With most of the country bundled up in down jackets and snow boots, it’s no wonder the white sand beaches, waterfalls and laid back life-pace of the Caribbean calls to millions of travelers each winter.
However, it’s high season for the region, which means lots of crowds and high prices for many of the islands out in the warm Caribbean waters. This is leaving many travelers who want to visit in a bit of a conundrum as we know from our own 2012 American Travel Behavior study (mentioned in my Top Sleeper Cities of 2013 post) that folks are more concerned about saving money than ever, but there’s good news.
If you know which places to choose, you can still have your island escape this winter without breaking the bank.
More specifically, three popular Caribbean destinations – Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic – are offering some exceptional values as they are experiencing a slow start to their high season. The lull in bookings means there are a lot of rooms available and as a result, hotels are discounting through sites like Hotwire to attract travelers looking to escape the cold.
Additionally, all of these islands have plenty of low-cost airline carriers, like JetBlue, that offer daily flights at competitive prices. With incredible bargains in these three islands, you can turn your fun-in-the-sun dreams into a reality. Each of these tropical destinations has idyllic temperatures (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit) year-round, and while they are known for their pristine beaches, they aren’t just a one-note stay—from admiring the architecture to hiking up waterfalls to walking around town and “doing as the locals do,” there are a variety of exciting and affordable activities that lie ahead for any visitor. Get your tropical getaway this winter, and do it at a fraction of the cost.
Puerto Rico – you don’t have to shell out Benjamins to get beaches and Bacardi
This U.S. Commonwealth has a myriad of unique activities that are ideal for adventurous, budget-conscious travelers. First-time visitors should take advantage of the beautiful scenery and landscape that the island has to offer, including one the most spectacular Puerto Rican landmarks that’s just outside of San Juan, the El Yunque National Forest. Guided tours will cost you, but entering the forest is completely free and allows visitors to take the day to adventure deep into the jungle and experience Puerto Rico’s stunning scenic views and waterfalls. Just across the Bahia (Bay) of San Juan, folks can tour Casa Bacardi, the world’s largest rum distillery, and learn how the famous rum is made all while enjoying a complementary beverage—and the tours won’t cost you a dime. This season, a significant number of hotels in the 3- and 4-star categories are offering deals as much as 37 percent lower than last year. So after you’ve embarked on your adventures, you can head back and relax at a 4-star hotel for as little as $99 a night.
Folks interested in something a little more off the beaten path can take a ferry or quick 25 minute plane ride to Vieques Island, which lies just off the coast and offers secluded coastlines and white sand to spare. While it may appear to be a typical Caribbean hot spot during the day, those who stay the night can witness one of the most spectacular (and free) bioluminescent displays in the world at Vieques’ Mosquito Bay; thousands of micro-organisms light up the water with a distinct blue glow. Between its lush forests and luminous organisms, there’s no question why Puerto Rico is known as the Isle of Enchantment.
Jamaica – the prices – and the lifestyle – will make you “feel alright”
Known for its friendly locals and vibrant culture, Jamaica’s calming tropical atmosphere and consistent warmth create the perfect escape for mainland visitors who are interested in the laid back island lifestyle. The island also has a number of activities that won’t empty your pockets. Those looking to get their feet wet and snuggle with a significant other can enjoy the beautiful vistas of James Bond Beach, which is only 20 minutes away from the popular Ocho Rios area, and served as a famous backdrop in "Dr. No." Jamaica is also home to many historical sites, including Rhodes Hall – a sugar cane plantation-turned-resort destination. Visitors to the 300-year-old landmark can explore the area and enjoy the local wildlife, as the plantation is a designated Negril Watershed Environmental Protection Area. Additionally, folks interested in the ultimate day excursion can take the morning to head to Nine Mile, the birthplace of reggae idol Bob Marley, and in the afternoon, hike to the top of Dunne River Falls to bask in the beauty of this natural wonder.
And don’t forget about the food—with the population stemming from Africa, Asia and Europe, there are seemingly endless delicacies to discover. Visitors can find their inner reggae and fill their stomachs with delicious indigenous dishes all while staying in a 4-star hotel at prices that are on average 35 percent lower than last year.
Dominican Republic – high peaks, low prices in the DR
The Dominican Republic is a great value destination with plenty of free outdoor activities to choose from. This geographical grab bag has stretching coastlines, craggy cliffs and the tallest peak in the Caribbean – Pico Duarte. Standing at over 10,000 feet, the mountain is a popular destination for more adventurous tourists, taking 2-3 days to scale completely. Of course, the less daring can always observe the peak’s majesty from afar.
Travelers can also go off the beaten path and spend the day exploring Bonao, the untouched portion of the island, or check out the metropolitan center of the DR, Santo Domingo, a city rich with history. Visitors to the city can spend whole hours in the Zona Colonial of the city – an area filled with 16th century buildings like the Catedral Santa Maria La Menor, the First Cathedral of the Americas. After checking out the city’s historical sites, tourists can take advantage of a vibrant club scene during the evening hours. This winter, hotels in the Dominican Republic are seeing prices on average 14 percent lower than last year, so folks can enjoy the Dominican Republic’s outdoor beauty and stay at a 4-star hotel for as little as $70 a night.
Each of these three world-class Caribbean destinations offers much more to experience than just gorgeous beaches, and right now you can visit them while pocketing some great savings. However, be sure to act quickly. Soon these low prices are going to start attracting more travelers and prices will likely go up.
Above savings are calculated by comparing Hotwire Hot Rates for select destinations this winter to last year. Hotel sample rates are based on Hotwire searches made on 2/1/13 for stays the week of 2/25/13.
Clem Bason is the president of the Hotwire Group. Every month he provides FoxNews.com readers travel information, tips and advice to help them plan a fun, affordable trip.