Good news: you don’t have to be rich to escape to a tropical island. Plenty of tropical island destinations can fit even a backpacker’s budget without sacrificing the dreamy, relaxing experience you’re looking for.
While travel costs have risen rapidly in recent months, savvy travelers can still get vacation deals when looking for a bargain. Choose among these 16 best spots for a tropical island escape that won’t break the bank for an unforgettable (wallet-friendly!) getaway.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc, is rimmed with white sand beaches, while dense jungle covers the island’s interior. From relaxing on the beach to riding the Hon Thom Cable Car – the world’s longest cable car to pass over the ocean – there is plenty to do in Vietnam’s premier beach destination.
Though parts of the island are becoming increasingly built up, you’ll still find more remote and tranquil areas. While the island hasn’t become firmly planted on Vietnam’s backpacking route yet, its affordability and natural beauty indicate it won’t be long before it is!
Rosario Islands, Colombia
Have you heard of the Rosario Islands? Just an hour southwest of Cartagena, Colombia, this small archipelago includes some of the most underrated Caribbean islands and is considered one of the best Caribbean destinations for backpackers!
The Rosario Islands are easily accessible from Cartagena by ferry or speedboat, with several surprisingly affordable hostels on the beach, with direct access to crystal-clear water. Whether you’re looking to relax, tour the islands, or enjoy watersports, the Rosario Islands are a perfect option for a tropical island vacation.
The stunning and historic town of Trinidad, Cuba, located on the island’s less-visited southern coast, is one of the gems of Cuba, and it’s easy to see why. With one of the best-preserved historic centers anywhere in the Caribbean, and home to one of Cuba’s best beaches, Playa Ancón, Trinidad has something to offer every kind of traveler.
Are you concerned about being able to travel to Cuba? Don’t be! Traveling to Cuba is easier than ever, even for Americans. You’ll find there is plenty to see and do here.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Just off the coast of Cambodia, Koh Rong is quickly becoming a favorite destination with backpackers in Southeast Asia, drawn here by the remote and rugged feel, affordable accommodations and food, and stunning beaches.
This is the affordable tropical island destination you’ve been dreaming of for the traveler looking for a beach escape off the beaten path. You won’t find much in the way of development – in fact, the island doesn’t even have any paved roads. Despite the island’s laidback vibe, you’ll find plenty of things to do, including countless beaches to visit and even beach parties at night.
Voted as one of the most beautiful islands in the world by Condé Nast, Palawan is a stunning island known for its white sand beaches and crystal-clear water. While the most beautiful parts of the island, like the world-famous El Nido, are increasingly expensive, backpackers can still find plenty of value without sacrificing the experience in Palawan.
If you’re interested in scuba diving or snorkeling among shipwrecks, head to Coron, just a few hours north of Palawan and easily accessible by ferry from El Nido. A surprise attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1944 left the bay littered with wrecks, making this one of the world’s most unique destinations for diving.
Not every tropical island is on the ocean! Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua is a unique island formed by two volcanic cones rising out of the center of Lake Nicaragua. This jungle paradise is an affordable island getaway in Central America, even on a backpacker’s budget.
Visitors can climb either of the volcanoes or take it easy and visit the Ojo de Agua freshwater swimming hole in the middle of the jungle. Make sure to venture outside of the tourist town of Moyogalpa and find somewhere to stay a bit more off the beaten path – you’ll enjoy feeling like you’re in the middle of the jungle and can make the most of the views of the forest and lake an affordable eco-lodges and hostels.
Known as the “Spice Island,” Zanzibar is a fascinating mix of cultures and history with natural beauty. Visitors can explore the historical city of Stone Town with its bazaars, fortresses, and churches, then head across the island to some of the most beautiful beaches in Africa.
The island has no lack of fancy resorts on the beach, a popular destination for luxury travelers who have just completed a safari in one of the game reserves on the mainland. However, more affordable accommodations and travel deals exist for backpackers in smaller towns like Paje, a popular spot for kitesurfers.
If you’re looking for a unique tropical island vacation, consider visiting Havana, Cuba. One of the most bustling cities in the Caribbean, this city has something for everyone: history buffs, art and culture lovers, party animals, and beachgoers alike.
You’ll find affordable accommodations in casas particulares, or “private homes,” rented by enterprising Cubans for visitors. Casas particulares can range from basic spare bedrooms to luxurious, historic mansions at prices more affordable than most hotels.
Make sure to visit Fábrica de Arte Cubano – this unique mixed-use art and performance space housed within a revitalized cooking oil factory hosts rotating events, including DJ sets and music performances, fine arts exhibits, pop-up shops, fashion shows, and more. It’s the place to be in Havana.
