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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.
Looking for something a little more luxurious? No problem. Check out our lists of the best hotels by island. If money is not so much the issue, we recommend Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui and Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island. Both of these five star resorts are cozied up to beaches that have been voted #1 Beach in America by Dr. Beach. In addition, Montage Kapalua Bay is Hawaii’s newest Forbes Five Star property. Another bonus? They both usually offer specials along the lines of “get the 4th night free.”
Why: It might be expensive to get to the Northern Territory of Australia, but the investment of money and time is worth it to experience this once-in-a-lifetime destination. The Northern Territory of Australia is best known for Australia’s most famous natural landscape, the dual World Heritage listed, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which spans 311,000 acres of wilderness. Australia’s spiritual center, Ayer’s Rock, is all lit up by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro’s immersive installation, “Field of Light Uluru.” The exhibition has been so popular since it launched in April 2016 that the artist has agreed to keep the installation open until December 31, 2020. Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia sustainably manages Ayers Rock Resort on behalf of the Indigenous Land Corporation, and all profits from the business go toward supporting indigenous training and employment across Australia. Safari in Australia? What's that you say, mate? The diverse geographic terrain of the Northern Territory allows for travelers to go from the Outback to the tropical Top End, which experiences some of the dramatic climatic extremes of any region in Australia. The coastal floodplains are Australia’s answer to the Okavango Delta and the Kakadu and Arnhem Land are the heartland of indigenous culture. Stay at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park for as little as $78 a night, where you can save your money for the ultimate treat: a stay at the bucket list-worthy Bamurru Plains, a bush camp on the edge of the Kakadu National Park.
Why: Canada, eh? The good news is, our neighbor to the north(west) has a favorable exchange rate of .80 cents to the U.S. dollar. So luxury hotels like the Fairmont Pacific Rim in the naturally stunning city of Vancouver are super affordable. The city is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada: 52% of its residents have a first language other than English. “Van” is literally set within a rainforest, so nature enthusiasts will love walking along the waterfronts with views of the nearby mountaintops. For the culturally curious, I suggest weaving your way through the cobbled streets and shops in the historic Gastown neighborhood. Don't miss Kimprints, a shop supporting underprivileged street artists, or the Ok Boot Corral, a local bootmaker who has been in business since 1833. For an unexpected insider experience, get your sea legs on to go fishing for what’s in-season with sustainable seafood supplier, Organic Ocean. Afterward, you can bring your fresh catch to the kitchen of the Fairmont Pacific Rim to make fresh sushi. And let’s be real: What’s sushi without homemade sake? Check out Masa Shiroki, an artisan sake maker on Granville Island, for his locally made bubbly sake. Watch Oh the People You Meet's video for more insider tips on Vancouver.
Why: Did you know that Lake Tahoe is one of the oldest, tallest, largest, deepest and purest lakes in the world? The southern shore of the lake, known as South Tahoe, straddles two states and is known to be the livelier shore. There is a booming craft beer scene, and they even have a beer map for visitors. Some standouts are locally owned Lake Tahoe Ale Worx and the Cold Water Brewery. Not too sure what’s in the water out there, but the southern shores of Lake Tahoe also produces world-renowned athletes. South Tahoe is home to a couple of Winter Olympian Gold Medalists and several 2018 Olympic hopefuls. (Check out my interview with Hannah Tetter, Maddie Bowman and Kyle Smaine, who all train on Sierra, the “locals” mountain.) In October 2017, an 11-foot bronze sculpture by artist, Gareth Curtiss, was unveiled at Champions Plaza called the “Spirit of Competition," inspired by local Olympic athletes. Heavenly is a mountain that's great for families. The resort has a village with shops and outdoor fire pits. Check out dinner and magic show at The Loft, and for the best sunset views (and steaks) in South Tahoe, go to Friday’s Station. Stay at the Lake Tahoe Resort at Heavenly, where rates start at just $109 and its location in the middle of the village means you can walk right to the gondola — nice when lugging skis or a snowboard. But South Tahoe isn’t all about the powder; in fact over two-thirds of tourist arrivals are in the spring and summer months for hiking, biking and golf. Wildlife lovers won't want to miss a visit to meet Emma, an American bald eagle rescued by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.
