“Do you know of any affordable hotels in the Caribbean?” It’s one of the questions we get asked most frequently. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of answers. The easiest route is to look for a brand-name resort or all-inclusive, many of which have attractive rates and packages. But what if you want something smaller, with more personality? No problem: The islands are dotted with intimate, independently run hotels that offer all the touchstones of a dream Caribbean vacation—abundant sunshine, warm surf, rum drinks—without exorbitant rates. We combed through our Caribbean travel guides and selected ten such gems. None charge more than $250 a night for a standard room—even in high season*—and all provide an ideal, and affordable, Caribbean getaway.
* Excluding taxes and service charges. Rates are often higher during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s.
10. Rockhouse Hotel, Negril, Jamaica
Set on the cliffs near Seven Mile Beach, the Rockhouse Hotel is a charming collection of thatch-roofed, timber-and-stone villas—and one of the best all-inclusive values in Jamaica. And yet resort-style comforts are all here—even the least expensive rooms (there are nine in that category) have balconies, minibars, queen-size four-poster beds, and powerful, solar-heated showers. It’s worth shelling out a little more for one of the 19 villas, though; these have wraparound oceanfront terraces and alfresco showers. The rest of the compound includes a 60-foot infinity pool, a recently opened spa and yoga room, and a lively restaurant and bar that are destinations in their own right. The resort’s new restaurant, opened in November 2008, sits atop neighboring Pirates Cave (where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed). The menu features cuisine based on Jamaica’s street food, including jerk chicken with roast yam and steamed conch with breadfruit.
Standard doubles, $160 (plus 18.25% taxes and service charge)
9. Harmony Hall, Brown’s Bay, Antigua
One of the three-part Harmony collection (Jamaica’s is the best known), Harmony Hall is on a 19th-century estate overlooking Antigua’s Nonsuch Bay. It attracts hungry yachters, expats, and day-trippers who come for lunch at the Caribbean-inflected Italian restaurant and bar, housed in an old sugar mill. (Diners are also treated to courtesy snorkeling trips to nearby Green Island, and use of the hotel pool and beach.) Reserve way ahead for one of the six always-booked guest rooms in two villas, which have burnt-orange walls, tile floors, canopied beds, vaulted wooden ceilings, and patios. A renowned gallery with works from Caribbean artists and a gift shop filled with artisan jewelry, handbags, and clothing make this the island’s unofficial arts-and-crafts center.
Standard rooms, $200 (plus 20.5% taxes and service charge), breakfast included
8. Numero Uno Guest House, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Numero Uno, one of a handful of beachfront guesthouses in San Juan, feels like a stylish friend’s beach house. The three-story 1940s structure has only 14 guest rooms, and the management throws weekly cocktail parties on the second-floor lounge’s balcony. The decor eschews tropical kitsch in favor of sophisticated shades of ocher and taupe. The plunge pool, with luminous black tiles, sits inside a walled garden with bougainvillea and other tropical flowers. Tables at the Caribbean-style Pamela’s restaurant spill out through the hotel’s archway and onto the sand. Best of all is the location: The mostly residential Ocean Park sits between Condado and Isla Verde. That means you get to be right near the action without the attendant traffic, noise, or high price tags.
Standard rooms, $139 (plus 24% taxes and service charge)
7. Cooper Island Beach Club, Cooper Island, British Virgin Islands
You wanted away from it all? Cooper Island Beach Club has no cars, shops, or main electricity (a generator powers up in the evening). The water supply, as they put it, “comes from the sky,” and the toilets flush with seawater. In each of the 12 simple timber rooms with wicker chairs and a balcony are a battery-powered fridge (stocked if you ask ahead), a small kitchen, and a semioutdoor (solar-heated) shower. Instead of nightclubs, TVs, or the Internet, you have kayaks and scuba rental, plus two waterfront restaurants serving good, simple food like jerk-chicken wraps, surf and turf, and conch fritters. Aside from this, it’s beach, beach, beach. Cooper island is about a mile and a half by half a mile and has a population of a handful of private residents, plus the hotel owners. Plus goats.
Closed in September
$919 for seven nights, including taxes and service charge and ferry transfers
6. Coco Palm, Gros Islet, St. Lucia
Opened by the former St. Lucia director of tourism, Allen Chastanet, in fall 2003, Coco Palm is a cute, 92-room self-styled boutique hotel across the road from Reduit Beach—and a refreshing antidote to the nearby cluster of giant resorts. Chastanet put a lot of thought into avoiding the typical reception/check-in routine, instead employing “hosts” responsible for tending their own block of rooms. Cable TV with VCR, AC, cordless phones, Wi-Fi, and a pool are the big-ticket extras included in the very small ticket price. The Brown Sugar bar is open all day. Both the main hotel and the less expensive Kreole annex have exuberant, splashy, island decor, with sun-bright colors, bamboo furniture, and palm-frond prints. If you’re staying in a Kreole room, be sure to ask for the recently upgraded though identically priced corner rooms, with updated bathrooms and furniture.
