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Travel bliss on a bargain budget: 10 cheap dream destinations

It’s no good bagging a bargain flight if you burn through your spending money on the first round of cocktails. And nothing puts the dampeners on a holiday quite like the creeping realisation you might have to sell a kidney when you get home. To tick the budget box, you need to go where you can sleep and eat for as little as possible. Start with our round-up of 10 of the cheapest countries on the planet, from Caribbean bargain beaches to heavenly street food that’s cheaper than chips.

1. Nicaragua

The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is a real show-off. Untouched beaches, wild Pacific waves, beautifully preserved towns, no fewer than 19 volcanoes, idyllic islands galore… Need more persuasion? How about brilliant hotel bargains, such as Granada’s highly rated El Almirante from £31 a night? Much of the country’s 550 miles of coastline is delightfully tourist free 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, too. 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, locally known as ‘The Lady’s Breasts’, natch. You can even try a spot of ash surfing down a crater like Cerro Negro. Beat that for a holiday anecdote.

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2. Laos

Laid back Laos remains surprisingly untouched by mass tourism meaning visitors can explore the emerald paddy fields, brooding jungle and remote villages in relative peace. You can’t get more ‘authentic’ than a village homestay, where tourists are invited into local family homes to share meals and activities and sleep under the same roof for as little as £10. Even better, the money goes back into the community. If that’s not your bag, a hotel such as the Khampiane Boutique Hotel in Laos’s largest city Vientiane, will cost around £17 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 should the fancy take them. While those in need of some zen can tap into the spiritual life of Laos with a spot of yoga or a spa treatment.

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3. Turkey

With the Lira at a 10-year low, there’s never been a better time to visit this land rich in history and culture. First stop, Turkey’s capital – and frankly one of the world’s greatest cities – Istanbul. Try the street food speciality Balik Ekmek, a catch-of-the-day fish sandwich for a few of your British pounds, then check out the world famous Haggia Sophia, a 1,500-year-old complex used as a church by the Byzantine era and then a mosque by the Ottomans. Entry costs around £7.50 or, for just over twice that, you can buy a five-day Museum Pass, which gets you into 12 sites with discounts at lots more. 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 for about a fiver. Wherever you decide to lay your head, you’re sure to get a warm welcome at the many friendly guesthouses, such as Istanbul’s ornate Buyukada Cankaya Hotel where rooms cost around £26 a night.

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4. Belarus

There’s more to Belarus than its reputation for dodgy Eurovision entries, as more tourists are discovering thanks to last year’s lift on costly tourist visas. You can now travel to this former Soviet republic visa-free for up to 30 days, plenty of time to enjoy the European Games when they come to Minsk next year. Fans who make the trip to the post-Stalinist capital won’t fail to be struck by its imposing architecture, such as the looming KGB HQ, but they 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 £37 a night, is worth it for the pool alone. Beyond Minsk, Belarus offers 16th century castles at Mir and Nesvijk, postcard-pretty villages and four national parks, including the lake district of Narochansky. It’s “douze points” from us.

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5. Cambodia

Cambodia is steadily growing in popularity not only with gap-year backpackers but also grown-ups who want an ‘authentic’ adventure with the bonus of five-star digs for less than the cost of a Travel Lodge back home. Take Palm Village Resort and Spa in Siem Reap, where traditional Khmer-style houses cost from £21.70 a night B&B. There’s even a free tuk-tuk service for a hair-raising yet joyous way to get into town. Cambodians are some of the friendliest people on the planet and you’ll be welcomed with wide smiles at the cafés and eateries serving 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 round, it’s worth taking your time with the £48 three-day ticket rather than the £28 one-day pass – after all, £1.50 a temple doesn’t seem unreasonable. Find out more about the amazing sights of Cambodia in our full round-up.

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6. Nepal

It’s hard to match the raw beauty of this compact country flanked by China and India. With the snow-capped Himalayas providing the backdrop to rugged mountain scenery, dense jungle plains, hilltop villages and (count ‘em) 10 World Heritage Sites, it’s hard to believe it’s 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 once-in-a-lifetime adventure alongside hot meals and beds at traditional tea houses. 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 less than £3 a night! Crazy 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 three-star Alliance Hotel-Boudhanath Stupa for around £16 a night. Don’t mind if we do.

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7. India

From the teeming bazaars of the old quarter to the soaring skyscrapers of New Delhi – not to mention lip-smacking eats for mere pennies – it’s an electrifying place to start your Indian adventure. Indeed, many travellers use it as a launch pad for the famous Golden Triangle, made up by the three most visited cities in northwest India. The other two are Agra, home to the iconic marble Taj Mahal, and Rajastan’s capital Jaipur, famous for its colourful bazaars and Mehrangarh Fort. There are organised tours, but hiring a car with a guide is cheaper and way more fun. When it comes to digs, you can find clean and comfortable hostels for peanuts (around £6 a night), while a double room at a hotel, such as the three-star Hotel Le Roi, will cost around £21. Find more ideas for things to do in Delhi with our guide.

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8. Vietnam

Staggeringly beautiful and with hands-down the best food in southeast Asia (pipe down, Thailand), Vietnam is still a cheap travel destination. 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 50p. But at around £20 for a decent double room with air-con, you can afford to swank it up a little too. A double at the three-star Hanoi Serenity Hotel 2 costs around £17 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’s finest next door to authentic pho noodle soup shacks. 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.

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9. Bolvia

The cheapest country in South America, Bolivia is a traveller’s dream. 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 homely three-star A La Maison. 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 is 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 about Salar de Uyuni, plus 9 more incredible places to visit around the world.

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10. Honduras

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! Check out the three-star Eco Hotel Shanghai La, with a pool, gardens and bar, for £24 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, which are 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 plazas of the historic town centre. Bag a traditional Honduran baguette or bistek (steak) sandwich from café La Casa del Sandwich for less than £4 and picnic in the nearby Parque Central.

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All prices are as of date of publication on 16 October 2018 and are subject to change and availability.