Budget beaches: 5 places for sun and sand

Summer is in full swing, and you know what that means — beach vacations! My Instagram feed is flooded with photos from swanky beach resorts, cocktails by the pool and balconies overlooking swaying palm trees — all which seem out of reach to a budget backpacker like me. But even if you can’t fork over the money for a luxury holiday, you can still have a relaxing getaway at these 5 budget beaches!

 

1. Dahab, Egypt

 

Dahab lies in the foothills of the mountains
Dahab lies in the foothills of the mountains

 

Budget beaches on the Sinai Peninsula? Yes, it’s a thing! While the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh pulls in luxury travelers, Dahab, just an hour and a half down the road, is a backpacker paradise.

 

The beach is perfect at low tide, when you’ll have plenty of room to spread out your towel. Unfortunately, as the tide comes in it eats up most of the sand — so you may have to relocate to the beach chairs at any of the seaside restaurants. Life is so hard.

 

 

Spend your days lounging on floor pillows in the Arabic-style cafes, eating cheap and delicious sushi, and soaking up the desert-mountains-spill-into-the-sea views. If you’re looking for a more active holiday, book a dive or snorkel trip at any of the Red Sea’s spectacular dive sites (certified divers should head for Ras Mohammed National Park). Dahab also makes a convenient base for the hike up Mount Sinai (if it’s safe).

 

Practicalities

 

Dahab is best visited in the northern hemisphere summer, but anytime outside of the rainy season, October-February, will work.

 

The best way to get here is an overnight bus trip from Cairo. Alternatively, fly to Sharm el-Sheikh and take a bus the remaining hour and a half. Check the security situation first — the British FCO currently advises against air travel on this route and all but essential travel in the region (July 2017).

 

Dahab’s best hostel is Deep Blue Divers. Dorms start as low as $6 a night. If you dive multiple times with their highly recommended on-site shop, you may be able to negotiate your room for free. Cheaper still is Penguin Divers ($2.50 for a dorm bed), but it’s a lot quieter.

 

While Dahab is more relaxed for solo women than the rest of Egypt, it’s best to cover up when you’re not on the beach. You’ll still get plenty of unwanted attention.

 

Dahab is one of the world’s cheapest budget beaches — you could get away with a budget of $10-$15 a day if you don’t splurge on food. Add $30 per dive (or $50+ for a trip to Ras Mohammed).

 

2. Jiquilillo, Nicaragua

 

Sunset over Playa Jiquilillo
Sunset over Playa Jiquilillo

 

Nicaragua is chock-a-block with perfect budget beaches. The downside is they get really crowded. So if you want a beach holiday without the masses of people, head to Playa Jiquilillo.

 

I loved Jiquilillo so much that I wrote an entire post about it here, but the short version is: a long stretch of soft, gray, volcanic sand. Unbelievable sunsets. Good surfing. Charming fishing village where you can connect with the locals through community-driven activities. Great places to stay. Lots of active day-trip options.

 

While you’re here, don’t miss kayaking through Central America’s largest mangrove reserve. These incredibly biodiverse ecosystems are disappearing fast.

 

Practicalities

 

December to April is the ideal time to visit Jiquilillo. January and February get very, very hot. It may be occasionally inaccessible during the heavy rains between May and October.

 

Jiquilillo’s remoteness is part of its appeal, but also makes it difficult to get to. The gateway is LeΓ³n, from where you’ll have to take a minivan to Chinandega, followed by a chicken bus down the dirt road to Jiquilillo.

 

Stay at Rancho Esperanza, where dorms start at $8 a night. They can organize activities where your money goes directly back into the community — as well as day-trips like kayaking through the mangroves or trekking up a volcano. The on-site restaurant is excellent, if not the cheapest.

 

Jiquilillo is generally safe, but leaving valuables on the beach or walking on the beach with anything but a water bottle is asking for trouble.

 

When it comes to budget beaches, Nicaragua isn’t the cheapest country. You’ll need at least $25 a day for Playa Jiquilillo, and day-trips cost about $20 each.

 

3. Palolem, India

 

Beach bungalows in Palolem
Beach bungalows in Palolem

 

Goa is very much on the Indian backpacking circuit, and with good reason. The budget beaches here are stunning and the value for money is possibly the best in the world. There is a party scene here, but if you’re after something quieter, Palolem is the beach for you.

 

The sand at Palolem stretches for more than a kilometer, dotted with swaying palm trees that provide cover from the sun. The small town has every amenity a backpacker could possibly want — including the best book exchange I’ve ever found. If you want to dip your toes into some nightlife, there are “silent discos” on the beach regularly.

