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Top 25 Ways to Save on Caribbean Travel

public bus aruba caribbean green colorful Transportation
12. Use public transportation. Many Caribbean islands have local public bus systems -- usually small, colorful vans that serve the major routes and towns across the island. Fares on these vans tend to be extremely inexpensive (only a dollar or two per person). Because they're predominantly used by locals, they're most useful if you're traveling between towns or villages; they may not serve off-the-beaten-path attractions visited only by tourists. A few islands with particularly strong local bus systems include Aruba, Puerto Rico and Curacao.

Note: Keep in mind that there may be no fixed schedule -- many buses simply leave when they're full. Service may be limited or unavailable on Sundays or in the evenings. And don't expect climate control; many buses have open windows, not air-conditioning.

13. Share the expenses. One common way to see a Caribbean island is to hire a local cab driver to give you a tour. The price of the tour is often charged per car, not per person -- so if you can find other travelers from your hotel or cruise ship who want a tour too, you can split the expense. (Be sure to confirm the total price before you get in the cab.) The same goes for rental cars, particularly if you're only using the car for a single day or afternoon.

14. Check the local rental companies. When renting a car, don't restrict your search to the big providers like Hertz, Avis and Budget. You can often get a better deal from local rental car companies based on the island you're visiting. These smaller operators may not always have easy online booking, but a quick call or e-mail could save you money on your rental.

15. Watch your inter-island expenses. If you're traveling between islands, a local ferry is typically a cheaper option than flying -- check the rates on both.

Meals
16. Evaluate your meal plan. Many Caribbean resorts and hotels offer a choice of meal plans. Common offerings include the European Plan, or EP, which includes no meals; the Continental Plan (CP), which includes only breakfast; the American Plan (AP), which includes all three meals; and the Modified American Plan (MAP), which includes breakfast and dinner. When choosing a meal plan, consider how you plan to structure your trip. If you're going to spend most days sightseeing around the island away from your hotel, the AP will likely be a waste of money. Travelers looking to sample local restaurants for lunch and dinner may find that the CP is all they need.

17. Eat where the locals do. You'll almost always find cheaper, more genuine local meals away from the hotels and touristy restaurants. Look for fish fry-ups on the beach or little roadside snackettes. If you're concerned about food safety, ask your hotel front desk or cab driver to point you in the direction of the more popular and reputable places.

18. Go to the grocery store. There are little markets and grocery stores across the Caribbean where you can stock up on bread, fruit, crackers and other provisions -- perfect for an inexpensive breakfast, snack or picnic lunch.

19. Be water-wise. While you're at the grocery store, pick up a gallon-size or larger jug of water and use that to refill your smaller bottles -- it's a lot more cost-efficient (and eco-friendly) than paying two bucks for a new bottle a couple of times a day.

Lodging
mexico caribbean meal margarita dining restaurant20. Know what's included. Despite the name, all-inclusive resorts rarely include every single expense you'll have to pay in their quoted rates. Check before booking to see what might cost you extra -- it may be more than you think. (Spa treatments, water sports, island tours, airport transfers, tips and resort fees are just a few items that you may have to shell out a little more money for.) That said, all-inclusives can save you money if the activities you're looking to do match up well with the offerings at the resort.

21. Skip the resort. If you don't need a lot of amenities and are looking to explore the island rather than sit on the beach, an all-inclusive resort probably isn't your best bet. Look instead for smaller locally owned hotels and guesthouses -- these properties tend to be more intimate and less expensive than the big resorts.

22. Try a vacation rental. Renting a house or villa can provide excellent value for groups, families or travelers looking to save money by cooking for themselves. Renting a villa with two or more bedrooms and splitting the cost between several couples is an excellent way to get away with friends and keep costs low. See Finding a Vacation Rental for more information.

23. Be flexible with your location. Choose a hotel or resort that's near but not right on the beach -- the price difference can be substantial. Alternatively, if you are staying at a beachfront property, choose a room on the opposite side of the hotel; forgoing the sea view will save you a few bucks, and how much time will you really be spending in your room anyway?

24. Choose a specialty resort. If your trip is centered on a special interest, such as scuba diving or golf, you can often save money by staying at a resort dedicated to that activity. Dive resorts typically have their own boats and gear, and offer packages that include accommodations, meals and a set number of dives. Golf resorts have courses right on the premises, saving you time and transportation costs, and greens fees will be included in the cost of your accommodations. Another good option for divers is "liveaboards" -- boats that offer lodging, meals and daily dives, often at very reasonable cost.

25. Go camping. While this isn't an option everywhere in the Caribbean, certain islands -- such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands -- offer wonderful opportunities for camping. We especially like the tent cottages and eco-tents at the Maho Bay Camps on St. John, located within a national park.

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    --written by Sarah Schlichter

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