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.
From the blue waters and white sands of Mismaloya to the secluded shores and jade backdrop of Majahuitas, it would be easy to call Puerto Vallarta heaven on earth. But aside from its stunning beaches and natural landscapes, Puerto Vallarta has plenty more for budget travelers. Cruise the Rio Cuale Riverwalk, or tackle a challenging hike through the El Tuito jungle to reach the amazing Yelapa Waterfall.
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.
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.
Why: With so much to see in Namibia, Windhoek, the country’s capital, is just the jumping point. Best of all, the U.S. dollar is strong enough to make travel, accommodations and activities all relatively inexpensive in the country — even for some luxury experiences. Windhoek is cheap in itself and has plenty of see, between exploring the local scenes like at the Namibia Craft Centre and checking out the city's German influence like at the Christuskirche church. Five-star properties, such as the Hilton Windhoek and The Olive Exclusive All-Suite Hotel can be booked for less than $150 per night, thanks in large part to the preferable exchange rate to Namibian dollars. But some of the best sights to see are located outside the city limits. Consider day or multi-day trips to get your outdoor fix and to see the stunning scenery and dunes that makes up the majority of the country. Tours, which often include meals, camping, activities and more, can be found for reasonable prices. If you’re more interested in seeing the beautiful country on your own, consider renting a car and driving to all of the sights. Entrance fees to national parks, such as the Etosha National Park, go for as little as $6 per day. Throughout the country, don’t anticipate spending a lot on food — you can find good, local dining for less than $10 per meal.
Why: For an epic adventure that won't break your travel piggy bank, head to the Komodo Islands , named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Most of the islands in Indonesia are incredibly undermined because of how popular Bali is, but Komodo and its surrounding islands are definitely worth a visit. As the name implies, Komodo is the native home of the terrifying mini-Godzillas known as Komodo Dragons. To see them, you go on an incredible boat tour that takes you to a tri-color beach island and swimming with wild manta rays. Getting to Komodo from Bali costs about $40 by boat or $200 for a flight, and accommodation and food is super cheap because, well, it's Indonesia after all.
Why: As the gateway city to celebrated tourist destinations like the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Pompeii, Naples is finally getting its well-deserved time in the spotlight and intrepid travelers are flocking to the stunning southern city in droves. Naples is one of the oldest cities on the European continent and filled to the brim with intriguing cultural sights and monuments, from seaside castles and underground catacombs to show-stopping Baroque architecture and a plethora of contemporary art. It also boasts one of Italy's most cherished cuisines and is well-known as the birthplace of pizza, which you can enjoy for as little as €4 ($5), accompanied by views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius (free). Neapolitan pizza making has just been recognized by UNESCO as part of its Intangible World Heritage list, so now is a great time to visit and enjoy its effervescent energy and fabulous cuisine.
Why: Manaus in the north of Brazil is a short flight from Miami and provides multiple economical options in one. It is a top destination for adventure travel or a sedate wildlife and photography sojourn or a serious eco-tour. Although it's a city of 1 million inhabitants, Manaus is mainly famous as the gateway to the Amazon rain forest. Comfortable, modern hotels like the Caesar Business Hotel start at $63 year round. Aside from visits upriver in the rainforest, Manaus offers sites ranging from the local Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro and the fabled Renaissance-style Manaus Opera House/Amazon Theatre. For an up-close look at wildlife, including endangered species, there is a free, small zoo at the Hotel Tropical. A biologist heads up this state-certified rescue center that has elusive deep-rainforest species, from jaguars to the lovable 120-pound capybaras. The Bosque da Ciencia (Science Center) is a popular open-air wildlife park just outside the city of Manaus. Local species roam freely in front of strolling tourists. Day-trip options include short visits to the rain forest as well as the Presidente Figueiredo Waterfalls and Gruta do Refugio do Maroaga, a cave filled with marine life and bats. Traveling in the rainy season provides an even better value, and the weather is no hindrance to boating and spotting a wide array of tropical birds, pink dolphins and a feisty piranha or two.
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