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: With its East-meets-West charm, this remnant of the Ottoman Empire in the heart of Europe embodies a truly authentic experience. If you are looking to get away from all things commercial and eat some organic/non-GMO (and delicious) foods, you’ve come to the right place. The stunning old town is made of winding streets paved with cobblestones and is known for its medieval arched bridge (Star Most) that towers across the crystal cool waters of the Neretva River.
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Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.
Chosen By: Emily McNutt, associate editor at The Points Guy, where she is responsible for reporting on travel news across a range of topics — from aviation to loyalty programs, general travel news and credit cards. At TPG, McNutt is not only an expert in the travel and points and miles space in the newsroom, but also puts that expertise to work by reviewing aircraft products for the site. With a lifelong passion for travel, McNutt has visited more than 40 countries.
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Why: While the devastating hurricanes of 2017 impacted just a portion of the Caribbean region, it damaged some of its more cruise-popular spots, like Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Bart's, and the U.S.V.I.’s St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. While all are under significant rehab and rebuilding — and most are actually now open to cruise ships and tourists, this could be a perfect year to explore more exotic islands. That’s because lines like Windstar, which had, pre-hurricanes, planned to offer BVI-centric trips, relocated ships to other parts of the Caribbean. The winning trip? We love Wind Surf, one of the line’s sailing vessels, with its trip out of Barbados; ports include Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Montserrat — all islands that heretofore have often been bypassed by established cruise lines. And get this: There’s plenty of cruise capacity in this region, particularly when it comes to small ship sailings. In part, excess cabins are available because many skittish travelers canceled their bookings. As well, they can typically be more expensive (look for $300 per person, per day) than big ship vessels. But do the math: Windstar, and other small ship lines like Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Azamara, Oceania and Viking Oceans, can actually be quite a good value when compared to land-based properties because they’re more price inclusive. Look for deals that include cocktails, gratuities and shore excursions not to mention pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and, in some cases, airfare to the ships’ port of embarkation.
Switch up the usual Caribbean getaway this winter and check out gorgeous Cartagena, Columbia. You'll find white sand beaches, plus a beautiful old city and vibrant culture. Your 4-star hotel is only steps from Bocagrande Beach and just five minutes away from historical downtown Cartagena. What's Included? Based on two people sharing, this vacation deal…