NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Holiday travel is a budget breaker. You know you cannot afford Park City, Utah or Aspen or New York. Forget Sedona or London or Rome. Top towns command top prices every day, but the prices go stratospheric over the holidays, and $500 a night is not unusual for decent accommodations. Nor is a three or four night minimum stay.
But know this: there are many - highly desirable - but off the radar destinations that are bargains even over the holidays. Like where? Read on for five top picks, including three that are overseas if you want to up your bragging rights.
Taos, New Mexico
Santa Fe - an hour away - may be a budget breaker. Tiny, historic, artistic Taos is a bargain hunter’s dream. Surprised? The holiday action - and high prices - in Taos over the holidays are on the ski mountain, 20 miles outside town. In town, the comfortable El Pueblo Lodge - rooms include working fireplaces - is $143 a night over Christmas.
In-town options go as low as $50 at various branded hotels. At 7,000 feet elevation, there will probably be a little snow for a scenic statement. Dave McGaughey, co-founder of Madcap Travel, especially likes cycling there. “The Enchanted Circle [a 84 mile loop that begins and ends in Taos] is one of the cycling treasures of America,” he said. And if you work up a thirst, you can always stop in at the Adobe bar (at the sold out over Xmas Taos Inn) and sip a cowboy buddha ($12), a thinking person’s riff on a margarita you will still be talking about a year later.
You want something warmer? Head to Tucson, in the Sonoran Desert, 70 miles north of Nogales, Mexico. The Tucson daytime highs in December average about 66, and it rarely falls below freezing at night. Tucson is a big college town - home to the University of Arizona (42,000 students) - and so it empties out a bit over the holidays. A room at Loews Ventana Canyon shows at $135 at Hotels.com. The Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort is $119. Liz Dahl, of boomertravelpatrol.com, calls Tucson “a fun destination,” and she’s right. There’s hiking, golf, bicycling, art studios and the desert itself to explore.
You’ve heard cruises over the holidays will bankrupt you? You heard right. But David Yeskel, aka the Cruise Guru, has surfaced some deals.
“There are some seagoing bargains to be found in the Caribbean this year, if you know where to look," he says. "Lesser-known but major European lines MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises, each with one ship deployed seasonally in the Caribbean, are offering surprisingly good deals on seven-day cruises spanning the Christmas holiday. With MSC's rates starting at $549 per person and Costa's starting at $699, travelers can experience an unusual holiday twofer: a multi-cultural onboard ambience and a bargain.”
Middle Europe just says the holidays and, according to Spencer Carlson of 2020adventures, the place to be is Krakow. He elaborated: “The Old Town, namely the Main Market Square, is one of the most beautiful and picturesque. The mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture is perfect for the holidays. Typically there is snow at this time as well. Note that the Main Market Square is the largest, and arguably the most elegant, in all of Europe, and a personal favorite of mine. There is a Christmas Market in the Main Market Square during the holidays.”
As for prices, Carlson said a four star hotel can be had for $80 a night. A good, traditional dinner with drinks costs $14. Walking tours (Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, Schindler’s Factory) are free. A day trip to Auschwitz is $27. And how many of your friends have spent the holidays in Poland?
You want something low cost - but really special? This one’s for you.
We are not funning you. Chris Laskey, with Africa Adventure Consultants, explained why: “The South African Rand is at an all-time low versus the U.S. dollar making the destination an amazing value over all.” (In 2011, the dollar was worth 7 Rand. Now it is worth toward 14.) That makes travel a bargain. Case in point: Laskey’s company offers a seven-day safari that takes in Kruger National Park, Swaziland, Zululand and more. Price: $1697 per person, double occupancy. Single supplement: $316. Add in air - Laskey said he’s seen roundtrips as low as $1,000 - and this nudges above $3,000. Not cheap, no. But there probably are big African game, traditional South African settlements, insights into the unique culture and more involved on a trip you will remember maybe forever.