8 Exotic Destinations You Can Afford

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(Photo: Stuck in Customs)

This is a guest post by Tim Leffel, a travel destinations expert who has dispatched articles from five continents over a period close to two decades.

Think world travel needs to be expensive? Think again…

Enter Tim Leffel

Like an annoying house guest who keeps packing but doesn’t leave, this recession keeps dragging on. That downsized international vacation can still be exotic though—if you pick the right destination. Or if you really want to alter your finances for the better, move to one of these places as an expat.

The dollar is in healthier shape than it has been many times in the past in relation to the euro and pound sterling, but a trip to one of Western Europe’s capitals still feels like a shopping trip to Tiffany’s. Australia is not much better, and a trip to Japan could drain your whole life savings in a week.

Here’s a better idea: go someplace where your travel dollars are still worth a bundle.

Below are some of the best deals on the planet right now, destinations that are relatively easy for travelers and also easy on the wallet.

1. Egypt


Photo: Jungle_Boy

Despite having some of the world’s best-known monuments, Egypt struggles to fill its abundant hotels. With less-than-wealthy locals far outnumbering the tourists, it’s easy to find a bargain meal or a guide or taxi driver. (They’ll find you whether you need them or not.) Admission prices for the ancient pyramids and temples are reasonable, generally ranging from $3 to $14.

Sample deals: a first-class train ticket from Cairo to Luxor for $17; a Nile-view deluxe double room in Luxor for $60 with breakfast; a private room by the sea in Dahab for under $20; entrance to the Nubia Museum in Aswan for $4; a falafel sandwich at a Cairo street stall for 40 cents. There’s no great independent travel site for the whole country but Egypt’s official tourism site is better than most.

2. Indonesia


Photo: Erik K Veland

This Southeast Asian nation is one of the most diverse and attractive destinations in the world, with a long string of volcanic islands and a range of topography and culture. It could also be the best value on the planet, with cheap hotels going for $5 a night, often right beside great snorkeling spots. Bali is the most developed island, but even there you can find plenty of deals. On Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, however, it’s easy to branch out like an intrepid explorer or get pampered on the cheap in the most popular spots.

Sample deals: a double room with pool and breakfast in Yogyakarta, Java for under $20; a five-day small ship cruise between Lombok and Flores islands via Komodo for $200 per person including meals; a first-class train seat from Jakarta to Yogyakarta for $25; an hour-long massage for $8-$15; a day’s motorbike rental on Bali for $10. Indo.com has a good listing of mid-range hotels in Bali and some other areas while the official Indonesia tourism site has travel info and enticing photos of the diverse islands.

3. Mexico


Photo: Tim Leffel

In mid-2008, the peso was at 10 to the dollar. Now it’s close to 13. That’s a discount of more than 25 percent in a country that was already a deal. Plus Swine Flu followed by drug gang violence on the U.S. border has meant that travelers have tremendous bargaining power on hotels and tours. To find the best values, visit the historic colonial cities or beach areas where Americans don’t outnumber the locals. (As in places where there’s no Señor Frog’s in sight.)

Sample deals: a three-course lunch at a market stand for $4; nice hotels in centuries-old colonial buildings for under $75 double with breakfast and Wi-Fi; a round of Negra Modelos for five at nearly any bar, including gratis snacks, for $10; and some of the nicest deluxe buses in the hemisphere for $6 to $8 per hour of travel. It’s a big, diverse country, but here’s an extensive set of links and the best books on one page: Mexico travel resources from Travelers-tool-kit.com.

4. Honduras


Photo: Tim Leffel

Few people knew anything about this country until it was all over the news last year when the president got forced out of office. You can find fabulous deals on scuba diving packages on Roatan Island. This Caribbean island sits next to the second-longest coral reef in the world, and every hotel seems to offer attractive package plans no matter the season. On the mainland you’ve got tropical national parks, the rugged Moskito Coast, and Copán, one of the key Mayan sites in the Americas and a great little colonial town.

