Budget Caribbean: Low-Cost Lodging, Cheap Eats

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A holiday in the tropics doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag, if you know where to look and what to book. Wallet-watchers will find a boatload of choices from bargain beds at under US$100 a night to discount dining and heady shots of rum that won’t break the bank. If formal dinners, butler service and valet parking don’t fit the budget, check out USA Today’s cache of cheap and cheerful and leave your savings at home.

Curaçao

One of the best deals on the island happens to be in its hippest neighborhood. Once a monastery, Hotel t’Klooster in the Pietermaai District (think Soho with a Caribbean vibe) is a short stroll to the rainbow-colored capital city of Willemstad. Nightly rates through the middle of December start at $115 for a Comfort Room.

“Not only is the hotel a great value,” said Joia van Loo, general manager, “our guests can also take advantage of a great range of nearby restaurants.”

Close to the hotel in a pink building at the waterside, Deja Vu is a keeper for O Crepe Mondays when mackerel and cucumber crepes go for 35 NAF, or about $20, for a shareable plate of two; kids eat free on Tuesday.

Keeping the wallet-watching theme, head to the Old Market or Plasa Bieu next to the Central Market. A tumble-down food court that gets crowded at lunch, $10 – $15 plates of comfort food like stewed goat and kingfish come with trimmings like plantains and rice and beans. Don’t be shy with the vinegar-soaked peppers, gratis on every table.

Cross the bridge from Willemstad to Otrobanda, the less-touristy other side, and head to Netto’s on the main drag where 3 guilders (less than $2) buys a shot of Ròm Bèrdè. Décor is a curious mix of soccer memorabilia and photographs of Dutch royalty, and the vibe encourages chugging the green rum straight up or with a splash of coconut water.

On the rugged east coast in the fishing village called Bathsheba, a studio with a kitchenette at Sea-U Guest House goes for $97 nightly and comes with unlimited ocean views of the waves crashing on the limestone rocks (the east coast is where the surfers go). Away from the bustle of the capital city of Bridgetown, cozy means hammocks strung between coconut palms and cool breezes instead of air conditioning. Those with a few extra bucks can book the bigger Superior Studio ($112 nightly) on the top floor of the Main House.

For under $10, head to any one of 2,000 rum shops like the one in the town of Westbury called Sunset Vybz, where Dana Knight lives up to her name working day and night. Start with her $3 breakfast box crammed with bacon, eggs and toast, come back for a Bajan ham sandwich called a cutter and a shot of the local Mount Gay rum for $6. For dinner, barbecued pig tails and another rum shot or two will set you back about $10. This is the same town where global star Rihanna grew up and where her childhood home still stands.

In Bridgetown, the parking lot at Browne’s Beach is home to Cuzz Café, adored for the combo of a blue marlin fish and cheese sandwich (the only item on the menu) and a frosty bottle of Banks Beer that goes for about $10. Across the street from the Barbados Hilton in Needham’s Point, the clapboard deli is also a terrific spot for meeting and greeting travelers from all over the world. Also on the affordable list, Oistins in the parish of Christ Church is where you’ll find plates piled high with grilled flying fish wrapped in tin foil, wedges of macaroni pie and mounds of rice and peas. At the epicurean epicenter for all-things-fried, 20 bucks buys a hearty supper and a night of family fun watching the old-timers play dominoes and taking a spin around the makeshift dance floor.

Trinidad and Tobago 

There’s no shortage of posh hotels in the capital city of Port-of-Spain, so the best deals are generally in the suburbs. With nightly rates through December as low as $105 including breakfast, Coblentz Inn is a primo option in Cascade, southeast of St. Ann’s and north of the cosmopolitan capital.  Each of the 17 rooms is island-themed, including one with yellow walls that depict the popular game of cricket.  The restaurant called Battimamzelle, named after a local dragonfly, is popular for down-home kingfish drizzled with guava sauce and coconut milk. A three-course meal runs about 175 TT (around $26). For cheap eats, Ali’s in San Fernando is for doubles, addictive Indian flatbreads filled with curried chickpeas and topped with mango and tamarind.  At about $2 each, the popular street food makes for a hearty meal.

Across the pond on the sister isle of Tobago, the top pick is Castara Retreats with 15 treehouse-style lodges with names like Tamarind and Fiddle Tree. The rustic hotel on two garden acres overlooks the Bay of Castara and a pair of sandy beaches. Nightly rates in a studio go for $114 for stays of six nights or more. Those with big breakfast appetites make an early morning beeline for The Coffee Shop where Cheno — chef and owner — whips up salt fish, coconut bakes and scrambled eggs for about $8. Other options worth checking out are the food stands at Store Bay Beach, where curry crab and dumplings go for $9 including a drink, and Jemma’s Tree House on the Leeward coast that sits on stilts around a huge tree. Mains at the folksy family-run start at $10 and include a juicy slab of her signature breadfruit pie — it’s only open for lunch, but you might get enough food to forgo dinner.

