose for photos underneath the arriving jets that zoom past, practically grazing the heads of posing travelers. Taxis to the airport run around $6 from Sunset Beach. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/billandcathy)