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Help on choosing where to visit

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My friend and I are thinking about doing some exploring in the Caribbean, but are having some trouble figuring out exactly where to go. Thanks to various trip reports and the likes on here, we have greatly narrowed down our list to five places: Bahamas, St. Martin, St. Lucia, Aruba and Anguilla.

Our two biggest interests are beautiful beaches and being able to explore/experience the local culture some. Neither of us are into partying at all, but Zip-lining is out since neither of us care for it, snorkeling/diving isn't that big of a priority compared to the aforementioned bigger interests.

We're thinking of doing up to two weeks next summer (June/July) at some point. Now, I know that is really far away, but we would like to start planning early so we can be saving up for it. Which leads me to my next point, both of us are still in college so of course we need watch the budget. Exactly how much are we giving ourselves for a budget? Well, that's another big part of why I am posting, we don't know exactly what to expect in terms of budget for any of these places.

We'd use either Fort Lauderdale or Miami as our US airport, whichever proves cheaper. We'd try to evenly split our time at each location as best as possible and as of now are thinking of two or three nights in each place, but if we, for example, only went to three of the places we are eyeing, we would adjust our schedule accordingly.

Finally, what exactly are we going to be looking at transportation wise between everything? Of course fly between the US and the Caribbean, but are we going to need ferries or flights to get to each of these locations? (Should also note that the order of this doesn't matter too much. We'll look for cheaper flights out of and into the US of course so if one place is cheaper for flying back to the US than another, we'll adjust our schedule to accommodate that.)

I hope I provided enough detail, but if there is anything I failed to mention, I'll be more than happy to post a reply on this thread with any more details that you feel I should provide.

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    It's difficult to make specific suggestions without knowing what type of budget you actually have. It's far easier to make suggestions if we knew how much you have available to spend rather than try to guess at how much you should budget. For instance if you only have $1,500 PP there's no way you can make they type of trip you describe. On the other hand, if you have say $7,000 PP then such a trip is certainly possible.

    Here's some general information that may help in your planning.

    First, hopping between the islands on your list is going to be difficult as there are no non-stop or direct flights from any one of those islands to any other one on your list and they are much too far apart for ferries. Flying will entail "back-tracking" to a major hub, possible even back to MIA, which can be costly and very time consuming.

    R/T coach airfares from Florida to most Caribbean islands will generally run you anywhere between around $400 to $700 per person. One-way inter-island flights run between $125 to around $250 PP - that assume you can find a flight from the island you are on to the island you want to visit. If you have to back-track to the US or say San Juan, PR you could be looking at even higher costs.

    If you want to visit multiple islands you'll be better off limited your travel to "island groups" such as: 1) Between the US and British Virgin Island; 2) St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Barths; 3) St. Kitts & Nevis; 4) St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Each of those "groupings" are linked by ferries which makes travel between them relatively easy and much more cost effective.

    Accommodation costs in the Caribbean vary greatly depending on whether you stay in a bare bones Guest House in a town or village at say around $50 PP/night to a 5-star luxury beachfront resort for upwards of $1,000 PP/night.

    Quite frankly, spending 2 weeks visiting the islands on your list is going to be quite costly simply because of the logistics involved. I'd estimate you'd spend somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per person just on airfare alone. add another minimum of $1,500 PP for accommodations and still another $1,500 PP for food & drink.

    Now I'm guessing, if you are like most college students you have under $2,000 PP to spend so here is some practical advice:

    If you are really set on visiting islands that are far (but not necessarily all on your list) apart you might consider taking a cruise. There are a number of 10 to 14 day cruises that leave from either Ft. lauderdale, Miami or Puerto Rico that will stop at anywhere between 7 to 10 different islands and include all your meals. If you book one of the lower tier staterooms you will find the costs to be quite reasonable. Depending on the cruise line and length of cruise you should be able to find plenty of options in that $1,500 to $2,000 PP category.

    Or, consider going to one of the "island groups" I mentioned above. Base yourself on one of the islands and take occasional day trips to one or more of the other nearby islands. For first time Caribbean travelers the US & British Virgin Islands are perfect for this. You can stay in a nice Bed & breakfast Inn or a basic small resort (not one of the Luxury resorts) and enjoy all the island and it's neighboring islands have to offer. Don't get too hung up on staying in a beachfront room in a top tier resort - that will be way over your budget. Stay in a non-beachfront property that's within walking distance of the beach. You'll save money and besides you won't be in your room much during the day so why pay for a "view" you can get for free if you just walk a few blocks.

    Lastly, if your budget is really on the lower end of the scale shorten your stay and visit just one island. Look on airline and travel websites for "package deals" to one of the islands that interest you. Some of the lower tier All Inclusive resorts on the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen offer very good value and are quite popular with travelers on a limited budget.

    Hope this helps. Good luck planning your trip.

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    It is helpful to look at airline route maps to see what the possibilities are of flying between islands as there are options that do not involve going back thru MIA.

    For instance, on LIAT, you can fly from St Lucia to a number of islands eg Antigua (great beaches and an inexpensive AI called Jolly Beach) and Barbados (great beaches and large choice of accommodation for all budgets.)from Barbados you can get to Grenada etc etc. You can get from St Lucia to Martinique, again some beautiful beaches and inexpensive accommodations. Travel between the French islands is easy on Express des Iles.

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    Instead of hopping around staying just 2-3 days on an island, I would suggest you pick just one island (or two max.).

    This will help with budgeting, plus you'll have more time actually being ON your vacation trip, instead of always taking taxis, shuttles, planes, ferries, whatever... spending much of your time in moving locations.

    If you picked a large island (say Jamaica) you could easily pick two different locations on that same island for two different experiences.

    Not to say you can't do what you propose, but it will be a bit more hassle than I'd be interested in undertaking for a two week trip.

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    Thanks for all the great responses. It certainly is alot for us to consider, which we have been doing these past couple of days. We agree that we should limit ourselves to one or two places, depending on the distance. (For example, we could perhaps do two in one of the aforementioned pairings.) We've decided that we are going to look to cap our trip to $3,000/pp at the very most and are looking into a few other places right now that are very close to each other. Thanks again for all the help!

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