Why you should go: Not only is it arguably the greatest swinging-around-a-stage-in-purple-sequined-zebra-print-pants anthem of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, it’s a slinky, skinny swatch of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Smaller than South Carolina, it boasts 1,800 miles of ocean coastline and 5 million acres of national parks on the inside. For those who enjoy stylishly restored ruins, Panama City’s old quarter, Casco Viejo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1600s and is now filled with hipstery shit, because of course it is. This cobblestoned city center is surrounded by the ultra-sleek, modern, quasi-futuristic skyscrapers of Panama City, which kind of looks like Rio without the smog and soon-to-be decaying Olympic infrastructure. - Nicole Rupersburg, Thrillist contributor
How cheap is it? Mexico’s huge, it’s right next door, and each of its 31 states has something to offer. You’re gonna take your best cheap shot? Aim for the mezcal and gastronomy capital: Oaxaca, in the south. In the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez, feast on the regional specialty: tlayudas, an oversized crisp tortilla heated on a grill, topped with lard, beans, veggies, salsa, and meat, (think combination of pizza and taco in the best possible way). It is to be eaten from a street vendor in the early hours after a night of drinking, and will set you back all of $4. For daytime noshing the markets are stacked with small vendors who serve sublime homemade moles that cost around $8 for a full portion including rice and soup. Lodging is cheaper than a movie ticket in the States; Hostel Don Nino alongside Parque Llano charges $14 per night, which includes Wi-Fi, a computer station, filtered water, clean showers, and breakfast. For free activities, there are plenty of colorful markets to stroll and art galleries to wander. The ruins of Monte Albán and the ancient Tule Tree cost around $20 for round-trip transportation plus entrance.
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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