30 Cheap Beach Vacations for Travelers on a Budget

See which waterfront escapes won't burn a hole in your wallet.

By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorJan. 24, 2019
By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorJan. 24, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.
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Cheap beach vacations
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Plan an affordable getaway to one of these stunning stretches of sand.

Roughly half of the world's best places to visit are beach destinations – and for good reason. Nearly twice as many people prefer relaxing vacations to active ones, according to travelers in 17 countries surveyed by GfK, a market research company. To help you find the beach vacation that best suits your needs, U.S. News selected 30 cost-effective locales around the world known for their gorgeous scenery, budget-friendly amenities and ample activities.
Cheap beach vacations
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Clearwater Beach, Florida

Voted America's best beach by TripAdvisor reviewers, Clearwater Beach overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Bay from a barrier island located about 25 miles west of Tampa. Its variety of bayfront motels and luxury resorts helps make it cheaper to visit than top Florida destinations like Miami and Sanibel Island. Transportation on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley and the Clearwater Ferry double as sightseeing tours. Plus, families can check out Pier 60's free nightly sunset parties after lounging on the beach's quartz sand. To save some more coin, purchase a Tampa Bay CityPASS; it covers entry to attractions like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter the Dolphin (star of the "Dolphin Tale" movies) resides.
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Plan an affordable getaway to one of these stunning stretches of sand.

Roughly half of the world's best places to visit are beach destinations – and for good reason. Nearly twice as many people prefer relaxing vacations to active ones, according to travelers in 17 countries surveyed by GfK, a market research company. To help you find the beach vacation that best suits your needs, U.S. News selected 30 cost-effective locales around the world known for their gorgeous scenery, budget-friendly amenities and ample activities.

Clearwater Beach, Florida

Voted America's best beach by TripAdvisor reviewers, Clearwater Beach overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Bay from a barrier island located about 25 miles west of Tampa. Its variety of bayfront motels and luxury resorts helps make it cheaper to visit than top Florida destinations like Miami and Sanibel Island. Transportation on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley and the Clearwater Ferry double as sightseeing tours. Plus, families can check out Pier 60's free nightly sunset parties after lounging on the beach's quartz sand. To save some more coin, purchase a Tampa Bay CityPASS; it covers entry to attractions like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter the Dolphin (star of the "Dolphin Tale" movies) resides.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv's 16 beaches along Israel's Mediterranean coast are easy to reach thanks to cheap flights from Europe. The environmentally friendly, Blue Flag-designated Metzitzim Beach beckons to surfers and kiteboarders in winter when daytime temperatures hover in the mid- to high 60s. Stop for a selfie with the playful statue of David Ben-Gurion (Israel's first prime minister) doing a headstand at Frishman Beach, or explore the area using the city's shared bikes or scooters. Tal by the Beach offers stylish rooms, with rates that include daily breakfast and bike rentals starting at $175 per night.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Tropical Punta Cana's turquoise water and palm-fringed beaches are often cheaper to visit than other Caribbean favorites, and the region's diverse international crowd – attracted by budget packages and charters – helps create a unique atmosphere for travelers. With low-season deals and kids-stay-free summer offers at more than 80 all-inclusive resorts, great values abound. Even in winter, several all-inclusive properties advertise room rates that are less than $300 per night for two people. Consider booking a garden view room at a large resort complex like the Grand Palladium Bávaro Suites Resort & Spa or Grand Bahia Principe Punta Cana for additional savings. You may have to shuttle to the beach, but you'll enjoy access to all kinds of five-star facilities.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by calm Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta's coarse gold sand and rocky palisades are ideal for water sports and eco-adventures. Resort and dining prices here are generally lower than what you'll find in Cancun thanks to competition between all-inclusive resorts and boutique hotels. Las Caletas is a gorgeous private beach by day and an entertainment hub with a fun all-ages dinner show by night. In town, visit art galleries, museums, restaurants, nightlife venues and more around the seafront Malecón promenade and in the LGBTQ-friendly Zona Romantica neighborhood.

Penang, Malaysia

One of Malaysia's top vacation destinations, Penang boasts picturesque beaches that overlook the Malacca Strait, plus historic George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site divided into British, Chinese, Malay and Indian quarters. Plant yourself 8 miles away in Batu Ferringhi, a beachfront area with bargain hotels, multiple entertainment options and a night market known for serving terrific street food. With rooms at the Holiday Inn Resort Penang starting at $59 per night, you can afford to Jet Ski, paraglide or windsurf when you're not sunbathing.