 

And when you get bored of lazing around, rent a motorbike and explore the jungle-clad mountains and further-afield beaches nearby. The streets are nearly empty and even novice scooter drivers will feel safe.

 

Practicalities

 

The best time to visit Palolem is during the dry season, between November and March.

 

Margao, an hour and a half away, is the most convenient rail gateway to Palolem. It’s an overnight trip from Mumbai — book your tickets well in advance, as this route sells out fast. You can also reach Palolem by bus from many places in Karnaktaka (I got through to Mysore in a day with a few bus changes), but you’ll have to deal with private operators.

 

It’s not worth booking accommodation in advance, except around Christmas. You can negotiate room rates and get incredible deals. I found a no-name beach bungalow owned by a friendly local family for $4 a night.

 

The seafood in Goa is phenomenal. Keep your eye out for fish thalis. If you’re on a tighter budget, the funniest and friendliest man in town operates a street stall just off the beach. He sells omelettes in the morning and fried rice at night for $0.25-$0.50 per meal.

 

Palolem is safe and easy for solo women. You may get some stares in your bikini, even on the beach — if it makes you uncomfortable, renting a beach chair instead of spreading your towel on the sand seems to make it stop. Definitely cover up off the beach.

 

Palolem is the cheapest of budget beaches. You certainly don’t need more than $10 a day here, even if you rent a motorbike.

 

4. Tulum, Mexico

 

At the budget beaches in Tulum, you get views of Mayan ruins
In Tulum, you get views of Mayan ruins with your beach

 

If your idea of a beach vacation is incredibly soft sand and turquoise water, Tulum has you covered.

 

Tulum is most famous for its eco-chic luxury beach bungalows, but backpackers still have a place here. You’ll have to sacrifice beach views and stay in the town, but trust me, it’s worth it.

 

The beaches are divided into north and south sections. The south sections are more beautiful, but more resort-dominated — you’ll have to purchase something at one of the restaurants if you want to use the beaches. You don’t sacrifice much beauty if you head north, and you get it for free. The best public access point is just past Mezzanine.

 

Tulum makes a good base for day trips around the Yucatan Peninsula. You’re two hours from Chichen Itza, an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins at Coba, a stone’s throw from the ruins of Tulum, 45 minutes from snorkeling with sea turtles at Akumal, and surrounded by cenotes (caves formed by underground rivers). Just make sure you leave yourself time to enjoy the beach itself!

 

Practicalities

 

Visit Tulum between December and May, before hurricane season starts.

 

You can get to Tulum on a first-class bus directly from the Cancun airport or from any other major city in the Yucatan. Buy tickets in advance for the return trip to the airport.

 

The beach is about 6 kilometers from the town, connected by well-maintained bike path. You can rent bikes from any hostel or bike shop. Alternatively, colectivos run this route, but they charge an outrageous 35+ pesos. Cycling is also the best option to reach the ruins (take the back road along the beach). To get to other attractions in the area, use the minibuses that run up and down the road to Cancun.

 

The best hostel in Tulum is Mama’s Home. It has a courtyard, nightly activities, and a generally social vibe. If you are traveling in a group, you can get a good deal at Villa MatisseΒ — a well-managed guesthouse with free bikes for guests to use. Book well in advance wherever you stay.

 

Tulum is the safest of budget beaches. It’s still probably not the best idea to leave valuables on the beach while you swim, but otherwise even solo women are unlikely to encounter any problems.

 

Tulum, and Mexico in general, is a little pricier than the other budget beaches on this list. It would be tough to keep costs under $30 a day, especially if you’re taking part in activities like visiting ruins or snorkeling in cenotes. Add about $100 per dive trip if you’re diving.

 

5. Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

 

My top pick of the budget beaches — and my favorite beach in the world — is on Little Perhentian Island, Malaysia.

 

The crescent-shaped strips of sand here are absolutely perfect. Cool breezes blow in from the sea. You can join a pick-up volleyball game, hike through the tiny island’s jungle-clad interior, enjoy some of the world’s cheapest (but still incredible) diving, have a barbecue on the beach, or just lie in a hammock. There is little technology (read: no guarantee of wifi).

 

In short, this is the desert island you’ve been dreaming of — and it’s well within your budget.

 

Long Beach is the island’s top beach, but Coral Bay is nearly as beautiful. There are smaller bays scattered around the island — some with good snorkeling — that you can hike or take a water taxi to. Alas, my photos of this little slice of paradise disappeared in Vietnam, so I have nothing to show you here.

