There are two ingredients you need to concoct a tropical getaway: lots of turquoise seas and swaying palm trees. Luckily, these Equator countries also prove that looking good doesn’t need to break the bank. From popular Thailand to its quiet neighbour Vietnam and fabulous Mexico to balmy Tanzania, there are plenty of spectacular tropical vacations to be had on a budget.
Thailand’s been headlining the cheapies for years and remains excellent value for money. The lush jungles of the north give way to the teal seas of the Andaman on Phuket Island and the South China Sea on Koh Samui.
Phuket is so beloved you can often fly directly in, bypassing Bangkok altogether. Once on the island, head to Patong Beach. It’s a long, crowded beach that draws the sporty during the day while moonlighting as a party venue at night. The second beach that’s a must-see is Paradise Beach, the setting of the famed Full Moon Parties.
If you’re looking for a wilder, more isolated feel, you’ll want to take a day trip to the nearby Phi Phi Islands where you can take in Maya Bay, instantly recognisable from The Beach which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
On the other side of the mainland, Koh Samui is sun-kissed, a bit more relaxed than Phuket, and full of yummy goodies. There’s lovely Chaweng Beach and secluded Lamai Beach for chilled days on the seaside.
According to a Travel Bird study, a day on Patong Beach works out to around $20. That includes ice cream, suntan lotion, lunch, a beer, ice cream and another drink.
Vietnam’s on the rise: lush jungles, ancient traditions and stunning shorelines, not to mention affordability, make the country a sought-after destination. With the world’s cheapest beaches, it’s a top budget tropical vacation.
One of the best beach locations is Hoi An. It’s one of the cheapest coastal cities to live in and the beaches near Danang are the least expensive. This shoreline has a reputation as a great surfing spot. Look into the country’s past at Tan Ky House, a family home built two centuries ago in Japanese and Chinese styles.
- Excluding your hotel costs, daily expenses amount to around $13 per day.
- A day at a Vietnamese beach can be had for as little as $13 (for all the beach necessities).
Jamaica’s a laid-back tropical vacation that’s also very budget-friendly. The country grooves happily in a setting that’s both watery and forestry.
Negril comes highly recommended. It has an appropriately named Seven Mile Beach which leads into one of the Caribbean’s wonderful diving reefs. Smelling jasmine amongst the sea salt? That’s perfectly normal in paradise; Seven Mile Beach is framed by the pretty flowers.
In the north-west of the island, near Falmouth, lies Silver Sands Beach. It’s the cheapest seaside haunt on the islet; with clean waters and lush sandy shores it’s also one of the better ones in the area.
- A day on Silver Sands Beach comes to around $29.
Another Caribbean jewel, Cuba’s got a lot to offer. A fiercely independent country, Cuba’s 20th-century history is unique in the region. Time stands still in many ways.
The best place to experience this is in colourful Havana of the classic cars and swanky bars. Get serious in the Museum of the Revolution before chilling in the Old Quarter.
Out in nature, start with the beaches. Playa Paraiso lives up to its name: consider it a peek into paradise. It’s secluded, away from the hotels but not isolated, and quiet with simple stores instead of fawning resorts. If you need more encouragement to visit: it was voted the third best beach in the world in 2016.
Other shorelines to try include the 25 km long Varadero Beach and Playa les Flamencos. Both are decidedly more touristy with a beachfront packed with all-inclusive resorts.
Roll a cigar or pour a mojito, things are inexpensive and the tourist party is just getting started in Cuba.
- You can get by in good style on $26 for all expenses except accommodation.
Puerto Rico, United States
Puerto Rico’s got something for everyone: a past full of adventurers, lush forests inland and big waves for the surfers.
Lie back in Playa Flamenco, one of the island’s best beaches. Uniquely, the shoreline also hosts a collection of old army tanks found around the country.
In capital San Juan the Playa Condado awaits. Backed by skyscrapers, this is the city’s most iconic piece of coastline.
Leaving the waves behind, there’s El Yunque National Forest. The highlight for many is a taking in the gushing La Mina Falls. Visitors also enjoy kayaking along the shaded streams.
