10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2011
We analyzed a year's worth of news, trends, and statistics to identify the world's best value destinations for 2011. From China to our own backyard, here are ten places that you can't afford to miss.
Why in 2011: Forget drug lords and violent political rebels—that's old news. Colombia is not only safe, it has mass tourist appeal thanks to attractions ranging from gorgeous colonial cities to Caribbean beaches to Amazonian jungles. In the first quarter of 2010, tourism in Colombia grew 10.8 percent from the same period in 2009, thanks in large part to an 11 percent reduction in airfare. (Colombia recently opened its runways to low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Spirit, as part of an effort to attract U.S. travelers). More ships are also sailing through the country's ports—ocean cruises increased 16.2 percent in the past year, and several major lines, including Royal Caribbean and Princess, are offering itineraries that dock in Cartagena. Plus, hotel deals abound after a construction boom across the country—the result of tax breaks and a strengthening economy. Of the 4,700 new rooms this year, nearly half of them will be in Bogotá, where a crop of trendy boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs has popped up.
Best time to visit Colombia: The tropical climate means warm weather year-round, so the biggest damper is rain. Precipitation varies across the country, but in the more populated Andean region (which includes the cities of Bogotá, Cali and Medellín), December through March is the dry season. Unfortunately, ideal weather coincides with peak tourism levels, so try April, when crowds—and prices—have thinned and rain hits only sporadically.
Price check: Flights from Miami are a steal in February; non-stops start at $299 (LAN Airlines). One-stop trips are necessary if you leave from New York and Los Angeles, but fares on Spirit are relatively cheap: $357 and $437, respectively.
Where to stay: Booking a room at Celebrities Suites is kind of like crashing at your friend's cozy studio—if your friend is a total pop culture freak. Every room in this hotel is dedicated to a different star, from Charlie Chaplin to Bob Marley. Celebritiessuites.com, doubles from $149
Why in 2011: Shanghai is one of the best values in China right now. Last year's World Expo ushered in a $45 billion facelift that outfitted the city with new roads and subway lines and made it one of the easiest cities for non-Chinese-speakers to navigate. As part of the building-spree, over 100 hotels were added to the city, and now that the Expo is over and demand for rooms has decreased, the city is flush with bargains; room rates fell as much as 47 percent from October to November 2010, and five-star hotels slashed prices to an average of $197, down from $334, according to Chinese travel website Qunar. Plus, Shanghai is one of the few cities in China that offers easy access via high-speed trains to nearby destinations such as Nanjing and Hangzhou—home to several ancient Buddhist temples and the scenic West Lake, respectively.
Best time to visit Shanghai: The window for enjoying prime weather while avoiding tourist throngs is pretty small, but the sweet spots are late March, when temps average 55 degrees, and late October/early November, with averages between 62 and 73 degrees. Rooms during non-peak times can be as much as 62 percent cheaper compared to peak season.
Price check: A recent check of round-trip nonstop airfares for March started at $845 from Los Angeles and $898 from New York (both on China Eastern Air); one-stop flights started at $1,011 from Chicago (Asiana Air) and $1,041 from Atlanta (Korean Air).
Where to stay: Opened in 2007, the stylish Eton Hotel is proud of its eye candy: Each room offers a view of the high-rise-packed skyline in Shanghai's Lujiazui financial district. Etonhotelshanghai.cn, doubles from $117
Why in 2011: The oil spill scared many tourists away, but the Gulf Coast is ready for business: the area's 1,680 miles of white-sand shoreline have been spruced up and its kitchens restocked with local shrimp. The average daily rate at regional hotels is down between 12 to 43 percent since 2009 depending on the destination, and tourism levels aren't expected to rebound until late 2011, which mean deals abound. Keep in mind: there's more to do than just sunbathe. In November, Biloxi unveiled its Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, a 12-years-in-the-works project dedicated to Mississippi potter George Ohr (admission is $10). Golfers should tee up at Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, Alabama, ranked one of the top three public greens in the state by Golf Magazine (18 holes cost $78 after 1pm). For sun worshippers, Florida's Panama City Beach averages 320 blue-sky days per year and is easier to reach than ever thanks to a new, $318 million airport opened in May of last year. Plus, you can feel awfully good about ordering that third Piña Colada—your money is helping rebuild the region.