11 Best Cheap Tropical Vacations
Looking for cheap tropical vacations that offer sandy beaches, stunning outdoor destinations, and the best sunny weather? Tropical vacation deals exist all around the world, no matter if you're looking to lie down on the sand to work on your tan, or hike through the thick jungle or up a volcano.
From the Mayan Riviera to the golden sands of Thailand, you can find great deals everywhere if your travel dates are open, and you take some time to plan your trip well. Choose the best place to visit on a budget with our list of the top cheap tropical vacation destinations.
1. Cozumel, Mexico
While December to March sees high prices in this area of Mexico, the rest of the year offers much better rates and plenty of ways to save money. Hurricane season lasts from July till October in Cozumel – but until September, this usually just means occasional rains. July and August offer very low prices on flights and accommodation in exchange for some cloudy skies here and there.
For better weather and equally great prices, visit between late March and June. Temperatures can fluctuate but you'll get plenty of sunny days and some great deals plus much smaller crowds.
Cozumel beaches are free all year long, so you can spend entire days enjoying the sun and spend almost nothing. If you prefer the comfort of a pool, you can get a day pass at one of the luxury local resorts - which will allow you full use of their pool and sun chairs without the cost of sleeping there.
The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is the world's second-largest coral reef system, perfect for some diving at very affordable prices.
For a quick bite or snacks on the go, nothing beats a local mercado - little markets that appear unannounced in plazas, where you can get not only great souvenirs and local art but also traditional fare, such as tamales and quesadillas, for very little money.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cozumel
- Read More: Top-Rated Attractions in Cozumel
2. Dominican Republic
High season in the Dominican Republic isn't always cheap, but the months of April, May, and June offer the best of two worlds: mostly sunny days, warm but comfortable weather, and lots of special discounts on accommodations and flights – with prices reduced as much as 50 percent from the high-season rates.
June is the start of the rainy and hurricane season, but storms are rare during this month, so it's a great month to explore for less.
Although Santo Domingo and Punta Cana have pricey accommodations, things get cheaper when you head to smaller towns and off-the-beaten-track destinations, such as Samana and Bahia de las Aguilas. In many places, all-inclusive resorts can actually save you money, as eating out will get expensive - there's a 16 percent government tax added to meals, plus many restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to the bill.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in the Dominican Republic
3. Palawan, Philipines
June to November is off-peak season in this small archipelagic province in the Philippines. It's also monsoon season, but don't let that scare you – even during rainy season, it doesn't rain every day, and rains often just come in the form of heavy but short afternoon downpours. Rains do lower temperatures a little, making it more comfortable to walk around and explore.
For the best possible weather, arrive early in the season, as the heavier storms are usually after September. Airlines and hotels offer heavy discounts during this time, with off-peak prices saving you as much as 80 percent compared to regular costs.
Both Puerto Princesa and El Nido offer plenty of budget accommodations right on the coastline. This usually means beach bungalows with no luxury amenities, but if you'll spend most of your time at the beach or enjoying water activities, it might be enough - plus you'll still get stunning views once you get back to your room.
All beaches are free to access in Palawan, and visitors can also try other free or very inexpensive attractions, including visiting the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, exploring the Tabon Caves (no tour needed), and taking a dip in the natural pool at the Estrella Falls.
- Read More: Best Places to Visit in the Philippines
4. Bali, Indonesia
A favorite tropical destination for worldwide visitors, Bali can be a bargain if you pick your travel times right. As a general rule, destinations in the southern part of the island are more expensive. This includes Kuta, Ubud, and Seminyak, where everything costs double than in destinations in the central hills or up north. Even here, though, visiting in the off-season (March to May) will still save you a considerable amount of money.
March and April can be a little rainy, but May offers sun and low humidity. The rainy season, which lasts from October to April, offers great deals in airfares and accommodations, and you'll still see plenty of sunshine on most days.
All beaches in Bali are public and free, but the island also offers beautiful rice paddies, breathtaking mountains for hiking, and lots of temples and palaces, none of which charge an entry fee.
Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in Bali
- Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Bali
5. Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos has been a backpacking haven for many years – a good indication that this tropical Southeast Asian country is a very affordable destination. Bowls of noodles, sticky rice, and other quick meals can be had from street food stalls for a couple of dollars or less, and outside of the capital, four-star hotels will cost you a third of what you would pay in Europe.
December and January see the most visitors, as the weather is dry and cool, with comfortable temperatures in the mid 20s Celsius. Arrive at any other time, and you'll see smaller crowds and even lower prices.
Luang Prabang, Laos' former capital and a UNESCO World Heritage city, is one of the most visited destinations in the country. A mix of French colonial architecture and traditional wooden houses, Luang Prabang offers a great mix of temples, including 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong temple, with its intricate wooden carvings and mosaic patterns, and nature, all free to visit.
Mount Phu Si, just behind the city, is great for hiking and to catch the sunset. Vientiane, the capital city, is a popular foodie destination and home to a number of national monuments, a sculpture garden of giant Buddha statues, and the famous Great Stupa temple – also all free.
6. Koh Rong, Cambodia
Although most visitors who come to Cambodia head to the ancient temples in Angkor Wat, the country also offers plenty of outdoor adventures for those looking for some tropical adventure. Lush green mountains, thick forests, and sugary-white sands all abound in Cambodia.
Cambodia's rugged and undeveloped beaches are a treat for visitors, as the crowds are smaller than in neighboring Thailand, and the resorts are cheaper. Koh Rong, the most developed island in the country, is a paradise of coral reefs and sandy coves, where you can just sit back to enjoy a mesmerizing sunset or head out for a speedboat tour over the azure waters.
Despite its many offerings, Koh Rong costs a fraction of what a tropical beach vacation in Thailand or Malaysia would cost. For what you would pay to see a movie back home, here you can hop on a boat for a full-day tour, have lunch at a local restaurant for three days in a row, or rent all the needed equipment for snorkeling.
7. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is not necessarily always a cheap tropical getaway, but arriving at the right time of year will definitely save a lot of money. From May to mid-December, Costa Rica experiences what's known as the "green season" – lots of rain, thick cloud forests on green mountainsides, and budget-friendly surf breaks at a time when the big crowds mostly stay away. Don't let the rain scare you, though – it's still warm, and you'll get plenty of sunny days to enjoy the beach.
The Volcano Arenal, one of the most stunning destinations for hiking in Costa Rica, is perfect for some budget fun – just pay the park's entrance fee but skip the guided hikes; it's easy enough to follow the signs on your own. Most of the national parks in the country charge an entry fee, but the cost is low, and you can spend an entire day exploring, hiking volcano trails, canoeing, trying hot springs, or even horseback riding.
When it comes to accommodations, staying out of the main tourist towns – including San Jose and Arenal – will land you the best deals.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Beach Resorts in Costa Rica
8. Koh Samui, Thailand
Thailand has some of the cheapest tropical islands to visit, where you can have a luxurious trip no matter what your budget. Depending on where you're heading in Thailand, low season can fall in December or in August, so it's important to do some research in advance to find the cheapest months.
Koh Samui, one of Thailand's most beloved beach destinations, goes through low season between October and mid-December. October and November can be rainy in the afternoons, but December is sunnier and drier. These are great months to score deals in hotels and flights.
The nearby island of Koh Tao is a popular day trip destination for snorkeling and scuba diving – but November and December aren't good months for it because of rough seas. Instead, arrive in the shoulder season (March to May) to do this at great prices, with a good chance to see whale sharks near the coast.
9. Hoi An, Vietnam
If you're looking for affordable tropical honeymoon destinations, the charming little town of Hoi An is a great choice for many reasons: it's still enough off the beaten track that you won't see big crowds, it offers privacy and romance on a budget, and it's just minutes away from the turquoise waters and soft white beaches of Da Nang.
