The Galapagos is a land of fearless sea lions, game-changing scientific theories, and expensive vacation packages. The destination is best explored by boat or guided tour, and one of the easiest ways to plan a trip is by booking a one-price-covers-all vacation package—but these aren’t cheap. Published prices for Galapagos packages on Intrepid Travel, a small-group adventure-tour operator, start at $2,020 for five nights, no airfare included—and we won’t even get into what luxury packages cost. So consider the alternative: Plan your own journey. SmarterTravel editor Caroline Morse did just that and saved a bundle. Morse details her incredibly affordable Galapagos trip in this trip report, writing, “We ended up walking into one of the numerous tour operators that line the streets on the main island and booking ourselves onto a four-day, three-island tour with everything (meals, accommodations, tours, snorkeling, boat transfers, et cetera) included for just $200 per person.” Putting on your travel-agent hat and conducting a bit of research could really pay off when planning a Galapagos getaway.
What does Greece’s recent economic turmoil mean for travelers? As of publication, there are no warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State against travel to Greece, and this year could, in fact, be an excellent time to go, as Greece travel deals are popping up like olive trees. TripAdvisor reports that hotel rates in popular Greece destinations have fallen by as much as 20 percent in the past year. The influx of bargains is a win-win for both locals and visitors, as a healthy tourism industry could help Greece revive its economy. According to Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times, “Greece needs tourist dollars now more than ever to find its way out from under lest it default on its loans. Tourism is one of its leading industries, and that means you are apt to find bargains.”
By Laura Bly, USA TODAY
A lone horse and carriage at the Pyramids in Giza is testimony to the dearth of visitors in Cairo and other Egyptian cities in March, 2011.
Revolutions don’t make for an attractive vacation destination—but travel deals do. To counter a drop in demand due to Arab Spring unrest, providers are rolling out some incredible price reductions for Egypt travel. As of press time, we spotted offers like 50 percent off Egypt tours from luxury tour operator Abercrombie Kent; this deal also includes complimentary travel insurance with select trips. Furthermore, Hotels.com lists Cairo as one of 10 worldwide destinations where luxury hotels cost the least (the average nightly rate for a five-star Cairo hotel came to $203 in 2011). If you’re comfortable traveling to a destination where there may be some civil disorder (we recommend purchasing travel insurance), you can book a once-in-a-lifetime luxury getaway to Egypt for pennies on the dollar.
Jon Arnold Images
A traditional Japanese restaurant in Tokyo.
The tourism industry in Japan took a major hit after the catastrophic earthquake that struck almost a year ago, and it continues to lag. To bounce back, Japanese hotels and other travel providers have been offering deep savings on accommodations, attractions, and more in an attempt to lure international visitors. (Experts agree it’s now safe to travel to most of Japan, including the greater Tokyo area.) “Japan is still expensive, primarily because the yen is high against the dollar,” Chris Gray Faust, of Chris Around The World, told us in an email. “But hotels have been offering value-added specials to entice tourists back to the country. In Kyoto, for example, the Hyatt Regency Kyoto has been offering deals where if you buy one night, you get the second one for 50 percent, or a third night free with two nights paid,” she said. Moreover, spending money on a Japan vacation is a great way to support a nation that has endured a terrible tragedy and is still in the process of rebuilding.
This year, Berlin turns 775 and will open a new major international airport. And while the city is one of Europe’s best for museums, galleries, fashion, and culture, it offers more bang for your euro compared to major Western European destinations such as London, Paris, or Rome. Average nightly hotel rates in Berlin are just €72—that’s well below average prices for the aforementioned cities. And did we mention the exchange rate? The euro has been falling against the dollar, and economic problems in the euro zone, while calamitous for those who live in E.U. countries, could lead to better exchange rates for U.S. travelers.
By John Moore, Getty Images
The Empire State Building towers over the Manhattan skyline as tourists gather on the observation deck of Rockefeller Center in New York City.
New York City
New York is the most expensive U.S. city to spend the night in, with average nightly hotel rates reaching $190.46 in 2011, according to data gathered from Hotels.com. But high hotel rates can couple with a wealth of free activities to strike an affordable balance for travelers to the Big Apple. City parks, music shows, galleries, breweries, famous stores, monuments, and museums that charge zilch abound in the city—you need only know where to look. We recommend browsing through the regularly updated listings on Time Out New York or reading this list of 40 free New York attractions from Lonely Planet. If you’re looking for even more savings, beat those notorious New York hotel rates by booking alternative accommodations on sites like Airbnb and Flipkey. We found one-bedroom apartment rentals in Manhattan listed on Airbnb for as little as $100 per night for high-season summer stays.
It’s shaping up to be a good year for Hawaii, as more and more travelers are heading to the lush locale. (Can you blame them?) The Wall Street Journal reports that Hawaii tourism rates are at their highest levels since 2007, thanks in part to large advertising campaigns put forth by the local tourism board. As a consequence, one might expect prices for travel to this already-expensive destination to rise. Yet there are ways to try big-wave surfing, explore underwater lava caves, or dance the hula on the cheap this year. One cost-cutting tactic is to buy your big-ticket Hawaii flight from a discount airline; very soon, you’ll be able to do this. Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue recently entered into a partnership agreement that will open up new routes to the Aloha State (this will also bring about the only nonstop flight connecting New York to Hawaii). United’s adding a new nonstop from Washington, D.C., as well. New routes usually amount to greater competition, which could work to push down fares to Hawaii in the coming year.
By Beth J. Harpaz, AP
The Hubbard Glacier in Alaska as seen from the deck of Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas cruise ship.
Alaska is enormous—it’s two times the size of Texas. And crossing hundreds or thousands of miles by plane, train, or automobile isn’t cheap. The solution? Set sail. Cruising is the most popular way to tour Alaska—and it may be the cheapest, too. The destination has been drawing more and more ships (Disney Cruise Line began its inaugural Alaska season in 2011) since the state’s government decreased head taxes on cruise-ship passengers. For an amazingly economical Alaska vacation, book a cruise during shoulder season. As of this publication, we spotted weeklong spring and fall Alaska cruises on our sister site Cruise Critic’s deals page on sale for as little as $569 per person.
As the euro falls in surrounding countries, the franc holds steady; this would, it seem, make for a very expensive Switzerland vacation. However, with many travelers choosing neighboring destinations that offer better exchange rates, the local tourism industry has suffered. The good news? Travel providers are taking pains to make it more affordable to see Switzerland. This season, ski resorts have been offering free night’s stays and free skiing in an effort to draw more guests, reports OnTheSnow. And, as of press time, the Zurich Tourism Board was offering 20 percent off winter stays at a variety of local hotels. Of course, if you’re an American or a European, you’ll have to deal with an unfavorable exchange rate when traveling to Switzerland. But take advantage of a good travel deal or two and your Swiss vacation could be a lot cheaper than you might expect.
Cayman Islands Department of Tourism via AP
A diver photographs coral off of Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands.
Discount carriers like JetBlue and AirTran don’t fly to the Cayman Islands, and the destination is generally considered one of the most expensive in the Caribbean. So to access the islands’ blue waters and breezy beaches at a fraction of the price, veer off the beaten path. Skip the high-rise hotels that line the coast on Grand Cayman and go for a guesthouse or a villa on one of the Caymans’ smaller islands: Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. (There are no campsites on the Cayman Islands, so guesthouse lodging is likely the cheapest option you’ll find.) We spotted oceanfront guesthouses listed on the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism website for as little as $1,000 per week in high season—a more-than-fair price for a one-bedroom house that sleeps four or five people.
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