By January 21, 2005 Read More →

5 Secret Caribbean Bargains

The Caribbean has become a second home to the mega-rich including the likes of Mick Jagger (Mustique), Richard Branson (Necker Island) and Donald Trump (Canouan).

But with a bit of careful planning, your jaunt to the sunny shores of some obscure island does not need to break the bank. While those islands will definitely be a pain in the wallet, here are five that won’t.

1. Palm Island. There are more than 30 islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines — but you don’t want to miss this one. Built in 1964 by John Caldwell, a wealthy American who was granted a 99-year lease from the government, it is a quiet hideaway with reasonable prices. Snorkeling and diving opportunities are abundant and the entire island is informal (shoes are almost totally optional). The beaches are first-rate and on the western side, Causarina Beach allows discrete topless and nude sunbathing. Plan your flights into Barbados and connect to Union Island and catch the ferry. The resort will handle all the transfers and will offer free inter-island airfare on stays of seven nights or longer. Palm Island Resort rates begin at $600 a night per couple and are all-inclusive. Many private villas on the island offer most of the same amenities and rates begin at $350 per night for a beachfront private villa that sleeps eight.

2. Vieques. Now that the Navy firing-range controversy is behind it, the allure of this small island off the East Coast of Puerto Rico is coming into its own. This sparsely populated island offers one resort and a myriad of guest houses. Vieques offers some of the best beaches in the Caribbean including Sun Bay and the more secluded beaches of Media Luna and Navio. While there, be sure to check out their bioluminescent bay — Mosquito Bay. Swimming in these waters at night with the glowing plankton is an experience of a lifetime. For a full service resort and spa, the Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa is the place, with rates from $215 per night. However the smaller and more personal guest houses are where the real bargains are. Check out the Inn on the Blue Horizon where rates begin at $110 per night and include a breakfast. You can reach Vieques by air from San Juan International Airport ($135 round trip) or, for a more leisurely trip, take a cab from the airport to the ferry and ferry over to the island. The ferry is $2 each way and the cab ride will cost about $65 each way.

3. Tortola. This is the largest and the most touristy of the British Virgin Island chain, but it offers so much and once you venture from Road Town (Tortola’s Capital) the island all of a sudden seems so much smaller and more intimate. Shopping, activities and nightlife are a short taxi away from anywhere, but the sailing, beaches, and scenery are what Tortola is all about. Be sure to take a trip around the island and bring your camera for the wonderful vistas. For a one-of-a-kind party, don’t miss Bomba’s Shack on Little Apple Bay and their famous Bomba Punch. Monthly they host a Full Moon all night party which breaks up around 7 a.m. During the other phases, it is a great place to watch the surfers. There are no big resorts on the island, but two great places are Prospect Reef Resort where rates begin at $115 per night. For a place a little off the beaten path, situated on a West End peninsula, is the Frenchman’s Cay Resort Hotel & Villas where rates begin at $145 per night. Frenchman’s is defiantly a hidden gem and well worth the extra dollars. To get to Tortola, fly into Beef Island Airport and taxi to your hotel.

4. Dominica. For the eco-traveler, Dominica is an isle well worth exploring. Discovered by Columbus in 1493, Dominica is filled with mountains, volcanoes, rain forests, challenging hiking, plus spectacular scuba and snorkeling. While seemingly prone to hurricanes (1979, 1995, and 2004), the island, and its charm, endure. Dominica is not known for its beaches as most people prefer to swim in the fresh water rivers such as the Layou which is a wide river laden with waterfalls, rapids, and calm pools. This is the place for an active vacation — white water rafting, mountain biking, deep-sea fishing, sea kayaking, and diving. Cabrits National Park is rather dry and has some wonderful mountain scenery. Morne Diablotin National Park is the park for the rain forest and hiking. The island only has 850 hotel rooms spread out among many guest houses and locally-owned hotels. Most properties are modern (rebuilt after hurricanes) and range in price from $45 per night to over $300 per night. Dominica is served by two airports.

5. Saba. Like Dominica, beach-goers are not flocking to this tiny volcanic island of 1,200 because, well, there are no beaches. This is the perfect island for doing nothing. Saba is in the eastern Caribbean just south of St. Maarten and offers wonderful mountains to explore, great views, small restaurants and inns, and great diving and snorkeling. The native Sabans are friendly and outgoing and definitely worth getting to know. There are two deluxe hotels on Saba; Willard’s of Saba offering cliffside rooms from $250 per night, and Queen’s Gardens Resort from $145 per night. The other choices are the many small and fun guesthouses and inns. The Cottage Club is a colony of 10 Saban cottages perched high on the hill. Rates begin at $105 per night and there is a discount for honeymooners. Remember, there are no beachfront hotels in Saba, because there is no beach. There is a small airport served from St.Maarten which is worth the experience as it is one of the shortest runways in the world with an end that is a steep cliff dropping into the sea.

While the rates in Mustique, Canouan, or Necker Island might run upwards of $3,000 per night, these five islands offer a taste of the intimate Caribbean that is usually reserved for the high rollers of the world. With a little homework and good travel planner, you can craft a unique experience that may just have you sipping a Bomba Punch with Brad Pitt.

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