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Best Self Guided Island Hopping in the Caribbean?

Best Self Guided Island Hopping in the Caribbean?

Old Feb 27th, 2016, 01:35 PM
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Best Self Guided Island Hopping in the Caribbean?

Hi All,

I'm looking for location recommendations for Caribbean island hopping via rental of: kayak, a hobie catamaran, or a small motorized dinghy for my girlfriend and myself.

This is our first vacation in several years, so we're trying to make it count haha.

We're looking for a set of closely grouped tropical islands that we can self-navigate in between via multiple day trips from a base island location. For the base location, I'm looking for a tropical bungalow/guest house with just basic provisions (with hopefully a hammock nearby) - so not a large resort. Ideally we’re looking for a town with at least one hole in the wall bar that serves boozy tropical drinks and local seafood.
The idea would be to paddle/sail/motor between an island or two a day and stop in between and
hangout on the beach(es) and snorkel at leisure. Maybe even do a little fishing from the shore and some light hikes. We're fine with snorkeling from kayaks, or parking the boat on a beach and snorkeling from the shore. We don't plan on camping overnight on the day trip islands to avoid lugging around camping equipment.

We prefer really low crowds, scenic/secluded type areas. Also looking for great tropical beaches and great snorkeling.

Budget: looking at spending less than $120 a night for lodging, and less than $100 a day for gear rental (so relatively low budget).

Trip length: 5-7days.
Time of year: late spring-early summer
Location ideas so far:

-Turks and Caicos
-St. John (USVI)
-Grenadines
-Belize cayes
-Bonaire (I hear this has great snorkeling, but not the best beaches)
-Dominca
-Exuma
-Virgin Gorda

Let me know what you think on the locations, and if you have any recommendations on hotels, as well as places to rent equipment from.

Thanks for your help!

Mike
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Old Feb 27th, 2016, 04:45 PM
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Forget about renting a Hobie Cat or motorized dingy for $100/day - that's not going to happen. In the Caribbean small Hobie Cats normally rent for anywhere between $45 to $65 PER HOUR (depending on size boat and where you rent). Motorized dinghies will probably run you around $250 and up per day (depending on size) PLUS the cost of fuel.

FYI - Kayaks will probably run you $50 to $75 per day, depending on size.

Now for some more disappointing news.

Most of the island groupings you've listed are actually fairly far from each other making travel between them by small Hobie Cats or kayaks impractical either due to distances or too much "open water". Also, many boat & kayak rental companies will limit how far you can take the "rentals" from their operation base (usually you have to stay within line of sight) and prohibit taking the rentals to other islands.

If you want to travel by water between islands you really need a bigger boat which will have even bigger rental fees. Sea, wind and weather conditions can change very quickly in the Caribbean and being caught in open water in a small kayak or tiny Hobie Cat in rough conditions, sea swells and gusty winds can be dangerous.

I don't know what level of boating experience you and your girlfriend have but if you are not an expert or near expert you might want to rethink your plan and do a land based vacation L.imi your kayaking and/or Hobie Cat sailing to exploring the coast of the island you are visiting rather than trying to island hop. Do you island hopping by ferry.
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Old Feb 27th, 2016, 06:58 PM
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Hi,

Thanks for the response! I should have clarified that we weren't hoping to island hop in between all of the options I listed.

But the goal was to pick only one of the locations listed above and explore nearby neighboring islands relatively close by to that one location.

So, I guess I was really asking which of those locations would be best for this. One that has several relatively close (and scenic/secluded) islands within paddling distances for day trips.

But it sounds like kayaking sounds like the most affordable option, and maybe only do one day on a dinghy/small cat.

Thanks!
Mike
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 04:26 AM
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I think you misunderstood my response.

Even island groups like the USVI's or the BVI's (the one's on your list that have islands in close proximity) aren't good for using kayaks or Hobie Cats to travel between because the distances and water conditions (as mentioned in my previous response) are too far to make it practical. While you might occasionally find a small cay that's say 1/4 to 1/2 mile from one of the major islands you can easily kayak too but as far as going between St. Thomas and St. John (in the USVI's) or from Tortola to Virgin Gorda (in the BVI's) that's not something you really want to do - it's not safe. Keep in mind that many times those small cays are uninhabited and don't have suitable places to "beach' your boat.

I'm pretty sure you'll find similar conditions (i.e. islands too far apart, changing water/weather conditions) in the T&C's.

Also, there are no other islands or cays near Dominica or Bonaire so "island hopping" on those islands isn't feasible

Forget about kayaking or going by Hobie Cat between islands in the Grenadines - the islands are even further apart than in the BVI's.

Can't really comment on Belize as I've only been there once but I'm not sure you'll really find what you are seeking there.

There are a lot of islands & cays in the Exumas but many are very remote and/or privately owned so trying to island hop there might not really work.

I'd venture to say that no matter where you go in 95+% of the cases you'll only be able to safely kayak or Hobie Cat along a coast line - not to other islands.

