All of the cold, rainy weather we’ve been getting here in Portland over the last several weeks got Lori and me reminiscing about all of the great beachside cabanas, bungalows and huts we’ve stayed in. Here’s a look back at our favorites from Asia, to Africa and the Caribbean.
Admittedly, budget bungalows aren’t for everyone. But, if you don’t mind forgoing a few creature comforts (it gets easier the more you do it!) you’ll be rewarded with more money in your pocket (or better location for your buck), and often a more satisfying and memorable experience.
Daniel’s Village, Juan y Lolo Rentals
Las Galeras, Dominican Republic (2010)
Daniel’s Village was one of our first beach bungalow stay traveling together. Even after six years, Las Galeras still seems to be largely off the American tourist radar, which is fine by us, and the nightly rate of the cabana is about what it was back in 2010 (US$45), which is rare these days. While not right on the beach, Daniel’s Village’s small complex of funky rentals was close enough to make the list, with a unique and local vibe all its own. Las Galeras is a small, yet fun and inviting, beach village on the Samaná Peninsula. And the nearby beach is not too shabby either.
Read More: Samaná Peninsula
Cat Ba Sandy Beach Resort
Cat Ba, Halong Bay, Vietnam (2012)
Heading over to the other side of the globe, we’ve got Cat Ba Sandy Beach Resort, on a tiny, secluded island right off of Cat Ba island in Vietnam’s amazing Halong Bay. We got there as part of our Halong Bay 3-day 2-night cruise with Cristina cruises.
In late 2012, there were a lot of changes happening with the Halong Bay cruise industry (many companies were actively upgrading their fleet and all of the traditionally brown/natural colored cruise boats/ships had been ordered by the government to be painted white for safety reasons or something like that). This beach village had just been constructed so all of the facilities were new.
It was a beautiful beach, but being late November in northern Vietnam, not optimal beach weather — though still definitely one of our most memorable.
Read More: Ha Long Bay (Day 2)
Sea Pearl Chalets
Varkala, India (2012)
India’s got a ton of coastline, with some really nice sandy strands of prime beach. However, we didn’t get to explore as much of it as we would have liked to. We spent nearly two months in India from late July to mid-September, right smack in the middle of the monsoon. Well, it wasn’t supposed to be — just our luck, monsoon season was late in 2012.
So most of Goa was closed, along with many of Kerala’s best beaches. But Varkala was open for business, and though the weather wasn’t perfect, we got our fair share of sun and heat over our five-day stay. And best of all, there were very few other tourists/travelers, and a healthy number of local day-trippers, so we essentially had this amazing place all to ourselves.
We stayed at Sea Pearl Chalets for the first night, then jumped ship and stayed at Bamboo Village for the rest of our time. Sea Pearl was pretty fantastic, perched right on the cliffs overlooking the beach (see below). But at nearly US$20/night these two budget backpackers couldn’t justify the cost for the whole time. So we shopped around and found a very suitable (cheaper) alternative.
Varkala, India (2012)
At US$8/night in 2012, Bamboo Village was indeed the cheaper alternative to Sea Pearl Chalets, and wins the award for least expensive Budget Beach Bungalow on this list. While not perched on a dramatic cliff overlooking Varkala Beach, Bamboo Village was centrally located to all of the restaurants, cafes and shops along the cliff walk, which was a huge advantage. And each cabana had their own little covered porch and yard (which came in handy during a passing shower).
Placencia, Belize (2014)
Back to the Caribbean side of things, we’ve got Tradewinds at Placencia. Out of the four places we stayed in Placencia over who knows how many visits, Tradewinds Cabanas was our favorite, and sadly, one of our last before we left Belize.
It’s an easy place to miss (you’d never know it was even there if you didn’t take a walk down the beach to the tip of the peninsula). But I’ve got to say, best section of the beach in town — calm, uncrowded, and the seagrass is minimal.
Even if we had found the place earlier, the $60/night price tag likely would have dissuaded us (there are nice rooms to be found for around $25, but they ain’t Tradewinds). However, if you’re visiting with family, many of the cabanas can accommodate 4-6.
