According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau files well over 1,000 complaints in a single year from victims of “free” cruise scams. Other “too good to be true” deals may not be actual scams, but may require you to participate in a sales presentation, commonly for a time-share. Be alert, be skeptical, and be willing to put in the time to verify anything that doesn’t feel right.
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.
Why: The second largest city in Morocco, Fez has an enchanting souk, lively markets, fascinating leather tanneries (which you can sniff out before you see) and quaint cafes serving Moroccan mint tea and local pastries. Fez is also filled to the brim with palatial riads, Moroccan homes built around a central courtyard or garden, which feature cozy rooms and rooftop terraces where you can relax after a walk through the bustling labyrinth of alleyways right outside your front door. Prices for a double room in a riad can be as low as 550 dirhams ($60), while a tangine dinner is around 50 dirhams ($6). Step inside a medersa, a theological college, to marvel at the splendid architecture and tilework and get a scrub at a hammam for a fraction of the cost of a spa in the U.S.
When the lure of a tropical paradise beckons, the Caribbean is second to none. Immerse yourself in the laid-back island lifestyle, and enjoy wonderful all-inclusive resorts, fantastic beaches, marvelous diving and snorkeling, challenging golf and great shopping. Whether you are looking for the perfect atmosphere for a romantic getaway or an exciting adventure for the whole family, Caribbean vacations are fun for everyone.
Why: The Greek Island of Karpathos offers much of the same allure as chic Santorini and Mykonos, but with the advantage of lower prices. Karpathos is the second largest of the Dodecanese Island chain, which includes better-known Rhodes. Karpathos dates back to the 5th century BC, offering history buffs a way to have two trips in one, combining sun and sand with a step back in time. Ancient ruins can still be seen at Aghia Anastasia, while the island’s history can be studied in more detail in the Archaeological Museum. Beyond lounging on white-sand beaches, active travelers can choose from a selection of sports: fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing. Away from the well-worn tourist path, Karpathos has hillsides covered in vibrant wild flowers and small villages like Arkasas to explore. The island’s capital, Pighadia, is a modern city, but in small towns like Olympos, traditional dress is still worn day-to-day and life has the authentic feel of the past. Karpathos has many apartments and studios to rent, resulting in real savings. There are plenty of budget hotels under $100. Multiple restaurants and tavernas dot the countryside, where you can savor traditional Greek dishes at low prices.
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.
Why: The Central Coast runs roughly from Santa Barbara to Monterey and the string of small towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach is an unexpected surprise for many California coast road trippers. This is where SoCal surf town meets fishing village, and otters and elephant seals share the spotlight with European masterpieces at the Hearst Castle. Veer away from the coast and in a few minutes you'll find yourself at the wineries of Paso Robles, with tastings that are half the price of Napa and Sonoma. Adelaida is open daily; for a special hilltop tasting, try their Vineyard Tour, Taste and Tailgate. An emphasis on eating local and fresh creates foodie-worthy dining options throughout the region. Pismo Beach and quaint Moonstone Beach in Cambria offer the largest selection of lodging with the best value outside of the holidays and summer. Guests at Cambria Shores Inn relax each evening in Adirondack chairs positioned perfectly to take in the sunset. Afterwards, take a five-minute stroll to Sea Chest Restaurant for local seafood or drive to the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach where the Deadliest Catch crew dined and all things crab are on the menu.
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.
Of course, “top-notch guest services” is subjective. You could stay at a five-star hotel where the concierge is snooty and there’s constant construction, whereas you could find a gem of a two-star hotel where you’re treated like royalty by a warm, welcoming staff. That’s why it’s so important to value guest reviews over star ratings. Guest reviews give you an indication of what it’s actually like to stay at the hotel.
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.