Sample deals: $35 white-water rafting trips; weeklong learn-to-dive packages with room, breakfast, and transfers for under $600; a cold coconut with a straw for 40 cents; and admission to the Copán archeological park for $10. For more info, see the Honduras Tips site or Roatan Online, or see more travel prices in Honduras here.

5. Guatemala


Photo: Tim Leffel

This is only a shade farther to fly than Mexico, but it is a truly exotic destination. The descendants of the Mayans still dress in traditional clothing in the villages surrounding stunning Lake Atitlán. The Spanish colonial buildings in the city of Antigua are older than anything left standing in our historic city districts. The sprawling archeological park of Tikal is the granddaddy of Mayan ruins, and still surrounded by jungle.

Sample deals: taxis in Antigua for $4; great hotels with a view on Lake Atitlán for $60 a night; a week of private Spanish lessons including homestay starting at $180; a zipline canopy tour near Tikal for $30; three pounds of bananas or avocados for a dollar. La Ruta Maya Online is the best resource for hotels, tours, and Spanish language schools.

6. Peru


Photo: Tim Leffel

Machu Picchu alone is worth the journey, but it’s just the start in this value-packed country. Inca ruins are scattered all around the Sacred Valley, and Cuzco is one of the most attractive cities in South America. There is also hiking in the Andes, admiring colonial architecture on the streets of Arequipa, trips through the Amazon, boating across the highest lake in the world, and flying over the strange Nazca lines.

Sample deals: Bus from Arequipa to Colca Canyon – $6; a big traditional lunch and a beer for $7; simple restaurant meal in the countryside $6 for two; entrance to the Inca Museum in Cuzco for $1.50; cheap single room or hostel bed $4-$10; airport taxi in Cusco $4. Andean Travel Web is an exhaustive resource site for trekking info, hotels that are a good value, and general travel info.

7. Thailand


Photo: ccdoh1

As with Honduras and Mexico, visitor numbers plunged when Bangkok was all over the news recently, so there are plenty of deals on airfare, tours, and hotels. This is a popular destination for travelers of all budget levels. Thailand continues to be one of the best bargains in the world in terms of hotel prices, and with a well-developed infrastructure, it’s easy to get around and see what you want to see, be it historic ruins, Buddhist temples, or tropical beaches.

Sample deals: a standard double at a true 5-star hotel in Bangkok for $250 or less per night—or a cheap place to flop down and sleep for 1/20th of that price; admission to the main ruins in Sukothai for under $2; a first-class round-trip sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for about $40; a Skytrain ticket across Bangkok for about $1.30. The hands-down best travel resource for Thailand is Travelfish.org. They also put out some great iPhone/iPad apps on specific regions and islands.

8. Czech Republic


Photo: Tim Leffel

In much of Europe, prices in the big cities are often double what you find in the countryside. This is especially true in Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, where vacationers on quick weekend breaks have driven up hotel and restaurant prices in Prague. In the smaller towns and cities, however, the country is one of Europe’s remaining great values. Castles on hill crests, some of the world’s best beer for a dollar or so in a pub, and winding cobblestone streets without crowds—Ye Olde Europe without the new Europe prices.

Sample deals: a room at the best hotel in town across Moravia for under $100 with breakfast; fully equipped hybrid bike rental for $25 a day; sommelier guided 12-bottle tasting at the Wine Salon of the Czech Republic in Valtice for $19; a train ticket from Prague to anywhere in the country for $12 or less. The official Czech Tourism site is excellent while MyCzechRepublic has good general info on different regions plus a message board. See more Czech prices outside Prague here.

To dive in deeper on any of these cheap destinations and see the current situation on the ground, check the message boards at LonelyPlanet.com and BootsnAll.com.

###

If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”

I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Travel writer and website publisher Tim Leffel is author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations” and runs the Cheapest Destinations blog.

[This post is an updated version of an earlier article that appeared in the Boston Globe travel section.]

Posted on: November 4, 2010.

