During these difficult times, we’re all dreaming of some much-needed R&R in the sun. While you might not be able to escape to a sun-drenched tropical beach just yet, we’re all hoping the restrictions on international travel will soon be lifted and we can enjoy a getaway. You can get the latest post-pandemic travel advice here, and we’ve also got all the information you need to know about COVID tests for travel.
While you’re waiting, it’s a great time to start planning your dream trip for less. But ticking the budget box is about more than cheap flights. You need to go where you can sleep and eat for as little as possible, too. We can help. Here are 9 of the cheapest countries for post-pandemic travel on the planet, from Caribbean bargain beaches to heavenly street food that’s cheaper than chips. When the world is ready to travel again, they should be top of the list.
Top of our list of post-pandemic travel destinations is the largest country in Central America. Nicaragua is known for untouched beaches, wild Pacific waves, beautifully preserved towns, no fewer than 19 volcanoes and idyllic islands galore. Then there are its brilliant hotel bargains, such as Granada’s highly rated El Almirante from £61 a night.
Much of the country’s 550 miles of coastline is delightfully quiet year round and, with the calm Caribbean to the east and the surf waves of the Pacific to the west, there’s something to suit every type of beach dweller. But there’s plenty to see beyond the pristine sandy stretches of this perfect post-lockdown escape.
Discover the immaculate architecture of capital city Granada and the colourful murals of Léon, dive with hammerhead sharks off Little Corn Island and hike up the twin volcanoes of Isla de Ometepe in Lake Cocibolca (its cheeky local name is ‘The Lady’s Breasts’). You can even try a spot of ash surfing down a crater like Cerro Negro. Beat that for a holiday anecdote.
Make sure you check the travel restrictions for Nicaragua before you plan your trip, as well as whether or not you need a negative COVID test to enter the country. You can find out more about the latest restrictions in our handy guide.
Laidback Laos has remained surprisingly untouched by mass tourism, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy some post-pandemic travel isolation as you explore the emerald paddy fields, brooding jungle and remote villages in relative peace. Hotels here are affordable, with a stay in a hotel such as the Khampiane Boutique Hotel in Laos’s largest city Vientiane, costing around £12 a night.
Lustworthy landscapes aside, Laos is paradise for adrenaline junkies, who can get lost in river caves, zip line over the jungle, or tube down the Namsong River. Those in need of some zen can tap into the spiritual life of Laos with a spot of yoga or a spa treatment.
Don’t forget to check out the Laos travel restrictions before planning your adventure. Right now, Laos is closed to visitors from the UK, but we’re hopeful it may open to international travellers in the near future.
History, culture, and practically guaranteed sunshine… where better to find all these than in Turkey? First stop on your post-pandemic travel adventure: Istanbul. Try street food specialty Balik Ekmek or a catch-of-the-day fish sandwich, then visit the Hagia Sophia, a 1,500-year-old complex used as a church by the Byzantine era and then a mosque by the Ottomans. Since its recent conversion into a mosque, entry is now free.
Aside from its epic historical significance, Turkey boasts endless golden beaches along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, where a traditional gimlet sailboat cruise is a must. Another highlight can be found inland in the village of Pamukkale, where you can channel your inner Roman with a dip in the thermal pools.
Many of us prefer the idea of staying at small, friendly guesthouses post-lockdown, and you’re sure to get a warm welcome at Istanbul’s ornate Buyukada Cankaya Hotel, where rooms cost around £44 a night.
Turkey isn’t currently open to visitors from the UK, but this is constantly changing and its vaccination programme has made good progress, so it may make the UK’s green list this summer. Make sure you check the latest travel guidelines before planning your trip.
While Belarus may be closed to visitors right now due to the pandemic, once things open up again you can travel to this former Soviet republic visa-free for up to 30 days thanks to the recent lift on costly tourist visas.
Make the trip to the post-Stalinist capital of Minsk and you won’t fail to be struck by its imposing architecture, such as the KGB’s looming ex-HQ, but you might be surprised to find this is also a modern European city where the streets are lined with galleries, sushi bars, and reasonably priced hotels. A stay at the Belarus Hotel, around £29 a night, is worth it for the pool alone.
Beyond Minsk, Belarus offers 16th-century castles at Mir and Nesvijk, picture postcard villages, and four national parks, including the lake district of Narochansky. It’s douze points from us.
Before the pandemic hit, Cambodia was steadily growing in popularity not only with gap-year backpackers but also grown-ups seeking an ‘authentic’ adventure, with the bonus of five-star digs for less than the cost of a Travel Lodge back home. Take eOcambo Village in Siem Reap, where rooms with a pool view cost from £11 a night.
