Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider travel abroad.
Need a break from the real world? There’s no better place to relax than on a warm, sunny beach—but for most travelers, it’s not relaxing to spend a fortune on your getaway. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path beach vacations that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Check out these lesser-known beach destinations that go easy on your wallet.
Unlike its metropolitan, party-hard big brother Trinidad, little Tobago is content to be a laid-back and natural Caribbean beauty. Nature lovers can explore its protected rainforest, marine parks, and secluded white sand beaches—and, even better, you can do it pretty cheaply.
It’s worth experiencing both Tobago’s beaches and its wild interior. Tobago was purportedly the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, and even though the deserted beaches described in the novel were based on observations made almost 300 years ago, you can still find such beaches on the island today. Try going to Pirate’s Bay, which was used in the 1954 film version of the novel.
Where to stay: To see the rainforest and its many colorful bird species, stay in an eco-lodge or go on a day tour with a local guide. The Cuffie River Nature Retreat, a reasonably priced eco-lodge located on the edge of the rainforest, offers a variety of nature tours including birding walks and visits to secluded waterfalls and natural pools. If you’d prefer to stay near the beach, try the intimate Hummingbird Hotel.
Roatan, a minnow-shaped island within Honduras’ Bay Islands, attracts divers who come to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef and those looking for a cheap, off-the-beaten-path beach vacation in the Caribbean. The island is one of Central America’s once-hidden, now-on-the-rise beach destinations, but thankfully it still lacks big chain resorts and some of the other trappings of mass tourism.
Most Roatan tourists come for the diving and snorkeling, which is among the best in the Caribbean. Besides the coral reefs, you can explore shipwrecks and go on dives specifically to swim with sharks and dolphins. You can also visit a butterfly garden, go horseback riding on the beach, shop at local art galleries, or just relax at one of several open-air seafood restaurants and bars.
Where to Stay: There are numerous well-rated properties on the island for less than $150 a night, depending on your travel dates. Reliable options include the Splash Inn Dive Resort and the Seagrape Plantation Resort, both popular with divers.
Isla Bastimentos, Panama
Looking for the next Costa Rica? Just head down the coast a few miles to Panama and the Isla Bastimentos, part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, a 20-square-mile island that’s a microcosm of some of Panama’s top tourism offerings. Here you’ll find virgin rainforests home to sloths and monkeys, offshore coral gardens and mangrove islands perfect for snorkeling, and stunning beaches pounded by Hawaii-sized waves.
The island’s Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, which encompasses rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs, is an essential stop for all visitors. Most people come to snorkel the coral gardens and Cayos Zapatillas, two little shoe-shaped islets off the main island. On land, guides can take you on hikes through the forest to see animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys and poison dart frogs. For the best beaches, go to the northern part of the island. Big waves and strong currents make the beaches unfriendly to swimmers, but the sight of the waves and the lack of bathers make for postcard-worthy strolls.
The “Spice Island” has something for everyone, including Afro-Caribbean culture, one of the Caribbean’s prettiest colonial cities, fragrant spice plantations, dozens of beaches and bays, and a mountainous national park great for hiking. In the capital of St. George, you can walk along narrow colonial streets lined with a rainbow of pastel-painted houses and shops and watch masted ships sail in and out of the harbor. While in town, browse the spice and food markets and visit the 18th-century French fortification Fort George.
Active visitors should try hiking in Grand Etang National Park, perhaps climbing to the top of Mt. Qua Qua for a commanding view of the coast. For beachcombing, your first choice should be Grand Anse Beach, near St. George, a two-mile-long sugar-white sand beach with protected waters safe for swimming.
Where to stay: Regarded as one of the best affordable hotels on the island, the English-country-house-style La Sagesse is set on one of Grenada’s nicest beaches and offers easy access to nature trails.
Staniel Cay, Bahamas
There are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas, but the vast majority of travelers never get beyond the mega resorts of New Providence (home to Nassau), Paradise, and Grand Bahama islands. That means there are plenty of lightly trafficked “Out Islands” to choose from for off-the-beaten-path beach vacations. For glassy, gem-colored water, condo-free beaches, affordable accommodations, and some the best sailing grounds in the world, head to Staniel Cay, a two-square-mile island within the Exuma Cays.
Most of the action on Staniel Cay centers around the friendly Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where yachters and landlubbers alike stay, dine, and congregate. Here you can rent 13- and 17-foot boats that will allow you to cruise to some of the uninhabited islets nearby, see marine life like nurse sharks, and visit with the famous swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, which paddle out to sea in hopes of getting a handout from sailors. You can also rent snorkel gear to use at Thunderball Grotto, a natural fishbowl featured in the James Bond film Thunderball. Diving, kayaking, and fishing are other options.
Where to stay: The Yacht Club offers waterfront cottages and suites. All-inclusive packages are also available.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
While most Americans have never heard of it, Fernando de Noronha is regarded by many Brazilians as having the most beautiful beaches in the country—and that’s saying a lot coming from a nation full of sand and sun connoisseurs. With its steep bunny-ear hills that soar up from undeveloped white and gold beaches, Fernando de Noronha might look more at home alongside Bora Bora and the other islands of French Polynesia than it does hundreds of miles from mainland Brazil. But unlike those Pacific islands, Fernando de Noronha is cheaper and easier to get to, at least from the East Coast of the U.S.
At only seven square miles, the island is easily explored by dune buggy. Pack some snorkel gear and head to beaches like Baia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos, where you’ll see stingrays, sea turtles, and a wide variety of colorful fish just feet from the shore. Without a doubt, the water surrounding the island—a national marine park—is Fernando de Noronha’s top attraction. Take a snorkeling or diving tour to experience it first-hand. In the evenings, head to Vila dos Remedios, the island’s historic heart, where you’ll dance the night away to traditional Brazilian music at the popular and cheap Bar do Cachorro.
Points East Coastal Drive, Prince Edward Island
Looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path beach vacation? Trade in tropical locales for the scenic sands of Atlantic Canada.
If the fictional Anne of Green Gables were to visit her hometown of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island today, she might turn her freckled nose up at the mini amusement parks, go-kart tracks, and other typical roadside attractions that have sprouted up since the area became a tourist magnet for Anne fans. She’d probably feel more at home on the underdeveloped eastern side of the island, Points East Coastal Drive, an area of rolling farmland, pine forests, tiny towns with white gabled country houses, and quiet red- and white-sand beaches.
“Nature has sculpted eastern PEI’s coastline with an abundance of points of land that frame the bays and shelter the beaches,” says Joan Perrin, owner of Moonlight Cottage By-the-Sea, a vacation rental near the town of Montague. “Going for a drive along the coastal touring route is the best activity. Each day, one can head out for an excursion in a different direction—go to a beach or two, stop at a craft shop, buy an ice cream, walk around a few wharves, talk to the fishermen, visit a lighthouse.”
Where to stay: Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort is a comfortable and reasonably priced gateway to the eastern part of the island.
What to Wear on an Off-the-Beaten-Path Beach Vacation
Swimsuit/Casual Women’s Outfit for a Cruise
Swimsuit/Casual Men’s Outfit for a Cruise
Women’s Romper/Swimsuit Outfit
Men’s Striped Swimsuit for the Caribbean
Women’s Swimsuit with Jean Shorts
Men’s Swimwear for Hawaii
Women’s Swimsuit to Wear on a Cruise
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Best Remote Islands for a Tropical Getaway
- The Best Secret Beaches in America
- 8 Surprisingly Uncrowded Beach Vacation Spots in North America
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.