Oops. We went a little over our budget in December, just like we did in November. After hoping to claw back some of the funds we lost in November, we spent more than US$400 over our US$3,000 budget last month.
The main reason is because we booked some flights, but more about that later.
Dominica is more expensive than we thought
Although not as expensive as other islands in the Caribbean, which are overrun with tourists, Dominica is still relatively expensive. Groceries are a similar price to the US, if not more expensive, as the island has to import a lot of the food. Plus the import tax is very high on items, which doesn’t help many people other than the government.
If you order something online – which I wouldn’t recommend as it takes more than six weeks to reach the island – you have to open your package at the post office and pay the import tax on the item then and there. Who knows how they figure our how much you should pay… or where the money goes for that matter.
Even the market groceries are rather dear, which is strange because you’d think that because you can grow almost any fruit or vegetable on the volcanic soil of the island, it’d be quite cheap. But the locals need to make a living too, so I don’t really mind.
Although we did spend EC$116 (about US$45) on fruit and veg at the market the other day which made me pause – that’s more than we’d spend in London!
How do the locals survive?
It’s alright for us Westerners coming to the island, because as much as I whinge about Dominica being expensive, we have the funds to spend.
But what about the local people?
My friend – a volunteer who works on the island – says the average Dominican earns about EC$1,000 a month. This is roughly US$380. Not much! I’m guessing the locals would have to watch every penny they spend unless they are lucky enough to have a cushy government job – which I believe is one of the higher paying jobs on the island.
The island has faced economic problems in the past. Before 1993, Dominica exported nearly all of its bananas, under an exclusive agreement, to the UK. But the EU decided this wasn’t fair for other countries and now Dominica is forced to compete with Latin America and Africa who sell the bananas for a lower price.
The price of bananas have nearly halved since then, leaving many Dominican farmers out of work.
These days, the main income for the island is tourism – yet without white sandy beaches (Dominica’s sand is volcanic black most of the time) and direct flights from the US and the UK, the tourists don’t come here as much as they do to other Caribbean islands.
Getting around on the island
Although Dominica is a relatively small island at 754km², it is one of the biggest islands in the Caribbean. Because it’s certainly not the wealthiest, the roads aren’t too great which can sometimes make driving difficult.
However, there’s a great network of mini-buses that operate around the whole island meaning you can get around without your own car. From our house down to the capital, Roseau, it costs EC$5 per person – around US$1.90. Not bad for a half hour trip! I would probably pay US$30 to go a similar distance in the UK.
The best thing about the buses is that you can wave one down at any point along the road… no need to wait at a bus stop.
When mum and dad were here over Christmas, we thought it would be best to hire a car because there were four of us. We hired the cheapest vehicle on the island for just US$30 a day. You get what you pay for though – this tiny Nissan March grunted up and down the hills and there were a few times where Dave yelled “Get out!” as we were about to roll backwards down a steep stretch of road. Mum, Dad and I would bail out of the car and walk the rest of the way so the Nissan could make it to the top.
Activities in Dominica
One of our biggest expenses in December was on all the activities we did. Mainly this was scuba diving.
Dave and I are now PADI qualified scuba divers and we love this new hobby we’ve discovered. Big thanks to mum who got us in to it and to mum and dad for buying us the scuba courses for Christmas. We’ve done 15 dives so far, including one night dive (scary!) and plan to do a couple more before we leave Dominica.
I want to write another post just about our diving experience because it’s possibly been the best thing we’ve done in Dominica.
Because we trained with Al Dive, they kindly gave us a discounted rate for all our following dives after we were qualified. For just US$65 we could go out for half a day and dive at two different dive spots off the boat. This was extremely good value considering it costs at least US$100 elsewhere in the world.
We’ve also spent money on canyonning and snorkelling, as well as entry fees to UNESCO heritage listed waterfalls and hikes around the island. Certainly money well spent and more blogs to come soon on those adventures!
Flights for our next adventures
What really pushed us over our budget in December was buying our flights from Guadeloupe to Bolivia. As I mentioned in a previous post, we were forced to buy ferry tickets off the island before arriving in Dominica and so we decided to head to Guadeloupe.
I also wrote about our adventures previously – where we’re headed in 2014 – and I had to scrap Chile out of the equation after we decided not to buy round-the-world flights.
This was because we decided they weren’t flexible enough. What if we liked a country and wanted to stay? What if we got an amazing house sitting assignment and needed to move there faster?
So I spent hours searching for cheap flights from Guadeloupe to anywhere in South America. The cheapest I could find was to Bolivia via Miami, and these cost US$1242 for the both of us.
So this is where we’ll be headed after Guadeloupe. Then, over the six months after that, we plan to make our way up (overland by bus) through South and Central America, finishing in Mexico.
Future budget is being revised
We have decided to revise down our budget over the next few months. Because we will be travelling in cheaper countries, we hope to only spend US$2,000 between the two of us per month. Will it be possible? We’re certainly up for the challenge.
I have a feeling January might be a little expensive though. We still haven’t organised our accommodation for our week in Guadeloupe, and without any house sitting on the cards it could eat into our budget a little more than we’d like. (Just as a side note – we house sat in Dominica for the whole of December so we didn’t pay a cent on accommodation!)
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens – wish us luck!
Have you travelled to somewhere that was more expensive than you anticipated?
Breakdown of our budget spending in December:
|East Caribbean Dollar||US Dollar|
|Total without flights||5733.60||2,163.62|