If you’re planning an international vacation in 2016, we’d like to help sweeten the deal. Here are 7 spectacular destinations that offer great value for the dollar as well as unforgettable culture & sights to satisfy your wanderlust.
Seasoned travelers know that many Asian destinations are hardly a bargain. Here’s where Vietnam truly shines – as a great value for the money without sacrificing any of the bells and whistles you want when on an adventure vacation. You can get by on less than $20 a day in both Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, and the country is chock full of amazing natural beauty, delicious food, traditional culture and architectural & historical sites. The mostly government-run hotels are large and impersonal, but pristine and up to exacting western standards. Must-see sights: The small town of Hoi An, the overwhelming splendor of Halong Bay, the somber history of the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. When to go: We recommend the cool and dry season for optimal comfort which runs from November to April. If humidity and rain showers don’t bother you much, May to October will score you even deeper hotel and rail bargains (the Reunification express will take you from the steeped-in-tradition Hanoi to the hustle and bustle of the capitalistic Ho Chi Minh City). Flights: China Southern Air has flights out of San Francisco (SFO) for just over $500 round trip in the new year. $600 from Los Angeles (LAX).
Eastern African countries are another great value for leisure travel, with Uganda and Tanzania strong contenders for the title “best value for 2016.” Kenya wins this round however, for the sheer variety of the landscape and activities to be experienced at a good price for North American visitors. Kenya is also our pick for “best exotic family vacation,” with the opportunities for cultural exchange (the Masai Mara) and visiting endangered species in their natural habitats unparalleled. Must-see sights: More than we can recount here but let’s start with Samburu, Lake Naivasha, the Masai Mara, Lamu (a UNESCO Heritage Site and home to 23 mosques) and Mount Kenya – yes! you can hike the second tallest mountain in Africa. Mount Kenya is not a technical hike and can be easily managed if you can walk for 6 to 12 miles at a leisurely pace. When to go: If you want to see wildlife on your trip (and we highly suggest you do), late June to October is going to be best for viewing. Flights: JFK to Nairobi for $1000 round trip via Alitalia.
Ok, this pick is technically not quite accessible yet for leisure travelers, but if we were going to place odds, we’re thinking it could be sometime in 2016 when the United States and Cuba finally formalize full diplomatic relations and open the gates for U.S. citizens to visit the island nation. When it happens (and it’s coming very soon), you’d be remiss if you spent all your time under a beach umbrella in Varadero (though that’s what a lot of Canadian and European visitors have been doing for decades). We think there’s so much more to see on Cuba – visit a tobacco plantation and watch cigars be rolled by hand, wander the cobblestone streets and explore colonial architecture, gawk at the 50’s-era American cars that locals keep running through an elaborate combination of elbow grease and hopeful thinking, stroll along the Malecón, have a coffee in a traditional coffeehouse. Must-see sights: Old Havana, the city of Santiago, the rural valley of Viñales. When to go: As soon as it’s legal – the winds of change are blowing. Get in on the ground floor. Flights: Direct flights are already available through CheapAir.com from Miami, Tampa and JFK (limited service from Los Angeles). Check our site for current rates.
4. Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Mexico has been a vacation mainstay for sun worshippers for so long, you might be surprised to know there are relatively undiscovered and less expensive beach holiday destinations on offer. Tulum is so 2013. For our money, the Riviera Nayarit and the sleepy surf town of Sayulita should be on your shortlist if you’re looking for an unassuming, bohemian slice of Mexico. If you like your under-the-radar vacay with a slice of luxury, you’ll want to head up the coast a bit to Punta Mita, where golfers can take their pick of two Jack Nicklaus courses and the fancy folk in your party can stay at the Four Seasons. The tiny hamlet of San Blas is a gem if you’re interested in colonial architecture. Must-see sights: Let’s not call these must-sees since if you’re coming to the Riviera Nayarit your first order of business should be relaxation. Let’s just call these what they are – good suggestions for day-excursions: Humpback whale watching off Nuevo Vallarta, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Marietas Islands, surf lessons or paddle boarding off Sayulita, the crocodile reserve or bird watching in San Blas (80% of North American migratory birds pass through here). When to go: Anytime! The region’s mild tropical climate and median temperature (77° F year round) make it ideal whenever your little heart desires a visit. Flights: From Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) and LAX round trip flights start at around $600.
Patagonia has long been a bucket list destination for the globetrotting set, but recent infrastructure improvements (mainly to roads) as well as an uptick in luxury lodges has travel trend watchers predicting big things for the corridor. Travel entrepreneurs in the region have also introduced new sea expeditions, and there’s even been a push by the Chilean government to create a new National Park (they hope to get status in 2016). All of these factors combined put Patagonia on the “to-watch” map in 2016. If it’s not yet at the forefront of your travel list, it should be. Must-see sights: the electric-blue icebergs and soaring mountain vistas of the Torres del Paine in Chile, the simply stunning glacial formations in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, the “dinosaur route” to amble where the earth’s largest animals once trod, and explore Cueva de las Manos with a guide to view the more than 7000 BC aged cave drawings. When to go: Summer in Patagonia is peak season (December to February), but don’t fear. This is always going to be a remote destination. You don’t have to worry about tourist hordes. Flights: Aeormexico is offering round trip flights to Santiago via Chicago or Los Angeles for just over $600. It’ll cost you double to get to Buenos Aires ($1200 round trip).
6. Kanha National Park, India
In recent years, rumblings that the Indian government is considering a closure of the Taj Majal (due to environmental concerns), have made a visit to the country even more imperative for some travelers. We have a new recommendation in 2016 to add to your India itinerary – one that might be slightly unexpected. Madhya Pradesh is where the Kanha Tiger Preserve (also known as Kanha National Park) is situated. The park is home to a significant population of Bengal tigers, Indian leopards, sloth bears, the spotted deer known as Barasingha and dhole (wild dogs). Rudyard Kipling is said to have taken inspiration from Kanha National Park when writing his beloved “Jungle Book,” and India’s new e-Visa program has made obtaining a tourist visa easier, faster and cheaper than ever before. You’d be hard pressed to find a location better suited for viewing the elusive Bengal tigers up close. Must-see sights: The whole park, of course. But while you’re in Madhya Pradesh, why not visit some of the most spectacular temples in all of India including Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986), the Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi and the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka. When to go: While the park is open from October 15th to June 30th yearly, plan your visit between November and March to avoid the unbearable (for tourists) summer heat. Flights: We recommend flying into one of the major capital cities and then catching a local flight to Jabalpur (which is closest to Kanha). Los Angeles or Seattle to New Delhi via Emirates has flights starting at around $800.
Iran has been something of a no-fly zone for all but the most adventurous American travelers, which is a shame because the country has some amazing treasures to share. The recent political thaw between the U.S. and Iran has opened up the country to the west in a way that it hasn’t been for many years. Iranian hospitality is notable and flies in the face of the country’s forbidding image. Must see sights: The vibrant political and cultural capital of Tehran, the magical city of Isfahan, the ancient Temple of Persepolis, and the stunning dome of the Mosque of the Shaykh Lotfollah. When To Go: March to May and September to November. Flights: Emirates has flights from Washington Dulles for around $700 and around $800 out of JFK.
As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below about other destinations you’d like to see featured (or any tips on the destinations we’ve covered in this post). Happy travels in 2016!
*Airfares include taxes and fees and are valid as of 12/23/15 on select dates between 1/1/16 and 10/1/16. Lowest fare seats are capacity controlled and may not be available on every airline, flight, or date. Fares subject to change without notice.