Travelling the world and exploring new countries is a passion for many of us – and with continental Europe right on our doorstep, we’re spoilt for choice for stunning places to visit. But as lovely as they are, popular travel destinations like Italy, Spain, France, and Greece can be expensive. And with the cost of living rising, many of us are looking for cheaper countries to explore.
The good news is that there are many beautiful and fascinating countries that are more budget-friendly.
Whether you’re looking for a short flight or are hoping to travel to the far-flung corners of the globe, here are eight of the cheapest countries to visit in 2023.
If you love hiking, adventure, and exploring the great outdoors, you might want to think about visiting Nepal.
Though it might be most famous for being the home of Mount Everest, Nepal has much more to see than the mighty Himalayas – which is just one of the reasons Lonely Planet ranked it as one of the best countries to visit in 2022.
Nepal is a small country with lots to offer. Few places in the world are better for trekking, and while most of us aren’t planning to scale Everest, there are plenty of other hikes that wind through the Himalayas, including the Annapurnas and Langtang treks. These treks can be self-guided (saving you lots of money), and you’ll be able to admire the world’s tallest mountains along the way.
There’s plenty of culture here too; from golden temples to historic hill villages and Tibetan Buddhism. The cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur are also fascinating to explore.
Costs in Nepal are very low, whether it’s staying in a cosy mountain lodge, enjoying the delicious food of Thamel and Pokhara, or picking up hiking gear from the countless trekking shops.
Plus, if you like independent travel, Nepal might be your perfect destination. You can spend weeks wandering medieval squares, visiting backstreet shrines, hiking over mountains, trekking through jungles, and still barely scratch the surface of this mesmerising country.
The only problem is that it’s hard to fit everything in. But with prices as low as they are, you can always come back!
If you’d like to explore Nepal…
If you’d prefer a European break, why not head to Slovenia?
Another country that was ranked in Lonely Planet’s top 10 countries to visit last year – and borders Italy, Austria, and Croatia – is Slovenia. And while this small country is just as dramatically beautiful as its neighbours, it’s significantly cheaper. Whether you’re looking for a lazy beach holiday or an energetic adventure, Slovenia has it all.
The most famous destination in Slovenia is Lake Bled, and if you’re someone who’s more drawn to mountains and lakes than beaches, Bled will take your breath away. Surrounded by the jagged Julian Alps and dense pine forests, this blue-green lake offers all the beauty, history, and culture of other Mediterranean destinations, but at a fraction of the price.
Slovenia provides plenty of opportunities for adventure. There are countless places to go cycling, canyoning, rafting, caving, climbing, and skiing – many at very low prices. Also, with more than half of Slovenia blanketed by forest, it’s another fantastic location for hiking. You can trek to the top of Mount Triglav, up to the foothills of the Alps, or along gleaming turquoise rivers.
If you want to take it easy, you can do that too. Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline is dotted with sandy beaches and pretty resort towns, allowing you to enjoy a Mediterranean beach break that rivals its neighbour Italy.
There’s also plenty to see if you’re into history and architecture; from the medieval town of Piran to the fortified village of Štanjel and the charming Venetian harbour towns.
Find adventure in Slovenia
Southeast Asia is known for being a pretty cheap part of the world, but Cambodia – along with its neighbour Laos – is probably the cheapest Southeast Asian country of all.
Cambodia is like no other place in the world; it’s a country where old meets new, and where the sense of youthful optimism and positive thinking belies the country’s heartbreaking history.
If you’re into history, Cambodia is endlessly fascinating. The most famous attractions are the temples of Angkor, where you can learn about the mighty Khmer Empire. And while the enormous, ornate temple of Angkor Wat will take your breath away, there are 72 temples in Angkor Archaeological Park, which take days to visit. Plus, a week’s pass only costs $72 so you can go at your own pace.