 

Practicalities

 

The Perhentian Islands follow the east coast Malaysian monsoon. Between October and March, you may not be able to get there at all. I visited at the tail end of monsoon season in March, which was perfect — the boat ride was terrifying, with huge waves and high winds, and none of the accommodation on Long Beach was open yet. But once I made it there, the island was very quiet and peaceful. I had Long Beach to myself one afternoon.

 

The only way to get to Little Perhentian is by speedboat from Kuala Besut, an hour outside Kota Bharu. It’s an hour-long, white-knuckle boat ride. Protect your electronics — everything on this boat will get drenched.

 

Fatima ChaletΒ has good, cheap beach bungalows (from $5 a night) right on Coral Bay. You’ll even get a little balcony with sea views. The manager is super-friendly and whips out his ukulele most nights.

 

The Perhentians are very safe. Women alone won’t face any issues here and you can get away with wearing a sarong off the beach. The biggest risk is getting there and away — the speedboat operators put money before safety and some of them drive drunk.

 

Little Perhentian will fit into any budget beach vacation. It’s easy to keep costs below $15 a day. If you’re diving, add $30-40 per dive.

 

These five beaches prove that even if you’re traveling on a budget, you can go on a relaxing beach holiday. So don’t scroll wistfully through your Instagram feed — book plane tickets! You won’t regret it, even if you have to settle for cocktails in the sand instead of by the pool.

 

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Did I miss your favorite budget beaches? Have you visited any of these? Leave a comment!

 

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50 Comments on "Budget beaches: 5 places for sun and sand"

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Louise Allonby
Guest

Lovely post and really informative. I would love to be soaking up the sun on one of those beeches right now!

Asia
Guest

I’ve been to Nicaragua twice but haven’t been to that beach yet! I need to check it out!

princeandthepear
Guest

Tulum has to be one of my favorite places on the planet! It is so beautiful, so cheap and the people are so kind!

Claudia
Guest

Such a great post! Very clear and informative! I haven’t been to any of these beaches but honesty anything would do right now πŸ˜‚

Melissa Bitz
Guest

I choose the beaches in Egypt and Malaysia! I have been wanting to visit both πŸ™‚

seekneverland
Guest

Ok the beach bungalows in Palolem are my kind of place. I also hear great things about Tulum. You have a great list. I’m currently finishing up my own beach post too.

Mia
Guest

I’m a huge beach lover and this was an awesome roundup! Tulum, Mexico is on my bucket list for sure πŸ™‚

Magda | follow the view
Guest

We have been to Goa a few years ago and enjoyed Palolem so much. It was so quiet these days. We especially enjoyed the amazing food, eaten next to the beach – just lovely!

masabutara
Guest

Love it! Especially Tulum is high on my wish list! Been to Egypt but didn’t visit this one. Meeh.
Nice post! πŸ™‚

Doctor Anni
Guest

Great list of budget beaches! I am always in search of affordable places to travel. I have been seeing a lot of people post about Tulum, Mexico. I definitely need to add it to my travel wish list.

Hayley Russell
Guest

Palanga in Lithuania is dirt cheap and the baltics are surprisingly hot in the summer!

Rajni.gandha
Guest

Such diversity of beaches! Thanks to you I now know that Egypt has an excellent beach as well:-)

Kristen | Travels & Treats
Guest

So many great beaches! I love the colorful bungalows on the beach in India πŸ™‚

tanyakorteling
Guest

So agree on Tulum and Palolem (although we were there in rainy season)! I went to Egypt for my Hen Do but not Dahab…sounds great I’d like to give that a look some time!

Laia
Guest

I went to Perhentian island two years ago and loved it!! I was also there at the end of the monsoon season (end of Feb) and the accommodation places in Long Beach were closed. It was all beautiful and quiet and it’s also one of my favorite beaches in the world! I also loved Kapas island, in Malaysia, not far from Perhentian. The snorkelling wasn’t as good but it was even more quiet.
I haven’t visited the others, they all look great!

trailheaders
Guest

These are unique ideas and really practical tips. I have been to Nicaragua recently but to the lake shore, not the ocean coast. This is great advice for safety and getting around the country. Thank you for sharing!

Daisy
Guest

Great list! Didn’t know rooms can be that cheap! These are really making me wanna ditch my house in Toronto and move to the coastlines :'(

jenruizwriter
Guest

I wouldn’t think of Egypt as a budget destination, and I need to make my way to Tulum! Thanks for the tips!

eulandas
Guest

What a great post! I’ve never been to any of these beaches, and I now have several to add to my travel wishlist! You give thorough and useful tips/practicalities!

Melissa Olson Downham
Guest

Thanks for this! I love all these beaches. Several are on my bucket list!

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