Why: A genuine bucket list trip for many, a visit to Australia and New Zealand can be super-pricey. Cities are spread out, way out, which means a lot of hopping on planes to get from one place to another. And for top level accommodations, not to mention simple daily necessities like a flat white, you’ll shell out big bucks. What’s good about a cruise itinerary that includes visits to both countries is that the big expenses are included in fares – onboard meals, accommodations, entertainment and transportation from place to place. On Oceania Cruises, which offers a New Zealand/Australia itinerary, for instance, the per diem is $350 a night, but you pretty much don’t have to whip out a credit card beyond that (do note that it’s priced at per-person, based on two sharing a cabin). Consider that in super-expensive cities like Auckland and Sydney, a hotel stay at a four-star place like the Hilton and Westin respectively will run you $350 or so. And that’s for the room only — you’ll pay out of pocket for food, entertainment and bars. One tip: Look for a cruise line that arranges its itineraries to spend maximum time in port, whether it’s long days or plenty of overnights, so you can have as much time to explore as possible. As well, you’re better off, in most cases, avoiding cruise-line shore excursions, which can be overpriced and epitomize group cattle travel, and engage a travel agency specialist in the region to plan private tours for your days in port. Bottom line, though, is when experiencing Australia and New Zealand by cruise ship, especially on your first visit to the region, the biggest plus is not just the convenience of unpacking once and keeping short-hop plane trips to a minimum. It’s also that, depending on the itinerary you choose, you can visit some pretty special somewhat off-the-grid places in between marquee stops at Auckland and Sydney. New Zealand’s Akaroa, Dunedin and Wellington, and Australia’s Eden, Burnie and Melbourne, might otherwise be missed — and shouldn’t be.
Why you should go: The landlocked country has a rich indigenous culture (por ejemplo: you can buy dried llama fetuses from colorfully dressed mamitas in the markets of La Paz), and a stunning range of landscapes, from rust-colored desert where dinosaurs once trekked to lush pampas and jungles to the otherworldly expanse of the Salar de Uyuni, where the horizon disappears between ground and sky. Adventurous spirits can find some of the cheapest paragliding in the world in Cochabamba, while mountaineers can tackle the 21,000ft high Nevado Sajama. The rest of us can wander around charming cities like Sucre, or take in the mesmerizing sunsets of Lake Titicaca, as beautiful to behold as it is fun to say. - Laura Yan, Thrillist contributor
Why you should go: Goa’s coastal-scapes are sumptuous, wrangling the perfect balance of untouched beauty and clean, cared-for strands. Tourist creature comforts abound: jungle parties, seafood feasts, drop-in yoga on the beach. But you’ll get the gratification of skipping off the beaten track too. Spending another $18 a day will get you a motorbike and unlimited access to backwoods lagoons and hidden beaches, where it’ll be just you and the sea turtles bathing.
Why: Santa Fe is a creative vortex that thrives at 7,200 feet, at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, attracting artists and healers from around the world. It’s an ideal getaway for nature lovers, art enthusiasts and spa seekers. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city’s roots go deep with a Native American, Hispanic and Anglo heritage. This year, the city is 407 years old and is the oldest capital city in the United States. It's home to 250 restaurants, more than 300 art galleries, at least a hundred boutique shops and a dozen festivals and fairs. Some of the highlights include strolling along Canyon Road and visiting a mile of art galleries. Visit the oldest house in the U.S. and attend mass at the oldest church in the U.S. — the San Miguel Chapel. See over 130,000 folk art objects from more than 100 countries at the Museum of International Folk Art for $12 admission. Check the Santa Fe Tourism Office Calendar for events and festivals, as well as historic walking tours (only $14), cooking classes and more. Don't miss the pulled pork sandwiches at Whole Hog Café (from $3.99) and be sure to sample their six signature sauces. On Saturdays, stop by the Farmer’s Market and try local dishes at food stands. Find winter promo rates at La Posada de Santa Fe, a luxury hotel starting at $99 per night. Fly into Albuquerque and rent a car to drive to Santa Fe (Hertz has deals as low as $13.99 per day), so you can take day trips to Taos and Chimayo or go hiking at Bandelier National Park.
Why: The Golden City of Jaisalmer is often overlooked by travelers because of its distance from Delhi (a 14-hour train ride), but it is absolutely worth a visit for its stunning architecture and magical atmosphere. Situated in the heart of the Thar Desert, the Jaisalmer is made entirely of yellow sandstone and looks like an enormous sandcastle rising out of the desert. A visit to the Jaisalmer Fort costs 50 rupees ($0.80) and offers sweeping views of the city below; aesthetes will appreciate the intricately carved and painted havelis (homes). Don't miss stopping by the picturesque Gadisar Lake, dotted with beautiful temples, and taking a camel ride in the dessert.