For what it is worth, I live on a Caribbean island (and I have a Hobie Cat) that is 2 miles (at its narrowest point) from a neighboring island. Sometimes the water and sea conditions are "perfect" for sailing between the islands but about 1/2 the time the winds are so strong or the water too rough as to make the trip very challenging and not very enjoyable. On those days I wouldn't want to even venture there in a kayak. Imagine what it would be like trying to go even longer distances (say 5, 10, 15 or even 25 miles - the distances you'll find in the USVI's, BVI's and Grenadines)!

Be careful, rethink your plans. Good luck!
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Old Feb 28th, 2016, 06:50 AM
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Your place and budget doesn't exist

You need power boats for most hopping like that unfortunately

TCI has excursions (around $200 per person per day) that can take you on kayak tours through mangroves and a small cay or North Caicos, but you can't do it yourself

BUT TCI is an expensive upscale destination for everything else (rooms, food, etc) about 3 times your budget for cheapest

Exumas might be the closest you can get to what you want, but it's going to cost more than your budget:

Staniel Cay Yacht Club They sell out quickly, might have to travel later. Terrific vacation closest to what you're looking for: Rooms come with a 13' skiff to explore uninhabited cays, include meals, and colorful rooms are bungalows over the water. BONUS Swimming pigs!

But it will average $400 nightly, but they do run specials that include air free from Nassau.

Nothing else comes close to what you're looking for
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Old Feb 29th, 2016, 05:21 AM
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If you go in June, I think this might be possible, but you'll have to concede the possibility of moving between islands on your own power. If you are realistic, you can still achieve some of what you're looking for.

There are two convenient island-hopping destinations in the Caribbean: The Virgin Islands, where you can hop between the US and British Virgin Islands by ferry, or the group that includes St. Maarten, Anguilla, St. Barth, Saba, and Statia, where you can island-hop by a combination of ferry and plane. But as others have pointed out already, doing this island-hopping on your own power is not really possible except perhaps in the BVI, and then you have very limited options.

Obviously your budget is also a bit of a concern, but I'm less concerned about that than others (at least with regard to accommodations). While you could find off-season accommodations for $120 per night if you stay in a little off-beach room in a small inn or rent a very modest off-beach condo, there's still the need to rent a car in most places.

It's also possible to island-hop on a budget in two other places by mailboat. There's a mailboat system in the Bahamas that offers very cheap transportation from island to island, but once you get on an island, there are relatively few accommodations (but some cheaper places if you dig deep). Also in the Grenadines, which has a similar mailboat service.

The Bahamas has an advantage of cheap air transportation to Nassau (getting to the Grenadines is an expensive proposition).

Finally, there is ferry service linking St. Lucia, Martinique, and Guadelope. All of them have some cheap off-beach accommodations options.

We cover all these options on our Caribbean guide, so you could look there for some ideas. It's possible that Lonely Planet also covers some of these possible itineraries in their Caribbean guide, but I'm not as familiar with that book. Both we and LP make recommendations for inexpensive lodging. If you are willing to make some concessions (no a/c, no pool, no beach, for example), you can certainly do this.

Budget for food and transportation beyond lodging. Both are expensive, but you can also eat like a local and save some money (but not so much ... even in a grocery store, food is really expensive on smaller islands).
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Old Feb 29th, 2016, 07:06 AM
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Here's my two cents!
Years ago we rented a houseboat in Georgetown, Exumas. We were able to moor each night at different moorings, about a two mile stretch behind Stocking Island. The houseboat came with a small dinghy - during the day we would putt putt around the backside of Stocking, there was pristine water, beautiful rock formations, and decent snorkeling. Stocking has a famous bar, the Chat and Chill.

We loved this vacation, but I didn't think the houseboats were around anymore, til I googled and found this:
http://www.oplaisirsbahamas.com/

The price for the houseboat is $1700/week. However you could do some research, find a small cottage near Georgetown perhaps, and rent a boat from there....?

Happy planning!

PS Do this in the summer for best weather and lowest prices.
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Old Feb 29th, 2016, 07:09 AM
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P.S. The houseboat comes with a small boat so your budget (added together at $220/night) is only stretched by about $160 for the week. Keep in mind I have not rented from these folks, but the boat looks exactly the same as the one we rented (there were about 5 at the time).
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Old Feb 29th, 2016, 09:20 AM
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The Abacos of the Bahamas might be an area to look at for proximity from island to island. You could rent a boat or even take a ferry to a couple of them but none are close enough to kayak. Hobie Cat possible with a couple but maybe having a ferry system available would satisfy the exploration aspect you are looking for.

You could stay on Marsh Harbour, Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay (our favorite), or at Hopetown on Elbow Cay. Also, Treasure Cay at the north end of Marsh Harbour. Here is the Albury's Ferry schedule to see times and where they go to see if it might fit your bill.

The Abacos is a beautiful area of quiet beaches, clear turquoise waters and Bahamian charm.
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Old Feb 29th, 2016, 05:58 PM
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Here is the Albury's Ferry link:

http://www.alburysferry.com
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Old Mar 1st, 2016, 06:46 PM
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Thanks everyone for your feedback!!

