You may not get a mint on your pillow, but there is charm - and genuine Caribbean flavor - in trading a fancy fitness center and spa for $3 beers on the honor system or an evening's conversation on the patio with the proprietor.

THE CARIBBEAN is a lovely world - described so aptly and incessantly that we won't do it here. But that loveliness often comes with a price tag. So with savings in mind, we did some snooping to find the best hotels for around one Ben Franklin (or less) per night, avoiding islands where every beach is lined with megaresorts, and leaning to islands where beaches don't even have parking lots. We eschewed names like Lavender Hills Estates and The Hotel de Snooty Pants. And we were discriminating in our sorting. Some lodgings are beachfront, some aren't - the Caribbean is not just about beaches. The summer off-season is best for low prices, and rates can drop substantially if you book for more than a few days. But plenty of these places fit our budget in every season. And in the end, it's not about money, it's about memories. Here are 10 inexpensive Caribbean hotels to remember.


1 St. Croix: Hotel Caravelle
Hurricane Hugo (1989) left St. Croix's tourist industry in rubble. St. Croix has recovered, but tourists have yet to notice. The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is also the most overlooked. The Hotel Caravelle sits on the water in quiet Christiansted; most rooms have a view of the harbor, and, in the equally blue distance, the Caribbean Sea. Should you opt to partake in some of the Caribbean's finest diving, you can leap from your hotel room into the boats departing the harbor-front dock. (800-524-0410, www.hotelcaravelle.com)

2 Anegada: Neptune's Treasure
This one's a beauty for one overriding reason - mention Anegada (pronounced Ah-ney-GAH-dah) to most folks, and the reaction will be "Huh?" The island isn't even on some maps. But contrary to cartographers, the Soares' family-run Neptune's Treasure does exist, its guesthouses sitting just back from the beach near Setting Point, on Anegada's southwest shore in the British Virgin Islands. Walk west on the solitary beach, and the charted world falls away. (284-495-9439, www.neptunetreasure.com)

3 Trinidad: Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel
Rustic, yes, but a nature lover's dream. Perhaps you enjoy the sight of hundreds of yellowtail birds returning to their nests at dawn. Maybe you wish to stroll, directly out your door, the empty expanse of Grand' Rivière beach. Perhaps you want to watch others on the beach - Trinidad's northeast coast is the largest nesting site for leatherback turtles in the Western Hemisphere. During nesting season (March through August), the mothers lay their eggs in the sand just outside your room (all 13 rooms face the sea). From May through September, their hatchlings gush back to the sea. The city life of Port of Spain is more than 100 kilometers away, but you won't find many leatherback turtles there. (868-670-2216, www.mtplaisir.com)

4 Exuma, Bahamas:
Coral Gardens Bed & Breakfast
No one agrees on how many cays comprise the Exuma Cays - 300? 400? - but the quibbling ignores the important fact that most are uninhabited. You can camp on the cays - they are one of the world's top sea kayaking destinations - but you can also reside at the Coral Gardens Bed & Breakfast, the Exumas' most affordable lodging. Expat Englishfolk Peter and Betty Oxley offer B&B accommodations in their home - three rooms (worry not, there are private bathrooms) with hilltop views of the north and south coasts. (242-336-2880, www.coralgardensbahamas.com)