Did you know that 52 percent of American workers don’t use all their paid time off? Maybe we’re not using all that PTO because we tend to think of vacations as grand endeavors that are often too expensive to be worth it. And sure, a tropical-island getaway sounds pricey and hard to pull off, but what if we said you could stay in a low-key, off-the-radar beach town for less than $100 a night? And we’re not talking about bunk beds in backpackers’ hostels. These are sweet accommodations where you can swim in the ocean, hike a volcano, and read a book in a hammock. Don’t wait. It’s time to actually use those vacation days.
On Lanzarote, in Spain’s Canary Islands, you can cycle scenic roadways, hike the craters of Timanfaya National Park, windsurf, and kiteboard. The island has plenty of upscale hotels, or you can find affordable, low-fuss guesthouses and bungalows. At the family-owned Casa El Morro (from $97), you’ll have views of inland vineyards and volcanic peaks from your cottage or yurt. There are also yoga classes, surf lessons, and bike rentals, or stay put and enjoy the saltwater pool and home-cooked breakfasts.
Saint Lucia, Caribbean
People don’t typically look to the Caribbean for budget-friendly destinations. But you can do Saint Lucia, in the Lesser Antilles, on the cheap if you know where to look. Lounge on the volcanic island’s golden sands, paint yourself in mud at Sulphur Springs, and ride eight miles of rainforest singletrack at Bike St. Lucia. At Balenbouche Estate, cottages start at just $90 a night during the low season if you stay for a week. Tag along on one of the guided hikes to the top of 2,619-foot Gros Piton, one of the Caribbean’s most iconic peaks, then stretch out in the yoga barn or on the estate’s secluded beaches.
This laid-back town on the Big Island is back up and running after the 2018 volcanic eruption of Kilauea, but tourism has been slow to return. Which means you can score empty beaches and good deals on lodging. The Volcano House, which closed during the eruption due to its location within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is now fully operational, and you can stay in a refurbished camper cabin for $80 a night or rent camping gear and a tent site for $55 a night. Want to be closer to the ocean? Book this Indonesian-style hut (from $61), which is walking distance to a black-sand beach near Pahoa.
Koh Mak, Thailand
Many of Thailand’s bustling southern islands are filled with full-moon partiers and tour busses. Not Koh Mak, a small, six-square-mile isle in the Gulf of Thailand that’s reached by a one-hour speedboat ride from Trat, on the mainland. The place feels untouched, friendly, and blissfully peaceful. Sleep in a bungalow on the beach for $37 a night at Banana Sunset, and watch the most stunning sunset of your life from your porch or the on-site and aptly named Sunset Bar. From there, rent bikes to pedal village to village, snorkel through turquoise waters, or take a Thai cooking class.
Anna Maria Island, Florida
Slow, old-fashioned charm permeates this seven-mile-long barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, just an hour south of Tampa. You’ll get about by bicycle, sea kayak, or the free island trolley, and beach time is the main activity here. Gear-rental company Beach Bums will deliver cruiser bikes, paddleboards, and kayaks to your vacation rental, but there’s also sailing and fishing charters. Most of the island’s hotels are on the pricier side, but you can find an Airbnb just a block and a half from the ocean with a shared pool for $99.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Separated from the mainland by a sandbar and shallow lagoon that’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, Isla Holbox is only accessible by airplane or ferry, meaning there’s little in the way of development. There are, however, small fishing villages filled with colorful homes and one of the of the planet’s largest concentrations of whale sharks just offshore. Snorkel the reef Cabo Catoche, fish for sea trout, and swim with sharks while you’re there. Hotel Casa Barbara (from $86) has a pool, garden, and rooms ten minutes from the beach.
Culebra, Puerto Rico
Culebra, 18 miles east of Puerto Rico’s mainland, was hit hard by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The island is still recovering, but most of the guesthouses and restaurants are back open, and the beaches are as pristine as ever. Don’t expect Wi-Fi or hotel chains here—this is a tranquil, low-tech escape. Casita Tropical, a mile from the beach, has rooms from $80 and will outfit you with chairs and towels. Be sure to hike a mile to Carlos Rosario Beach and snorkel the amazing the coral.