Looking for some inexpensive places to take someone for the holidays – or a out-of-the-ordinary trip to give as a gift? Here are 10 places that won’t break your bank.
1. Cartagena, Colombia
“Lady, you are hell and gone from Cartagena,” Michael Douglas famously proclaimed in “Romancing the Stone,” but if the movie was filmed today, he’d be more ambitious than ever about getting Kathleen Turner there. It’s becoming a very popular destination for people from North America, and it is still a great bargain compared to better known destinations.
2. Mexico City
It can get cool in Mexico City in December, and snow can be seen on the surrounding mountaintops. The rainy season is over by December, so the time is right for a cheap culture-filled holiday. Look for some great deal on shopping, especially now as the dollar is valued considerably higher than usual over the peso.
3. Santiago, Chile
If you’re interested in exploring Chile, Santiago is a great place to start. The weather is particularly nice in December, with warm days and nights cool enough to sleep in without air conditioning. December is high season there, but because it doesn’t yet rate as a high-demand location, prices are still reasonable. Take the time to hike in the mountains or explore the colonial town of Valparaiso.
4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has loads of relatively inexpensive, all-inclusive hotels, with the most popular areas being at Punta Cana on the eastern tip of the island and Puerto Plata, on the northern shore. Cheap warm places to spend a week on the beach don’t come much easier than this. Each has about 200 hotels, including all-inclusive varieties.
5. Ambergris Caye/Caye Caulker, Belize
If you’re willing to go downscale a bit, Belize might be the place for you. These long, thin islands, just off the coast of Belize City, have little or no pavement. Golf carts are your taxis, and there are no huge chain hotels. The four-star and up hotels can get pricey, but three stars can be had cheaply. Bring your dive and snorkel gear, and enjoy.
6. Roatan Island, Honduras
Another snorkeling and diving hotspot, Roatan is just to the south of Belize, which means it also sits off the world’s second largest barrier reef. Added bonus: There are more sandy beaches than you’ll see in Belize. Honduras is largely Spanish-speaking (while Belize is mostly English), but there are plenty of tourist businesses where you can speak English.
7. Panama City, Panama
Panama is somewhat overlooked by the Caribbean beach-hopping crowd, but there are some very nice beach areas with reasonable prices, and there is also a large fairly modern city to explore. As when you enter any foreign country, it is always worth the effort to at least learn a few of the language basics. Restaurant is a good word to learn, in particular – the food scene here is quite good.
8. Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has been explored many times in recent years, but the country’s Caribbean coast is starting to boom. With turtles to see at Tortuguero and diving around Manzanillo, there’s a lot to see and do. And the sloth sanctuary in San Jose is worth the price of admission. And a flight.
9. Antigua, Guatemala
Want to get off the beach? Check out Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with baroque relics, pastel facades and beautiful ruins. The lush vegetation fills the parks, which are filled with street performers, shoe shiners and folk art hawkers. Roast marshmallows at the top of the Pacaya Volcano or browse the vibrant universe of traditional Mayan costumes at Nim P’ot.
10. Granada, Nicaragua
Granada is a great place for camera practice – with colorful buildings, picturesque churches and forts, and colonial cobblestone roads, it’s a good place to bring extra batteries. The canopy tour at Mombacho Volcano, followed by a swim in Lake Nicaragua, can help fill up your winter calendar. Also, a trip to the Parque Nacional Archipielago Zapatera, with its breathtaking petroglyphs, is a must for the historically minded.