Visiting the Caribbean is a dream for many, so why not make it a reality? Take a cruise and sail the open seas, sampling each and every island you pass along the way or island-hop by plane from the U.S. and in a matter of minutes find yourself lounging on the pristine white sands. One way or another, if you enjoy adventure, love seeing and experiencing new things, and have dreamed of seeing the sunset behind a volcano peak, then get up and go!
There are some tips to make the Caribbean more affordable for you and your student group. First of all, student cruises are a pretty budget-friendly option especially if you're traveling with friends and want to see more than one island. Cabin prices can be shared up to a certain number of people (many cruise lines cap it off at four per cabin) but the prices are all-inclusive and make it easy for you to budget.
Secondly, all of the Caribbean is in a high season from December through April with prices reaching a peak around the last week of December through the first week of January. Basically stay away from here over New Year's unless you want to pay big money. The shoulder season tends to run from May to November and the low season from June to October, offering the lowest prices and the fewest crowds.
Also, generally speaking, for more affordable hotel rates, it's best to stay away from ports of call where tourist resorts and hotel chains raise prices. It's always a good idea to book your hotel in advance to get better deals as well.
The DR locks in the top spot for the most affordable Caribbean destination, namely in Puerto Plata with followup cities at La Romana, Punta Cana, and Samana. The capital city of Santo Domingo is absolutely stunning with restored historical architecture and landmarks, cobblestone streets, and local businesses untouched by the growing tourism industry. While many people complain that tourism has ruined many cultures in the Caribbean, the DR's lovely inner cities and cultures have remained largely untarnished and continue to be vibrant. Whatever you want, the DR has it in spades. Drive inland from the expansive beaches to see fertile jungle territory and take an ecotour, zipline through the trees, swim under waterfalls, or take a tour of a plantation. In the coastal cities, you'll find more tourist-friendly attractions and a number of historic landmarks for exploring.
Jamaica is a time-honored favorite of American vacationers for its brilliant white sand beaches, sapphire blue sea as calm as glass, and beautiful mountain views. Negril is one of the most affordable destinations on the island and sits at the western tip of Jamaica with its back to the bustling cities, focusing on preserving its laid back coastal attitude. Here's where you'll find the famous Seven Mile Beach and the purest views of the Caribbean you're likely to find anywhere. Negril is focused almost entirely on the ocean so if you're craving a little inland excursion, head east to the Blue Mountains where you can not only see a plethora of flora and fauna but also tour the Blue Mountain Coffee Plantation.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The USVI is an easy choice for American vacationers because of its easy access and English speaking islands but it's also an amazing destination for adventure seekers. Three major islands make up the central population and tourism industry of the archipelago: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Ecotourists will enjoy St. John's pristine and unspoiled beauty while history buffs will like St. Croix and those who crave culture will be attracted to St. Thomas. The islands have a rich history from Pre-Columbian times to the era of West Indies trade routes, eventually settling as a United States territory since 1954. The varied history of the islands and stunning scenery make them prime candidates for walking tours. Small enough to walk in a day, tour the islands to see military forts, heritage walking trails, ecological preserves, gorgeous verdant mountains trailing into the cerulean sea, diving opportunities, and more!
Puerto Rico is another one of those destinations that Americans love to sample yearly. Flights leave daily from U.S. cities for easy hops down to the U.S. island territory and all-inclusive resorts vow to take care of visitors with their every desire at heart. The island itself, though, is the reason to go. For cheaper stays, try a local hotel or B&B and work your way through the locally-owned restaurants on the island. Tour the history of the capital city San Juan or spend all of your time on the beach. Sail through the skies on a zipline above the soaring green mountains, lounge in lagoons below shimmering waterfalls, snorkel in the coral reefs and make friends with sea turtles, dolphins, and schools of fish. Puerto Rico is one of the best islands for ecotourism and is home to the El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest preserve wonderland.
A southern Caribbean nation territory of the Netherlands, Curacao lies roughly 40 miles off the Venezuelan coast. A hidden secret of the Caribbean, Curacao is relatively untouched by "big-box" tourism and along its shores, you can still see the multi-colored fishing villages and tall pastel townhomes along the coast. Exploring Curacao by foot is recommended but you might get swept away with the vibrant culture and festivals. Do only as much as you want, there's plenty to keep you busy and plenty to make you relax. Shop until you drop, indulge in a day spa, visit an ostrich farm or dolphin academy, have a paintball battle in the wilderness, explore the local museums and art galleries, or simply lie back and enjoy the intensely calm and sunny beaches on the southwestern coast where the crystal clear waters make for some of the best diving in the world.
St. Lucia is simply stunning. Historic cities ring the coastlines while in the center, the Pitons mountains peek above the clouds and shadow the landscape. Seeming to come straight from a dream, the views of St. Lucia from the ocean are magnificent as the Pitons spiral down straight to the royal blue waves, beating against the rocks. Wait until you see the sunset over the ocean from your hotel set along the mountainside when the vistas before you light up like a violent rainbow. St. Lucia is home to water parks, plantations ripe for touring, volcano tours and mountain ecotours, diving sites and relaxing beaches, duty-free shopping centers, and so much more.