Nothing beats being able to walk out your front door and right into the warm, inviting waters of the Caribbean. Palm trees are always a plus too.
Read More: Placencia
Chalok Baan Kao, Koh Tao, Thailand (2012)
$13 in 2012 got you a lot in Thailand, particularly on the southern end of the Gulf island of Koh Tao in Chalok Baan Kao. By the time we got to Taraporn, we had already spent five days in north in Sairee Village, the island’s legendary diving mecca, while Lori got SCUBA certified. Chalok Baan Kao is the sleepier, less expensive, more local answer to the backpacker north and upscale east. These bungalows were basic, but included everything you need in paradise, en suite bathroom with running water, hammock on the front porch, and easy access to the water.
And the best part? You had to venture across this thing, night or day, rain or shine, to get between the bungalows and the rest of the village.
Funky Monkey / Lucio’s Place
Linga Linga, Mozambique (2014 & 2005/06)
Taking a break from Thailand and heading down to Africa…way down to Mozambique. Linga Linga point in Inhambane Province holds a special place in my heart and lots of memories from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer a decade ago. Anyone willing to make the trip to this very special place will be rewarded 10 fold for their efforts…and even ten years on, it’s quite a bit of effort.
Lodging is basic, and the point is remote, but Lucio and family give visitors as authentic an experience as you can get without actually living in Inhambane Province. Plus, the food is always amazing.
Why stay at one of the nearby lodges cropping up when you can have the real deal?
In October 2014, a double cabana cost us $25/night (with detached toilet and shower facilities). No, Mozambique is not a cheap place to backpack through, but you most certainly can pay much, much more at other places.
Read More: Linga Linga (I)
North Beach Bungalows
Chaloklum, Koh Phangan, Thailand (2012)
In backpacker circles, Koh Phangan may be known best for its legendary Full Moon parties at the southeastern tip of the island. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t equally (if not more) worthy places to visit around other parts of the island. While Koh Phangan’s more developed neighbor, Koh Samui, may cater to the luxury boutique crowd, the northern shore of Koh Phangan (as of 2012) was still very much the real deal. While hundreds of revelers were swaying to trance music, twirling fire sticks and consuming copious amounts of everything under the sun, we whiled away the days walking through the village, sleeping in a hammock or under a palm tree, and of course, swimming in Gulf’s bathtub warm waters.
Again, cabanas are basic here, but holy moly, you can’t beat the location! A few steps to one of the finest beaches anywhere, oh, and let’s not start with the fresh local seafood. Five days, four nights for us — $10/night (in October 2012). Yep, this one was hard to leave.
Read More: Chaloklum (Koh Phangan)
Railay (Rai Leh), Thailand (2012)
And when the rainy season comes to the Gulf of Thailand in October, what do you do? Go west, of course, to the Andaman Sea side, where they’re coming out of the rains. I suspect one could spend years following the sunshine from Thailand’s east coast to west coast. Never tried it myself, but maybe someday.
Railay’s another very special place — unique, stunning, perfect beaches, low cost, and great food. Well, as of 2012 that cost thing was changing, for better or worse. While Railay was a bit pricier than Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, it was worth every penny, in my opinion. Especially when you luck out and get a shoulder season deal on a fantastic place like Phutawan Resort (US$10).
Phutawan is just really cool. If you don’t mind being an easy 10-15 minute walk to the beach (it’s tucked up in the jungly hills), then it’s really hard to get better than this place. Phutawan, admittedly, is a significant upgrade from half of the places on this list (minus the beach front location), but for the same price.
Again, five days, four nights here. Railay has it all, including four unique and idyllic beaches in paradise, and endless stuff to do (rock climbing, hiking, swimming, kayaking, eating at food boats, chasing off monkeys, descending vines into a secret lagoon, visiting wooden phalluses in a cave…). Just be sure you actually spend at least a night or two. The peninsula gets attacked by day-trippers from 11-3pm, but is quiet and serene the rest of the time.