Kreole standard rooms, $145 (plus 18% taxes and service charge)
5. Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club, Westpunt, Curaçao
A getaway property in Westpunt, on the extreme end of Curaçao, the Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club is an hour’s drive from the commercial bustle of Willemstad and feels even more removed. Situated on the edge of a limestone bluff, its 32 villa suites have stunning sunset views and quick access to bone-white Playa Kalki beach. Just inland, the wooded grounds camouflage 42 bungalow rooms, including a rustic tree house. All rooms come equipped with kitchenettes and complimentary broadband Internet. Ground-floor villas have more room, while those on the second floor enjoy the best sunset views (especially Villa 216). Sea-view Christoffel Sunset Lounge and Watamula Restaurant cover, respectively, the casual-fare or fine-dining cravings of a clientele made up mostly of couples, both straight and gay. On-site dive shop Ocean Encounters West offers quick access to some of the best sites on Curaçao’s protected leeward coast, and also rents paddle boats, sea kayaks, and snorkel gear. Take a free Friday scuba lesson in the swimming pool, and then tackle Alice in Wonderland, a dive site known for its star corals and spotted eagle rays that starts just 100 yards off the beach.
Standard rooms $110 (plus 19% taxes and service charge) through December 23; $232 December 24–January 2; $170 January 3–April 3.
4. Sea U!, Bathsheba, Barbados
Owner Uschi Wetzels has all the right qualifications for running Sea U!, a cute guesthouse on the less-visited, wilder (but quickly being discovered) east coast of Barbados. First, she was a travel writer for years; second, she’s German—OK, that’s a stereotype, but Teutonic travelers do always seem to discover the great out-of-the-way spots first. The white, pickled-wood main building is new but built in traditional Bajan style with louvered doors and verandas. The four rooms here and the three in an adjoining cottage are all simply outfitted with mahogany furniture, white bedcovers, and wicker chairs. All have full kitchens or kitchenettes, patios, and AC, though only one unit has a bathtub. Sea U! is right by Soup Bowl, the island’s top surfing spot; you can also go swimming in tidal pools, hike the shoreline, or visit the nearby Andromeda Botanic Gardens. Breakfast, which is not included, is served with homemade coconut bread, and a local chef makes good casual dinners.
Studio in the main house, $149 (plus 7.5% taxes and service charge)
3. Bel Air Plantation, St. David, Grenada
On a hillside overlooking St. David’s Harbor, Bel Air Plantation’s 18-acre compound has both sea and mountain vistas and orchards full of papaya trees. There are 11 pastel villas and cottages that mix modern design and old-world charm: botanical prints on the walls, poster beds piled high with pillows, and verandas overlooking the lush, tropical grounds. Bel Air is anchored by a sensuous infinity pool and a waterfront hub that includes Water’s Edge restaurant, an art gallery, café, and market. The secluded enclave was established by Susan Fisher: British by birth, Canadian by upbringing, and Grenadian by escaping the Manhattan retail industry.
One-bedroom suite, $250 (plus 18% taxes and service charge)
2. Hacienda Tamarindo, Barrio Puerto Real, Vieques
Hacienda Tamarindo might be one of the last true bargains in the Caribbean. The rambling hilltop hotel on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques is anchored by a centuries-old tamarind tree, whose trunk comes up through the lobby and whose branches shade an alfresco breakfast area. Young, well-traveled types tend to fill the 16 tile-floored rooms, all of which are upholstered in tropical pastels. Some overlook the Caribbean; others face the lovely swimming pool set among mahogany and coconut trees (where guests can indulge in outdoor massages). Hacienda Tamarindo also manages Casita Linda, a tile-roofed villa with porches on three sides and an outdoor dining area within sight of the island’s southern shore. For all guests, the hotel will pack boxed lunches to take to any of the island’s beaches, including the nearby Sun Bay Beach.
“High Standard” doubles, $190 (plus 19% taxes and service charge)
1. Carambola Beach Resort, Estate Davis Bay, St. Croix
There are few U.S.V.I. beach resorts where you can gaze out on the deep blue expanse with no islands on the horizon. That edge-of-the-world solitude is what makes Carambola Beach Resort popular with couples and solo travelers seeking a true escape. Tucked away on St. Croix’s northwestern coast, the resort has 156 rooms spread among 26 two-story buildings, with mahogany and rattan furniture, plantation-style ceiling fans, louvered doors, and screened-in sitting rooms. Your cell phone won’t work, but that just adds to the “check in, check out” feeling here. Plus, there’s plenty to keep you busy: a sprawling sandy beach, tennis courts, three restaurants, on-site dive shop (where you can book excursions in nearby Cane Bay), and access to a nearby Robert Trent Jones–designed 18-hole golf course, by far the island’s best. The hotel’s location, 30 to 40 minutes from Christiansted and Frederiksted, makes cabs impractical, so consider renting a car.
Standard rooms, $225 if booked online (plus 8% taxes and service charge)