Eat, drink and be merry on the smell of an oily beach towel in these cheap and cheerful destinations in 2020, writes Ewan McDonald
Bored with Bali? Tired of Thailand? But still hanging out for a holiday that won't break the bank? Check out our choice of cheap and cheerful destinations for 2020. Yes, the most expensive item will be the air ticket to get there. But hey, it's your holiday. Shop around and go during the low or shoulder season, and you'll discover local places to eat, drink and be merry on the smell of an oily beach towel.
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If you're on the hunt for the most amazing tropical beaches in the world – as voted by just about everyone who matters - check out the Philippines. There are more than 7000 islands and besides the beautiful coastlines and friendly people, it's a culturally fascinating place – a mix of Asian and Spanish colonial influences. Asia's largest Catholic country is home to more than 100 different ethnic groups, a large international influence and a Spanish/Latin twist. Alongside opportunities for scuba diving, wildlife spotting, ancient rice terraces, festivals, reasonably priced accommodation and cheap eats, you have the makings of a special holiday. The nation is divided into three major island groups. Luzon in the north is the economic and political centre, home to the capital city of Manila; the country's best beaches are on the middle islands, known as Visayas, which also feature the richest biodiversity and stunning wildlife; Mindanao, in the south, is home to most of the Philippines' indigenous culture.
Can't decide between Vietnam and Thailand? Go for the beautiful country located smack bang in between, Cambodia. Those pressed for time should at least cross the border for a few days to visit the famous and impressive temples of Angkor Wat. Cambodia is a very cheap travel destination, even by Southeast Asian standards, so it's easy to find comfortable hotels at a reasonable price. Food is also cheap and you can include restaurants offering their take on Western foods like pizzas and burgers if you feel a bit homesick and don't mind paying a bit more. You can make your money go further by negotiating or haggling - though this should be done in a light-hearted and fun way. Despite its growing popularity, there are plenty of undiscovered parts to Cambodia if you get away from the tourist traps and explore. It's a popular destination for bike tours because the landscape is gorgeous and relatively flat, beaches are less touristy than in Thailand but equally as beautiful - probably the most popular is at Sihanoukville – and for history, temples and culture you can't go past Phnom Penh, the country's vibrant capital.
Shortland Street's Dr Ropata hasn't been seen in Guatemala for decades but it's easy to see what attracted him to the place. Rich history, impressive culture, beautiful environment, adventure sports and vibrant people won't disappoint. Then there are colourfully decorated old school buses, affectionately called "chicken buses", to take you intercity, along with markets like Chichicastenango or "Chichi Market", southwest of Guatemala City, that sell everything from local fabrics and masks to wood carvings and pottery. Mayan culture is prolific throughout Guatemala, beyond the most famous ruins in Tikal. The national parks and landscapes are mesmerising and include the jungles in the northern Peten region, beaches on the Pacific Coast, Antigua's three ancient volcanos in the central highlands, and the crater-lake, Atitlan, in the western highlands. As with many countries, internet is widely available; ATMs are not. So if you're heading away from the larger towns, make sure you carry enough cash with you. Another comparison between large and small towns is the food. In popular touristy areas you'll find many different types of cuisines; in the smaller communities, it's more likely to be traditional Guatemalan dishes.
The largest Caribbean island and the closest to Key West. Despite its proximity to the US, the embargo still stands and poverty is evident. However, there's charm in Cuba's fading grandeur, not only in its buildings but also in its famous fleet of vintage American cars, which provide magnificent photo opportunities. While many locals are savvy to the tourist dollar - watch for the "special price on cigars for today only" scams – they're also very charming and welcoming to visitors. Getting about the island is easy, via bus or hiring a reasonably priced driver. Food is incredibly cheap, if the options are limited, and accommodation is a bargain especially when using its huge network of family-run casa particulares. On the downside, there's barely any internet connection or ATMs, so it's a good time to go cold turkey from social media and sort your cash and foreign currency before you leave. Tip: securing a regular taxi driver is a great way to meet the locals and get to the less touristy spots, so don't be shy, make friends. Now's the time to practise your Spanish.
South of India, Sri Lanka is a tropical island with countless scenic beaches, especially in the southwest where snorkelling and surfing are popular. The Southern Province also has the historic city of Galle and several national parks. Along with the North Central and Western Provinces, it's the most popular for tourists; the north features a rich culture and history while the west is home to the country's capital, Colombo, and beach resorts. Getting about is easy onboard local buses and trains or, if you want to take your life in your own hands, tuk-tuks. While more expensive, a hired driver is a good way to combine (safer) transportation and a tour guide. Food is cheap if you eat at local restaurants and, given its proximity, it's not too surprising to learn that Sri Lanka's food is like that of South India. Remember too that the island is famous for its extensive tea estates, so if you're a tea lover then "do try it", and then "do buy it". Tip: tourist attractions are generally free to enter but most other prices will be inflated for tourists, so bargain away.