The Maldives, Bora Bora, the Seychelles – here’s our guide to navigating the most beautiful islands on earth – without the eye-watering price tag. As the setting of some of the world’s most extravagant resorts, these tropical islands have become synonymous with splashing the cash. But good news, budget travellers: there are certain hacks that mean you don’t have to be a celebrity to stay on an island paradise (although you might spot a few hanging around).
1. Maafushi, Maldives – fly from £500
Rule number one when visiting the Maldives on a budget? Avoid the privately-owned islands, where resorts can cost hundreds of thousands of Maldivian rufiyaa per night. More modest guesthouses on public islands such as Maafushi, Fulidhoo or Garaidhoo will charge literally a hundred times less than the likes of Como Cocoa Island – and, happily, they still benefit from impossibly idyllic beaches. Plus, these three are an easy ferry ride from Malé, where the international airport is based – and public boat transport is affordable and easy to use (if taking a bit longer). If all else fails, you can always wangle a deal with a local speedboat owner.
As always, eating local food is cheapest: mostly fish, curry, coconut and rice. One thing to be aware of is that outside of Western resorts, you should dress modestly and you won’t find alcohol, as the Maldives are largely Muslim. But that’s an easy way to keep your spending down, too.
Where to stay? Seven Guest House is down the road from the Maafushi harbour and reef, and costs as little as £16 a night. For that you’ll get air con, a minibar and a flat-screen TV, as well as complimentary water and access to the lush back garden.
2. La Digue, Seychelles – fly from £416
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles is a tropical haven of 115 islands lined by impossibly fine white-sand beaches and some of the most shockingly expensive resorts on earth. But you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s possible to visit on a shoestring – particularly if you choose La Digue, the Seychelles’ smallest and least-visited island, a 90-minute catamaran ride from Mahé (where the international airport is based). With a distinct absence of high-rise hotels and resorts, La Digue is instead home to family-run guesthouses and simple, Creole eateries where fresh-fish curry dinners are rounded off with shots of dark rum. It’s mostly car-free and bicycle hire abounds. Grab one and take your own tour of the island’s chain of dreamy, granite-bouldered coves – and if you do one thing, take a dip in the crystal waters of the Anse Source d’Argent beach and snorkel for tropical fish, sharks and rays.
Where to stay? Keep costs down at Oceane Self Catering, in the north-westerly commune of La Passe, where you can rustle up your own meals in the bright, clean surrounds, and eat outside under the shade of coconut palms. From £70 a night.
3. Canggu, Bali – fly from £462
In the southern tip of the Indonesian island, just above party district Kuta, is this up-and-coming hippie paradise – where digital nomads log onto the WiFi to do a day’s work to the crashing sound of turf, with a freshly-ground flat white and their toes in the sand. Here, it’s all about yoga, juice bars, surfing and a smattering of edgy street art. It’s been firmly on the hipster radar for a few years now – but is still one of the cheapest places to stay in Bali.
Most people spend their days in Canggu flitting between its different cafés and lazily browsing in its boutique shops – but the village’s best activity comes for free. The sunsets from Batu Bolong beach are famous for being some of the most striking in the world. Grab a Bintang lager and the hand of the person you’re with, and settle down on a blanket on the shore.
Where to stay? Guest House Home 46 Bali might not have a very fancy name, but who cares when it costs £10 for a night’s stay there – pool and air con included.
4. Palawan, Philippines – fly from £289
Tourism in Palawan has grown exponentially in recent years, with a poll by Conde Nast Traveler naming it one of the Best Islands in the World in 2017. Word of its breathtaking beauty and UNESCO-protected sites has got out – and the destination’s often-hefty price tags reflect that.
That said, savvy travellers can get around paying for expensive accommodation by sharing dorms, and cut travel costs by hopping in tuk tuks over taxis – and buses or multi-cabs for longer distances. The cheapest hostels are found in the towns of Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron, costing from around £4.
Palawan is the definition of beach paradise: its pristine white sand coves, limestone cliffs, rolling mountains and rich coral reefs swarming with tropical wildlife all unfold before you. It would be the easiest thing in the world to spend a week here lounging on a different pristine beach each day, snorkelling and spending your evenings in a backpacker bar with a beer. And that will hardly cost you a thing.
Where to stay? A night at the seafront Floresita’s Beach Resort in El Nido only costs a fiver and is great for any sociable backpacker on a budget: there’s a communal area with a TV and barbecue grills, and breakfast is included. Win.
5. Bora Bora, French Polynesia – fly from £1,236
Due to its remote location in the South Pacific, it takes some planning to visit Bora Bora on the cheap (and there’s no getting away from the hefty flight price). But once you’re there, you’ll be surprised at how budget-friendly Bora Bora is. Firstly, travel in low season – between January and March, when the weather sits around a perfect 29°C and hotels (which are usually steep) can be half the price. On the island, taxis are generally overpriced, but hire a bike for around £10 and cycle your way between its turquoise lagoons and sand-fringed islets.
Luckily, you don’t have to pay for the overwhelming beauty that awaits you on Bora Bora. It’s a spectacular hiking destination, dominated by the 727-metre-high Mount Otemanu. And while you can’t hike up its peak, countless trekking trails wind around its base and surrounding hills, providing endless views of the volcano’s different faces. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, dine at one of the luxury resorts as a guest and take a dip in their infinity pool, without committing to a room.
Where to stay? It’ll set you back around £65 per night at La Perle De Tahaa, where’ll you’ll also get sea views, beautifully fresh seafood meals, scuba diving and water sports activities.
Which island will you explore?
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 25 March 2019.