Seen one too many social media influencers island-hopping in the Caribbean? Have an abundance of friends jetting off to timeshares in Playa del Carmen? The tropical vacation is an aspiration for many, though the common belief is that it's an unattainable goal filled with thousand-dollar-a-night hotel rooms and equally eye-watering price tags for food and drink. We are here to bust that myth.
For starters, set up flight alerts across airfare sites and apps like Airfarewatchdog, TripAdvisor, Kayak, Google Flights, Hipmunk, and Hopper. Google Flights and Kayak offer global explore features that allow you to see flight prices to destinations around the world for a given set of dates. You'll also want to steer clear of notoriously pricey destinations like Hawaii, French Polynesia, and the Maldives. Everything from food to hotel rates in these areas can be prohibitive. Instead, opt for Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Central America. You'll also need to manage expectations: Luxe overwater bungalows with private butlers, or villas with sea-view infinity pools, aren't budget-conscious options. However, if what you're seeking is sun, surf, and easy vibes, there are plenty of choices for you. Read on for five incredible tropical vacations for $2,000 or less.
Editor's Note: All prices listed are for a single traveler.
While Thailand gets the lion’s share of tourist attention in Southeast Asia, Vietnam can be a better option in many ways. It feels less overtly touristy than much of Thailand, has a mix of cultural and indulgent escapes, and — best of all — is inexpensive once you’re on the ground.
The biggest investment of this trip will be the flight. You can fly into Hanoi or Saigon for $600 to $700, if you opt for China’s notorious domestic carriers. Even upgrading to an airline like Cathay Pacific can still mean round-trip fares from most major U.S. cities for under $900.
Vietnam is steamy everywhere during the summer months, but the south stays warm year-round. With that in mind, fly into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and kick around this cosmopolitan metropolis for a few days. You can easily score a nice budget hotel room in Districts 1 or 3 for less than $50 per night. Then, take a domestic flight to Phu Quoc Island (around $60 round-trip, at the time of publishing). There, post up in one of the many low-key properties that sit quietly among palm trees, shops, and restaurants, all within an easy walk of the beach.
Other beachy alternatives include the coastline between Hue and Hoi An (Lang Co and Canh Duong, in particular), as well as Nha Trang. The former puts you in relative proximity to two of Vietnam’s most culturally rich cities while remaining blissfully tranquil, and the latter is more appropriate for partiers. Alternatively, the beaches of Mui Ne are a spectacle in their own right, with otherworldly sand dunes and a low-key vibe.
Food and transport around Vietnam is also cheap. If you stick to casual eateries and street food, don’t expect to shell out more than a couple of dollars per meal. Beers and drinks come in at less than a dollar each. Long-haul buses shouldn’t cost more than $10 or so each way, and domestic flights will rarely be more than $50 to $100. If you budget right, a flight to Vietnam, food, and lodging might not top $1,600, leaving plenty of cash to spare.
Mexico is home to thousands of miles of coastline and that extends well beyond the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. If you’re looking for low-key vibes, stunning stretches of sand, beautiful sunsets, and tasty food, coastal Oaxaca awaits.
We recommend flying into Huatulco or Puerto Escondido. Round-trip airfare to these towns from most major U.S. airports will be well below $600 (depending on the season). Once you’ve landed, grab a cab and head to the string of beach-bum towns that line the coast — Mazunte, San Agustinillo, and Zipolite, for example. Here, the beaches are backed by rugged mountains and palm trees, and tourists slowly meander barefoot in and out of cafes and bars. Those cafes and bars aren’t always cheap, though, and each of these towns has its share of high-end foodie joints. However, if you stick to the more casual dining options, lunch and dinner won’t cost more than $5 or $10 per person. You can also eat cheaply right on the beach, as vendors crisscross the sand, selling everything from Oaxacan roasted peanuts to tamales for the equivalent of a dollar or two.
If you’re willing to stay in a bare-bones hotel, options are available for around $20 per night. Meanwhile, properties with more amenities will cost approximately $100 to $150 per night. You’ll also need to budget around $50 for taxi fare to and from the airports.
If you really want to get your money’s worth, head up to Punta Cometa at sunset. The hike is gorgeous and the view of the Oaxacan coast from the southernmost point in the state is nothing short of spectacular. All in, you could spend a week on the coast of Oaxaca for as little as $1,000 — that is, if you opt for budget digs, fill up on street food and at casual cantinas, and time your flights right.
Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most famous destinations and figures high on many travelers’ bucket lists. It also happens to be shrouded amid Cambodia’s jungles, making it fit the criteria for a tropical getaway. For around $40, you can snag a park pass and visit the various temples for three days. You’ll also have to budget for the on-arrival visa ($30). Keep in mind that when here, U.S. dollars are widely accepted (and often required, though you’ll be given change in Cambodian riel).
