Even in rough economic times, it's important to take a break from the "real world" and treat yourself to some relaxation. At this time of year, it's preferable to do so on a warm beach. You just have to look a little harder and a little off the beaten path to find affordable destinations. Luckily, I've started the research for you and found seven great, lesser-known beach destinations in the Caribbean and Atlantic that also go easy on your wallet.
Los Roques, Venezuela
There may be no better place in the Caribbean to live out your castaway fantasies than Los Roques, an archipelago of 42 sandy islands and about 300 mangrove islets and rocks located 80 miles off the coast of Caracas, Venezuela. Protected as a national park since 1972, the vast majority of Los Roques islands are uninhabited. Those that are inhibited have limited development—there are no cruise ports, and posadas (hotels) may have no more than 15 rooms.
The reefs surrounding the islands boast some of the best biodiversity in the Caribbean, including more than 60 species of coral and 280 species of fish. Above water, the islands give shelter to 92 bird species (such as red footed boobies and pink flamingos) and also host nesting sea turtles. Los Roques' reliable tradewinds also make it a good spot for sailing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. As for deserted-island dreams, many posadas can arrange for a day trip or picnic lunch to one of Los Roques' uninhabited islands.
There are a number of affordable posadas on the islands, including the six-room Posada Movida. Bed and breakfast rates start at $75 per person per night, but it's a better value to book the all inclusive rate of $120 per person, which covers all meals, wine at dinner, and island boat tour.
(Photo: Posada Movida)