Take Your Dream Trip: 5 Surprisingly Affordable Destinations for 2013

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4. Albuquerque, New Mexico

albuquerque intl balloon fiesta

The popular Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is held every fall–and draws about 800,000 visitors.

Hiking high in the hills is a cost-effective (and heart-healthy) getaway, but many of America’s most famous parks are located in hard-to-reach spots. The solution: Head to Albuquerque, a town in central New Mexico whose well-connected airport is a mere half-hour away from scenic parkland.

Trails cross vistas of red rock and aspen forest, Native American pueblo homes and fascinating desert plant life. Get the lay of the land by riding the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, which breezes visitors between the town’s northwestern corner and the top of the Sandia Mountains, lifting you 6,000 feet above the city skyline. Another don’t miss: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is host to hundreds of hot air balloons each autumn.

Best Bargain: Artsy hotels in Albuquerque, such as the Andaluz and Hotel Parq Central, charge rates that are usually one-fourth less than the price of comparably stylish properties in major U.S. cities–delivering a touch of glamour at a discount.

Image Credit: Flickr.com/hanroanu

5. Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

The view from the Grand Velas Nuevo Vallarta in Nayarit, Mexico.

Our southern neighbor has always been a relative bargain, but the U.S. dollar’s exchange rate against the Mexican peso has become especially favorable over time, improving by about 30% over the past decade.

Your money should go far in Cancún, with its colorful beach resorts, as well as in Oaxaca, the gastronomic heart of the country. But you may find the best bang for your buck in lesser-known Riviera Nayarit, a Pacific resort area that’s north of Puerto Vallarta and a four-hour flight from Chicago. The 180-mile coastline has undergone a building boom in the past two decades, but its American visitor numbers are still down from 2007 highs, prompting locals to dish out discounts to woo visitors to their beachside resorts and whale-spotting boat tours.

Best Bargain: All-inclusive offers deliver the most value here. You can get condo-style lodging, all meals, local transport and flights for a single price from reputable travel agencies like Apple Vacations. Now get packing!

Image Credit: Flickr.com/GrandVelasResort

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  • Mel

    This is such a timely article. I thought I would have to save 2k to travel well for the first time in my adult life, but I realized that there are a ton of options out there, and that I could probably budget for 50% less and still have a load of fun.

    That being said, the single supplement fee is a killer :(
    There are a few companies that specialize in solo travel but I don’t know what a ‘good price’ is because I’ve never traveled by myself before. I’m interested in going almost anywhere. Any advice?

    Also has anyone ever taken one of those Groupon All Inclusive trips offered? Were they any good?

    Thanks!

    • Lourdes Garcia-Calderon

      Not sure where you are but out of NY there is a company Dynamic Outdoors http://www.dynamicoutdoors.com/ that does trip all over and they don’t charge a single supplement because they will match you up with a roommate. We went to Egypt with them a few years ago and the value was excellent. They do other domestic trips too.

  • Wsweenie

    Belize should be on this list

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YZHIGWDACRPZZTXR5L7CW4HMRI Anne

    If you are interested in visiting Roatan, National Geographic just launched a terrific site with an inter-active map highlighting points of interest and unique local businesses: http://www.gobluecentralamerica.org. All of the businesses highlighted adhere to globally recognized
    criteria for sustainable tourism. I highly recommend it!

  • LiMarie

    We were just in Riviera Nayarit and loved it! Bucerias is smaller with more peaceful waves and just a bit away is Sayulita with some of the best seafood.  Highly recommend heading there!

  • KatyD

    One note on Albuquerque: if you want to attend the Balloon Fiesta – which is a very cool event – you need to book your hotel room several months in advance, and be prepared to pay for it. Rates are lower than in many other cities, but you may still find yourself paying more for rooms than they are really worth. Virtually every hotel room in town can and does book up completely for that week! The first year my husband and I went–admittedly on a spur-of-the-moment road trip–there was not a room to be had and we wound up staying at a Motel 6 in Gallup NM almost 2 hours away (an experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy for reasons too numerous to go into here!) Make your hotel reservations well in advance, or perhaps check out airbnb or Craigslist for private rooms to rent.

    Oh and if you love barbecue, you must make a trip to Rudy’s for lunch or dinner – best barbecue on the planet IMO!