No need to wade through brochures and guidebooks. Here is my short cut to finding five appealing but affordable Caribbean hotels, all with direct access to a perfect beach that ticks all the boxes
The Caribbean isn't a one-trick pony. It has great restaurants and spas to savour, jungly rainforests to explore, fascinating plantation houses to visit, and much else besides. However, there is no escaping the fact that people are drawn mostly by the beaches – and that is what the islands do best. If you know where to go, you really can find powder-soft, whiter-than-white sand shaded by palms and lapped by warm aquamarine waters. What I've done is pick out five of the very best beaches, then recommend a hotel slap bang on each of them. Prices are in US dollars for the cheapest double room in low season (usually mid-April to mid-December), including taxes.
Best for escapists
The beach In an isolated spot on Grenada's south coast, La Sagesse is a long crescent of palm-fringed, golden sand set around a picturesque horseshoe-shaped bay. Other than the eponymous little hotel and half a dozen villas on the hillside, there is nothing else man-made here. Even the main road is half a mile away. Go for a wander along the beach and you may not meet another soul.
The hotel Modest but delightful, La Sagesse in St George's has only a dozen rooms, spread between a modern block that is literally feet from the sand and a pink manor house built in the 1960s by an English aristocrat. The rooms are a good size and decorated with local art, but they have few mod cons (no air conditioning in most, for example). Right behind the beach is an open-air bar and restaurant, serving good, uncomplicated local food such as grilled fish and chocolate mousse made with Grenadian chocolate. Prices from $148, room-only.
Best for families
The beach The rapidly growing resort area of Punta Cana, at the far eastern edge of the Dom, is lined with mile after mile of fantastic beaches with white, soft sand and swaying palm trees. Though this coast faces the Atlantic, the beaches where most of the hotels have been built are shielded by a reef that creates a lagoon perfect for safe swimming and watersports.
The hotel On a calm, protected stretch of beach at Cabeza de Toro, Dreams Palm Beach is a high-quality all-inclusive with smart bedrooms, surprisingly good food and a full and imaginative children's activity programme. Unlike most all-inclusives, it doesn't require guests to wander round with plastic identity wristbands. Prices from about $380 all-inclusive for a family of four.
Best for independent-minded honeymooners
The beach You are spoilt for choice with incredible beaches on the exclusive British dependency of Anguilla. The most popular, Shoal Bay East, is a long, long tranche of what the sign at its entrance claims to be "the whitest sand on the planet" (it has to be some of the softest, too). Other attractions include great snorkelling and a handful of laid-back beach bars; live music is a Sunday-afternoon tradition.
The hotel Ku Hotel is a casual little complex right on Shoal Bay East, with 27 minimalist blue-and-white suites with well-equipped kitchens and good-sized sitting rooms. There is also a deli on site, plus a restaurant and a trendy beachside bar. Anguilla has a number of other far fancier hotels, but Ku is one of the best deals on this expensive island. Prices from $216, room-only.
Best for partygoers
The beach Negril's Seven Mile Beach is a strong contender for Jamaica's best. It's Bounty Bar advert stuff: perfect white sands; shallow, clear blue water; palms and sea grapes for shade – and magical sunsets. The stretches away from the all-inclusives are lively, with some great bars and restaurants right on the sand. There is, it must be said, a little bit of hassle from locals.
The hotel Spread through pretty gardens backing on to the beach, Country Country on Norman Manley Boulevard is a compact collection of quaint and colourful gingerbread cottages, simply furnished but spacious and with relaxing outdoor areas. Its low-key beach bar/restaurant does enjoyable breakfasts and uncomplicated dinners. Margaritaville, Seven Mile Beach's best-known watering hole – think margaritas in 52 flavours, "cheeseburgers in paradise", giant trampolines over the water – is a short stroll away over the sand. Prices from $150 b&b.
Best for honeymooners on a budget
The beach The two sunset-facing beaches on Ffryes Bay, either side of the hotel (below), are drop-dead gorgeous, quiet and unspoiled strips of white sand with usually calm waters.
The hotel Adults-only Cocobay sits on its own headland between the beaches. Fifty or so tin-roofed, pastel-coloured cottages, an infinity pool and the main restaurant are scattered across the hillside, all with mesmerising views of the sea and coast. The rooms are simply but attractively furnished, and come with hammocks on their verandas; top-end "seafront" cottages also have private plunge pools. The food has a good reputation and the atmosphere is much more sedate than at bigger all-inclusives. Prices from $270 all-inclusive for two.