Seeking sun and savings
Does your favorite winter sport require surf wax not ski wax? For heat on the cheap, we scoured the warm zone for destinations with great packages, or lodging options under $130 a night, and recent round-trip airfares from Boston under $450. Then we applied our rating system: high scores for barefoot simplicity, debits for resort crowds. And the winners are . . .
Visitors would be challenged to overspend on Culebra, where the best meals are likely to be a $5 swordfish kebab from a street vendor or the serve-yourself fresh mahi with a cold Medalla (the local brew, bring your own) at Barbara Rosa’s. While shelter ranges from under $50 a night to over $3,000 a week for a palatial villa, Palmetto Guesthouse has what most sun-seekers want. A double room with charm, shared kitchen facilities, Internet access, and free airport or ferry pickup starts at $103.55 a night, including tax. Palmetto owners Terrie and Mark Hayward, formerly from Braintree, are generous with their local knowledge, which includes Terrie’s bike and running trails as she trains for April’s Boston Marathon.
Puerto Rico’s attractions go well beyond its beaches. For under $200 a week you can rent a car and follow the Ruta Panorámica into the Cordillera Central, visit a coffee farm, and hike a cloud forest in El Yunque National Forest Reserve. City lovers: Spend your first or last day soaking up the colonial sights and all-night salsa sounds of Old San Juan, a two-hour drive from Rincón. Da House Hotel offers old world-style digs at the center of it all (doubles from $80 a night, www.dahousehotelpr.com).
Far from the crowds, a boat will whisk you to Sante Wellness Center on the reef-fringed south coast for what could be the Caribbean’s most healing, modestly priced spa retreat. (Eye masques $15, body scrubs $45, a two-hour tropical noni wrap and massage $145.) Eco-travelers: In the untrammeled east end Mango Creek Lodge bundles seven nights in an over-water cabana with all meals, drinks, and a first-rate do-list for $1,000 a person.
To really “get’’ Roatán, experience its local communities: Hoist a Salva Vida lager at B.J.’s Backyard in Oakridge and dory through the secret bights frequented by latter-day pirates. In Jonesville, catch a boat to Hole in the Wall for lunch at a hippy hangout started by sailors who grounded on Roatán for good.
In Puerto Viejo you’ll enjoy an overload of eating, drinking, and dancing spots in the company of surfers, American and Euro expats, Afro-Caribbeans, Bribri Indians, and other Tico (Costa Rican) types, all happily coexisting with the toucans and sloths. The thatched bungalows at Korrigan Lodge surround you in jungle-like privacy, yet the golden sunburst of Punta Uva beach is steps away. The $630 a week rate includes tax, breakfast, and bikes. In Puerto Viejo, epicenter of cool, Cabinas Guarana offers low-cost charm a short walk from the beach. The $41-a-night double room rate includes tax and a community kitchen where you can make your own plantain chips and ceviche.
Wherever you stay, your hosts can connect you with affordable ecotours and guides for trekking, rafting, birding, or visiting a Kekoldi Indian village. Put Cahuita National Park and a boat trip to see turtles in Tortuguero National Park high on your list.
Farther afield are more attractions than on almost any other Caribbean island to explore in the car that comes with your package. Just remember: “Left! Left!’’
“Laborie offers a different kind of tourism, sharing a Caribbean village’s life,’’ says Yves Renard, who fell in love with the south coast fishing hamlet 30 years ago and moved from his native Guadeloupe. Independent travelers enjoy its local beaches, music, and food, from weekend fish fries to Debbie’s Place, cooking up St. Lucian home-style meals. Ten minutes by bus are the villages of Saltibus and Banse, starting points for serious hiking. Chalet Lamar, Renard’s kitchen-equipped cottage, is a five-minute walk to Titou Bay and rents for $60 a night.
Vieux Fort is St. Lucia’s wind- and kite-surfing capital, and The Reef Kite & Surf on Anse de Sables beach plays ambassador to both sports. It’s a fun place with near-hostel rates for basic waterside cabins. Beach huts are $60 a night for two with breakfast and taxes. On offer: a $725-a-person special with two weeks’ lodging and nine hours of kitesurfing courses, including breakfast on the beach.
Patricia Borns can be reached at email@example.com.