Barbados, Antigua, the Dominican Republic – the names bring to mind vast empty beaches. But too often, the reality is far from the picture-postcard ideal, as much of the Caribbean is suffering from mass development.
But such is the nature of these scattered islands that there are always places where you can get the dream – and some of these less-developed islands are cheaper than you might think.
The Bahamas, for example, has a reputation for being high-end but among the archipelago of 700 islands there are pockets where you can get more for your money.
To get to the less-developed islands you'll need to fly to Nassau or Freetown. Internal flights or ferries will then help you escape resort-laden places such as Grand Bahama as you head for more peaceful spots.
Less-populated areas include the Eluethera and Abacos archipelagos. Here, inland building plots can be found from as little as £15,000 for a quarter of an acre, and two- to three-bedroom bungalows start at around £120,000.
The same goes for other less-visited islands that don't yet have direct flights, such as St Vincent, which may offer good prospects to those who still want a certain level of amenities and services. The island is a 40-minute flight from Barbados.
Inland plots start at under £100,000 for around half an acre and it's possible to buy apartments in one of the newer developments from around £110,00. For larger, family-size villas, expect to pay between £200,000 and £400,000, depending on location and size.
You won't usually have to fight for space on St Vincent's volcanic-sand beaches, but change may be on the way. A new international airport is scheduled for completion in 2011 and this will bring more visitors and higher prices.
David Vaughan of Savills thinks that getting away from the usual haunts in order to find cheaper options is fine if you're sure you don't want to resell or rent out your property. "If you go off the map you can find places that are very peaceful and romantic," he says, "but if you want your home to be an investment, you need to leave romance at home – most tourists want direct flights and a certain level of amenities."
For those who do want the romance, try the Bay Islands of Honduras. Tourist traffic is only just starting to arrive in any significant quantity, and they can be reached via flights from the US. As well as having fabulous beaches, the Bay Islands also have one of the best barrier reefs in the world just off the coast of the main island, Roatan.
Prices on Roatan are rising, but you can still find good value with one- and two-bedroom apartments from £80,000, and two- or three-bedroom cottages from around £145,000, with large waterfront homes from around £180,000.
Phil Weir has lived on Roatan for 17 years and is adamant that the Bay Islands offer much better value than bigger, better-known locations. He claims that though development is happening, it is doing so in a controlled way. "If development is done correctly, then Roatan will continue to be beautiful."
If you simply want a tropical bolthole, while completely avoiding ritzy resorts, Dominica, in the Windward Islands, is quite undeveloped because you need to fly via Barbados or Antigua.
The island has some lovely beaches and a hilly interior covered in rainforest. The infrastructure isn't well developed but, according to Darren Milne of Caribbean Dreams, it has potential for those seeking a more authentic Caribbean destination.
Inland properties start from around £75,000 for two or three bedrooms, but there are also a couple of purpose-built resorts. Bamboo River is in a residential area where owners won't be shut off from the local community. Milne estimates that a three-bedroom villa with pool would cost around £70,000.
Milne thinks Dominica is the perfect escape, but cautions that, like other undeveloped regions, it's an unknown quantity as an investment. But then, buying in a paradise such as this, for under £100,000, it's hard to resist.
Caribbean Dreams: 01708 223 877, www.caribbeandreamsproperty.com; Savills International: 020-7016 3740, www.savills.co.uk; Phil Weir: 001 1504 445 3130, www.philweir.com
*Some less-developed islands are unpopular because they suffer from poor weather. Dominica is in the hurricane belt and can have heavy rains. The more popular islands, including Barbados, Jamaica and Grenada also get hurricanes but less frequently.
*Non-Honduran nationals can only own up to three-quarters of an acre of land and must commence building within three years of purchase. To own larger plots you need to set up a Honduran company – but get sound legal advice first.
*Remember that less development also can mean less choice of shops and restaurants, little or no nightlife and a lack of entertainment, communication and transport options.