Cheap beach destinations offer a one-two punch: a great, affordable location with much to do in the area, and a fine stretch of beach where you can spend several days enjoying only sun and surf.
For some of us, a beach vacation is enough.
Great beaches on a budget offer a nice sun-and-sand experience without the expectation of abundant nightlife, historic sites, or other activities that might prove useful on a stormy day. In those places, you bank on perfect weather and experience simple relaxation.
The beaches on this list are different.
The focus here is on destinations that offer more than just a stretch of sand. These beaches are located near places of historical or cultural significance, or perhaps outstanding recreational activities that don't directly involve the beach.
These double-bonus destinations add value to your trip, by providing added options at reasonable prices.
Up next, a beach that is next-door to a World Heritage Site.
Cheap Beach Destinations - Rhodes, Greece
The Greek islands offer more beaches than many travelers realize, and yet there is so much more to explore in these destinations. Ferry boats connect the major Greek islands, allowing a budget traveler to visit a variety of beaches, but also benefit from the cultural and historic benefits of a visit to Greece.
Rhodes is an excellent example. Rhodes has been welcoming visitors to its shores for thousands of years. The city walls and a reconstructed castle (not far from the beach) display beautiful mosaics and provide some insight into the lives of the 14th century Grand Master Knights. Rhodes was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
On the island, Kálathos beach ranks among the finest in Greece. It seems a great distance from the hustle and bustle of Rhodes city, but it's about 20 miles southeast of the main port on the island. Few people make it down that far, so the beach is often uncrowded.
Some Rhodes hotels are at the top of the luxury spectrum, with prices to match. But budget hotels can be found. Blue Sky Beach Hotel offers amenities like a swim-up bar and beach access just across the street at reasonable nightly rates.
If you island hop in Greece, be sure to put Rhodes on your itinerary.
Cheap Beach Destinations - Folly Beach/Charleston, S.C.
Folly Beach, a six-mile stretch on the South Carolina coast near Charleston, offers the iconic sites one would expect in this part of the country: a wooden pier, a classic lighthouse, and a string of rustic restaurants specializing in seafood.
Still, you won't see the crowds and commercialization of Myrtle Beach or Daytona. Folly Beach offers enjoyable diversions you might not see in other places, such as watching for porpoises along the marshes that spread along the sea, or a paddle-boarding adventure along the lowcountry coast.
The off-season here (Jan.-April), as temperatures cool into the 50s during the daytime and sometimes approach freezing at night. But when a cold front moves through, Folly Beach visitors can drive a few miles to Charleston, a city with plenty of cultural and historic attractions.
Hotels on Folly Beach tend to be expensive, but those who book far enough in advance can find something affordable. This is a market ideally suited to renting a vacation home. Airbnb.com lists homes for rent on Folly Beach that sleep up to six people for less than $250/day. You'll have more space and kitchen facilities that help visitors cut back on restaurant expenses.
If you're interested in camping, James Island County Park provides sites and cottages alongside recreational opportunities.
Cheap Beach Destinations - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
For years, Acapulco and Cancun ruled the beach travel choices in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta went from a small fishing village to a metropolitan area offering some of Mexico's top beach resorts.
But this destination is not just a place to go to the beach. At certain times of year, you can watch what can loosely be defined as a Mexican rodeo championship, as the Charro Festival draws participants and spectators from multiple nations.
You can explore the nearby mountains and the former mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste, about 45 miles from the city. Whale watching is popular at certain times of year, as is fishing and shopping.
Yelapa is a secluded beach that can't be accessed by road, but water taxis can get you there at reasonable prices. Beaches in town tend to be rather crowded, but Mismaloya Beach, just a few miles to the south, is less busy and connected by car or bus.
When you consider Puerto Vallarta hotel options, you'll discover there are a number of nice budget hotels catering to low-cost and moderate spending ranges.
Cheap Beach Destinations - Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica
Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province is home to secluded beaches, small seaside resorts, and rain forests that attract visitors from throughout North America and Europe.
Those small resorts are sharing space these days with huge new developments. As Guanacaste is discovered, it will need the kind of amenities that world travelers expect.
But it's still possible for budget travelers to enjoy the spectacular Pacific sunsets from comfortable if not luxurious accommodations. Beachside towns such as Playa Hermosa, Ocotal and Playas del Coco look out on dark sand, volcanic beaches where temperatures are nearly constant through the year.
Hotel searches in Guanacaste sometimes turn up mid-range rooms on the ocean at less than $150/night. Hotel Bosque del Mar Playa offers rooms with ocean views and garden views. If you're willing to stay further from the beach, smaller places offer budget rooms at less than $50/night.
Try to avoid the long bus trip from San Jose and the nation's main airport. Liberia International Airport has been expanded and offers direct flights on 13 carriers from cities such as Houston, Newark, and Toronto. Low-cost carriers such as Air Berlin and Frontier also serve Guanacaste.
Cheap Beach Destinations - Coastal Croatia
At one time, Dubrovnik competed with Venice for control of this Adriatic region. Perched on a dramatic setting with mountains and ocean at either side, it is a place that will inspire photography and touring until you drop. Cruise ships bring most of the visitors, and unfortunately, most never see anything beyond Dubrovnik's old city.
So the Croatian coastline is not overrun with visitors or cheesy tourist traps. Yet it offers all the natural enticements one would expect in a highly popular waterfront setting: intriguing islands and inlets set apart by turquoise waters.
Sandy beaches are best enjoyed on the islands of Lopar, Korcula, and Susak. The Katarina Line offers trips on small vessels between Split and Dubrovnik, and the word small is important. Their ships can get into small, picturesque inlets the big cruise ships would never approach. These week-long round-trips from Split often price out at less than $150/day per person.
This is an excellent area for chartering a yacht. Don't laugh! It can be done at reasonable prices, which rise and fall in accordance with the amenities you desire. Antlos offers charters at a variety of price points, with some less than $100/day.
Hub travelers will find plenty of smaller towns to use as bases for exploring the Croatian Coastline. Private homes rent rooms for less than $70/night in many locations.
Roman ruins and vineyards attract attention, and cyclists rave about the trails and vistas they experience here.
Air travel is possible from five regional airports, and budget carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet are well-represented.
Cheap Beach Destinations - San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan serves as perhaps the most important Caribbean travel hub. Cheap flights are available at certain times of the year, cruise ships arrive and depart the busy port, and tour itineraries unfold from this capital city.
San Juan hotels along the beach are moderately priced, but even better deals can be found outside the city, where beaches are less crowded. Another popular buy: the flight+hotel offers from airlines and online sources such as Expedia or Travelocity. Be certain these properties have close proximity to the beachfront.
If you tire of the beach, Puerto Rico offers much in the way of cultural and historical significance. Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, the fortification that protected the city from sea invasions, is worth seeing, as is the El Yunque National Forest. To see this tropical rain forest, you'll need ground transportation to Rio Grande, about 30 miles southeast of the city.
Cheap Beach Destinations - St. Augustine, Fla.
Few places offer such a robust combination of affordable beach and mainland sightseeing as St. Augustine, Fla. The city even has its own small commercial airport, attracting direct flights at bargain prices from hubs such as Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Unlike many cities in Florida, St. Augustine does not have an extensive selection of oceanfront hotels, condominiums, and resorts. Popular weekends sell out quickly, so make arrangements well in advance. In return, you'll be rewarded with a stay on a stretch of beach that is far less crowded and much more affordable.
For example, AirBnb lists a one-bedroom home accommodating two people at $65/night, and it is within walking distance of the beach. Bargains are easiest to find outside of the busy season (November-April).