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7 Budget-Friendly Islands Perfect for a Winter Escape

Dec. 15, 2017
9 min read
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With winter setting throughout most of the United States, you may be starting to daydream about long stretches of white sand and glittering turquoise water.

Well, daydream no more: Here's a list of island destinations with warm temperatures and solid sunshine that'll have you relaxing in your beach hammock, cocktail in hand, chic as ever — and with a wallet as comfortably fat as the day you left home.

Got the winter blues? You can visit one of these islands without doing too much damage to your bank account. Image by Stefano Stefani / Getty.
Got the winter blues? This may help. Image by Stefano Stefani / Getty Images.

1. Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

We have a little secret: Puerta Plata's sand isn't as fine white as Punta Cana's or many other Caribbean destinations. But that's what makes this spot cheaper than other resort destinations in the Dominican Republic. So if you can suffer through the stress of darker sand, you'll definitely save cash. Plus, there's much natural vegetation in and around this resort village, so exploring is a must.

An epic day trip is to check out Los Haitises National Park; there are lush mangroves and hidden caves on secluded beaches, and a dazzling variety of flora and fauna (even dolphins) in San Lorenzo Bay. While there's not a huge number of offerings in the way of points properties (exception: the Wyndham Tangerine), you can take advantage of the Chase Sapphire Reserve's offer of 3x points per dollar spent on travel or the Platinum Card® from American Express program for 5x points per dollar spent on hotels and book a boutique hotel or a locally owned resort.

Can you survive sands that aren't pure white? Image by kangarooarts / Getty.
Image by kangarooarts / Getty Images.

2. Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain

If you've already snagged one of the many flight deals from the US to Madrid or Barcelona this winter, you can hop over to Gran Canaria on a cheap Ryanair flight. Once you've arrived, if you're craving sun, it's best to head south for the sandy shores of Maspalomas or Meloneras. Playa del Inglés is also a popular resort area, but because many Northern Europeans and British travelers flock there in winter and drive up prices, this area is often a little too touristy.

Eating out and sipping wine is a pleasure in all of the Canary Islands (in fact, in all of Spain), as wine, beer and fresh seafood are dirt cheap, especially when you meander away from the tourist epicenters and hit up local spots. For around 10 euros ($12), many local restaurants offer a menu del día, a fixed-price lunch including an appetizer, main course, dessert and drink (wine, beer or soda). Wine and beer prices hover around a few euros per glass, and there's nothing like sipping a sunset beer on the beach knowing it cost less than a couple dollars.

Make sure to take a day to explore the historic center of Las Palmas, the heart (and capital) of the island, which was founded in 1478. There are lots of duty-free shopping, a variety of historical sites and a long stretch of city beach, Las Canteras.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a colorful city. Image by Juergen Sack / Getty Images.
Image by Juergen Sack / Getty Images.

3. Negril, Jamaica

Home to one of the world's most beautiful and longest beaches (almost seven miles long), Negril has two sides to it: the sandy coastline and the impressive black cliffs and rocky beaches. Negril is ideal for a more adventurous traveler; cliff jumping is a sport here, and you can expect drops of up to 50 feet.

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The fact that Negril still isn't fully developed is part of the appeal. A cadre of local businesses keeps the island charm intact here, ensuring this area doesn't become a pricey resort town. You can still head to a reggae bar to enjoy live music or find a quaint, family-run B&B (though you can also find larger, all-inclusive resorts and large villas). Nature lovers should plan to visit the Royal Palm Reserve, a protected wetlands with more than 50 bird species, go fishing or take nature walks.

Cliff jumping is basically a sport in Negril, Jamaica. Image by Peter Dennen / Getty.
Image by Peter Dennen / Getty.

4. Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad is typically cheaper to fly into from the US than Tobago, but from Trinidad you can take a round-trip boat ride to Tobago for about $100. You can also find reasonably priced flights between the two islands if you book in advance.

Trinidad, where most of the locals reside, has a rich cultural identity, so if you're looking to immerse yourself in the Caribbean way of life, visit Trinidad during Carnival, the biggest party of the year. You can vibe to the drumbeats of soca music and get in on the costumed fun by "playing mas" — dressing up in costume and dancing along to a live band with fellow partiers.

For a little more serenity, Tobago is where to spend your days barefoot and roaming deserted beaches. The island is also home to one of the oldest protected forests in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage site Main Ridge, perfect for a hike or picnic. Don't expect fancy hotels in Tobago, though, as it's all about small, budget island inns and home rentals on secluded beaches.

A tranquil beach in Tobago. Image by Cesar Okada / Getty Images.
A tranquil beach in Tobago. Image by Cesar Okada / Getty Images.

5. Gili Islands, Indonesia

If you can manage to get over to Southeast Asia on a flight deal or using miles, remote Gili is the island paradise you've been dreaming of. The three tiny islands, Gili Meno, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan, are a short boat ride away from the larger Indonesian island of Lombok, or you can arrive from Bali via boat in a few hours.

Thanks to a no-cars-allowed rule, the islands are an unspoiled, unpolluted haven of white sands and clear blue waters — ideal for diving and snorkeling. Even the larger five-star resorts are eco-friendly, and maintain a significant level of island charm — you won't find cookie-cutter hotels here. Stay on any of the islands for as little as $10 per night for an inland beach hut, while fancier spots may run you closer to $200 to $300 per night.

Keep in mind that each island has its own vibe: Trawangan is the party island, Meno is the most tranquil and Air is somewhere in the middle, so plan accordingly.

The clear waters of Gili Meno in Indonesia. Image by Luciano Mortula / Getty Images.
The clear waters of Gili Meno in Indonesia. Image by Luciano Mortula / Getty Images.

6. Phuket, Thailand

While many areas of Phuket are extremely touristy, this is the island to go to if you're hoping to save hard-earned cash and use your points and miles for hotel stays. Redemptions here run cheap — you can stay at the Westin Siray Bay Resort and Spa for just 7,000 SPG points per night and the Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort for 10,000 SPG points per night. Award nights at the Hyatt Regency Phuket start at 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

A word of advice: Stay away from the oversaturated, more expensive spots like Patong and instead head to smaller, calmer beaches on the island, like the local fishing village of Rawai or Phuket Town, where you'll find quiet beaches, little shops, family-run restaurants and stalls with fantastic Thai food.

Long tail boats in Rawai, Phuket. Image by Rawai beach. Credit: deniscostille / Getty Images.
Long tail boats in Rawai, Phuket. Image by deniscostille / Getty Images.

7. San Andrés and Providencia, Colombia

Actually located closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, the island of San Andrés is a quick jump from Bogotá, Medellín or Cartagena on low-cost carrier VivaColombia. From there, you can fly or take a ferry to Providencia, which is even more untouched than San Andres. Home stays and small inns are the way to go for budget shelter, and most locals speak English, Spanish and Creole.

Diving in the glass-clear waters can be especially interesting, with underwater shipwrecks, rock formations, tropical fish and even the occasional dolphin or shark to scope out. On land, renting a golf cart or motorcycle is the best way to explore, though rented bicycles are the most cost-effective. The beaches in the middle of island near San Luis are the most beautiful, and you can stop at any of the small, colorful restaurants nearby for fresh seafood or jerk chicken on the cheap.

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more