Guardalavaca, Cuba

Savvy Cuba beachgoers are forsaking the high-priced resorts at Varadero, a beach haven approximately 90 miles east of Havana, for this waterfront oasis less than 33 miles north of Holguín. In Guardalavaca, vacationers will find Playa Esmeralda, a white sand beach with emerald green water and thriving undersea reefs. Meanwhile, nearby Bahía Naranja features a popular dolphinarium with opportunities to swim with dolphins. Rooms at four-star, all-inclusive resorts like the Melía-affiliated Sol Río De Luna y Mares cost as little as $152 per night for two people, while local vacation rentals commonly go for less than $50 per night.

Kep Province, Cambodia

Since casinos began drawing Chinese gamblers to Sihanoukville, backpackers have moved to the southern Gulf of Thailand beaches in Kep Province. While five-star properties dot offshore islands, accommodations on the province's pristine coast are comparatively cheap. Choose a basic room at a hotel or guesthouse, or treat yourself to a luxuriously appointed Khmer villa at the posh Samanea Beach Resort & Spa. Rates start at $168 per night for three people and include daily breakfast, afternoon tea and laundry service. Time your visit between November and August to avoid the height of Cambodia's rainy season.

St. Paul's Bay, Malta

Accessible via low-cost airlines, the Mediterranean island of Malta boasts fair weather, crystal-clear water and rock-bottom rates from November to April. Cheap hotels and furnished flats are available in St. Paul's Bay in the Buġibba and Qawra neighborhoods. It is worth noting that you'll need a beach chair for the rocky beaches and that both areas are close to restaurants and nightclubs. Explore more coastline with a weekly bus pass, or take a ferry to sister island Gozo. Ferries depart daily from Cirkewwa in Mellieha, a small town situated 5 miles northwest of St. Paul's Bay.

Beaufort, South Carolina

The antebellum town of Beaufort, founded by European colonists in the 1500s, is an ideal base for families who want to admire waterfront plantation homes, learn more about Gullah art, play golf and try local seafood. Hunting Island State Park, which is located 18 miles southeast of central Beaufort, is a favorite low country beach with a lodge, cabins and campsites starting at $18 per night. Visitors can also use the free Green Book of South Carolina app to explore more than 300 regional African-American landmarks.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

According to Airbnb, San Juan saw a 400 percent increase in bookings in 2018. On top of that, airfares for Puerto Rico are generally cheaper than those for other islands. Americans don't need a passport to enjoy a stylish San Juan condo, which may cost as little as $100 per night during the peak winter season. Many Condado Beach properties, such as the family-friendly Embassy Suites by Hilton Dorado del Mar Beach Resort and the historic Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, feature recently renovated accommodations. Plus, buzz-worthy efforts like "Hamilton" performances have helped promote tourism in the region while fundraising for Hurricane Maria recovery projects. What's more, there are now seven Blue Flag-designated beaches, including nearby Carolina Beach (a traveler favorite).

Crete, Greece

The large island of Crete is Europe's southernmost point, and from November to February, average highs sit in the 60s. Reliable public buses make it easy to visit the island's famous Minoan archaeological sites and the Samaria Gorge. There are budget-friendly boarding houses and hostels in busy Rethymnon and outside of Chania, a picture-perfect city with a Venetian harbor. Both locales serve as gateways to beaches like Elafonissi, one of the world's most beautiful pink sand beaches.

Essaouira, Morocco

Travelers flock to Morocco's western coast for the chance to ride camels, horses, surfboards and more at Essaouira's beaches. With 18th-century fortified walls and stone gates, a fishing harbor, pastel stucco houses and souks to thrill bargain shoppers, Essaouira is an affordable and equally fascinating alternative to Marrakech that is cooler come summertime. Opt for the eclectic decor, hippie vibe and rooftop breakfasts at the classic Villa Maroc, or choose from a variety of affordable riads (traditional Moroccan houses) and Airbnbs in the old town.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui, the second-largest island in Thailand's Chumphon Archipelago, is a noted wellness, honeymoon and family escape with first-class facilities. Hotels range from simple accommodations priced at less than $50 per night to posh resorts like the Four Seasons. Many properties offer affordable rates throughout the year, but you'll find the cheapest options on Maenam Beach or near the busier Bophut or Chaweng beaches. Just be sure to expect a tropical shower every day from May to September and monsoon rains in October and November.

