17 Best Beaches For A Budget Vacation In 2017

17 Best Beaches for a Budget Vacation in 2017

Imagine sand between your toes, a cold drink in your hand and the sound of waves crashing (or lapping) against the shore. You don't have a care in the world. The last thing on your mind is "How much is this costing me?" If you want your 2017 travel plans to include a budget-friendly beach getaway, check out the following beaches which are easy on the eyes, and the bank account.

Nicolet Beach, Wisconsin

Located inside Peninsula State Park on Lake Michigan, Nicolet Beach offers soft sand and shallow, fresh water swimming. Rent canoes, kayaks, or standup paddleboards and explore offshore while finding hidden beaches along the shoreline of the park. Annual park passes for non-residents costs $38 while a daily pass is just $11.  For the outdoor enthusiast who wants to make it an overnight trip, the park offers more than 400 campsites, some of which are right on the beach, starting at $25 per night. If a comfortable bed and hot shower is more your style, book a room just outside the park in downtown Fish Creek at the family-owned and operated By-The-Bay Motel. During peak travel season, nightly rates for are $135, while the off-season prices are as low as $89 per night. Established as a resort town on the bay in the 1800s, Fish Creek has an East Coast feel with its fine dining and quaint cafes, albeit at Midwest prices.    

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located along scenic State Route 22, Sleeping Bear Dunes Point beach boasts clear, turquoise waters and white sand beaches.  Reminiscent of the Caribbean, you might actually forget you are in Northern Michigan. Included in the $15 park pass, good for seven days and covering one passenger vehicle, are the Sleeping Bear Dunes which are among some of the largest dunes in the world. Learn about the Legend of the Sleeping Bear while you visit the park and make time for a boat tour over to the Manitou Islands for more pristine beaches and scenic hiking, unreachable by car.  Stay at four-star hotel, The Homestead, in Glen Arbor where rates start at just $102/night. Or, take advantage of all the camping options including the primitive sites on the Manitou Islands. Rates range from $10-$50/night.

Treasure Island, Florida

Located on the Gulf Coast, about 10 miles from St. Petersburg, Treasure Island offers four miles of serene Florida coastline all along a low-traffic barrier island. On the white sand and under the shade of the palm trees, you'll forget how close you are to the hustle and bustle of Tampa. Book a room directly across the beach at Blue Waters, where studio rooms start at $108/night and condos at $136 per night. There are also more than 35 campgrounds within a 25-mile radius so cheaper accommodations are certainly available. Getting around Treasure Island is easy, fun and even free. Rent a two-person kayak from Treasure Isle Boat Rentals for just $20 for two hours or take the Free Beach Ride shuttle. It allows you to beach hop between Clearwater Beach, Indian Beach, Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach on any day of the week, for free. Tipping the driver is encouraged.

Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Don't let its creepy name turn you off. Namibia's Skeleton Coast is so beautiful it's haunting. It takes its name from the ships that have sunk there along its rocky Atlantic coast. They now act as fascinating diving destinations. CNN, which named the beach one of Africa's best beaches, says to expect lots of seals and marine bird life—more than 200 species—in this region. The environment here is harsh (the Portuguese called it "the gates of Hell") but it is ridiculously cheap if you do it right. The trick is to not stay at the fancy lodges and resorts. Instead, travel, and live, like a local. Skeleton Beach Backpackers had double rooms, including breakfast, for $30/night or you can get a self-catering room (including a kitchen) at a local guesthouse for about $50/night. Note, these beaches are in Skeleton Coast National Park—home to only one campground that is only open a couple months a year—so most accommodations are in the coastal village of Swakopmund.

Naxos, Greece

It's not as famous as Santorini or as popular with the spring break crowd as Mykonos, but Naxos does beat out most of the Greek Islands in affordability. Hotel rooms start at $19/night. Yes, less than $20! Food is also cheap. Expect to eat on $15/day or less. In terms of beaches, Naxos, the largest island in the Cyclades, offers more than a dozen stretches of sand where sunbathing is a religion. Windsurfers and kitesurfers prefer the eastern beaches which have more wind, while swimmers flock to the western side of the island which is more developed. The most popular beach is Plaka, a long white sand beach with views of neighboring Paros island. The pebble-beached Grotta, located in Naxos Town, is a favorite spot for snorkeling. Note, these are the Greek Islands so shade is limited. I.e. bring plenty of SPF.

