NEW YORK (MainStreet) Spring break doesn't have to mean overcrowded beaches, long lines at bars and drunken pool parties. Students who are looking for a more laid-back but equally adventurous getaway can skip the typical spring break hotspots and choose a more off-the-radar destination. From a haven for adventure sports buffs in the Dominican Republic to a Rocky Mountain city known for its lively arts scene and nearby ski slopes, here are five awesome locales to consider that won't kill your budget.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
If you haven't heard of Bocas del Toro, you're not alone. "This archipelago of pristine beaches and lush palm tree-covered islands is an undiscovered beauty off the coast of Panama," says Ryan K. Croft, founder of Croft Global Travel & Pilots.
Bocas del Toro's relaxed, easygoing vibe is a refreshing contrast from the more popular spring break party spots such as South Beach and Cancun, and students who travel here can enjoy great surfing, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving, plus delicious restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. According to Fodors.com: "With its turquoise waters, sugar-sand beaches and funky island towns, the relatively isolated archipelago of Bocas del Toro has the same attractions as major Caribbean destinations with a fraction of the crowds, development, and price."
Many of Bocas del Toro's hotels, bars and restaurants are found in the main town on the archipelago, Bocas Town, which is located on Isla Colón. From there, visitors can take water taxis to visit remote beaches and snorkeling sites for just a few dollars, such as Isla Bastimentos. Located ten minutes away by boat, this must-see island features beautiful beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, a marine park, eco lodges and wildlife like monkeys, sea turtles and frogs.
While Bocas del Toro offers a variety of cheap hotels and hostels, students might also want to consider booking a trip through Give and Surf, a nonprofit based in Bocas that offers a week of surfing mixed with volunteering to benefit the local community. This year's program is offered from March 22 to 29 and includes accommodations, meals, yoga instruction, transportation in Bocas del Toro, use of surfboards and snorkel gear and bilingual guides (starts at $1,000). "It's a great way to give back and get more out of the trip than just sunburn and hangovers," says Croft.
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
While Punta Cana draws hoards of spring breakers to the Dominican Republic each year, students looking for a more unique travel experience should check out Cabarete on the country's north coast. "Cabarete has a very unassuming, international vibe, without all the overpriced restaurants and all-inclusive hotels," says Croft. "It's a great place to unwind, pick up a new water sport and have a good time."
Once a sleepy fishing town, Cabarete has been hailed "the adventure-sports capital of the country" by Lonely Planet, as it boasts great conditions for surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing.
To save money, students should consider staying in a hostel or budget hotel, where rates can start as low as $10 to $30 per night. To get around on the cheap, students can rent a scooter for just $10 or $15 per day from one of Cabarete's scooter-rental shops along the main drag. And considering Cabarete's stellar reputation for water sports, Croft urges spring breakers with a little extra cash take a kitesurfing lesson at Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding ($71 per hour).
San Antonio, Texas
History, arts, culture and nightlife are just a few of the charms of San Antonio. The beautiful weather also makes this Texas city an attractive spring break destination, with highs averaging in the mid-70s in March and the low 80s in April.
Some must-do activities include touring the Alamo; taking a stroll along the beautiful River Walk, which winds through the city center providing access to museums, centuries-old Spanish missions, hotels, shops, restaurants and more; and visiting theme parks such as SeaWorld San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resort. Students can also enjoy San Antonio's popular bars, lounges and clubs, such as Cowboys Dancehall, where you can dance the night away to live country-western music.
While San Antonio offers numerous hotels to choose from, students who want to shed a few pounds can enroll in Shane Diet & Fitness Resorts' camp program for college students in San Antonio's historic La Cantera Hill Country Resort. Offered this year during the weeks of March 9 to 16 and March 16 to 23, the camp offers healthy meals, nutrition tips, fitness classes and behavior coaching ($1,845 for one student; $3,290 for two students coming together). Of course, students enrolled in the program will also be given time to explore the city on their own.
This quaint city located 5,430 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is a great destination for spring breakers who enjoy the arts and outdoors. The city is a college town itself, home to The University of Colorado Boulder, and thus has a laid-back vibe with a large population of young people.
Boulder boasts a plethora of charming shops, cafes and galleries, and students who visit here between March 28 through April 6 can experience Boulder Arts Week, a celebration of film, music, theater, visual arts, dance and more. Boulder is also home to several wineries, tasting rooms, breweries and distilleries, many offering tours and tastings to the public. At night, students can head to The Hill located next to the University of Colorado Boulder for a lively, student-centric night scene, or the Pearl Street area for a diverse array of bars and clubs.
For a great place to stay without breaking the bank, students can take advantage of the Millennium Harvest House Hotel in Boulder's "Spring Blooms Package," which is offering rates starting at just $99 per night for a minimum of two nights from March 1 through May 31. Set in park-like surroundings on 16 scenic acres on Boulder Creek, the Millennium Harvest House is the largest full-service hotel adjacent to the University of Colorado campus and offers gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountains.
Students can also venture just outside the city for great skiing. Located 21 miles west of Boulder, Eldora Mountain Resort offers both daytime ski packages and overnight accommodations at reasonable prices.
New York City
Late winter and early spring is a great time to visit the Big Apple before throngs of summer tourists descend upon the city. There is no shortage of exciting activities for students to experience during their spring break, from catching a Broadway show to shopping on Fifth Avenue to taking a horse and carriage ride through Central Park.
Students who want to see all the most popular tourist sites can purchase a New York Pass, which provides unlimited entry to more than 80 attractions such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Empire State Building's observation deck, the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Botanical Garden. Prices range from $85 for a one-day pass to $200 for a seven-day pass. If you're willing to spend a bit more, you can also get your pass with hop-on, hop-off bus tours (prices range from $155 for a two-day New York Pass and two-day hop-on, hop-off bus access to $230 for a seven-day New York Pass and three-day hop-on, hop-off bus access).
Students in search of a bustling bar scene will find no shortage of options in Manhattan. Some particularly popular areas among young people include the Hell's Kitchen area in midtown west and the East and West Village neighborhoods downtown.
While Manhattan hotels are known for their pricey rates (some costing hundreds of dollars per night and up), students can get a break by staying at the Wolcott Hotel in midtown, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary by offering discounted rooms for $110 per night from March 1 through March 31.
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet