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.
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
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.
A Dominican Republic favorite known for its high-end resorts, Puerto Plata is also a great place to visit on a budget. The sands of Playa Dorada and Cabarete are perfect for whiling away days amongst heavenly surrounds, while Fort San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century citadel and World Heritage Site, offers the chance to ingest a little history and culture. For value eats, head to Sam's Bar and Grill, and finish the night off with a trip to Mangu for a great night out.
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