It doesn’t take long for a holiday to start getting really, really expensive. You’ve got the flights, the hotel, food, drinks, admission prices for attractions – it’s easy to think that the only way to avoid these insane prices is to suck it up and head to Benidorm once again.
That’s completely the wrong attitude to have. Sure, if you head to the tourist traps, or you travel during peak times to the other side of the world, the price can add up a bit. But there are plenty of truly astounding destinations all over the world that won’t break the bank – and will still induce absolute envy and hatred from your mates. Which every good holiday should do, am I right?
CameliaTWU via Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/JsyoCL
Asturias & Covadonga Convent – Spain
Asturias is known as the “Green Spain” thanks to its incredible sweeping meadows, fantastic rivers, beaches, hilly peaks and more, all found along the northern Spanish coast. It’s a region associated with great adventure sports – think canoeing, hiking, quad biking – but it’s also a region with a fantastic history.
It was in Covadonga that the local King Pelayo defeated the ruling moors in 722 AD, beginning the campaign to bring Christianity to the Iberian peninsula. Thanks to this, the convent in Covadonga – known simply as the Covadonga Convent – is a sanctuary that houses the statue of “La Santina”, the Virgin of Covadonga, in a beautiful stone church where thousands of believers come to worship regularly.
Located near the beautiful Bay of Biscay, the average price of a meal per person is just €18 (or £15.86), and you can get a double room in a 3-star hotel for €25pp. Worth every penny, especially if you visit between October and March to see the beautiful hills covered in snow. The highest peaks of the mountains are sometimes inaccessible during this period, but it’s the price you pay to stay in a veritable fairy-tale land.
The land of Dracula, Romania has a lot to offer – especially for those looking for a cultural, spooky trip. With an abundance of rugged stone churches and monasteries and the jaw-dropping castles gifted to any budding traveller in the realms of Transylvania, Romania is a land straight out of another time.
Wander through Bram Stoker’s inspiration, Bran Castle, or Hunedoara’s 14th century Corvin Castle, and the 19th century Peles Castle that King Carol I made home. The cobbled streets in medieval towns help create the perfect atmosphere for a getaway spent writing and reading horror novels in quaint cafes surrounded by Gothic and baroque architecture.
The historic buildings are not the only pull to the country: there’s also the Carpathian Mountains hiding deer, elk, bears, and more within the swathes of forests along the rocky peaks, or the Danube river, marking Romania’s southern border and providing sanctuary for 300 species of bird and 160 species of fish within its waters.
The Romanian culture is one not to be overlooked as well; the geographical make-up of the country necessitated hundreds of self-sufficient villages to form, where old folkways such as pottery, tanning, weaving became an art form, and the oversized hay racks, horse carts, and wooden churches that still remain leave the villages with a distinctly medieval atmosphere.
For a cheap holiday, Romania is the place to go. Bucharest has some of the lowest average flight prices from the UK, but once you’re there the deals don’t stop. It can cost less than £10 a day for meals in the capital city, and travelling around the country only becomes more affordable the further out of the tourist sectors you go.
Zimbabwe is a country that has seen a lot of political unrest and conflict, but you wouldn’t know it from the people you meet there, and the culture you experience. The Zimbabwean motto is “we’ll make a plan”, and that level of hope is apparent no matter where you visit.
The journey through Zimbabwe takes you through highveld, balancing boulders, to national parks, flaming Msasa trees, relaxed towns, spectacular waterfalls and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All of this provides travellers with a small glimpse into the long and resolute history of the African continent. Unsurprisingly, many of the attractions in Zimbabwe are found outside of the great cities, with the forests being the best places to see the Big Five – leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and buffalo.
It’s truly one of the best places to go on safari, just make sure you go between April and October when the dry season brings the animals together at the watering holes.
Paternoster – South Africa
Cape Town is iconic, and the undisputed capital of holidays to Africa – especially South Africa. But just an hour’s drive away is the quaint town of Paternoster, for those seeking a less frantic and more charming holiday. Once the West Coast’s last traditional fishing village, the whitewashed fisherman’s cottages are surrounded by a vast selection of firs-class restaurants.