Los Gigantes, Tenerife, Spain

Although this Canary Island beach belongs to Spain, its consumer prices (including rent) are about 30 percent cheaper than mainland Spain's according to Numbeo. Los Gigantes is famous for its seaside cliffs, called the Giants, some 1,000-ft. tall. But this beach town is also very affordable for Western Europe. Three-star hotels average $77/night, and a meal in a nice restaurant can still cost less than $10. In the beach department, Los Gigantes has a beautiful black sand beach. The sand is from the ancient volcano that formed the famous cliffs millions of years ago. Of course, the best way to see this beach town is from the water. Take a whale-watching/snorkeling kayak excursion with Teno Activo. It's about $25 for the afternoon and it includes a free drink and a book of digital photos from your trip.

Kure Beach, North Carolina

Beach parking can be an expensive nightmare so Kure Beach stands out with its more than 300 free public parking spots. Almost half of them are oceanfront! Parking is always free in this small beachfront community which played an important role in the Civil War. Kure Beach is home to Fort Fisher, a National Historic Landmark with indoor and outdoor Civil War exhibits that are all free to explore. Visitors can even walk among the ruins of the fort. Approximately 10 percent of it is still standing. Kure Beach also boasts a modern playground at Ocean Front Park, a public green space with free programming including Turtle Talks and Story Time by the Sea in the summers. Camping is available four miles up the peninsula at Carolina Beach State Park, a former Confederate campsite bordering the Cape Fear River. The 83 campsites start at $20/night.

Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal

This Portuguese paradise earned the top spot on Forbes' 2017 list of "Places so Cheap You Might Not Need to Work." The article quoted a monthly budget of $1,150 per person. In 2016, The Guardian named the Algarve the cheapest place for holiday spending, saying a basket of goods that would cost $38 in the Algarve would cost more than $192 in Dubai. Travel writer and photographer, Cory Varga, agrees. "All-inclusive holidays can start from as little as $250/week," says the founder of You Could Travel. Located along the southernmost coast of Portugal, the Algarve features both Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches. The western beaches are popular with surfers while the warmer, calmer eastern beaches are where you'll fine European families on holiday.

Otres Beach, Cambodia

"Plan on spending less than $20/night on your private bungalow, about $1 for a beer and btween $6-$8 for an entire grilled fish with rice and salad," says Kristin Addis of the travel blog Be My Travel Muse. Addis recommends this Gulf of Thailand beach for anyone looking to spend less than $30/day for a beachfront experience without skyscrapers or planes with advertisements flying overhead. "The water is the temperature of bath water and you see right through it," says Addis. "Best of all, if you swim at night you can watch blue phytoplankton following your fingertips." That said, this beach is not the most accessible. It's a 3.5-6-hour minibus ride from Pnnom Penh, depending on the traffic.

Lamu, Kenya

Don't worry about hiring an expensive rental car or racking up Uber charges. This island in Kenya is car-free.  In fact, some say Lamu is the oldest living town in East Africa. Haggling here is acceptable, but it's not necessary. Things are already cheap. Hotels start at $16/night. An article in The Telegraph says you can get the local dish, lobster, for "a song" at the cheap waterfront restaurants.  Watch your waiter closely because you may see them send a kitchen aid to the market for fresh ingredients. Note, this is Africa, so keep that in mind when considering what you get for your money. I.e. a bed may not come with all the bedding we're accustomed to in Western cultures. But the beach is extraordinary: two miles of white sand fronting the Indian Ocean and backed by swaying palm trees.  

Turneffe Island Resort Beach, Belize

Turneffe Island Resort Beach is one of the best budget options in the private island category. The 14-acre private island in the Caribbean offers a home base for world class diving, snorkelling, fishing or simply sun tanning on your own beach. All-inclusive rates at the resort start around $400 per person/night. It sounds expensive, but when you consider what it includes—transportation to and from Belize City, three meals/day, and activities including a diving valet—it's a low price to pay for having an island to yourself. It's even more affordable between July and December 2017 when guests can take advantage of its Book 4, Stay for 7 Nights promotion. Another perk of finding a beach paradise in Belize? The country's official language is English so you don't have to worry about ordering the wrong pina colada.