Andaman Islands, India
Located in a remote corner of the Bay of Bengal, between India and Myanmar, the Andaman Islands are an off-the-beaten-path travel destination you won’t often hear much about. In fact, several of the islands in the archipelago are off-limits to visitors, as they are home to uncontacted tribes.
So what draws visitors here? The affordable, accessible, and uncrowded beaches and snorkeling and diving spots are considered some of the best you’ll find anywhere. From the small capital city of Port Blair, you can venture off to neighboring islands like Neil Island and Havelock Island to kick back on deserted beaches.
You’re not alone if you’re shocked to find an island in the Maldives among affordable tropical island destinations for backpackers. Best known for luxurious overwater bungalows at all-inclusive resorts, much of the Maldives is far out of reach for budget travelers.
However, the island of Maafushi is a notable exception. Located near the international airport in Malé, you can take a cheap ferry or a 45-minute speedboat ride for around $30 to arrive at the island, where you’ll find hotels and hostels, even with pools, for under $75. The island is rimmed with stunning white sand beaches, so you won’t miss out on that beach experience you’re dreaming of.
Ko Tao, Thailand
Located in the stunning Gulf of Thailand, Ko Tao is a must for backpackers looking for an affordable scuba diving spot. With the clear water providing excellent visibility along white sand beaches, there isn’t much more travelers could ask for in a tropical island destination.
Dive spots include incredible beach dives for beginners – or even snorkelers! – as well as open water dives accessible by affordable guided excursions. Even backpackers not interested in exploring underwater will have plenty to do here, as there are spectacular hikes through the jungle to stunning viewpoints overlooking the ocean, perfect for watching the sunset.
An excellent and affordable stop on a backpacking itinerary north from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Penang is an unforgettable Malaysian island with great food, incredible beaches, and plenty to do.
Penang is a perfect choice for a tropical island destination for travelers who like to keep busy – though it has its fair share of beaches, it’s an excellent choice for those looking for a bit more variety in their itinerary. From visiting local markets for delicious street food to exploring colorful temples and glimpsing colonial architecture, you’re bound to have some memorable experiences here.
Better yet, Penang is extremely affordable. When traveling on a budget by eating local food and staying in hostels, you can expect to spend as little as $18-30 a day.
The sprawling island of Sri Lanka has something for every visitor, much more to offer than you might expect. The island’s interior is filled with incredible hiking trails and treks, beautiful temples, delicious food, and rolling hills, while you’ll find fantastic beaches and great surfing along the coast.
Travelers can also choose between taking a game safari and spotting elephants and other unique wildlife. Whether you’re looking to backpack along the beach or take the beautiful train ride through the hill country from Kandy to Ella, you’ll love this underrated and affordable gem.
Long known as an affordable and beautiful tropical island hotspot, Bali is a favorite option for backpackers and budget travelers drawn here for great beaches and lush jungles with stunning waterfalls and rice terraces. The delicious and affordable food and luxury accommodations on a budget are a bonus!
With Bali attracting countless digital nomads and remote workers, who, along with travelers, have continued to drive up prices, it can be harder to travel on a tiny budget than it was just a few years ago. Stick to local eats, affordable hostels, or apartment rentals, and avoid crowded spots like Canggu to keep on budget.
Ko Lanta, Thailand
For travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path yet affordable tropical island destination in Thailand, skip the more famous spots like Ko Phi Phi for less-visited Ko Lanta. Easily accessible from tourist hotspots like Phuket and Krabi, you’ll find it affordable to reach this island and enjoy lower prices here than you would on many neighboring islands, with just as much charm and natural beauty.
On Ko Lanta, you’ll find a beautiful national park, several stunning beaches, many exciting caves and coves to explore, and plenty of snorkeling and diving sites. You’ll find welcoming cafes and local food stalls in the island’s populated areas, plus even coworking hubs if you’d like to stick around longer than you might have expected.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
While the all-inclusive resorts along stunning beaches might blow a backpacker’s budget quickly, visiting San Juan is a great way to enjoy the island of enchantment on a budget.
From visiting beautiful and colorful Old San Juan and its impressive Morro to sampling delicious Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo or pastries from Kasalta, there is plenty to do in San Juan. Stay in a neighborhood like Ocean Park, where you’ll find more affordable Airbnbs and hotels, and be able to walk to some of San Juan’s nicest beaches.
From tiny islands in the Gulf of Thailand to historic cities in the Caribbean, there are more affordable tropical island getaway options than most travelers are aware of. Add these destinations to your bucket list for an unforgettable but accessible vacation destination, no matter your budget.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock /Twinsterphoto.