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Image: Culebra, Puerto Rico
Inti St. Clair  /  Getty Images via Forbes
Located off the eastern shores of the main island, sleepy Culebra, Puerto Rico, is rich with uncrowded playas edging calm and cerulean waters — plus a small clutch of basic but bright hotels, like Mamacita's, averaging $100 nightly.
By
updated 3/21/2011 9:28:22 AM ET 2011-03-21T13:28:22

Are you so desperate for a warm and sunny escape — and so convinced it’s beyond your means — that you’ve settled for tanning-salon sessions and homemade piña coladas?

Really, now: Jetting off to a sandy slice of heaven doesn’t have to send you to the poorhouse. There are plenty of budget-minded locales that are light on your wallet, but still heavy on balmy temperatures, swaying palm trees and beautiful beaches.

Slideshow: 10 bargain beach getaways

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For starters, you’ll find alluring options right on U.S. soil — especially on Florida’s unfussy, west-coast barrier islands of St. Petersburg-Clearwater. The region’s wide, powder-white beaches range from happening hotspots edged with volleyball nets and al fresco bars to remote, empty stretches where your only sunbathing neighbors may be some egrets and pelicans. It’s also got an accessible hotel, dining and nightlife scene. Various carriers have round-trip flights from New York’s JFK to Tampa for less than $400.

Prefer to roam a bit farther from home? Head to the Mexican Caribbean, where you’ll find an affordable, laid-back alternative to Cancún at nearby Playa del Carmen, land of barefoot hipsters and palapa-topped lounges. It’s got excellent snorkeling, shopping and sunset-cocktail swilling — plus cool boutique hotels for under $100 a night. Airline flights to Cancún average $400 in April; airport car rentals are from $8 daily.

For about twice as much — still a bargain — you can go get pampered in Bermuda, with its quirky mix of African heritage, colonial history and a love for those famously preppy shorts. Here, pink-sand beaches, luxury resorts and water-view golf courses can be yours thanks to some current (and incredible) all-inclusive deals. The website cheapcaribbean.com is offering four-night packages including airfare from $699 per person, with options including Grotto Bay Beach Resort and Coco Reef Bermuda.

If you’d rather keep it simple, the Caribbean island of St. John has a pair of “luxury-camping” eco-resorts, Maho Bay Camps and Estate Concordia Preserve, with remote tent cottages overlooking the spectacular Virgin Islands National Park — home to hiking trails, soft-sand beaches and sparkling crystal waters. With perks including spa services, boat rentals, and yoga and art classes, “roughing it” has never felt so good. Round-trip flights from NYC to the nearby island of St. Thomas start from $500.

With a little looking, you may just wind up with a ticket to paradise.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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