Just how cheap is it? If you get yourself to Isla Grande -- part of the Islas del Rosario just off the country’s north coast -- it’s a tropical paradise for as cheap as you care to make it. Although there are fancier resorts available, at eco-hotels such as La Cocotera, Las Palmeras, or El Hamaquero, you can sleep in a beachside hammock for just $10 a night. For $20, you’ll also get you three meals, including a freshly caught and grilled fish dinner. Or, pro tip: A local can bring you freshly caught lobsters on request from anywhere between $10 to $30 a day. Sneak into the upmarket Hotel Majagua and grab a piña colada for $5, or go to the inland village for cut-price cervezas. (If you want more privacy, lodging starts at around $30 per room, and goes up to between $90 to $250.)
Why: Kuala Lumpur is a gem most people have not found out about, which is to your benefit. Kuala Lumpur has a mix of different cultures, from Asian to Indian, which makes the food really great. While there, I was able to grab food in Little India and ate amazing chicken tikka masala, then I headed to China Town and ate the most delicious noodles. The mix of cultures even shows with the attractions. I was able to explore a Chinese temple (Thean Hou), the Bantu Caves and a mosque (the National Mosque) all in one city. Kuala Lumpur is also known for its sky bars (rooftop bars). The one to check out is Sky Bar, which has a pool and overlooks the Petronas Towers. Hotels are mega cheap, as well: You can get a five-star hotel with an infinity pool on the rooftop for only $42 a night. Check out D'Majestic Place by Swiss-Garden. Kuala Lumpur is also the hub for cheap flights throughout Southeast Asia. You can get a roundtrip flight from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand for $24.
Hawaii - 60th Anniversary Hawaii Vacation Sale: Valid on new bookings made 10/29/18 - 1/13/19 for travel 10/29/18 - 12/31/19. Accommodation at participating resort and roundtrip transpacific airfare required. Room rate savings and minimum night stay vary by participating resort. Travelers will receive a voucher valid to buy one activity and get one activity of equal or lesser value for 60% off the retail value redeemable at any Pleasant Activities Center or the Pleasant Holidays Island Orientation in Hawaii or via the Hawaii Call Center by calling 1-888-229-7770. Fees and surcharges are excluded and must be paid for both tours. Limit of one discounted activity per booking. Offer does not apply to activities involving flights (plane or helicopter). Complimentary roundtrip shared airport transfers valid to/from HNL and any Waikiki hotel or resort in Pleasant Holidays' Oahu portfolio; offer does not apply to any hotels or resorts outside of Waikiki. Activity voucher and airport transfers have no cash value, are non-transferrable, are not combinable with any other offers, apply only to the vacation on which they were booked and expire at the end of booking's travel dates. Offer subject to availability and may be changed or cancelled at any time. Certain restrictions and blackout dates may apply.
Why you should go: With some 6,000 islands, Greece is the Mediterranean’s powerhouse beach destination. While only 200-some are inhabited, an island-trotting adventure for everyone here, whether you’re looking for wildlife adventures, historic discoveries, or quite frankly, drinking ouzo and boogying. Athens makes an energetic springboard into the Aegean, with its own archaeological ruins, hipster cafés, and hangouts ranging from dynamic industrial to retro chic.
Travel rewards credit cards are specifically designed to let a user earn points by making purchases and applying those points directly toward flights and hotels. Some travel rewards credit cards, such as the Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, are limited by affiliation with a specific travel company. If you’re not keen on sticking to one provider, there are others – including the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Visa Cards – that allow you to apply points toward a wider range of travel services. (FlexPerks is affiliated with 150 airlines, as well as many hotels, cruise lines, and rental car companies.)
Maui, nicknamed "The Valley Isle," is consistently rated by travel experts to be among the top island destinations in the world. Maui has some of the finest luxury beach resort accommodations and activities in the islands, especially along Kaanapali Beach. All of these high-end resorts amid the romantic beach backdrops make Maui a popular honeymooning spot. Read more about Maui
Bali, Indonesia is a bucket-list must: beautiful beaches, ornate temples, delicious food and stunning vistas—this island is where travel dreams become reality! Combine cheap flights with a super affordable 4-star hotel, and say hello to a honeymoon or vacation that won't destroy your budget. What's Included? Based on two people sharing, this vacation deal includes…