Cambodians are famously friendly and you’ll be welcomed with wide smiles at the cafés and eateries, which serve bowls of chicken broth and noodles for a few quid.
For a touristy but essential Cambodian experience, set your alarm and don your elephant-motif trousers to watch the sun rise behind the world-famous Angkor Wat temple, the most iconic sight at the vast Archaeological Park. With 72 temples to get around, it’s worth taking your time with the £45 three-day ticket rather than the £30 one-day pass.
With the snow-capped Himalayas providing the backdrop to rugged mountain scenery, dense jungle plains, hilltop villages, and 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it’s hard to believe Nepal is also one of the cheapest countries to visit in the world.
Nepal is brilliantly set up for independent travellers with organised hikes, such as the famous Annapurna Circuit, offering a once-in-a-lifetime adventure alongside hot meals and beds at traditional tea houses, although you may find fewer of these places to choose from due to the pandemic.
Wildlife lovers should head to Chitwan National Park to see tigers and elephants up close, but avoid the luxury lodges and stay at nearby Sauraha where a private double room can cost £5 a night.
The capital Kathmandu can be a shock after the serenity of the countryside, but once you’ve readjusted, stroll around the historic centre with its pavilions and pagodas, feast on delicious street food for about a fiver a day, and stay in perfectly lovely hotels, such as the two-star Famous House for around £11 a night. Don’t mind if we do.
Staggeringly beautiful and with some of the best food in southeast Asia, Vietnam is still a cheap travel destination despite its popularity. If you’re prepared to rough it, you can get by on £10 a day, including a guest house, food, transport and a few beers (a pint of Vietnam’s most popular brew, Bia Hoi, costs as little as 20p).
But at around £20 for a decent double room with air-con, the swankier hotel options are affordable, too. A double at the four-star MK Premier Boutique Hotel costs around £18 a night. Fill up on delicious street food of salty broth and fresh rice noodles for £1-2 before exploring the sights.
If you’re up north, check out Hanoi, which retains its French flavour with patisseries baking croissants to rival Paris. The Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake, is an oasis of calm where locals practice tai chi at sunrise. Down south? Sample Vietnamese rural life in the mountain resort of Da Lat, where the iconic rice terraces are worth stopping by to take a look.
The cheapest country in South America, Bolivia is a budget traveller’s dream and the ideal spot for post-pandemic travel. High-energy capital La Paz is a whirlwind experience. Hop on the ‘subway in the sky’ cable car for dizzying views, then wander along Calle Jaen, home to some of the city’s best-preserved colonial buildings, whitewashed façades, and ornate black-grilled balconettes. You can find good budget accommodation here for around £15 a night, or try something like the cosy four-star Casa Fusion Hotel Boutique which has rooms from £29 a night.
From La Paz, head to Lake Titicaca, where you can dine on the freshest trout cooked however you like by locals in kiosks along the shore on Copacabana for less than £3. Or take a boat to Isla Del Sol and hike across it to admire the views over the lake.
Food in Bolivia costs next to nothing. Look out for almuerzo (set lunch), which includes soup, a main course, and dessert for as little as £1. If you’re going to treat yourself to one more costly excursion, make it a jeep tour of the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. This amazing sight, known as the world’s largest mirror, is not to be missed. Read more about Salar de Uyuni, plus 9 more incredible places to visit around the world. Then make sure to check out the latest travel restrictions and foreign travel advice for visiting Bolivia.
If you’ve always wanted to go to the Maldives but don’t fancy remortgaging, fret not. Honduras has swathes of white sand beaches without the honeymooners’ price hike. In fact, travelling here will set you back less than £25 a day, with mega cheap eats and hotel rooms averaging a measly £10. Consider staying in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, otherwise known as Tegus, and book a room at the two-star Hotel Nan King from £21 a night.
Honduras is a fantastic choice for learning to scuba dive on the cheap, with courses offered at really competitive rates. Head for the pristine beaches along Honduras’s northern coast, splendid for some isolation and ideal for snorkelling, too. On dry land, check out the bustling port at Puerto Cortes, then get out to the picture-postcard seaside town of Omoa and the beautiful colonial city of Comayagua, with its quaint Spanish houses and packed historic town centre plazas. Bag a traditional Honduran baguette or bistek (steak) sandwich from a nearby cafe for less than £4 and picnic in the nearby Parque Central.
All prices and details are correct as of 6 April 2021 and are subject to change and availability.
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