Huntington Beach, California

Self-proclaimed "Surf City USA" features a 10-mile stretch of sand that's more affordable than nearby Los Angeles. At the beach, you can rent a wetsuit and sign up for surfing lessons, play volleyball or seat yourself near a bonfire and watch the sun set. Snap pictures of the 42-foot longboard at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum or the handprints and footprints of surfing legends at the Surfers' Hall of Fame. But remember to check reviews before booking beachfront motels that are less than $150 per night, and keep in mind the old adage "May Gray, June Gloom" when deciding when to vacation here.

Antalya, Turkey

Antalya, on southern Turkey's Mediterranean coast, offers several budget-friendly options. These range from sprawling resorts that overlook the action-packed Lara Beach to family-run hotels in quieter settings – such as Çirali Beach, site of an ancient Lycian town. Although November to March may be rainy and see temperatures drop into the 40s, great values keep Antalya busy all year. In addition to 200 Blue Flag beaches, Antalya boasts incredible archaeological sites, terrific Turkish cuisine and a lively nightlife scene at harborside bars.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Situated off of Panama's northwestern coast, the nine main islands that comprise Bocas del Toro province are home to some of Central America's most environmentally pristine tropical beaches. Stay near relaxing Playa Estrella, surf at Red Frog Beach and visit Cayos Zapatillas to see endangered sea turtles. Also, save time for hiking and snorkeling or diving excursions. Although prices continue to rise as retirees discover the islands' charm, many affordable hostels and small hotels are still available on Isla Colon.

Goa, India

You may recognize some of picturesque Goa's luxury resorts and beaches from their appearances in world-famous Bollywood films like "Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa" and "Ek Duuje Ke Liye." While prices here peak between Christmas and New Year's – when international visitors jam Goa's beach shacks and clubs – there are always bargains for every taste. Backpackers and partiers flock to Calangute Beach in North Goa for water sports, rowdy bars, a lively flea market and cheap hotels. Meanwhile, South Goa's Mobor Beach offers windsurfing and beach biking opportunities, as well as multiple youth hostels.

The Florida Panhandle

Sunny days in the mid-50s (on average) boost the winter appeal of Florida Panhandle beaches. Vacations in this area are always affordable, but they are generally cheapest from November to February. Choose Panama City Beach's 27-mile beach for its budget-friendly motels, restaurants and clubs. Head to Pensacola to see a Blue Angels Show and tour the National Naval Aviation Museum, or book a vacation rental in Grayton Beach, a sleepier community that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.

Puerto Plata and Cabarete, Dominican Republic

A bustling, historic port on the windy northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata is a hot spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing. There are many guesthouses in Puerto Plata with rates as low as $50 per night – and Airbnbs for even less – plus an array of all-inclusive resorts along Playa Dorada for every type of budget. In nearby Cabarete, backpackers will also find top-notch kitesurfing conditions at Kite Beach, as well as a lively nightlife scene. Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Resort's Puerto Plata and Cabarete properties, which sit less than 20 miles away from the World War II-era Jewish settlement at Sosúa, are some of the only kosher resorts in the Caribbean.

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

While wealthy New Englanders vacation in Kennebunkport, budget-conscious families head to Old Orchard Beach to camp or stay in more affordable hotels. About 15 miles southwest of Portland, the town offers a 7-mile stretch of sand where visitors can stroll, sunbathe or explore the historic fishing pier that was built in 1898. The water is often too cold for swimming between May and October, but you can spend your time in various nearby shops and restaurants or at New England's only beachfront amusement park. And even in August – the most expensive month to visit – hotels advertise weekday rates that are commonly 30 percent less than those for weekends.

Port Aransas, Texas

Port Aransas, which sits on Mustang Island approximately 30 miles east of Corpus Christi, is a laid-back beach city where visitors can enjoy everything from shelling, fishing and kayaking to barbecues and pirate-themed cruises. Smaller and less developed than more well-known Gulf beach destinations like South Padre Island and Galveston, Port Aransas features quaint motels with discounted rates. Many of the city's affordable low-rise condos have also reopened since Hurricane Harvey made landfall there in 2017.

Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, Mexico

With reasonably priced flights and more than 130 all-inclusive resorts, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen boast some of the cheapest tropical beaches near the U.S., plus a rich culture that includes Mayan archaeological sites like Chichén Itzá and El Rey Ruins. Spring breakers and travelers on tight budgets can avoid downtown dives and eye-catching timeshare deals by staying at newer, highly regarded properties in Cancun's Hotel Zone. For small seafront inns, tacos and nightlife in a walkable town, head roughly 40 miles southwest to Playa del Carmen. Or, take the ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres to spend a day at Playa Norte.

Orange Beach, Alabama

Active families can enjoy Orange Beach's sandy Gulf Coast shoreline and activities throughout the majority of the year. Take the little ones exploring in a two-person cat boat with a guide, or book an inshore or back bay fishing charter for older children. Look for innovative kids programs at the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability, opening in fall 2019. Luxury beachfront condos that sleep up to six people often cost as little as $130 per night in winter, when it's too chilly to swim.

North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

Located less than 27 miles northwest of Honolulu, the North Shore's small towns fill with surfers from October to March. In fact, many compete in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing every November and December. Even then, deals are available at Haleiwa's accommodations. The town is close to the famous Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park, as well as Kahuku's food trucks and Alii Beach Park and Sunset Beach, which both offer superb surfing waves and picnic areas. While here, live like a local in a four-person townhouse behind the legendary Turtle Bay Resort. Townhouse rates start at $980 per week.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks, a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands, features more than 100 miles of beaches. Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers first flew an airplane, are home to popular surfing beaches, while Duck boasts pet-friendly sands. Groups can find multibedroom vacation homes that start at $45 per person, per night. There are also small motels with pools that offer affordable rates on weekdays.

Willemstad, Curacao

At No. 11 on Airbnb's list of trending Caribbean destinations for 2019, Curacao's capital city boasts pastel-hued Dutch colonial architecture, canals, museums and beautiful white sand beaches. Airbnb's rental villas average $126 per night in the winter, though couples studios go for much less. Rent a car to explore Curacao's more remote cove beaches, snorkel the reefs or hire a boat to reach Klein Curacao, an island paradise found 8 miles offshore.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Although Cannon Beach's water is too cold for most swimmers, its pet-friendly hotels and rugged Pacific Ocean shoreline attract beach strollers and dog walkers in droves. Located 80 miles northwest of Portland, this relaxing beach town features 4 miles of sands, the postcard-worthy Haystack Rock and a plethora of art galleries. The oceanfront Hallmark Resort & Spa Cannon Beach, known for its great views and comfortable rooms with cooking facilities, consistently ranks as one of America's most affordable resorts on TripAdvisor.

Fort-de-France, Martinique

The French island of Martinique faces the calm Caribbean Sea to the west and the more active Atlantic Ocean to the east, with sandy beaches along the southern coast. Served by low-cost airlines, Martinique's affordability, French flair, less touristy atmosphere and delicious Creole cuisine draw Europeans and Canadians in droves. Thanks to its highly regarded rum, excellent dive sites, five marinas and multitude of festivals, Airbnb saw 2018 bookings to Fort-de-France rise by 78 percent, with nightly rates in winter averaging $108.

San Diego

Affordable Pacific Beach, part of San Diego's Mission Bay region, ranks high with young travelers. The 3-mile-long boardwalk is the place to stroll, watch surfers, ride scooters and bike. It also features the Crystal Pier Hotel, a boutique property with historic bungalows and a fishing pier. Families will likely prefer North Pacific Beach's calmer surf and year-round lifeguards. Tourism peaks from May to August, but even in winter, visitors can find budget-friendly accommodations.

Split, Croatia

So many travelers dream of Croatia's rock and pebble beaches that it's no longer Europe's cheapest summer escape. Yet lodging bargains are still available in Split, where visitors can admire Venetian and Roman sites that have starred in the "Game of Thrones" TV series. Split's Bacvice Beach is blanketed in imported white sand, while Proizd, an islet off the coast of nearby Vela Luka, features flat stone slabs for sunbathing. Mild, sunny Split is a popular vacation destination throughout the year, as temperatures never fall below freezing.
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Kyle McCarthy, Contributor

Kyle McCarthy is the author of a dozen Frommer guidebooks, contributor to many publications, ...  Read more

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