Why: This small island nation is easy on the wallet and big on experiences. I came here on a three-week tour expecting to be a beach bum, but instead, found so much more: delicious (albeit spicy) food, stunning ancient rock formations in Sigiriya, surfing at Arugam Bay, and some of the most physically rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Climbing to the top of Adam’s Peak and (barely) surviving the 5,500 steep stairs that make up this pilgrimage, with the help of a friend and a monk, taught me some inner lessons about strength and power. Don’t miss a chance to visit Ella, a small mountain town with a laid-back hippy vibe, accessible via a scenic train ride from Kandy that will cost you less than $10 and bring you past stunning tea plantations. The real magic of the country is outside of Colombo, but since your flight will always begin/end here, I strongly recommend starting your trip with a stay at Penthouse Above Sea ($100 a night). The amazing woman who runs this property can help you plan your time in the country.
Playa de los Muertos is one of the most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta for good reason. Kick back on the clean sands before taking a dip in the crystal waters. Local vendors stroll the sands with grilled shrimp on skewers, perfect for a post-dip snack. If you think this place is phenomenal by day, just wait until sunset, when it comes to life with music and dancing.
Why: You’ve heard of the French Polynesian islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mo’orea. Why? Well, it’s known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Island You’ve Never Heard Of.” And that is great for the wallet! You can find great deals on Airbnb starting at $40 a night and five-star hotels at $200. For example, the InterContinental in Bora Bora averages at $1000 a night, while the Intercontinental Mo’orea is around $250. The water is warm and crystal clear, providing you with a lot of free fun. If you want to do more organized tours, Tahiti Legends and Tahiti.com offer many at $50 per person. Like most French Polynesian islands, food is expensive, but there are many grocery stores on the island that sell sandwiches for as low as $3. If you want to splurge on a romantic dinner, many restaurants offer free shuttle service to and from hotels. The best part? Mo’orea is really easy to get to from the U.S. It’s a quick 30-minute ($15) ferry ride from Papeete, Tahiti, whose airport offers direct flights from many cities in the U.S.
This is Mother Nature at her best. Take a bus to explore 27 mammoth waterfalls as well as emerald Dominican jungle and local wildlife. A guided walking tour of the first seven waterfalls is around $6 (it costs extra if you want to see more of them), or you can spend more to explore them by Jeep. Word to the wise: Bring your bathing suit and bug spray.
Why you should go: Don’t let the name fool you; Isla Grande is an intimate, gorgeous Caribbean island just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena, full of exceedingly friendly locals and all the hallmarks of a tiny paradise. You’ve got your idyllic beaches, your lagoons of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water bright blue, your fresh seafood and multiple options for diving and canoeing. The chance to visit such a place is probably why you bother to earn money in the first place. - Daniel Cole, Thrillist contributor
Couchsurfing connects would-be travelers with hosts around the world who are willing to offer up a modest amount of space in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). As a matter of policy, Couchsurfing does not allow hosts to charge visitors money. However, it is common for visitors to thank their hosts by reimbursing the cost of groceries, or perhaps buying a gift equivalent to the extent to which they cleaned out their hosts’s wine cabinet.
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