Over our budget in December… Island life in Dominica is more expensive than we thought

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.

Prawn cocktail Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

The delicious prawn cocktails we had at Christmas – which were expensive because prawns aren’t a local fish

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.

local fruit and veg Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

Our local fruit and veg pile – which was more expensive than anticipated

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.

Palm trees Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

Beautiful Dominica – you can see how tourism is a major income source

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.

Al Dive jetty sunset Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

There aren’t any white sandy beaches but who could resist this view?

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.

Mini bus transport Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

A typical mini bus which is the main source of public transport on Dominica

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.

Scuba diving Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

On the boat following a great scuba dive with mum and Dave

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.

Snorkelling Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

If you can’t scuba dive, snorkelling is great in Dominica too

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.

Middleham Falls Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

We’ll be saying goodbye to beautiful Dominica soon – this photo was taken at Middleham Falls

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.

Family photo in Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

We’ll miss Biff the dog so much – he’s become a part of our little family

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!

Boiling Lake Dominica hike view Double-Barrelled Travel

We’ll miss views like these in Dominica!

Have you travelled to somewhere that was more expensive than you anticipated?

 Breakdown of our budget spending in December:

East Caribbean Dollar US Dollar
Gas 280.08 105.69
Car hire 460.80 173.89
Public transport 135 51
Tips 60.54 22.85
Accommodation 0 0
Eating out 696.60 262.87
Groceries 710.46 268.10
Alcohol 603 227.55
Attractions 2,433.62 918.35
Other 353.50 133.39
Flights 3,291.49 1,242.07
Total 9,025.09 3,405.76
Total without flights 5733.60 2,163.62

 

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

6 comments on “Over our budget in December… Island life in Dominica is more expensive than we thought”

  1. Rebecca Reply

    Dominica sounds like a really good experience! and hey 400 is not that much over budget!! sounds like you made the most of it and got some great experiences out of it. looking forward to reading more on South America! im hoping to get there end of 2014 myself

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Yep, US$400 over budget isn’t too bad I guess! You should certainly try and get to Dominica if you can – it really is a hidden gem. Hopefully we can give you some tips for South America once we’ve been 🙂

  2. Andrew Reply

    I love reading your blog – a wonderful reflection of the wonders of the Nature Isle. I live here in Dominica and I can’t agree with your comment that local produce is expensive. We Brits/Americans etc. all look for stuff we recognise, but the locals buy dasheen, tanya and yam – all rediculously cheap. Then there are the grapefruit – 5 for 80 US cents, avocado at 2 for 40 US cents, plantain and banana are 6 for 40 US cents. And the fish – mahi mahi and tuna are 3 US$ per pound and the small local fish are just 7 fish for 40 US cents. What’s expensive are the imports – onions and potatoes – and those things difficult to grow – bell peppers, tomatoes and lettuce. I agree that it isn’t as cheap to live here as you might think, because I want milk and wine and tinned tomatoes and cheese and cream and beef. But if you are willing to live on “provision” (root vegetables), beans, rice and fish like the locals, your money goes a long, long way.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, thank you 🙂
      That’s true. The fruit and veg grown in abundance is cheap and you’re right that it’s the imported goods that are expensive.
      We were so pleased with how cheap the local fish was – we ate a lot of it when we were there.
      I guess that’s how the locals live – surviving on the cheaper food like the provisions.
      A pity we wanted dairy and wine otherwise our bill would’ve been a lot cheaper each time we went to the supermarket 🙂

  3. Ronny Reply

    Hey me and my fiancé are going there in 2 weeks for honeymoon. We just want to hike and sight see and travel around to waterfalls etc. what seems like a reasonable budget? Everywhere we look online is kind of scary. We are just trying to convert enough money for daily food and nature attractions and light shopping. Don’t want to get there with too much money lol.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      You’ve chosen a wonderful place to honeymoon!

      You could probably live off $40 per person, excluding accommodation, a day. This would be a comfortable sum.

      Hope this helps!

      Thanks
      Carmen

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