Paradise for pennies: our tales of budget bliss

From Lonely Planet

Historically, paradise on earth has cost the earth: Persian emperors constructed opulent private gardens (pairida─ôza – from which the word ‘paradise’ originates), European nobles built lavish Renaissance mansions deemed divine and, more recently, exclusive luxury resorts promise holidaymakers ‘a slice of paradise’.

But does paradise have to be synonymous with extravagance? We don't think so. Here, a selection of Lonely Planet staff share their stories of earthly paradise found on the cheap, proving serenity is found just as often in more humble surroundings.

Slowing down time in Guatemala

Rejuvenating Rio Dulce provided a welcome respite from the mayhem of Guatemala

For three weeks Guatemala had flooded my senses with its rainbow-bright textiles, jam-packed chicken buses and latino beats. But Rio Dulce was different. As my water taxi left the dock at Livingston, the hubbub gave way to fresh air and birdsong. We drifted through a mighty canyon, watching local men glide by in canoes, and stark white herons, which in turn observed us from lofty branches. Time seemed to slow to match the flow of the river.

I soon reached my very own Central American Shangri-La in the form of a solar-powered jungle bungalow by the riverside. There were no shops, no roads, no phone signal. Days were spent spotting hummingbirds from a hammock, devouring coconut cookies and paddling to nearby hot springs. The highlight? Kayaking to a local waterfall for a refreshing dip, and having the place all to myself.

Stumbling upon an idyllic oasis in Peru

Surrounded by sand dunes, the village of Huacachina is a wonder to behold

As two scruffy, pre-university backpackers, my travel buddy and I had largely prioritised seeking out Peru’s best nightlife over uncovering a tranquil paradise. But as we burst out of a bus (accompanied by countless bags) at the tiny village of Huacachina, it seemed we’d stumbled upon something special.

Encircled by windswept sand dunes, Huacachina is built around a miniature, palm-fringed oasis, which glinted and winked at us, reflecting our awestruck faces as we stared into its depths. Wordlessly, we kicked off our bedraggled flip-flops, dropped our backpacks and stretched out next to the water’s edge. Unsurprisingly, Huacachina has not remained as hidden and untouched by tourism as it was back then, but for one day at least, it was our own sun-soaked, sand-strewn idyll.

Finding surprise serenity in an English campsite

Devon is blessed with a number of beautiful beaches – and a fine selection of campsites

I'll admit it: a sloping English camping field might not immediately evoke 'paradise'. But hear me out, because my happy place is a Devon hamlet called East Prawle.

We’d driven for an hour through Devon's tiny, high-hedged lanes to find the campsite, and it was worth it for the view alone: big, cornflower seas stretching out beyond the field. We pitched up our tents, walked to the cliff path and scrambled down the bank to swim in a deserted sandy cove. Later, we wandered the few hundred metres from our tent to the only pub for miles: the Pig's Nose, a scruffy and loveable 16th-century inn. Nestled in a recessed snug, we passed the evening in a happy reverie with board games and ale, before lumbering back to our canvas beds for the night. The best part was saved for the morning: unzipping the tent to that view – the very thing that draws me back, summer after summer.

Enjoying simple pleasures in the Moroccan mountain

Traditional terracotta Berber structures dot the Atlas Mountains

During a recent trip to Morocco, I was lucky enough to undertake a yoga retreat at an ageing Berber fortress-cum-ecolodge perched amongst the Atlas Mountains, a few hours' drive from Marrakesh.

After morning yoga sessions, I spent hours on the roof terrace sketching tropical plants and the panoramic mountain views fuelled by cups of herbal tea in flavours I’d never experienced, like geranium and absinthe, which were picked daily from the herb and cactus garden. I shared argan nuts with local workers, sampled some of the owner's natural health remedies (who knew a burnt lemon could whiten your teeth?), and in the evening undertook a stargazing lesson by moonlight.

Though there were many highlights during my time in Morocco, it’s these simple experiences that have stayed with me.

Sampling sunsets and tuna steaks in Jordan

The Dead Sea produces some spectacular sunsets

After spending a couple of hours splashing around in the salty still waters of the Dead Sea, my friends and I were so bowled over by the lilac sunset lighting up Jordan's distant red banks that we decided to spend the night right there on the shore.

We opened cans of tuna, stuffed the tops with paper and set each one on fire. Soaked in oil this way, the paper burns for a while until it peters out, having given the tuna a smoky flavour. We sat by the sea eating it, watching the ripples turn silver and the stars come out. If we didn't speak, everything was silent. This was paradise for the price of a tuna can!

Swapping gaudy bars for glowing plankton in Cambodia

Cambodia is home to many resplendent beaches and islands – though some are quieter than others

I grinned the moment I spotted the shoreline of Koh Ta Kiev, a sun-baked spec of land off the southern tip of Cambodia. The drone of basslines from bustling beach bars finally began to dissipate, washed away by the calming crash of the surf. Koh Ta Kiev, with its lone wooden bunkhouse set amidst a tangle of forest, appeared to embody tranquillity – and that wasn’t even the island’s biggest trick.

With the sun setting, I scrambled from the small ferry, dumped my stuff in a drafty dorm and grabbed a pair of goggles from a rental box. I waded into the warm sea just as darkness set in and watched as all around me phosphorescent plankton began to flicker beneath the surface, giving the shallow water an ethereal glow. I ducked below to take in the show more clearly, the water blocking everything else out.

Enjoying a moment of calm amidst the chaos in New York

Finding a moment of calm is a city of over right million people is no easy feat

There wasn’t much time for quiet reflection living in The Bronx. But every now and then, typically at dusk, as weary bodies made their way home from work and with the late-night crew yet to hit the streets, a moment of peace could be found. Sitting on the city steps, watching the sun reflect off the chrome finish of the 1 train bound for Manhattan in the distance, I’d dream of travelling.

I’ve been fortunate to see a bit of the world, but for me, being tucked between a brick apartment building and a convenience store with a 10-cent cherry-flavoured ice, taking in the cool breeze on a hot summer day, is what paradise was all about.
Morocco, Campsite, Beach

See more at: Lonely Planet
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