Phnom Penh, the capital, is also a big drawer. A rite of passage for most tourists is learning about Cambodia’s painful past and what its citizens endured during the ‘Reign of Terror’ in the 1970s – and the capital is definitely the place to do this. But today, thankfully, Phnom Penh is a vibrant and lively city, packed with exceptional (yet cheap) restaurants and an exciting arts scene.
Cambodia may not be as known for its beaches as Thailand, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some gorgeous ones! The southern islands boast miles of unspoiled beaches and idyllic coves, and if you’re after a tropical beach holiday on a budget, this is a great place to visit. The riverside town of Kampot is also a lovely place to unwind without spending a fortune (or anything close to it!).
To learn more about Cambodia and how to get the best out of it, you might like to have a read our article; A quick guide to the perfect Cambodia getaway.
Plan a getaway to Cambodia…
If you’ve never been to Peru before, there’s a good chance that it’ll be your new favourite country by the time you leave.
Whether you’re into hiking, history, food, festivals, or adventure, Peru has something to offer everyone. Yet, despite its charm, beauty, and popularity with travellers, it remains one of the cheapest countries in South America.
Peru’s Inca period spanned 5,000 years and you can spend months here visiting ancient ruins, rugged fortresses, and curious geoglyphs. But, this is a modern country too and exploring downtown Lima, with its cool bars and world-class restaurants, is a must. Peru is home some of the most delicious and innovative cuisine in Latin America, and you can dine like royalty here without breaking the bank.
However, many would argue that Peru’s most famous attraction is Machu Picchu, the lost Incan citadel that’s spectacularly sprawled over a tropical mountain forest. If you like hiking, you can follow the old Incan route that winds through valleys and over peaks. While Machu Picchu’s beauty will leave you speechless, it’s actually one of the country’s more modern attractions!
And if you like adventure, the fun doesn’t stop there. Home to the majestic Andes, lush rainforests, vast sand dunes, a crashing coastline, and enthralling wildlife – Peru has it all.
There are an infinite number of adventures awaiting here, whether you want to feast on mouthwatering fusion food, zip-line through jungles, or surf over Pacific breaks.
Do you dream of exploring Peru?
Montenegro is such a new country that many of us couldn’t point to it on a map. It only gained independence in 2006, though it’s fast becoming one of the trendiest European hotspots.
Thankfully, while Montenegro is rapidly rising in popularity, prices remain very affordable – making it an excellent choice for a European summer break.
Montenegro may be small (less than 300km in length, just two-thirds of the size of Wales) but it has an incredibly varied landscape. Inland you can find glacial lakes, hulking mountains, mysterious forests, and historic walled towns. Then, along the coast, there are swathes of breathtaking beaches and lively coastal towns, where accommodation is plentiful and cheap.
In the summer, the coast can become crowded, especially in popular resort towns like Budva or Herceg Novi. So if you’re planning a summer break, you might want to think about spending more time inland. There are gorgeous mountain lakes where you can swim and sunbathe to your heart’s content, which means you definitely don’t need to be on the beach to enjoy a relaxing holiday here.
If you like plenty of adventure and activity on your holidays, heading inland is also your best bet. You can hike through Durmitor and Prokletije National Parks, which are home to rugged mountains, ancient forests, and wildlife (including brown bears, wolves and lynxes!).
Food is very cheap in Montenegro too, particularly local dishes, so this is a great chance to try some hearty Balkan cuisine.
Set off to Montenegro...
Guatemala is the most diverse country in Central America. It’s also one of the cheapest countries in all of Latin America, which is one of the reasons why it’s so beloved by backpackers.
However, there are many other reasons why so many people fall in love with this enchanting country – and once you visit, its beauty, history, and culture will stay with you forever.
Tucked beneath Mexico, and with the Pacific and Atlantic coasts on either side, Guatemala is dizzyingly beautiful. This is a place where you can hike up smoking volcanoes, swim in pristine highland lakes, and trek through jungles to find hidden Mayan temples. There’s plenty to see and do here, and money goes so far that you might want to cancel your return flight!