The second home of the wealthy Capetonians and foreigners looking to explore more of what rural Africa can offer, it is a place where the still waters and empty beaches emit an air of calm tranquillity.
The best part about a trip to Paternoster? Flights cost as little as £400 for returns. Pretty impressive to get halfway around the world.
Arequipa – Peru
Arequipa is often overlooked, despite being Peru’s second-largest city. It’s hard to see why, considering the city is every bit Lima’s equal when it comes to cuisine, historical significance, and natural beauty. In fact, it’s known as Peru’s most beautiful city, with remarkable colonial architecture set against a backdrop of three dramatic volcanoes, towering dramatically in the background.
The city centre itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with baroque buildings carved from white volcanic sillar stone – which has earnt the city its nickname ‘Ciudad Blanca’, meaning the White City. At its centre is the Basilica Catedral de Arequipa, a 17th-century cathedral that spans the entire length of the Plaza de Armas square.
While you’re in the centre of the city, why not visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos, where visitors encounter Juanita: the perfectly preserved mummy of a little girl who was offered as a human sacrifice during the Incan Empire. With an average of £47 a night for a 3-star hotel, and £1 for a beer, Arequipa really is not one to miss.
Palomino – Colombia
When you think of Colombia, you’ll likely be thinking about Santa Marta and Cartagena, but the real dreamboat location in this South American country is Palomino. Not only does it have the picturesque Caribbean beaches that are coveted by most holidaymakers, but these are combined with fantastic wildlife, surfing, and delicious seafood.
It’s easy to pass straight through Palomino on the Riohacha highway, but the little town is perfectly nestled between one of Colombia’s most perfect beaches and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Along the beach, you’ll find fishers using traditional nets, and in the mountains, you’ll see indigenous tribes living in the same way they have for centuries.
To get the best of the weather – and the cheap flights – visit between December and March when it’s raining the least. It’s also peak tourist season, but in the tucked-away city of Palomino that shouldn’t be a problem.
Central / North America
Zenia Nuñez via Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/jg9U1D
As the largest country in Central America, it’s surprising Nicaragua isn’t more popular with traditional tourists. Generally accepted as one of the backpacking destinations around the world, this tropical island is perfect for anyone looking to escape the crowds. From untouched beaches, wild Pacific waves, picturesque colonial towns complete with pastel-coloured buildings, and countless beautiful natural scenery – like 19 volcanoes, if that’s enough for you – there genuinely is something for everyone.
The best activities include snorkelling off the Corn Islands and Pearl Keys or swimming through the Somoto Canyon – Central America’s answer to the Grand Canyon. For the real adventure seekers, why not trek Cerro Negro, an active volcano where you can board back down the black sand slopes on a wooden sledge.
The average price of a hotel is only £31 a night, a small price to pay to visit the twin volcanoes of Isla de Ometepe in Lake Cocibolca, locally known as “The Lady’s Breasts”. Just make sure you visit between December and April if you want to avoid the wet season.
Puebla – Mexico
Puebla is famous for its incredibly conservative past, complete with a bastion of Catholicism and tradition, but in recent years Mexico’s fourth-largest city is climbing out of its colonial-era attitude. One of the country’s oldest cities, it is amazingly well preserved considering its age, with a stunning cathedral and 70 churches in the centre of the city alone.
More than 1000 colonial-era building exist within Puebla, making it no wonder Mexicans and tourists alike know the town as a university town, with an impressive colonial history. Everywhere you look, the buildings are covered with painted ceramic tiles known as Talavera, and the acclaimed cuisine can be sampled at restaurants and food stalls on every corner.
Puebla is also home to the Museo Amparo, home to one of the finest collections of Mexican art in Latin America. There’s also the 17th century baroque Capilla del Rosario church, complete with elaborate interior and a number of vintage and antique stalls along Callejon de Los Sapos – which translates to “Frog Alley”.
Puebla may be the fourth largest city in Mexico, but it has the effortless charm and character of any off the beaten track destination you could visit.
sandeepachetan.com via Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/pESLCR
Sheki – Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is growing rapidly in popularity with tourists, but one unique destination that’s managed to maintain its effortless, original charm while accommodating to tourists is Sheki. The infrastructure has been developed to accommodate the booming tourist industry, and it somehow managed to hold onto the residential neighbourhoods – perfect to experience the true Azerbaijani culture.
