I always imagined a trip to the Caribbean as something luxurious, something that would cost me a lot of money. But I manage to visit Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao for less than 1000 Euro. This including everything regarding transportation on and between the islands, accommodation, food, and activities. With that said, rather expensive excursions such as diving.
I have been asked how I made it affordable and have been told by people that they would love to go as well but only found expensive options. Therefore I have decided to share my budget and spendings here.
The Caribbean is for sure a much more expensive destination that for example most countries in South East Asia and South America. So you have to pull the string where you can to make it affordable if traveling on a budget. The first thing said I traveled there during low season, at the end of August/beginning of September. Which kept the prices on certain things lower than in high and peak season.
When it comes to flying to and from the island, the fastest and easiest option from Europe is to fly with KLM. They have a lot of direct flights going to all the three islands from Amsterdam. I, however, choose to look into the low price options with longer stopovers.
I took a bus from Gothenburg, Sweden to Copenhagen airport in Denmark (about 4 hours ride). I flew from Copenhagen to Fort Laurendale with Norwegian (about 10 hours). I then waited at the airport for 11 hours. I choose not to book an accommodation as I landed around 23:00 in the evening and was leaving a going around 09:00, which meant that I would only have been able to sleep a few hours anyway (giving the time to leave the airport, find the accommodation, getting ready for bed, to get up again in time to get to the airport 3 hours before departure again). So, I stayed in the airport and fell asleep for a while on the bench. Then I took a flight with Jet Blue to Oranjestad, Aruba (for about 3 hours).
This trip took me to double the time than a flight with KLM would have, but the cost was half, including all the extra snacks and food I purchased. I also booked the cheapest flights in between the islands, with Insel Air. Though there were only two to three airlines to choose between and the prices and slot times did not differ too much.
Furthermore, I choose to use the local buses instead of taxi services, which saved me a lot of money. But the same thing here, the sacrifice is the time taken. For example; on Curaçao, I spent 1 hour and 20 mins on a bus instead of taking a 30 mins taxi ride from the airport. But I also only spent $1 instead of having to pay $35. I did not have to change buses of anything, so it was easy enough. It just took longer.
On Bonaire, the distances are however shorter, so there you can walk and bike more, or take the shorter taxi rides, which will be cheaper than on Aruba and Curaçao. I was planning on renting a bike or a moped on Bonaire since cars were rather expensive, but I ended up being able to borrow a bicycle instead.
When it comes to accommodation I started to search on Hostelworld and compared prices according to standard and location to Booking.com and Airbnb. It was easy to find several cheaper options, between 15-25€/night on Aruba and Curaçao. I would surely have enjoyed staying in a nice hotel in from of Aruba’s award-winning beaches or in a diving resort on Curaçao, but that would have cost me so much more.
On Aruba, I stayed in a combined hostel and apartment hotel, called Aruba Harmony, and as it was the low season I got upgraded from a dorm bed to my own room (or a studio apartment with a kitchen and bathroom). This was a somewhat 20 mins walk to the city center, but with an overall good standard and a pool.
On Curaçao, I stayed in a centrally located place called Bed & Bike, which is what it sounds like. You pay for a bed and a rental bike. The bike was perfect for me as I love to bike and am used to go between work, activities, and friends with the bike at home anyway and I also saved money on bus and taxi rides.
For Bonaire on the other hand, I did not find any hostels on Hostelworld, neither nothing under €30 per night on Booking.com. Airbnb had quite a few options, very nice ones, but also those more pricey than the other islands. So I decided to check out Couchsurfing before going for an Airbnb. Luckily enough the host I hoped would accept the most, out of the 8 people I wrote to, did so.
I thereby ended up staying for free on Bonaire and that with the most amazing hosts ever. I did ask the host if we could stop by a supermarket on the way from the airport (yes he even picked me up). So I bought things to make the two guys dinner as thanks for letting me stay at their place. The host let me borrow his bike, brought me to a beach party with his friends and also ended up taking me around the whole islands on his days off during my stay.
And the best thing was that he took me diving, as he and his housemate both are dive instructors. I paid him for gas and also for the two dives we did, through his company. I had decided to go diving anyway so I gladly did it with him and the dinner and the gas ended up being much cheaper than staying somewhere else anyways. Best of all, I got to experience the island with locals which I think is so cool.
My brother had visited Aruba and Curaçao before me, and a friend from Germany had been to Bonaire. So they had told me about the prices set at restaurants and I was therefore prepared for how expensive it would be. And as I knew that I would eat a lot out during my trip anyways, I decided to cook when I could.
On Aruba, I used the kitchen in the hotel for two meals a day and ate out once. On Bonaire, I got to use the kitchen as well and the guys loved my food, so I only ate out once there. And on Curaçao, I used the hostels’ kitchen the same way as on Aruba. Curaçao also offered awesome street food.
Even groceries can be expensive on the islands though since a lot of things needs to be imported and you might be tricked of the prices, as their local currency is stated with a dollar sign as well but worth almost the double. So going grocery shopping without looking at the prices can end up being just as expensive as a meal out. Grapes, for example, could be between 5-8€ while bananas were five times cheaper. The choice of proteins was also limited due to prices, as well as dairy.
I stayed 4 nights on each island and decided that I would allow myself one expensive activity per island. On both Bonaire and Curaçao I did a day of diving. And on Aruba, I visited the Renaissance island and did a Jeep tour. Rest of the time I went to different beaches as well as did my own walking tours around the cities of Oranjestad, Kralendijk, and Willemstad. I also squeezed in some work time of course.
This is how my spendings ended up as;
Transportation (on and between islands) 190€
Total spent: 990€
Note that the total above does not include the flight to and from the islands. I chose to exclude this since the airfares vary depending on where you live/start your trip. I flew from Scandinavia and on to Colombia after my time here and paid 420€. So total including all flights ended up being 1410€.
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