We usually discuss the Caribbean in this blog, but of course it’s a big world out there and most of us are not content to just see one small slice of it. Today I was reading an article that listed the cheapest beach destinations in Europe and it reminded me of a lesson I’ve learned myself a few times, which is that some places are cheap for a reason.
The same can actually be said of the Caribbean or at least Central and South America, which are both loaded with tourist cities. In that article you see the cheapest four beach spots in Europe are all in southern areas that were part of the Soviet Bloc. Now, those areas have their fair share of natural beauty, but what they don’t have is a good tourist infrastructure or even many people speaking English. Central America has its own struggles with these things, so sometimes being too cheap will get us in trouble.
What good is cheap if we struggle through a holiday?
A number of years ago I spent about 5 days in Antigua, Guatemala, which is probably the most touristy town in the entire country. I stayed in a 3-star hotel in the center of town, so you’d think it would be ideal, but it wasn’t. In fact, it turned out my hotel had exactly one English speaking employee, and he only worked one 8 or 10 hour shift per day. My Spanish was very weak, so it was almost like being deaf and mute for half the day, and that was also a bit stressful.
Costa Rica and Belize are the two most expensive countries in Central America, and part of that is that English is understood in the tourist areas. In fact, in Belize the first language is English, even though most locals speak to each other in another language, but at least you can get simple questions answered. In Costa Rica the jobs where English speakers are needed pay more so they get good people, but in Guatamala and many other countries to its south English is very rare.
Tourists don’t want to waste time on slow transportation
Another lesson I’ve learned from traveling in developing countries is that the buses tend to move very slowly and the trains do too if they have them. It’s wonderful if a 200 mile ride only costs US$3 on a bus, but if that bus takes 8 hours and is uncomfortable then I don’t care how cheap it is.
Even taxis and private cars often have to crawl along in cheap countries with bad roads, including in much of Mexico. So you could hire your own van or limousine and still take forever to get to and from your resort if the roads are half washed out.
Paying more for popular resort areas makes sense
So obviously the whole point of this is to say that those of us who look for the cheapest prices on holidays can be shooting ourselves in the foot. You might find a cheap hotel on the beach in some small town in Jamaica that costs half of what a similar hotel costs in Montego Bay, but if you can’t communicate or get around quickly then it’s not really a savings.