Antigua  

En route to the main hotel belt, Anchorage Inn is a bargain, with nightly rates as low as $80 for a standard room, and $115 for a larger studio room with views of the pool or the ocean. The 40-room property on Anchorage Road in the capital city of St. John’s is a short stroll to three of the island’s best beaches — Fort James, Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay — and close to the airport, golf course and cricket stadiums. In the heart of the city, Suga Beez on Popeshead Street is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with specials like curried conch, grilled snapper and bullfoot soup, none priced higher than $10. North of St John’s at the nondescript corner where Hilda Davis Drive meets Dickenson Bay Street, Papa Zouk is a dive bar famous for a large collection of rum (250 bottles at last count) and seafood mains for $20 (cash only). “Our bartenders pour one very potent punch, then we spin non-stop Zouk tunes and the party stays red-hot all night long,” smiles owner Bert Kirchner, posing for snaps in front of the artfully decorated walls. Sundays at scenic Shirley Heights is where grillers fill plates with chicken, ribs and wahoo for $15. Nearly 500 feet above the sea, the meal on the hill comes with expansive views of English and Falmouth Harbours. For a sweet treat that you can eat on the beach, head to Valley Road in the southwest village called Bolans, where Sarah Henry has been selling mangoes for a dollar each for as long as anyone can remember.  If you’re lucky, the sprightly mom of 13, grandma of 60 and great-grandma of at least 20 will also sell you a bag of her salt and sand-roasted peanuts from her ramshackle roadside stand.  “A true legend,” smiles Cleo Henry, one of Ms. Henry’s grandchildren. “She is Antiguan entrepreneurship at its best.”

Montserrat

Twenty-five miles southwest of Antigua, Montserrat packs a big punch for a small island. With plenty to see, like tours of the Soufriere Hills volcano and the buried capital city of Plymouth, the 13-by-7-mile green speck also has a few hotels with rock-bottom rates, like Olveston House at $109 through the end of November and $119 in December. Charming with a porch swing and views of the sea and rainforest, nightly rates at Gingerbread Hill range from $65 to $125 for a two-bedroom villa with a kitchen. Belly-filling won’t break the bank at the Java Lava Arts Café in St. Peters, where a stack of blueberry pancakes goes for $6.60 and chicken and chips for $8, plus free Wi-Fi to take the edge off a sunny afternoon. Other affordable options include The Attic for Mrs. Jeffers gooseberry juice and West Indian roti and Time Out at Marine Village for a Pink Panther cocktail and a hefty plate of baby back ribs.

As far as you can get from the all-inclusives in Negril and Montego Bay, a night in one of the Great Huts in Port Antonio starts at the ridiculously low price of $35 for the Granary Hut, modeled after an African millet silo. One of 17 eco-huts on the northeastern coast, $83 will buy a night in the Tabernacle Hut, which is more like a low-impact, high-style, 40-foot-long tent with two king beds and two single beds, crushed limestone sand floors and a big cowskin-covered sofa. Built on a plateau, the funky huts are gussied up with local artwork and come with breakfast and Wi-Fi in the communal areas. Chill-out extras include a cliff-side swimming pool, hammocks on the calm-watered sandy beach, awesome views of Boston Bay, Blue Mountains and the Caribbean Sea, and a library stocked with books about Bob Marley and Rastafarianism. Look no further for cheap eats than the Boston Jerk Center at the end of the road. With names like Miss Ivy’s and Mickey Junior, a dozen or so thatched or tin-roofed makeshifts with open pits fired by pimento logs are manned by grillers who fill paper plates with everything from chicken and ribs to pork and lobster. Add a “festival” or sweet hush puppy to mop up the extra sauce, rice, breadfruit and a cold Red Stripe beer and you’ve got a hefty dinner for less than $15.

St. Barts

Often a pricey island, there is one hotel you can snag for $95 per person, per night, through the middle of December. An inexpensive alternative to the big-ticket celebrity haunts, LeVillage Saint-Barth Hotel is a collection of rooms, suites and villas on 10 acres of frangipani and jasmine gardens. In the foothills close to the prime people-watching beach called Baie de St-Jean, the hotel invites with an infinity pool and continental breakfast. At the bottom of the hill, Kiki-e Mo is owned by the same family that owns the hotel and is a popular spot to share shrimp flambé at about $24, and a seafood combo for a little less. Salads and sandwiches are also a good deal. The Hideaway is also budget-friendly, with a $15 thin-crust pizza hot from the wood-burning oven. (Reprinted from USA Today)

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