Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This article was updated September 2020.
Crossing off items on your travel bucket list doesn’t have to break the bank! Gnational Gnomads Mike & Anne Howard of HoneyTrek reveal the most affordable and epic destinations from their six years honeymooning around the world.
Bucket list is often a euphemism for the dreams I’ll get to someday. But why wait? Especially when many of these epic destinations are way more affordable than you think. We’ve been honeymooning since 2012 and have experienced world wonders across the seven continents and kept our average budget under $35 a day per person. Of the 500+ destinations in the world we’ve explored, we’ve narrowed them down to this list of nine bucket list places everyone should visit, no matter their budget!
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Siem Reap, Cambodia: Home of Angkor Wat and Tomb Raider Temples
The image of Angkor Wat’s honeycomb towers reflected in the lotus pond is one of the most iconic of Cambodia, if not all of Southeast Asia. That one temple, while the largest religious structure in the world, is just the beginning of Angkor Archaeological Park’s enchantment. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 1430s, the city was abandoned for centuries and almost entirely devoured by jungle, until its excavation in the 19th century. Bike to the most overgrown temples in the heart of the park. Ta Prohm is so fantastical, it starred in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, while the less visited Ta Som and Preah Khan are just as cinematic, with stone-crushing banyans and serpentine strangler figs. Follow crumbling corridors, peer over walls, and find holy spaces reclaimed by Buddhist devotees.
Money Matters: A one day ticket is $37, though we’d highly recommend getting the three-day pass to Ankgor Wat Archaeological Park for $62 (valid for 10 days). Head to the night market for authentic Khmer cuisine for around $1.50 and hotel rooms start around $8 at our time of booking (yes, that is not a typo).
Atacama, Chile: The driest desert in the world
Sheltered between the 17,000-foot peaks of the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, the Atacama is the world’s driest desert. This would seem like an inhospitable place, but the pleasures are in its harsh extremes. The ancient lakes have dried into massive salt flats, shimmering with crystals and sky blue pools in Los Flamencos National Reserve. El Tatio geyser field erupts every morning with plumes of steam shooting 70 feet high. The town’s adobe and stick-roof buildings appear endearingly primitive, though behind those earthen walls are boutique hotels, mountain bike shops, and pisco sour bars buzzing with life. No matter what you’re measuring—rain, ambiance, or adventures—Atacama is off the charts.
Money Matters: Rent a bike for as little as $5 and see the natural wonders without a tour guide or crowds. The most coveted attraction, Moon Valley, is a whopping $5 entrance. When we searched, we found lodging starting around $40.
Yasuní, Ecuador: One of the most biodiverse places on earth
Dubbed the “Lungs of the Earth,” the Amazon is a place every nature lover should experience. Though, spreading 2.7 million square miles across eight countries, it’s hard to know where to begin. Our vote? Yasuní, Ecuador. In addition to being less expensive than the Brazilian side, the species density in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve blows its neighbors out of the water. In a single hectare, Yasuní is home to more than 100,000 species of insects (that’s more than all of North America combined). And in less than 0.2 percent of the Amazon’s total landmass, you can find over 33 percent of its bird and reptile species. Plus, the region’s beauty is unquestionable, and the closer you look, the prettier it gets. Watch hundreds of parrots feast at the clay clicks, take a night walking safari to see countless nocturnal critters, and learn about the indigenous communities carrying on centuries-old traditions.
Money Matters: Organize a local guide in the Amazonian gateway town of Coca for the most affordable rates!
Kruger National Park, South Africa: Big-Five Safari
Safari destinations, filled with lions, rhinos, elephants,and cheetahs, rarely let tourists drive around on their own. Kruger National Park, on the other hand, has such incredible roads, rangers, and overall infrastructure that even two urbanites in a 2WD rental can safely take a game drive—for a steal! You’ll be astonished by how many of Kruger’s 800 animal species you can see without leaving your car. Though if you trek along the animal paths with a ranger, spend the night in a bird hide shelter, and take a 4×4 down the Mananga Adventure Trail, you’ll see why this is one of Africa’s most impressive parks. Kruger not only boasts the “big five” (rhino, elephant, African buffalo, lion, and leopard) but also more large mammals than virtually any other park on the continent.
Money Matters: Rent a car from Johannesburg Airport for around $12 per day. Pay the ranger $27 and begin your self-drive safari around Kruger National Park. We found lodging outside the park starting around $35. Tip: If you plan on seeing more than one national park in South Africa, get the SANParks Wild Card to save on entrance fees.