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242 comments on “8 Exotic Destinations You Can Afford

  1. I just came back from Morocco we did some of the days on 13 euros (less than $20.) Of course you have to stay in cheap hostels but as you’ll probably only spending the night there and asleep it really doesn’t matter. Thanks for this good post as I hope more people will realise how much of the world you can see with a fairly small amount of cash.

    Like

  2. I’ve been to several of these countries already – I was even getting my dive certification in Honduras during all the political fun last summer! And I was in Bangkok this year with all the redshirt stuff. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a cause of political unrest. Funny that you mention the Czech Republic, I just met a Czech guy and he was raving about $1 beers in the pubs (30 cents at the grocers). Some of these price estimates can be had for even lower if you do a bit of bargaining.

    Big props to Guatemala! I’d also highly recommend Vietnam as a budget traveler’s dream :D

    Hurrah for geoarbitrage!

    Like

    • Czech Republic is great and cheap if you don’t hang around Prague tourist spots. However, just to set the record straight, bargaining is not really the thing there :). Also, taxi prices are very expensive and some shady drivers will stiff you. If you want to get from the airport to the center of Prague, just take a bus 100 from in front of the airport for 1 euro (as oppose to 30 with taxi). The bus will take you to metro Zlicin station and from there you can get to anywhere in the center. Same ticket is for bus/tram/metro. Have fun.

      Like

    • Great guest post! Going to have to pop over to Honduras and Guatemala to learn to dive and brush up on my Spanish!

      Tim

      Do you think I can still get a first edition of your new book if I buy it in stores (I like to do this with books I’m gonna keep although I’ve given three 4HWW’s away to friends!)? I have no idea where I’ll be living so have been hesitant about pre-ordering!

      Thanks!

      CW

      Like

  3. With less-than-wealthy locals far outnumbering the tourists, it’s easy to find a bargain meal or a guide or taxi driver. (They’ll find you whether you need them or not.)

    lol–ain’t that the truth!

    I definitely want to spend some time wandering around Eastern Europe–too cool. Thanks for a great post!

    Like

  4. Thanks guys, this is just what I needed!

    I was thinking about Honduras for the last week or so, thinking about getting some info and maybe going there after the New Year.

    Love the “cold coconut with a straw for 40 cents”! :-)

    cheers,

    Josip

    Like

  5. I am from Czech Republic, description is quite correct, just beer will cost you like $2 in pub.

    Salon of Wine is great, I recommend it a lot, just sommelier guided tasting is probably not a best choice, because I am afraid that sommelier will not speak english very well. I recommend taking 90 min self tasting. If you like wine this might be highlight of your trip.

    If you want to see real gem of Czech Republic go there (Valtice, Lednice, Mikulov). Prague is great, but it is just another big tourist centric city.

    Like

  6. Great list – gets the dreams going (now it’s time to make them into actionable goals).

    I’m especially liking Mexico, because I can reach it on my motorcycle and use it as my transportation. Nothing like close-ish to home and favored convenient transportation!

    Like

  7. Thanks so much for the post. This has renewed my desire to visit some exotic places. Typically I stay away from them, because I think that they would be too expensive. This article gave me some ideas of how to be able to visit exotic locales without the high prices. Kudos!

    Ms. Pillowz

    Like

      • That’s just what I needed to see. Have to renew my Visa for Costa Rica soon and kept thinking about Panama. Now that you say it’s amazing, how can I pass it up.

        Like

      • Wow – every country in Central America cracked a mention except Nicaragua….. which is kind of the way we like it here.

        Chris if you need to do a Visa run check out San Juan del Sur in Nica for some great waves, small crowds and cheap prices. Cheaper than the rest of Centro in fact.

        We like to stay out of town where you can get a 5 Star house that sleeps 4 for as little as $80 a night right above the waves.

        Like

      • Does Tim or anyone else know of some other cool wildlife/research spots like you mention in Panama: “….or to live on a private island in Panama, especially a research island, to go snorkeling and scuba diving every day, that cost similarly less than 500 dollars.”

