Finding a budget airfare is the first challenge in planning an affordable Caribbean vacation, and the most likely places to look for relatively low airfares are

Puerto Rico

,

Jamaica

, the

Dominican Republic

and the

Bahamas

- although the latter can be expensive once you arrive.

You might find that a package deal is the most economical way to go. The Dominican Republic is the king of budget package deals, but because of airfare, the other three spots are among the most likely sources for a low-cost package.

If you can snag a good airfare, remember that most islands have an array of lodging choices and prices.

St. Barts

, for example, is generally one of the most upscale islands, and rooms at more than $500 a night are common. Yet you can, with some planning, snare a room in a simple guesthouse for as little as $80 a night.

On the other hand,

Jamaica

is a relatively poor island, and relatively cheap package tours abound, but it also has a number of upscale resorts that can provide a maid, cook and nanny.

If you have your heart set on a particular island, search first for an airfare. If you find one that fits your budget, then search for lodgings, being aware that you might have to make some concessions if you insist on being on a high-priced island.

Dollar for dollar, though, you are most likely to find the biggest selection of budget properties - and get the nicest room or resort for your money - on the islands mentioned above, plus

Bonaire

,

Dominica

,

Guadeloupe

,

Saba

,

St. Eustatius

,

St. Vincent

(but not the Grenadines) and, to a lesser degree,

St. Croix

and

St. John

.