In Sheki, you can find the Sheki Khan’s Summer Palace, one of Azerbaijan’s most prized pieces of historical architecture, as well as the winter palace – only recently rediscovered by historians. 90% of the winter palace is completely original and visiting really does feel like stepping back in time.
As the story goes, the Sheki Khans’ were exiled to Iran and Turkey when the Red Army arrived, and so a few generations of the Khans’ decedents lived inside the winter palace before it was eventually abandoned, ruined, and forgotten. While the restoration process began on the summer palace, and a lot of time, effort, and money was poured into it, ordinary people began living in the winter palace – completely unaware that underneath the layers of dirt was a former palace.
The town of Sheki is full to the brim of Islamic architecture and mosaic tiles, as well as some great deals. The average price of a meal per person is only £13.21, and you can get a decent room in a 3-star hotel for the same price.
Ladakh – India
When you think of India, chances are you think about the great bustling cities of Mumbai and New Delhi – and so you should, because these cities are a fantastic experience. But there are plenty of locations around India that offer something completely different to the swathes of colour, noise, and excitement that these big destinations provide.
Ladakh can be found in one of the norther-most parts of India, high up in the spectacularly jagged, arid mountains complete with picture-perfect monasteries. This ancient town was once a magical Buddhist kingdom and an important link on the Silk Road (the trade route connecting Central Asia with the Middle East and Europe). It has since become a backpackers’ dream, thanks to the prayer wheels release merit-making mantras, and dramatic rocky outcrops set next to visually stunning trails to inspire any enthusiastic hiker.
The Ladakhis are virtually self-sufficient in terms of fuel, dairy products, and barley – used to tsampa and barley beer – and everything you could desire is a stone’s throw away: from mountain biking to river rafting, trekking, and more. The ancient site is home to golden Buddhas and red-robed monks, all inspiring a deep philosophical journey.
Direct flights to India can cost less than £200 return, and these cheap prices continue no matter where you end up in the country. Eating out is fantastic – especially if you’re vegetarian – and a meal for two can cost as little as £8.
Russell Charters via Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/23sghDi
Cairns – Australia
Considered to be the gateway to one of the most famous landmarks in the world – the Great Barrier Reef – it’s no surprised that Cairns (pronounced cans) is one of the best places to visit on your next trip. Awash with bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes for all different budgets, Cairns has come a long way from its swamp origins.
The cosmopolitan city has some truly gorgeous beaches, but it’s its proximity to the Daintree rainforest, tableland of Atherton and so much more that is the true charm. The opportunities to have an action-packed day followed by cocktails and sophistication in the evening are endless. It may be a small city, but Cairns has enough to do to rival the likes of Sydney without the incessant tourists. A win-win really.
Glenorchy – New Zealand
Travelling to New Zealand may not seem like the cheapest destination – especially if you live in the northern hemisphere – but what Glenorchy lacks in terms of cheap flights, it more than makes up for when you’re there (and considering where you’re going, it definitely still works out as a cheap holiday).
Known as the gateway to the Routeburn Track, which is a world-renowned, 32km hiking track found in the South Island of New Zealand, Glenorchy is a small town at the head of Lake Wakatipu, perfectly located near the lake and the mountains. New Zealand is popular thanks to its staggeringly beautiful landscapes – and a certain Lord of the Rings trilogy – but Glenorchy is the perfect getaway to stay away from the hustle and bustle of tourists in Queenstown.
The perfect location for any budding adventurer, Glenorchy has opportunities for kayaking, horse riding, jet boating, and hiking. With the town centre just slightly back from the lake, it’s the perfect route for a walk around the scenery, with the Humboldt Mountains rising behind
Some of these locations might seem a bit alternative, and some might seem so on the nose and obvious that you’re struggling to see how you could get a cheap deal over there. But rest assured, all of these holidays are affordable for the average Joe, and all of them are worthy of being put on your bucket list.