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An is a perfect fairy tale – an old trading port town with buildings dating back to the 15th century, all to be explored on foot. Just a short drive away is Da Nang, where you'll find plenty of luxury resorts but also beach hotels that offer plenty of amenities but are very budget friendly.
Hoi An and Da Nang low season falls between the months of September and March. This is the area's typhoon season, which usually just means short but heavy afternoon rains. Arrive during these months for incredible deals on airfare and accommodation, including vacation packages that can be 50 percent or more off the regular price.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Beach Resorts in Vietnam
10. Langkawi, Malaysia
There's much to see and do in tropical Malaysia: rainforest treks, cave exploring, and never-ending shopping in urban jungles. But vibrant Malaysia is also home to stunning diving sites, golden beaches, and crystal-clear waters.
Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands in the heart of the Andaman Sea, is a great island to visit if you're on a budget. It offers plenty of things to do, long stretches of beach, and very affordable accommodations year-round.
For even better savings, you can visit in rainy September or October, when prices are slashed by 50 percent everywhere. On the upside, this is the island's most lush, greenest time – perfect for visiting the seven pools of Telaga Tujuh, walking on the Sky Bridge (660 meters above sea level over the thick rainforest), and hiking through the mangrove forests of Kilim Geoforest Park – all free activities.
Aruba might sound like a destination for the rich and famous only, but this island in the southern Caribbean Sea can be great for budget beach vacations, too.
The key to keeping a trip to Aruba cheap is timing: September and October are usually very cheap months in Aruba because the island's trade winds die down, and the temperatures go up, often staying in the mid-30s Celsius, even at night. If you don't mind the sweltering heat and plan on spending most of your time in the water anyway, you can find great discounts during these months. Hotels often offer 50 percent or higher discounts on rooms, and dive boats will arrange discount packages as well.
June to August are less hot but still cheap, though the discounts aren't as deep. Aruba has plenty of well-equipped supermarkets where you can stock up on snacks to cut down on restaurant visits. Beach restaurants are especially expensive here, and small things add up (like beach towel rentals) so be prepared to cut down on unnecessary costs.
When you need a break from the beach, ride the free tourist trolley through Oranjestad town; walk on the California Dunes; and explore the Balashi ruins, the site of a former gold smelter.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Beach Resorts in Aruba
12. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
If you want to score cheap deals in Mexico, the best bet is to head to destinations that are more off the beaten path. The coast of Oaxaca, for example, is still relatively untrodden, compared to other beach destinations in the country. As a result, you'll find that accommodations, dining, and things to do in Oaxaca are far more affordable.
Puerto Escondido is one of the top surf spots in Mexico, which means it has long been on the backpacker trail. You'll find plenty of boutique beachfront hotels, guesthouses, and affordable Airbnbs all along the coastline. "High season" is technically May through November because of weather and summer travels, but you won't see prices fluctuating dramatically. January through April is the dry season, and also when Puerto Escondido is at its sleepiest. This is the time to snag the rock bottom prices.
No matter the time of year, the beaches in Mexico are always free, and the beaches along the coast of Oaxaca are especially stunning. Cheap eats are also incredibly easy to come by all across the country, but in Puerto Escondido in particular, you'll find street food and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are wallet-friendly.
Buses and colectivos make it easy to get around on a budget, as well.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Puerto Escondido
13. Koh Lanta, Thailand
Thailand has no shortage of beautiful islands, but as more and more people discover them, prices tend to go up. Koh Lanta, one of the best islands in Krabi, remains as one of the most affordable islands in Thailand.
Koh Lanta is known for its long, lovely beaches, as well as the blend of cultures that have descended upon its shores for decades, from all across Asia to Europe and beyond. It's also a popular spot for diving, particularly in spots like Ko Haa and His Dang.
The island is not far from the more raucous and popular Koh Phi-Phi, but unlike its neighbor, Koh Lanta is much more tame, quiet, and serene. That said, weather is something to pay attention to when arranging a trip. Dry season is the most popular and most convenient, as many hotels and restaurants shut down in the rainy season. If you do go in the unpredictable and rainy season (April-July), you'll find that you have many of those picture-perfect beaches all to yourself.