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      • Hey, Tim you need to visit Belize, the second largest Barrier Reef we are proud of….. just recently we captured 3 spaces in the top 25 for Best Hotel in the World on TripAdvisor. Im into Cruise Tourism……here is a warm welcome to visit my Country. Hope to see you soon at the Fort street Tourism Village !!!!!

        Like

  8. If you’re looking for a cheap, off the beaten path in Mexico check out the Chacala/Nayarit area. Check out the link from my profile for good site with a great accommodations listing.

    Like

  9. Hey Tim,

    When I was scolling down, I thought I would find India in the list. It is a nice post tho.

    On a different note, please make sure your new book will be avialable in India. I have mentioned several times in several other comments that ‘No matter how hard I try, there is no way to get your book in India (at least a printed version)’. I am sure you know you have a lot of international readers, so please don’t forget them.

    Cheers,
    Torumoy.

    Like

  10. Most of South East asia, Eastern Europe and South America is a deal these days and will probably remain this way with the press making them seem like death traps (they’re not). Stay away from the tourist traps like Bali and you’ll end up spending very little money on accommodations, food and seeing the sights. Africa is a good deal too but has a greater degree of instability which, unfortunately, is not all scare mongering by the press.

    Like

      • We just got back from a month in Mexico. Our new favorite spot is a small island off the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula called Holbox. It is extremely affordable, amazing fresh seafood (we found a favorite sushi place called Cariocas Suxi) and unspoiled wildlife including flocks of hundreds of flamingos.

        http://www.holboxisland.com/

        Like

      • I was wondering where was India too. (Though I spent time in Mexico two years ago, after flying into Cancun, we hopped on a bus and left for the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula. Merida is an incredible, less-traveled city.)

        I spent about two months in India in 2005, and found a few great cities that I could easily have spent more time in:

        *Udaipur – way in the north, great winding streets and small, tucked away/rooftop cafes
        *Pune – university town with wonderful markets
        *Varanasi – amazingly poor, amazingly awe-inspiring

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      • Did you go to Varanisi???? Please tell me about your experience. I would love, love, love to go there.

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      • I’ve been to Chiapas, MX and Oaxaca, MX, staying in Oaxaca for over a month. Snorkeled for shrimp in a gorgeous river, hunted iguanas in the mountain forests, stayed in a small village of perhaps 60 individuals – Zapoteco indians. Everything is very inexpensive, like a great meal for around $1.50 or less in Puerto Escondido. I really liked Bahias de Huatulco, a series of 7 bays that are just now getting built up, including tour boats showing up there. Stunning place for sure. Very few outsiders. Oaxaca City is a lovely old place as well, with many interesting sites to see, and great people, and food. Get off the beaten track and see the real Mexico. There is a scenic drive through the mountains between Veracruz on the Caribbean coast and Oaxaca that is stunning, and new. No one for a hundred miles or more. We came to the end of it after a twisting mountain drive and overlooking around 100 miles of coastal plain was a house/store owned by an old Native American gent who could not speak Spanish as well as this Guerro (blonde). Really something to see there!

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    • Visit the Popocatepetl and the Ixtacihuatl, amazing volcanos. Have a tour in Morelos and try “las Haciendas”, like the “Hacienda de Cocoyoc” that Hernan Cortez build as a gift for an Aztec princess, or La “Hacienda de Atlihuayan”.
      The Pyramids list is huge: Teotihuacan, pyramid de la Luna y del Sol.
      Palenque, Xochicalco,Tepoztlan…
      The city of silver “Taxco”
      Oaxaca (incredible)
      San Cristobal de las Casas.
      Mazunte (try Punta Cometa o San Agustinillo)
      Real de Catorce
      Xilitla: The Surreal Gardens of Las Pozas, La Huasteca
      (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnhtxvGmaI0).
      El Gran Cenote, Tulum…
      if this is not exotic, we should try Mars. :)

      peace
      n

      Like