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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.
Weekend getaways – leaving Friday and returning Sunday – are awfully convenient if you work a Monday through Friday job, but you can expect to pay handsomely. According to Expedia, which releases an annual Travel Trends White Paper, you’re likely to pay 20% less for a flight that departs on Thursday and returns on Monday than one that departs on Friday and returns Sunday.
Why: When it comes to cheap destinations, you can not beat Thailand. Phuket is a beautiful beach spot that is famously known for nice people, affordable hotels and amazing food. Low season is in the spring and winter. (Don't go during summer because it will rain everyday.) Once in Phuket, head to Patong beach at night: The nightlife is something to see, with loud music and constant entertainment. The next day you should head to Phuket Town. With its colorful buildings, Phuket Town looks like you stepped into Portugal. Stay at Andakira Hotel Patong for under $50 a night. Before you leave Phuket, make sure you take a ferry for around $30 roundtrip to the Phi Phi islands: It's a two-hour boat ride, but so worth it.
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.”
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.
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: For an affordable and sun-soaked vacation, southern Portugal’s Algarve region should be hot on your radar. The city of Albufeira boasts a beautiful climate, fabulous beaches, inexpensive apartment-style hotels and a central location within the Algarve. There are over 100 different restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and Albufeira even has a charming Old Town with traditional Portuguese streets and plazas within the city center. The prices for both food and wine are extremely reasonable; be sure to sample the wines of Portugal. While summer remains the busiest and most popular time to visit, I love visiting in late spring — the weather is pleasant and sunny, there are fewer tourists and hotel rates are very affordable. Albufeira also offers easy access to nearby towns such as Loulé, with its famous market and an authentic slice of Portuguese culture. Rent a car to see the church of São Lourenço in Almancil, famous for its exquisite blue tile. Head north of Lagos to see Ponta da Piedade, with its towering red rock formations against the sea. Play a round of golf in one of the many beautiful courses in the Algarve. The place to stay: the Epic Sana Algarve overlooking Praia da Falésia, where you can bask in the sun at one of its five outdoor pools and indulge at the beautiful spa.
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