Beyond beautiful beaches, visitors to Koh Lanta will find accommodation for less than $100 a night – and sometimes much cheaper than that.
14. Gili Islands, Indonesia
Bali may be the most popular travel destination in Indonesia, but if you have the opportunity to visit the Gili Islands, you will not be disappointed. This chain of tiny sandbar-style islands are off the coast of Lombok, and are among the most affordable tropical islands you can visit anywhere in the world.
While the archipelago has many small islands, the ones travelers usually refer to are the three main ones: Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. These islands are a welcome respite from the more rowdy beaches and towns of Bali. Plus, they have the powder-soft, white beaches that you may be missing over on Bali. They also happen to be a fraction of the price.
Hotels are incredibly cheap in the Gilis, with hotel rooms averaging around $20 per night. Airbnb can be extremely cheap, as well, ranging anywhere from $30 to $140 per night. Dining is incredibly affordable, too, with a lavish seafood dinner costing somewhere around $10. Of course, you can always spend more if you want to. Depending on your style of travel, you can get away with as little as $30 a day, or pay as much as $300.
Peak seasons in the Gili Islands are between July and August and December to January. Monsoon season starts in November and lasts until April. If you want fewer people and dry weather, then September to November would be the ideal time to go.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Indonesia
15. Corn Islands, Nicaragua
If you have yet to consider the country of Nicaragua for a cheap tropical vacation, you may want to look into the Corn Islands. Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, known for its tourist hot spots like Granada, Leon, and San Juan del Sur. But venturing a bit off the beaten path in Nicaragua can lead to some of the best cheap getaways you can find in Central America, like the Corn Islands
The Corn Islands are part of an archipelago that lie 43 miles off the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. These remote islands will give travelers that picture-perfect tropical paradise setting, with budget accommodations, dining options, and activities.
These magnetic islands are blessed with sparking turquoise bays, palm-fringed coves, and rocky underwater caves. Major developments are things of rumor on these two islands, which are known mostly for their modest wooden houses that are splashed with bright, Caribbean colors.
Little Corn is more touristed than Great Corn, and thus has more options for dining and accommodations. Diving is also better on Little Corn. But Great Corn has a wonderful and vibrant Creole population that ought not be missed.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Nicaragua
Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Nicaragua
16. Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tanzania is so much more than a place for a luxury safari. In fact, the coast of Tanzania is among the most beautiful tropical destinations in the world. Zanzibar, in particular, is one of the best places in Africa to experience that idyllic tropical beach paradise, especially for travelers on a budget.
Zanzibar is actually an archipelago made up of three main islands including Unguja, Pemba, and Mafia. Unguja is the largest island, and so many people believe that its name is Zanzibar. This Indian Ocean jewel is known for its bleached white sand; turquoise water; kaleidoscope of tropical fish and coral; and the historic capital, Zanzibar Town.
Getting around Zanzibar is easy, with abundant taxis or mini buses. Accommodation is also amazingly affordable, even though Zanzibar has the reputation of being a luxury honeymoon destination. Stone Town is backpacker friendly, as are the towns of Kendra and Nungwi on the northern coast. These areas also have very affordable restaurants, as well as plenty of activities to keep you entertained day or night.
The best time to visit the Tanzanian paradise is from June to October, as well as January and February. The other seasons tend to be rainier and humid.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tanzania
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Exploring Asia: Southeast Asia offers plenty of cheap tropical destinations with as much beach and water fun as you could possibly want. Start daydreaming with a look at a list of the top-rated beaches in Asia, then narrow it down by checking out the top-rated beaches in Thailand and the best places to visit in Asia.
Mexico & the Caribbean: Asia is not the only great destination for tropical getaways. Take a look at our list of top-rated places to visit in Mexico to find out how to plan a tropical vacation close to home. Or set off south with our list of the best beaches in the Caribbean.