Caribbean

The pristine beaches, natural attractions and no-passport-required status at these top spots make them appealing island escapes. (Getty Images)

While many Americans assume they can't visit any Caribbean island without a passport, that couldn't be further from the truth. Thanks to the passport-free status of certain Caribbean destinations, you can easily visit tropical destinations with simply a government-issued form of identification, such as a driver's license or a birth certificate. And since passports cost $110 per person – and there's been an uptick in passport renewal requests this year – this distinction is crucial to note for families on a budget who are seeking a convenient and cost-effective vacation destination.

But that's not the only reason you'll want to visit one of these island hideaways. With white-sand beaches, mountainous landscapes, fascinating cultures and heart-pumping activities for thrill-seekers, each of these island destinations offers its own benefits and allures. Whether you have a passport or not, you should consider these tropical spots for your next getaway.

[See: The 10 Best Hotels in the Caribbean 2016.]

St. Thomas

Just 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, you'll find the U.S. Virgin Islands – a tropical paradise comprised of three islands – St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix – filled with curvy roads that wind up and around dramatic mountains, pristine beaches and plenty of activities for both water enthusiasts and landlubbers. One of those islands is St. Thomas. While you're there, you can explore the bustling capital of Charlotte Amalie, take in the unbelievable views of St. John from Sapphire Beach or savor a high-end dinner in Red Hook, the island's entertainment hub.

Travelers seeking all-inclusive digs can check out Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on the southern tip of St. Thomas, and plenty of traditional hotels and vacation condos dot the island, offering spacious suites and striking views.

St. John

Just a quick ferry ride from St. Thomas sits St. John – an island that's mostly comprised of the lush Virgin Islands National Park. Explore the isle's secluded beaches, take a snorkeling lesson in one of the area's crystal clear bays or take one of the famous hikes around the island.

Guests seeking luxury should check out the Westin St. John Resort & Villas for a special treat, while everyday travelers can rent a vacation condo or stay at a luxury hotel like the Caneel Bay Resort, which sits on the southern part of the island.

[See: The 10 Most Affordable Caribbean Destinations.]

St. Croix

As the U.S. Virgin Island's largest island, St. Croix has plenty to offer tourists. Not only is St. Croix known for its unique culture and array of festivals, but it's also renowned for its unspoiled beaches, fine dining, gambling and wealth of golf sites across the island.

Plus, you won't find a shortage of places to stay in St. Croix. If you're craving a hotel with a bit of history, consider The Buccaneer, the Caribbean's oldest hotel, which sits just south of Martel Bay. Plus, you can choose from hundreds of small hotels, cottages and vacations rentals that cater to different party sizes and travel styles.

Puerto Rico

With its own tropical rainforest, some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and plenty of exciting activities for outdoor enthusiasts, Puerto Rico is one of the most convenient places to plan a vacation without a passport. From its bioluminescent bays to its hiking trails and cultural events, this island nation has something for everyone.

When in Puerto Rico, you can span the world's tallest zip line at the famed Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park, eat delicious local seafood specialties at some amazing mom and pop diners and cafes and visit a real-life fort in scenic San Juan.

And when it comes to accommodations, El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, offers some of the most luxurious rooms in Puerto Rico. And in downtown San Juan, you can find accommodations that span from the high-end Ritz-Carlton, San Juan to small local hotels and even boutique hotels. The Olive Boutique Hotel, for example, features expansive oceanfront views and a rooftop bar, and caters to younger guests with family-friendly amenities.

[Read: 4 Convenient Caribbean Destinations for Families.]

The Bottom Line

If you want to get a feel for the Caribbean without the headache of carrying a passport and going through customs, these four islands are the best place to start. Not only can you experience some of the most beautiful spots in all of the Caribbean, but you can do so without a lot of planning – and without waiting up to six weeks for your renewed passport to arrive in the mail. And with some of the world's most beautiful beaches, postcard-worthy scenery and plenty to do, you won't regret splurging for a getaway to these convenient – and hassle-free – locales. 

Tags: travel, vacations


Holly Johnson writes about travel, credit cards, personal finance and frugality for a wide range of publications including U.S. News, The Indianapolis Star, The Simple Dollar, Lending Tree, Frugal Travel Guy and Wise Bread. Along with her husband, Johnson also runs two personal blogs - Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. Johnson's travel writing revolves around the Caribbean and Europe, with a special focus on family-friendly activities, all-inclusive resorts and unique hotels. Follow Holly Johnson on Twitter @ClubThrifty.

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