Tobacco Caye Paradise
Tobacco Caye, Belize (2013/14)
So many awesome places, so little time. Another place near and dear to my heart (I know, they all are, but this one really is). Spent my 34th birthday on this island (which actually coincides with Belize’s independence day), but we actually stayed in Tobacco Caye Lodge, which is a perfectly fine lodging option in its own right, but lacks the stilted bungalows (they are meters away from the sea). We wanted to stay at T.C. Paradise, but it was being renovated, so we had to wait until my parents made the trip down the following June/July — and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
Tobacco Caye lies some 10 miles off the coast of Belize, literally right on the Belize Barrier Reef. On one side, you’ve got calm, shallow waters perfect for snorkeling and swimming, and on the other, the open Caribbean. Bungalows are $25/night with an additional $25/night for dinner/breakfast/lunch. The food is great and there are few other options on the three-acre island, so the meal plan is worth factoring in.
Tofo, Mozambique (2014 & 2004/05/06)
Back in Mozambique, Fatima’s Nest was a place I desperately hoped would still be around when Lori and I returned in 2014. About 2-3 hours by public transport from where I lived, this was a place I didn’t visit frequently, but often enough to have numerous fond memories.
While Fatima’s underwent some significant upgrades in the intervening decade between my visits, the essence of the place remains. Granted, the US$45/night for a bungalow with communal toilet and shower is far from cheapest of the bunch, it’s a good deal by Southern Mozambique beach standards. There is a bunkhouse option for cheaper, but we’re talking bungalows today (and I haven’t stayed in the bunkhouse for over a decade), so we’ll leave it at that.
Fatima’s bungalows might not be footsteps from the beach, but due to the constant threat of erosion, it’s really not an option here. But the complex is a short walk to cafes, restaurants and the local market via the scenic beach route or the easier access road.
Though showers are communal (but private), they are hot showers (when the wood-fire boiler is on, which is mostly when necessary — remember, you’re in the tropics! A HOT shower ain’t always what you want).
Livingston, Guatemala (2013/14)
And now for something a little different. Representing the only Guatemala pick on the list (and one of the more urban locations), Casa Rosada was our go-to place in Livingston, the closest Guatemalan city to our town of Punta Gorda, Belize. Only accessible by boat, Livingston is a fairly remote place, though you’d never know it walking around the city (PG is much sleepier and more remote feeling).
If you happen to find yourself in this part of the world (and I sincerely hope you do!) Casa Rosada is a wonderful choice for a stopover en route from Belize to the Guatemala interior, or to spend a few days. While the term “beach bungalow” doesn’t really apply here (the bungalows are indeed on sea, but no beach to be had for miles), this place has got a tropical/jungly Caribbean-meets-Latin-America feel to it. And the food can be incredible. US$20/night for double bungalow with shared bath.
Caye Caulker, Belize (2013/14)
These were the first beach cabanas we stayed in at the very beginning of our twelve months in Belize. Honestly, it’s hard to find a more rustic option on Caye Caulker short of camping (which is getting harder to do — believe me, we’ve tried!!!), and it’s not exactly in the center of the action, but hey for US$25/night (and generally a discount for multiple nights), Ignacio’s (and the view from the front porch) is hard to beat.
Mbuyuni Beach Village
Jambiani, Zanzibar, Tanzania (2014)
I saved the best for last. This place was an awesome deal, no matter which way you slice it. We originally planned to spend three nights here and ended up spending ten! Yes, we did benefit greatly from shoulder season pricing (we paid US$39/night with a coupon on hotels.com) but the value we got here would easily justify much more. First rate accommodation, excellent on-site restaurant, pool, footsteps from the beach, the list goes on and on.
This is paradise if I’ve ever seen it.
And you can’t beat Jambiani village on the east coast of Zanzibar for friendly, laid back locals, beautiful beach and great food. Unlike nearby Paje, Jambiani is first and foremost a fishing village, not a tourist magnet. Look forward to having conversations with locals that don’t just include buying and selling nicknacks and snorkel trips (though you can find those too).