Are you yearning to dig your toes into dazzling white sand, glide through warm turquoise water and feel gentle ocean breezes on your face on a lush tropical island somewhere? If so, you’re not alone, especially if the outside temps are hovering far below what is comfortable to anyone other than a polar bear. But you’re probably thinking that heading off to a remote tropical island is a dream you just can’t afford right now.
Not so fast. Traveling to a tropical island doesn’t have to require a second mortgage. These tropical beach destinations are generally inexpensive to reach.
Mexico’s Isla Mujeres and Cozumel
Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are small islands just off the Yucatan Peninsula. You can reach either via an economical ferry ride from Cancun, and you can usually find low-cost flights to Cancun from many U.S. cities. Unlike the mega-resorts scattered along the Yucatan from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, both islands offer a more laid-back vibe — and more affordable accommodations. You can stay on or close to the beach for far less than what you’d pay in other parts of Mexico and enjoy all the same activities — snorkeling, scuba diving, dining, shopping, exploring archeological sites, swimming with dolphins and even zip lining.
The Dominican Republic
The D.R., as it’s often called, has become a hugely popular Caribbean beach destination in recent decades for good reason — it offers breathtaking white sand beaches, friendly people, practically every watersport ever invented, lush rainforests, national parks, historical sites and more. Despite its popularity, you can find reasonable all-inclusive resorts here, especially on the northern shore around Puerto Plata. Also on the northern coast is Samana — if you look past the posh luxury resorts, you can find simple hotels near the beach. You can fly into Puerto Plata on American Airlines, but be prepared to pay. The low-cost carrier Spirit, as well as traditional carriers, fly into Santo Domingo for far less. From the airport, you’ll drive about three hours to Puerto Plata.
Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, getting here is easy — you don’t need a passport to visit and you can find dozens of affordable daily flights from major U.S. cities. Avoid San Juan and head west a few hours to the Rincon area to find modest hotels and cute rental apartments. You can even fly into Aguadilla near Rincon on budget carriers such as Spirit and JetBlue. You’ll see mostly surfers on the near-deserted beaches. You can hang out in little family-owned restaurants and bars or relax under the swaying palms — and avoid hordes of tourists and overpriced tourist attractions. Towns sprinkled along the southern coast of Puerto Rico are another option for a budget vacation.
Lying about 430 miles north of Venezuela in the Caribbean, you can reach this spectacular Dutch island on low-cost JetBlue flights from a few U.S. cities. The airport is large and busy, so even on standard carriers you might find affordable flights. While you can splurge at 4- and 5-star resorts and drop-dead gorgeous villas here, if you’re on a budget, you’re in luck. Around Willemstad, the capital, you’ll find hotels on or close to the beach ranging from $75 to $200 per night. If you’re traveling during hurricane season from June through October, Curaçao has the added bonus of being somewhat out of the hurricane belt. Large tropical storms are rare here and the beaches are among the world’s most beautiful. You’ll also find quaint European-style architecture, friendly people, delicious global cuisine, snorkeling, diving, watersports and national parks.
Most visitors to Jamaica end up in an all-inclusive resort around Montego Bay or Ocho Rios and are somewhat confined to the resort’s secured grounds due to safety concerns. Drive about 90 minutes from the Montego Bay airport to Negril. There you can select from several 2- and 3-star hotels along its miles of west-facing sandy white beaches. You won’t be confined to a resort and can safely explore (using normal travel precautions). You’ll experience the real Jamaica here — delicious local cuisine such as jerk chicken, friendly people willing to share their culture, stunning waterfalls, authentic reggae music and amazing sunsets.