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.
Best time to visit the Gulf Coast: Winters in the Gulf Coast can be downright balmy with temperatures averaging in the low 60s, so chances are you'll catch some rays regardless of the season. That said, go in April or May, before the summer humidity sets in. Avoid June to November—it's the dreaded Atlantic hurricane season.
Price check: Airports in Panama City, Biloxi, Mobile, New Orleans, and Houston cater to the Gulf cities, so fares depend on where you visit. Our advice: Fly into the pristine, LEED-certified Panama City Beach airport (on Southwest in April, nonstops are $196 from Nashville, and $234 from Houston and Baltimore) and road trip to the other coastal hotspots: Gulf Shores is 127 miles away; Biloxi, 215 miles.
Where to stay: Hotel Magnolia in Foley, Alabama is a restored historic landmark with a wrap-around porch and lots of antebellum charm; a stay here includes breakfast served on china. Thehotelmagnolia.com, doubles from $100
Why in 2011: Finally free from more than 25 years of civil war, Sri Lanka has a goal: to get 2.5 million visitors between now and 2016. (Its tourism department even declared 2011 "Visit Sri Lanka Year.") The lush, pear-shaped island off the southern tip of India doesn't have to work hard to be attractive—it's known for its coconut trees, wild elephants, and daydream-worthy beaches. The country is also pulling out all the stops to draw visitors; a second international airport opened last year in Hambantota (the first is in the capital city of Colombo), and the country plans to build 30,000 hotel rooms over the next four years; with supply being so robust, rates are likely to take a dive. Several western countries, U.S. included, have had travel advisories for at least a year, and only recently lifted them in the spring of 2010. Airlines around the world are also reinstating service, which is likely to lead to even more fare drops. Don't forget that U.S. currency is mighty here: less than $1, for example, buys you a classic, Sri Lankan lunch of fish curry.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka: Avoiding monsoon season can be tricky because the rain hits different regions at different times. If you're visiting the west or south coast (which includes Colombo), December to March is best. One caveat: Tourists tend to storm during this period, which drives prices up; also, Sri Lanka is co-hosting Cricket World Cup matches in February and March, so traffic will spike even more. Try early April, which marks the tail end of the dry season.
Price check: As a rule, two-stop flights are the cheapest, and it's no different in March. Round-trip fares with two stops start at $1,040 from New York, $1,242 from Chicago (both Gulf Air) and $1,301 from San Fransisco (Cathay Pacific). Just be sure to pack a pillow—you're in for a 24+-hour trip.
Where to stay: Built by British businessmen in 1864, everything about Colombo's Victorian-inspired Galle Face Hotel is picturesque—especially the panoramic ocean views from nearly every room. Gallefacehotel.com, doubles from $126
Why in 2011: Jamaica is already one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations—hotel rates in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay average less than $200 a night, far less than you'll find in neighboring islands like the Bahamas, St. Lucia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Now the island is on track to become even more wallet-friendly thanks to a new international airport that opened near Ocho Rios in December and a recent resort boom that flooded the island with 3,000 new hotel rooms (consequently, hotel deals such as resort credits and free nights can be found by the dozen). It's also more accessible this year: Six new direct flights to Jamaica were added in 2010, connecting the country to 16 U.S. cities, more than any other Caribbean island. Cruise arrivals will also get a bump with the launch of Historic Falmouth Jamaica, a new port of call on the island's north coast that opened this month (January). Affordability and accessibility spell popularity—visitor numbers have been jumping steadily since 2009, and Jamaica's Tourism Board is gearing up for 2 million travelers this year, its largest crowd to date.
Best time to visit Jamaica: Low season, which starts in mid-April and wraps in mid-December, offers the top bargains. The flip side is the weather: rainy afternoons are common in May, June, October, and November. Avoid July through September, which is hurricane season.