Make your first home base in Siem Reap, the town that’s about a 15- to 20-minute drive south of the Angkor temples. Here, the spread of hotels varies widely, but even high-end properties won’t cost more than $100 a night. Save some money and opt for one of the lower-frills options (you’ll be spending hardly any time in your room, after all). If you’re content with simple amenities like TV, air-conditioning, and an en-suite wet-room bathroom, you can easily pay under $20 per night. For $40 or so, your hotel will likely set you up with a tuk-tuk to get around for the day, and you can rent a bike to reach the temples on your second day ($10 for the day). In order to view the sunrise at Angkor Wat on your third day, hire a tuk-tuk through your hotel again for around $10 to $15.
There are tons of shops, bakeries, and cafes in town that make passing the time all the more enjoyable in the evening. Pub Street is the rowdy hub for backpackers and those looking to party. After a few days in and around Siem Reap, start exploring the rest of the country. Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital, is a fascinating city that’s home to reminders of Cambodia’s not-so-distant dark history. The bus ride there costs around $15. Alternatively, head to Battambang by boat or bus and catch a glimpse of Cambodia’s colonial-era past through the crumbling architecture all around town. There are also floating towns near Siem Reap that are worth a day trip.
Depending on your timing and your willingness to endure long layovers, you can spend anywhere from $800 to $1,200 getting to Cambodia. Ten nights in a budget hotel shouldn’t cost more than $200, leaving you with $600 to $1,000 to get around within the country — and that’s plenty of money in wallet-friendly Cambodia.
While Costa Rica doesn’t offer the same bargain as many of its neighbors when it comes to travel, it’s still much more affordable than the world’s most famous luxury tropical destinations. Of course, honeymooners can splurge here, as the country is home to lots of ultra-premium resorts. But if the kind of escape you’re seeking is more bohemian, Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast and jungle interior is packed with eco-lodges, hostels, and guesthouses for budget-conscious travelers.
While it’s certainly possible to combine visits to Arenal — the nation’s most famous volcano — and the beach, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road. Still, many people bundle both in one trip, and there are plenty of travel forums for budget-conscious vacationers looking to split the cost of cab fare to get around the country. Alternatively, rent a car for around $300 for the week.
The Arenal area is best for outdoorsy types. Here, you can hike to the region’s famous waterfall, relax in hot springs, and explore cave systems. Of course, the views of Arenal are a major draw as well. If you want tropical beaches, head to the country’s south-central coast, around Manuel Antonio. There, you’ll get exactly the kind of jungle-fringed beaches you’ve dreamt about.
Flights to San Jose from most major U.S. cities can be had for under $500 throughout most of the year. You can find hotels for $40 to $60 per night in both locations, leaving plenty of room in your budget for food, drinks, and adventures like zip-lining over the course of a week-long trip.
From its constant sensory overload to its wealth of cultural riches, India must be seen to be believed. However, there’s one thing the country is not known for: pristine beaches. In fact, it’s rare to find a beach that feels properly lounge-worthy (due to a mixture of cultural norms, pollution, and infrastructure). And while Kerala and Karnataka have lately been winning over some beach-going tourists, it’s still Goa that offers India’s prettiest beaches and its most convincingly tropical slice of paradise.
Goa is one of India’s tiniest states, but within its borders, you’ll find a variety of vacation options. To the north are the wilder towns that draw backpackers and partiers in droves. If that’s your speed, head to Vagator, Anjuna, and Baga, where nightclubs, full moon parties, and raves are the name of the game. Craving something quieter? Palolem, in the state’s extreme south, is a perfect crescent of sand that’s almost swallowed by palm trees and flanked by craggy hills. Here, your no-frills beach hut is only steps from the sand (or right on it).
Like in Vietnam and Cambodia, the majority of your travel budget here will go toward the flight and transportation. A flight from New York City to Goa’s main airport can cost well over $1,000. You’ll save money by flying into hubs like Mumbai and using domestic flights to finish the rest of the trip. This alone can shave off $300 to $400, as round-trip flights from Mumbai to Goa can be nabbed for $25. You’ll also need a visa to visit India, which — at time of publishing — costs $60 to $150, depending on the length of your travels.
On the ground, however, you’ll find bargains galore. Beach huts in Palolem cost between $5 and $20 per night, depending on what amenities you’d like, while the budget and mid-range hotels up north can average around $40 a night. Local beer and drinks are a dollar or two a pop, and meals at the casual, sand-floored restaurants all around rarely cost more than $5 per person.
If you stick to $20 per day for food and drinks and $25 per night for a hotel, plus use a combination of long-haul and domestic airlines to reach Goa, you can easily craft a 14-day vacation that costs under $2,000 and still have money left for sightseeing and a few tours. If you want to splurge for a luxe resort like The Leela Goa, expect a shorter trip (though it’s still possible to stay within budget).
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