10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2010
Each year, we pore over industry news and trends and dive through mounds of statistics to determine the world's new best-value destinations. Find out why our picks are more affordable than ever—and how to have fun once you get there.
Memorable moment: Fuel up on Dominican-grown coffee and flaky croissants made by French expats at the patisserie Sucré Salé on Plaza Taina (coffee 50¢), and then head out to the majestic, 170-foot-high Cascada el Limón waterfall. After the obligatory afternoon on the beach, start your evening at restaurants in Las Terrenas or the town of Samaná. Both destinations boast Dominican comida criolla, starring dishes such as sancocho, a tasty meat stew, and mangú, a hearty green-plantain puree.
Price check: Round-trip airfares for late February 2010 recently started at $266 from Miami (American, nonstop), $320 from New York (Spirit), and $348 from Chicago (Spirit). Through March 2010, a weeklong economy-class car rental recently ranged from $126 (Budget and Hertz). In early 2010, the 21-room neo-Victorian-style Villa Serena—surrounded by beaches and tropical gardens in the quiet village of Las Galeras—has starting rates of $148 for doubles (villaserena.com), while Villas Eva Luna lists doubles from $100 (villa-evaluna.com).
Why in 2010: After winning bids to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro—already a prized destination for American travelers—is emerging as an international superstar. A host of infrastructure projects are in the works to meet the expected crush of visitors in the coming years, which should add hundreds of hotel rooms and a high-speed rail line from São Paulo to Rio.
Unlike many of the destinations we recommend, Rio is not getting less expensive. Prices for hotels have continued to rise, if only slightly, through the recession year 2009, and the U.S. dollar has slumped against the Brazilian real in the same period, says oanda.com. Still, if you've always wanted to go to Rio and never made the time, we recommend you fly there before the construction cranes and general zaniness become a fixture in the city. Between now and the end of the decade, we expect Rio's star to continue to rise, and prices are likely to rise along with it. The good news: In 2009, airlines expanded routes, making the city easier and often cheaper to fly to. US Airways unveiled service to Rio from Charlotte, N.C., and Continental added new service from Houston and New Orleans.
Main events: If you plan to go during Carnaval, book tickets to see the elaborate samba parades in the Sambadrome from February 13 to 16, with the procession of drummers, whirling dancers, and giant mechanized floats lasting until dawn (find ticketsellers via rio-carnival.net, from $111). Things pick up again in June during the Festas Juninas (also known as Bonfire Festivals), with live music and fireworks on the city's main plazas. Celebrations revolve around the feast days of Saint Anthony (June 13), Saint John (June 24), and Saint Peter (June 29). Rio's international film festival, Festival do Rio, is held September 23 to October 7, with screenings of over 300 films from more than 60 countries (festivaldorio.com.br, prices not yet announced).
Memorable moment: Ascend Sugarloaf Mountain for breathtaking views of the city and Guanabara Bay. Most visitors take the cable car, which whisks passengers to the summit of the 1,300-foot-high granite peak. To see old-school bossa nova, visit Vinícius Show Bar in Ipanema, which features live bossa nova artists most nights of the week (viniciusbar.com.br, admission typically $10).
Price check: Visiting in late February and March (after Carnaval) means fewer crowds and mild summer weather. Airfares for round trips (with a layover each way) in March 2010 start at $580 from New York City (Copa), $600 from L.A. (Copa), and $846 from Houston (US Airways). The mid-range Orla Copacabana Hotel, overlooking the beach for which it's named, has double rooms starting at $135 per night (orlahotel.com.br). Similar beachside inns are also offering low March 2010 nightly rates, including the Bandeirantes Hotel (redeatlantico.com.br, from $112) and the Ipanema Inn (ipanemainn.com.br, from $119). Note: You need to arrange a visa before you arrive (brasilemb.org, $130, valid for five years).