If you’re into history, you’re in the right place. Guatemala’s most famous attraction is Tikal, and these incredible pyramids – located in the midst of the jungle – showcase the might of Central America’s greatest civilisation.
Guatemala is the land of the Maya and the culture is visible everywhere even today – whether it’s the locals wearing traditional clothes or the countless archaeological sites dotted around. The Spanish influence is everywhere too, and the colonial city of Antigua – with its colourful buildings, ornate churches, and pretty plazas – is a joy to explore.
But it’s the landscape that’s most impressive. From the volcano-circled Lake Atitlan to the deep turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, adventure and beauty abound. You can go trekking, swimming, rafting, caving, or just relax in a luxury jungle lodge for less than £20 a night. With so much to offer, Guatemala is sure not to disappoint.
Interested in a Guatemalan adventure?
Many people are unaware of just how diverse Africa is, and this enormous continent is home to some of the most beautiful and captivating countries in the world.
Ethiopia is especially dazzling; boasting a compelling history, spellbinding wildlife, and awe-inspiring landscapes. And, once you’ve bought your flight, it’s also very cheap.
Ethiopia’s landscape is far more varied than you might think. There are vast savannas, rocky canyons, gleaming lakes, and towering plateaus – and despite its lingering association with drought, it’s one of the wettest and most fertile African countries.
If you like hiking, you can trek up the soaring Simien and Bale mountains, or along the volcano-adorned Danakil Depression, which is the lowest place in Africa.
As the cultural meeting point of East Africa and Arabia, Ethiopia is also packed with culture and history – so much so that evidence suggests it was the starting point of all human history. The small town of Lalibela is known for its underground rock-cut churches that date back to the 12th century. Whether it’s the obelisks of ancient Aksum or the stone castles of Gondar, there’s much to see.
Wildlife lovers will be in their element here too. While Ethiopia isn’t a traditional safari destination like Kenya or Africa (which are much more expensive), it’s home to incredibly interesting wildlife including wolves, monkeys, baboons, parrots, and the rare black lion.
From its delicious, spicy food to its music, dancing, and fiery, independent spirit, this is a country that’s entirely unique.
Explore the magic of Ethiopia
If you’re dreaming of a sun-soaked tropical holiday, you might think it’ll cost you a fortune – but not if you head to Colombia.
While the flights may not be that cheap, once you’re there, prices are low. In fact, Columbia is one of the few countries backing onto the Caribbean Sea that you can easily travel around with a tight budget. Plus, it encapsulates everything that’s most magical about South America.
Thanks to its position right on the equator, Colombia has it all in terms of landscape – and there are few other countries that can match its diversity. It’s home to vast Amazon rainforest, smouldering volcanoes, emerald green coffee plantations, high-altitude lakes, tropical grasslands, breathtaking beaches – and, of course, the majestic Andes.
Then there are the cities, which are vibrant and bursting with life – nothing like what’s depicted in shows like Narcos (Colombia has moved on from the 80s!). Bogotá is the cosmopolitan capital, Medellin and Cali are more relaxed, and the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, is a must-visit. Cheap food and accommodation can be easily found in all cities.
If you’re passionate about coffee, head up to the Zona Cafetera – the coffee-growing region – to tour coffee farms and trek along stunning foothills. Tayrona National Park is another gorgeous spot and a great base for exploring the ruins of La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), which you can trek to.
Public transport is cheap too, so you can travel around and see as much as possible without breaking the bank.
Experience the magic of sun-soaked Columbia
Travel is one of life’s greatest adventures. And while expensive resorts and luxury breaks might be off-limits if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of fabulous countries where enjoying a special holiday is much cheaper than you might think.
From the tropical shores of Colombia and Cambodia to countries that are closer to home, like Montenegro and Slovenia, these beautiful places won’t stretch your budget too much. And whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday, a mountain and lake retreat, a cultural city break or an action-packed adventure holiday, the countries featured here have a bit of everything.
To find out more about travelling cheaper, you might want to read our article; How to travel on a shoestring budget.