Caribbean on the cheap Posted June 8, 2016

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Caribbean on the Cheap
by Ken McAlpineYou may not get a mint on your pillow, but there is charm — and genuine Caribbean flavor — in trading a fancy fitness center and spa for $3 beers on the honor system or an evening’s conversation on the patio with the proprietor.

THE CARIBBEAN is a lovely world — described so aptly and incessantly that we won’t do it here. But that loveliness often comes with a price tag. So with savings in mind, we did some snooping to find the best hotels for around one Ben Franklin (or less) per night, avoiding islands where every beach is lined with megaresorts, and leaning to islands where beaches don’t even have parking lots. We eschewed names like Lavender Hills Estates and The Hotel de Snooty Pants. And we were discriminating in our sorting. Some lodgings are beachfront, some aren’t — the Caribbean is not just about beaches. The summer off-season is best for low prices, and rates can drop substantially if you book for more than a few days. But plenty of these places fit our budget in every season. And in the end, it’s not about money, it’s about memories. Here are 10 inexpensive Caribbean hotels to remember.

1 St. Croix: Hotel Caravelle
Hurricane Hugo (1989) left St. Croix’s tourist industry in rubble. St. Croix has recovered, but tourists have yet to notice. The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is also the most overlooked. The Hotel Caravelle sits on the water in quiet Christiansted; most rooms have a view of the harbor, and, in the equally blue distance, the Caribbean Sea. Should you opt to partake in some of the Caribbean’s finest diving, you can leap from your hotel room into the boats departing the harbor-front dock. (800-524-0410,www.hotelcaravelle.com)

2 Anegada: Neptune’s Treasure
This one’s a beauty for one overriding reason — mention Anegada (pronounced Ah-ney-GAH-dah) to most folks, and the reaction will be “Huh?” The island isn’t even on some maps. But contrary to cartographers, the Soares’ family-run Neptune’s Treasure does exist, its guesthouses sitting just back from the beach near Setting Point, on Anegada’s southwest shore in the British Virgin Islands. Walk west on the solitary beach, and the charted world falls away. (284-495-9439, www.neptunetreasure.com)

3 Trinidad: Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel
Rustic, yes, but a nature lover’s dream. Perhaps you enjoy the sight of hundreds of yellowtail birds returning to their nests at dawn. Maybe you wish to stroll, directly out your door, the empty expanse of Grand’ Rivière beach. Perhaps you want to watch others on the beach — Trinidad’s northeast coast is the largest nesting site for leatherback turtles in the Western Hemisphere. During nesting season (March through August), the mothers lay their eggs in the sand just outside your room (all 13 rooms face the sea). From May through September, their hatchlings gush back to the sea. The city life of Port of Spain is more than 100 kilometers away, but you won’t find many leatherback turtles there. (868-670-2216, www.mtplaisir.com)

4 Exuma, Bahamas:
Coral Gardens Bed & Breakfast
No one agrees on how many cays comprise the Exuma Cays — 300? 400? — but the quibbling ignores the important fact that most are uninhabited. You can camp on the cays — they are one of the world’s top sea kayaking destinations — but you can also reside at the Coral Gardens Bed & Breakfast, the Exumas’ most affordable lodging. Expat Englishfolk Peter and Betty Oxley offer B&B accommodations in their home — three rooms (worry not, there are private bathrooms) with hilltop views of the north and south coasts. (242-336-2880, www.coralgardensbahamas.com)

5 Virgin Gorda: The Wheel House
Even on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands — where accommodations are often aimed at well-heeled travelers — there is hope. It comes in the form of The Wheel House — 12 clean, neat rooms located in Spanish Town, directly across from the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. Long a favorite of yachties who possess panache but want to save some cash, this hotel also has a restaurant serving equally affordable fresh seafood and West Indian cuisine. (284-495-5230, www.bviguide.com/stay.html)

6 Dominica: Beau Rive
Located on the lush and wild Atlantic side of Dominica, Beau Rive is still a secret — it just opened in 2003. If you are looking for a beach vacation, look elsewhere (the Atlantic shore is rough and rocky, though the island has 300-plus rivers to swim in). If you are looking for the charming, unspoiled Caribbean, come here. Six suites share a breathtaking panorama (Beau Rive sits more than 200 feet above the sea). Englishman and chef Mark Steele owns the place; after dinner his mom, Josie, often plays the piano. (767-445-8992, www.beaurive.com)

7 Puerto Rico: Hacienda GripiÑas
Paradores are country inns, and Hacienda Gripiñas, near the town of Jayuya in the central mountains, is the real deal; a restored 19th-century coffee plantation and a simple, hospitable home where you might converse on the breezy veranda, absorb a drumming tropical rain, or revel in the sounds of Caribbean countryside. At night you might want to use earplugs — the tiny Puerto Rican tree frog sings through the night. (787-828-1717,www.haciendagripinas.com)

8 St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands: Maho Bay
St. John is a mecca for tropical campers, and Maho Bay Camps is renowned for its environmental bent. Imagine Swiss Family Robinson — lush jungle, a latticework of connecting wood walkways, and 16 x 16 canvas tent cottages on platforms, each with a private deck. Public bathhouses have pull-chain showers, but you are doing your part for the environment. Want to go a bit more upscale, but still stay under $100? Try (off-season) Maho’s cousin. Concordia’s Eco-Tents have more elaborate kitchen facilities and their own showers. (800-392-9004, www.maho.org)

9 Trinidad: Coblentz Inn
Small (16 rooms), colorful (billed as Trinidad’s first boutique hotel), and located right in the capital Port of Spain, the Coblentz Inn was once a hospital, then a nursing home, and now a quiet, nearly unknown escape, complete with an intimate 15-table gourmet restaurant. (868-621-0541,www.coblentzinn.com)

10 Puerto Rico: Playa de PÁjaros or Playa Sardinera
To really get away, go camping on Isla de Mona. Roughly 45 miles off Puerto Rico’s west coast, this uninhabited nature reserve may be the wildest island left in the Car­ibbean. You’ll get dropped off by boat and left to explore the island. Factoring in the transport cost ($100 to $135 round trip per person), it’s still a bargain — camping (you bring your own food and gear to one of two lovely beaches) is $10 per person a night. (For transport, call Mona Aquatics, 787-851-2185. For camping permits, call the Department of Natural Environment/Resources in San Juan, 787-724-8774.)

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