Here, below, are ten Caribbean islands or locations to consider for that inexpensive period, all of them visited by me, but set forth in no particular order. Nor are they meant to be regarded as my own favorites out of the twenty-or-so Caribbean islands to which I personally have traveled. The ten are:
The Dominican Republic: Cheapest vacation destination in the Caribbean because of the all-inclusive policy (accommodations, all three meals, unlimited beverages, sports and entertainment, for one remarkably low price) at most of its surprisingly-comfortable modern resorts. But you generally spend the entire one-week or two-week stay on the premises of the hotel you have chosen, never meeting a single citizen of the Dominican Republic other than the staff of the hotel, or witnessing a single element of Dominican life. The bargains are best when you book an airfare-included "package" from a tour operator such as Apple Vacations, Gogo Tours, Funjet Vacations, CheapCaribbean, many others, whose low prices for the entire vacation will astonish you.
Aruba: Enjoying one of the finest and longest beaches in all the world, a vast expanse of sugary-soft white sand, Aruba's seafront paradise is flanked by high-rise hotels of unusual comfort, but hotels also containing large casinos, attracting gamblers among whom you might not want to vacation (the atmosphere, some might say, is "Las Vegas in the tropics"). You might nevertheless want to choose Aruba.
Jamaica: This exotic and colorful island-nation is always fun, a vibrant world of reggae music and jerk pork snacks. Many of its hotel-resorts are all-inclusive in policy, offering a relatively-low-cost week or two of swimming by day, dancing by night. It is an always-popular destination, chosen throughout the year by a great many beach-loving Americans.
St. Lucia: If you are physically fit, and able to walk up and down endless staircases alongside cliffs leading to and from excellent beaches, you'll love the superb but relatively-expensive luxury hotels (enjoying spectacular views, and some with spa facilities) in which St. Lucia specializes. Many of its comfortable resorts are perched high above those beaches, although there are a few excellent resorts on the flatlands, such as the Rendezvous and several Sandals, among others. Once part of the then-French empire, its cuisine is especially outstanding at almost all restaurants and even in your all-inclusive hotel.
Curacao: It's Holland in the tropics, its highlight a major city featuring pastel-colored stores in the form of 17th century Dutch buildings, and also housing numerous museums, maritime and other tourist attractions, as well as the oldest Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The restaurants feature European and Indonesian cuisine (the famous "rijstaffel" of 32 plates per diner), and though the beaches aren't outstanding ones, they are nonetheless sufficient for your leisure needs. Curacao for the vacationer who wants to experience history, culture and sightseeing, in addition to traditional ocean bathing and sun-tanning.
Bonaire: A lightly-populated small island, Bonaire is regarded as one of the world's finest locations for scuba-diving, and nearly all of its low-rise hotels will offer you a reasonably-priced "resort course" enabling even a first-timer to go scuba diving during their first week of instruction, using equipment supplied to you. Before you know it, you will be hanging weightless some sixty feet below the surface of the Caribbean. enjoying a breathtaking view of both sea and plant life.
Cuba: Newly available to the American vacationer, a legal possibility, Cuba is the desired tropical vacation of millions. But there aren't enough hotels to house those wanting to visit Havana. And the few packaged vacations are outrageously expensive. The solution: a flight that you book yourself via Jamaica, Cancun or the Bahamas to Havana, and a spare room ("una casa particular") in the apartment of a Havana resident. AirBnB.com, among others, will get that low-cost room for you.
Puerto Rico: Not just a tourist destination, but an entire civilization, is this Spanish-speaking commonwealth of the United States, where the currency is the U.S. Dollar, the telephones dial directly to the U.S., no passport is needed, and virtually everyone also speaks English. In its major city of San Juan, the untouched, carefully-preserved Old San Juan is a memorable sight, containing numerous museums, historic homes and fortifications, a remarkably-large shopping area, and excellent restaurants. And nearly all the hotels on the northern coast, starting in San Juan and going east, have excellent beaches for your use (in addition to some casinos). Americans owe it themselves and the people of Puerto Rico to make a trip here at some point in their lives.
Cancun: Not an island but a part of mainland Mexico, Cancun and its southern coastline (the resort-lined "Maya Riviera") are considered part of the Caribbean, to the same extent as any Caribbean island, and are serviced by the same tour operator specialists. The beachside resorts along the Maya Riviera are almost totally all-inclusive in policy (charging one price for everything—room, meals, beverages, sports and entertainment) and guests tend to remain on the premises, taking only one outside excursion to the historic Mayan site of Tulum (or a lengthier trip to Chichen Itza). Rates on the Maya Riviera are higher than in the Dominican Republic, but still quite reasonable.
Guadeloupe: A French island with all the exotic, colorful aspects of a French territory, ranging from superb cuisine in every restaurant, cafe and hotel both large and small, and pungent Gauloise Bleu cigarettes smoked by the many French tourists who flock to this island (you won't want to emulate them). Though neighboring Martinique is more heavily populated, and with urban pleasures, the beaches of Guadeloupe are far better and—in fact—quite good. And to top all other advantages, Guadeloupe can now be reached from New York, Baltimore and Boston on Norwegian Airlines, for remarkably low fares. With low tourist traffic in the first three weeks of January, a tropical vacation in Guadeloupe at that time will be had for much less than a winter stay normally costs.
Few Americans are aware of this early-January bonanza, giving you an exceptional vacation opportunity.
(Photo by Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr)