There is nothing quite as fabulous as kicking back in a comfy chair and sipping a cocktail on a beautiful beach. What isn’t fabulous, however, is going broke to do it. So, to help you avoid emptying your life savings for the sake of a little R and R, GOBankingRates spoke with 14 world travelers who revealed their favorite budget-friendly tropical locations. Learn about the bluest waters and sandiest beaches, so you can pack your bags and escape to one of these affordable, warm weather destinations.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
- Airfare: $1,018
“You can’t go wrong with any of the sunny islands in the south of Thailand,” said Nora Dunn, creator of The Professional Hobo, about her favorite tropical destination. “I spent a month on the island of Koh Phangan, only accessible by ferry and featuring clear blue waters, white sand beaches, lush mountains and beautiful weather.” Though airfare might not be cheap, everything on the island is, according to the globe-trotter.
There’s something for everyone, too. “Koh Phangan is known as ‘full moon party central,’ but if buckets of booze and partying on the beach all night isn’t your thing, head to the opposite side of the island for a much quieter scene with wellness retreat centers, healthy eateries and a bit of a ‘hippy’ vibe,” said Dunn. “And of course, lots of pad thai, green curry and fresh tropical fruit smoothies — all for a couple of bucks.”
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- Airfare: $871
Priyanka Dalal, travel blogger at Map Route, said a small town in coastal Maharashtra, India is one of the most affordable tropical vacation destinations. “It’s called Parule, and it is fairly unaffected by tourism and hence, fairly cheap,” she said. “It’s a few hours from Goa, but since it is in Maharashtra, very few tourists or travelers make it here, most choosing to explore Goa.”
And why is it a great location? “Parule is a quaint village that offers blue seas, sandy beaches, old forts, lush, green coconut groves, placid backwaters [and] friendly, local people without the tourist rush,” said Dalal.
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Hoi An, Vietnam
- Airfare: $827
“I absolutely love Hoi An,” said Sunshine Abou Bakar of African Boheme. She singled out “the proximity to cultural centers and the ease of biking through endless expanses of rice paddies” as key features that make it worth a trip. Plus, it’s affordable. “I travel often as a family, and Hoi An, Vietnam allows for beachside dining under palm trees in a cabana for less than it costs to grab lunch in NYC,” she said.
Whether you plan to visit solo or as a family, local travel should be a breeze. “Getting around is particularly easy and the small town vibe allows you to explore all the beauty it has to offer,” she said.
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
- Airfare: $736
According to Sally Elbassir, one of the best tropical destinations is located in Egypt. “For a paradise-like beach getaway that doesn’t break the bank, look no further than Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt,” said the Passports & Plates blogger. “Located on the coast between the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea and just one hour from Cairo by plane, Sharm is every beach lover’s dream. Here you can stay at beautiful resorts for less than $100 per night. Plus, since the weather is fairly warm year-round, it’s an excellent place to vacation from those winter blues.”
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
- Airfare: $665
If you’re looking for a fantasy location, look no further than Montenegro. “The only way I can really describe the Bay of Kotor is that it feels like a tropical paradise — like Hawaii had a baby with a city from ‘Game of Thrones,’” said Laura DiBiase of Perfect Gym Solutions. “The water in the bay is shockingly green and there are tons of beautiful beaches and towns to explore all throughout. It’s a stunning contrast to see cobblestone streets and Kotor’s old town between sprawling green hills and pebbly beaches.”
San Blas Islands, Panama
- Airfare: $641
“The San Blas Islands are Panama’s best-kept secret,” said Kimmie Conner, creator of travel blog Adventures & Sunsets. “Located on the Central American country’s Caribbean coast, these are 365 perfect, white sand, pancake islands topped by palm trees and surrounded by clear blue water.”
If you want to get adventurous, this might the destination for you. “Because of their remoteness and control of the indigenous Kuna tribes, there are many San Blas sailing trips organized from Panama city,” Conner said. “You can snorkel, dive, explore tiny sandy beaches, eat fresh seafood and interact with the local tribes when you visit.”
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- Airfare: $633
Bernard Sury, co-founder of GuruWalk, thinks Greece is the way to go. “A few years ago, I was traveling with my family to the Greek Island of Crete, and I fell in love with the Elafonisi and Balos beaches,” he said. “I felt like being on a journey to paradise. These beaches have some of the most crystalline water of the Mediterranean Sea. It was wonderful.”
It’s not just a gorgeous destination. “Crete is a very cheap place,” said Sury. “We were always going to restaurants, which have delicious local food and democratic prices. Hotels and the rental car were also very affordable.”
The world-traveler advised skipping the popular, tourist activities, though, as they can get pricey.
Tenerife, Canary Islands
- Airfare: $549
Val Streif, social media coordinator for GetMyBoat, said to try Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, if you want to jet off to an affordable warm-weather destination. “I lived there for five months, and it was a wonderful, tropical experience where I was able to make my money stretch while still enjoying all the little luxuries (a pint of beer was 1 euro), and even earned my advanced open water scuba diving certification while I was there,” said Streif.
Getting around doesn’t cost drivers much either. “It has the lowest cost gas of anywhere in Europe since it is outside of the value-added tax zone despite being a part of Spain, so a lot of goods and luxuries are much cheaper than in other places,” said Streif.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
- Airfare: $449
“One of the dreamiest yet budget-friendly destinations I have visited is Semuc Champey in Guatemala,” said Chantell Collins. “The national park contains a series of cascading waterfalls and rock pools that you can spend the day frolicking in. There is also a small hike to reach the lookout for a perfect, bird’s-eye view of the spectacular falls. When I visited, the entrance to the park was only 100 Guatemala Quetzales, which converts to less than $13 and is affordable to even the most budget-conscious traveler.” Collins detailed her exciting Guatemala trip further on her site Adoration 4 Adventure.
- Airfare: $479
Talek Nantes, the world traveler behind Travels With Talek, said the best low-cost paradise destination is Cuba. “The beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. Many are semi-secluded,” she said. And the food is cheap, too. “Buy lunch of fried fish and plantains for $2 and eat on the beach under a palm roof.”
- Airfare: $406
“Costa Rica is one of the best destinations to consider if you love tropical destinations with waterfalls, jungles and animals galore,” said Holly Johnson of Club Thrifty. “They’ve got beautiful beaches on both the Pacific side and the Caribbean side, along with numerous natural parks, zip lining, animal sanctuaries, coffee plantations and so much more to do and see. And, did I mention they have sloths?”
Airfare is very affordable, and if you follow Johnson’s lead and use travel rewards to pay for at least part of your hotel stay, you could be looking at a very small bill for such a thrilling tropical location.
- Airfare: $362
“If you’re looking for white sand beaches and the prettiest blue waters, look no further than Aruba,” said Annick Lenoir-Peek of The Common Traveler. “Flights from major U.S. cities make travel inexpensive and fast. Accommodations come at a variety of price points, so every budget and occasion can be met. And if you enjoy duty-free shopping for well-known luxury brands, then Aruba will please your heart and your wallet.”
Lenoir-Peek speaks from experience, having had a wonderful time in Aruba herself. “We enjoyed so many beaches that we returned with deep tans,” she said. “Our favorite attraction was the natural pool, a protected swim area in the national park.”
- Airfare: $221
“Mexico offers outstanding value right now, thanks to the weak peso,” said Pauline Paquin, creator of Reach Financial Independence. “The little beach town of Tulum is a couple of hours south of Cancun and has it all: turquoise water, white sand, coconut trees, even Mayan ruins and cenotes, a network of underground caves where you can dive and snorkel.”
There are some pricey tropical resorts that are worth the splurge, but Paquin believes they aren’t necessary. “No need for an expensive, all-inclusive hotel,” she said. “You can rent a room for $25 a night, eat a meal for two for about as much and have a cold beer for a couple of dollars.”
Once you fly down to Cancun, getting around should be pretty straightforward. “It is easy to navigate around, as the bus network is well developed and many people speak English,” she said.
St. Pete, Fla.
- Airfare: $211
Author Ted Scofield of Icebreaker Entertainment, LLC, said that you can’t beat St. Pete for an adventure on a budget. “The Tampa airport is excellent, and [you can find] a short, direct, low-cost flight from much of the [U.S.],” he said.
Florida is home to a huge percentage of the best beaches in the country, and Scofield believes they’re actually among the best in the world. “It’s really two great destinations in one,” he said. “Revitalized downtown St. Pete is a short drive from the glorious Gulf beaches and features fantastic museums, restaurants, bars, concerts, etc.”
Scofield and his wife, Christi, spend about a month of winter every year in St. Pete. He knows from experience that there plenty of cheap options for lodging up and down the Gulf Coast.
Click through to read about popular destinations to fly to for under $99.
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GOBankingRates used Skyscanner’s “best price” feature to find the airfare to fly to each destination. Trips begin Feb. 20, originate from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and end at the major airport closest to the destination.