I always assumed (wrongly) that there would be no issue finding a series of small, uninhabited islands/cayes in the Caribbean to do this on within close proximity to one another (less than 1-2 miles in between islands). Glad I checked first!

And just to clarify, when I mention motorized boat, I would not be disappointed with a dilapidated old wooden dinghy. It just needs a dependable motor lol (nothing fancy).

So, it seems like early summer is the best time and Exumas and Abacos might be solid choices.

Joan, the houseboat with dinghy sounds pretty wild. How difficult was driving and maneuvering something like that? I've only ever sailed boats less 30 ft.

I also stumbled across this in Belize, where the first 3 days are guided seakayaking, and then next several days are self-guided allowing for island hopping along the southern barrier reef - could be a possibility.

http://www.islandexpeditions.com/our...f-guided-trips

Getting closer!

Mike
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Old Mar 3rd, 2016, 06:47 AM
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Mike, the houseboat was pretty easy. We are not experienced boaters either - except for sunfish and small motor boats etc living in Florida. There is a small area of flat water - behind the barrier island - so it was easy to maneuver. The hardest part was grabbing the mooring ball as we cruised over top of it.

The other thing is that we went in summer and there was a small generator which we used at night for A/c (it was needed), but the generator would run out of gas about 3 AM. LOL. The adventure of exploring in the dinghy, entering the water via the sliding board, taking showers on the back of the boat, driving to the bars, was so much fun. The marina had a radio which we could call on to deliver ice and gasoline during the day, we only did that once or twice. Also, before we left the marina and headed out to Stocking Island, we were given a thorough explanation of how everything worked.

P.S. FYI We also went to Hopetown, Abaco one year, rented a house with another couple, along with a golf cart and small boat. It was fun, great snorkeling, nice people, but way over your budget - if we hadn't shared the cost, we couldn't have done this trip ourselves. And ours was the littlest boat and the most modest home there...just sayin'..
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Old Mar 3rd, 2016, 06:03 PM
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There are several places to stay that are in the budget of $120/night plus he has an additional $100/day for any rentals for snorkeling and boat rental. That is a generous daily budget.

I still think the Abacos offer what you are looking for in proximity of islands/cays to each other, low-key lifestyle and a lot of adventures off of the beach.


This is from a quick google. More to be found than these
Abaco Beach Resort on Marsh Harbour $120/night
Treasure Cay Beach $135
Hopetown Harbour Lodge $120
Pelican Beach Villas on Marsh Harbour $120
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Old Mar 4th, 2016, 04:26 AM
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You are right, Beach Girl! And a small boat rental would be about $100/day too, so I stand corrected: Mike now has a couple of island choices within his budget. I did enjoy visiting all the little cays with bars in that area too. And the snorkeling was better than Exuma!
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Old Mar 4th, 2016, 06:33 AM
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I agree with Beachgirl, Joan and others. The Abacos would be a great choice. We stayed on Elbow Cay several years ago and took the Asbury ferry to Great Guana Cay. Now I think there is a ferry from Great Guana to Treasure Cay (stunning stunning beach). So the biggest decision is what Cay to pick as your base. Of course if you rent a small boat it would be even easier. We don't boat but still had a great time.
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Old Mar 4th, 2016, 07:49 AM
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Also, wanted to add that in lieu of renting a boat every day which can add up there are dive shops such as Dive Guana on Great Guana Cay that have day trips with fantastic snorkel stops and a stop to another island. Ours was Hopetown on Elbow Cay which was fun. It was a wonderful day. You can check out their website for pricing.
www.diveguana.com

Sunday is the famous Nipper's Sunday Pig Roast day and it brings boaters in for it's big celebration. Their beach is stunning and great for snorkeling. Music, food and fun times. It's our favorite island but they are all beautiful.

Treasure Cay beach is absolutely stunning. There is a beach shack that has delicious grouper sandwiches and other items and they also rent umbrellas and loungers which could be a fun day to experience another beach. It's been rated one of the top 10 beaches and deservedly so.

I believe the ferry from Treasure Cay goes to Green Turtle Cay several times throughout the day. You will need a cab from the beach area to the ferry dock. Or, if you have rented a golf cart to get around (recommended) you can leave it there when you visit Green Turtle (or vice versa).

May 7-9th is the Heritage Festival on Green Turtle Cay and it is a blast if you happen to be there over these dates. Food, music, and local goods for sale. I would go back for that in a heartbeat. And, Green Turtle Cay is home to the famous Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar, home of the goombay smash (Bahamian nation drink).

Airports to look at are Marsh Harbour MHH and Treasure Cay TCB. They are on the same island but Treasure Cay is about 45 minute drive up the island from MHH.

Hope that helps if you are considering Abacos. Late spring/early summer is a perfect time to go. Glad I'm heading to the Exumas in a couple of weeks as typing this has me pining for the beach!
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