Cappadocia, Turkey: UNESCO cave churches and ancient subterranean cities
Blanketed in volcanic tuff, Cappadocia has been slowly eroding into ruffled valleys, castle-like cliffs, fairy chimneys, and one the most otherworldly landscapes. As if its geological beauty weren’t enough to fascinate, these lava formations have been hand-carved into thousands of houses, inhabited by the Hittites, Romans, Ottomans, and present-day Anatolians. Though that’s just scratching the surface, follow the rough-hewn tunnels and go deep into dozens of underground cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Explore fifth-century rock monasteries where Christians practiced in secrecy at the UNESCO Göreme Open Air Museum. Then discover how inviting a cave can be with a night in one of the hotels or restaurants carved into the cliffs.
Money Matters: Explore Goreme Open Air Museum for $10. We were able to find private rooms starting around $25. Hikes through the Love Valley have million-dollar views free of charge.
Railay, Thailand: A best-in-class beach and rock climber’s paradise
Only accessible by boat, the Railay peninsula has the feel of a far-flung island, but it’s the thick jungle and sheer limestone cliffs that shelter this oasis from the mainland. Everyone loves a good karst mountain, dripping with stalactites and sculpted with caves, but no one more than a rock climber. Railay has more than 700 routes bolted into the crags, plus sea cliffs perfect for deepwater solo: free climbing over the ocean and high-diving down. Not just for adrenaline junkies, Railay has four Andaman Sea beaches to suit your style: Railay West (resortgoer), Railay East (flashpacker), Tonsai (devout climber), and Phra Nang (anyone seeking a “world’s best beach”). Try them all; the journey to get there— swimming, hiking, rock scrambling, or beachcombing—is half the fun. Take a boat to the surrounding islands, night snorkel in the bioluminescent waters, and do what those in Railay do best—hang out and enjoy life.
Money Matters: Sail to the cliffs for a deep water solo climbing trip, plus snorkeling, BBQ on an island, and a fire show for around $36. We searched and found Railay lodging starting around $15.
Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal: Get mountain high
When eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains are packed into one country, it’s no wonder Nepal is at the top of a mountain-lover’s bucket list. Enter the heart of the Himalayas, following the trail along the glacial-fed Modi Khola River into the ring of 20,000-foot peaks surrounding Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Ascending 7,000 vertical feet from pink rhododendron forests to icy moraines, the diversity of landscapes is astounding. Not just for trekkers, these ancient footpaths connect remote mountain villages and are a window into traditional Gurung and Magar cultures. The route to ABC is dotted with teahouses offering home-cooked meals, cozy beds, and enough provisions to skip the camping gear and wilderness survival school. In five or six unforgettable days, you’ll reach the 13,546-foot base camp and the majestic panorama of the Annapurna massif. Wake up to sunrise over the ring of sacred peaks and feel every ache in your body vanish into thin air.
Money Matters: The two permits (ACAP and TIMS) to hike within the Annapurna Sanctuary add up to $40. Private guides in Pokhara charge by the group ($25/day, split by however many people you have). Dal bhat, the locals and trekkers meal of choice, is all you can eat for about $3. Teahouses offer booking upon arrival with basic rooms starting around $4.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina: Largest waterfall system in the world
Not just one waterfall—but 275 individual cascades, stretching nearly two miles. Iguazú Falls is more than a sight to see; it’s a destination to be explored. Sure, Angel Falls in Venezuela is taller and Victoria has a wider single fall, but Iguazú wins for complexity and elements of surprise. Spanning Brazil and Argentina, the falls are divided by the Devil’s Throat: a 269-by-492-foot chasm devouring 50 percent of the river’s volume. The force pulverizes the water into a fine mist that not only creates countless rainbows but also a unique microclimate for exotic flora and fauna: toucans, caimans, jaguars and more. Begin your visit on the Brazil side for the best overall vista of the falls. Explore their paths and bridges for a few hours, then rest up for a big day (or two) on the Argentina side, home to 80 percent of the falls. Wander the extensive rain forest trails, brave a wet-n-wild Zodiac ride, and revel in the largest waterfall system in the world.
Money Matters: Iguazu National Park fee: $27 USD. Tip: Stamp your ticket before you leave the park and your second day will be half price. Staying at the Sheraton within the park? They’ll cover days three and four. Our search results included rooms in Puerto Iguazu starting around $13.
Petra, Jordan: A new Wonder of the World
We visited Petra after we finished writing our Nat Geo book, though as one of the New Wonders of the World, it’s well worth a spot on this affordable travel bucket list. Read all about it in our recent Travelocity article. Get the Jordan Explorer Pass for $106 to get entry to over 40 of Jordan’s best attractions, including two-days in Petra, plus it covers the cost of your tourist visa.
Looking for more bucket list worthy destinations? Check out our Nat Geo couples adventure travel book, Ultimate Journeys for Two.
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