Playa Blanca, Colombia

This beach in Colombia is perfect for the urban explorer who wants to stay in the city but spend the day at the beach. A popular day trip from Cartagena, Playa Blanca is a white sand (hence the name) beach surrounded by the crystal-clear Caribbean. An express boat ride to Playa Blanca only takes 45 minutes and costs between $8-$16 one-way. A more budget-friendly option is to take the shuttle bus for $16 round-trip. It takes about the same amount of time but it has AC and you won't get seasick. As far as staying in Cartagena, according to Budget Your Trip, the average cost of food for one day is only around $8 and the average hotel price for a couple is $57. According to Hostel World, there are also 70 hostels in Cartagena with beds starting at $7.86 a night.

Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine

Most National Park beaches are budget-friendly, and this Acadia beach is one of them. Located on Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is a 290-yard-long stretch of sand formed from crushed up shells. The water is too cold for swimming without a wet suit, but it's a beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic or a sunrise. The sun rises in Acadia before anywhere else in the country. James Kaiser, author of Acadia: The Complete Guide also recommends it for stargazing. "You'll need a pass to enter the park," says Kaiser. "But it's only $25 per week and that gives you access to 100 miles of free hiking trails. The NPS also offers free ranger programs at Sand Beach including hikes and lectures. Camping is available about seven miles away at Blackwoods Campground where sites start at $20/night and $10/night during the off season. A free shuttle runs to Sand Beach, so you don't even have to worry about parking.

North Beach, Miami Beach, Florida

Like its neighbour South Beach, North Beach has miles of amazing beaches. But unlike South Beach, it has more laid back vibes and is popular with residents, not tourists. This leads to lower prices: from $5 martinis at Norman's American Bar & Grill to $.90 pastelitos at Buenos Aires Bakery. Room rates are low too: $26/night for a dorm bed at AAE Lombardy Hostel Miami Beach and as low as $50/night at Ocean Side hotel with ocean views, free drinks between 7-8 p.m. and direct beach access. During the summer, free concerts are held at the North Beach Bandshell every fourth Wednesday and the North Shore Library offers free events for children. Beach parking won't break the bank either. Municipal parking at 73rd Street and Collins Avenue is free after 6 p.m. and the North Beach trolley that does a loop around the island is free as well. It even has free WiFi!

Bocas del Toro, Panama

This province in Panama is actually a Caribbean island chain home to dozens of worthwhile beaches. Starfish Beach is aptly named for the star fish that live there and are visible in the nearly translucent shallow water.  Another popular beach is Boca del Drago, accessible from Starfish Beach by a boat ride or shuttle bus costing less than $5 one-way. This beach is filled with vendors selling everything from cold beer to octopus stew. Boca del Drago is only a $2.50 bus ride back to Bocas Town, the capital city of the province. Three-star hotels in Bocas Town average $49/night according to Google's travel guide. Lonely Planet's guide says a budget traveller can expect to pay as little as $35/day for a room in a hostel dorm, taking public transportation to get around and getting meals from street vendors and markets.

Java, Indonesia

It makes sense that Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world with more than 17,000 islands, would have no shortage of beaches. This southeast Asia country is also known for being notoriously cheap. Think $5/hour massages, restaurant meals for $3 and dorm beds for as little as $3/night. While most tourists flock to Bali, its neighbouring island of Java, a 30-minute ferry ride away, is even a better bargain. There are fewer tourists and not as many expensive Western-style shops and restaurants (think, Hard Rock Café) to spend money at. It also has a lot to offer in the beach department. The pebble beach of Cimaja is popular with surfers who care more about the waves than the sand. Karimun offers white sand and calmer water—perfect for diving and snorkelling among the coral reef. Note, unlike Bali, which is Hindu, Java is a Muslim country so remember to be respectful and whatever you do, don't swim nude!

Bulgarian Riviera, Bulgaria

Most people have heard of the French and Italian Rivieras, but the Bulgarian Riviera? This 250-mile stretch of Black Sea beaches is much more affordable than anything on the Mediterranean. The most popular beach is Sunny Beach—featuring golden sand backed by high rise resorts and crazy night clubs. Since the cost of living in Bulgaria is 49 percent lower than it is in the U.S., according to Numbeo, you can party like a rock star in a penthouse for half the price. Bulgarians like to drink, but a large beer is only about $1, so you can be social without spending a lot. Golden Sands beach borders a nature park with hot springs so you can soak in healing water too. Finally, if beaching in the buff is your thing, head to Irakli Beach where bathing suits are optional and hippies are everywhere.