- You can get a normal main meal for around $8.
- There are lots of budget accommodation options and you can get by on about $76 per person per day.
Off the Tanzanian coast lies Zanzibar, an ancient multicultural melting pot that’s become a major tourist destination that’s also budget-friendly. The main drawcard, the ocean that laps at Zanzibar is as blue, rare and treasured as the country’s eponymous Tanzanite gems.
The first beach you want to try is Nungwi Beach. The shore is long and golden and you’ll find a spectacular sunset here when fishermen sail in on their dhows, traditional Arab boats. Kendwa Beach, smaller and quieter, is another good option.
Back in town, head to Stone Town, the ancient heart of Zanzibar. Between the historic buildings, you can still catch the master craftsmen shaping leather and selling Tanzanite stones.
- Chilling on Nungwi Beach costs about $31 for all the goodies you’ll need for the day.
Belize is as rich and fun as the reefs beneath the sea. On land, there’s Xunantunich, a 1300 year old Mayan settlement with impressive ruins. However, it’s underwater where tropical fantasies come true.
The country is home to the Blue Hole, the largest underwater sinkhole in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a breathtaking experience with the possibility of diving 400 ft beneath the surface and swimming between stalactites and bushes of multicolored coral. It’s 62 miles from Belize City.
- Daily expenses, excluding accommodation, are budget-friendly at about $30.
The entire length of Mexico is full of exciting things to do. The cities, both ancient and modern, impress with sophisticated architecture, while the coastlines never fail to get a smile and a blissful sigh.
Mexico City is a cosmopolitan collection of world-class art galleries and museums, as well as beautiful cathedrals. Templo Mayor and Constitution Square are some of the must-sees.
Mexico’s highlights, however, tend to lie along the sea. On the Cancun Coast, Playa Delfines is quieter than its neighbours and often hosts playful dolphins. Take a walk into the old jungle with a stroll around the nearby Mayan ruins. Playa del Carmen is widely agreed to be the cheapest of the beach holidays in Mexico.
- Get by on $23 a day, excluding hotel expenses.
- Playa del Carmen’s perfectly affordable at $29.
Bali’s the place to get a tropical holiday with serious wow-factor on a budget. Expenses are extremely low and the island abounds in exotic greenery and divine beaches.
Two temples you should really make an effort to see include Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, situated on a grassy lakeside, and Pura Tanah Lot, majestically located on a rocky outcrop. Ubud is a necessity: a lush paradise of terraced gardens and rice paddies, it’s the heart of Bali.
Back on the beaches, Padang Padang Beach is one of the cheapest serious surfing spots globally with five huge breaks. Kuta Beach is the most popular piece of shoreline for both sunbathing and partying under the moonlight. Dreamland Beach is as perfect a name there ever was: limestone cliffs protect the honey-colored sand, while the ocean is a medley of turquoise and deep blue tones.
- You can easily get meals for $10.
- Villas are available for as little as $11 a night.
Recently in the news as the place British Princess Eugenie got engaged, it’s clear you won’t be sacrificing quality for budget in Nicaragua. The tiny mainland nation in North America is on the rise: get there while it’s still a cheap tropical holiday.
Step into the past in the elegant buildings of Granada. They’re in the old colonial style, flavoured with Caribbean flare in warm oranges and golden yellows. Take the hint and take your photographs here.
To cool down, dip into the sultry waters along the coast. Playa Maderas, near San Juan del Sur, has tiny, pretty tidal pools and a secluded feel thanks to the closely planted palm trees along the edge. Las Peñitas’ 5km long shoreline is a local favourite that’s quicking catching on with travellers. It’s a great spot for surfing, especially for beginners. Have sundowners’ in the beachside cafes and bars. Cheers for finding this budget tropical gem.
From the Far East to the Caribbean Sea, the areas around the Equator have been gifted with warm weather and abundant beauty. With verdant landscapes and pristine beaches, these countries offer visitors a lot for very little. Don’t fret about the money in these exotic destinations; they’re the best tropical vacations to be had on a budget.