10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2012
Your annual guide to the year's biggest savings—from deeply discounted tours to favorable exchange rates to the cheapest five-star hotel rooms around (as low as $112!)—in some of the world's most appealing vacation spots.
Why in 2012: With miles of picturesque Pacific coastline (perfect for surfing), only 10 inches of rain per year (ideal golf weather), and family-friendly attractions (Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, a LEGO-Land theme park), it's easy to see why San Diego is one of America's top 10 most-visited cities. And unlike northern neighbors Los Angeles and San Francisco, the SoCal city is offering bargains on everything from hotels—the average nightly room rate is $128—to rental cars, which are 3 percent cheaper than they were in 2010. Another reason to book a trip now: Hotel prices are expected to continue dropping through 2012 before spiking again in 2013, thanks to an ongoing construction boom.
Best Time to Visit: The rainiest months are November through March, but even then you won't get soaked—the highest average precipitation (in January) is only 2.3 inches. If you're a museum lover, visit in February, when San Diego Museum Month kicks off. Forty area attractions, such as the modern LUX Art Institute and the Birch Aquarium, will offer half-priced admission fees (sandiegomuseumcouncil.org, discount card free). Prime beach season runs from April to October, when the temperatures rarely dip below 69 degrees.
Where to Stay: One of the city's newest boutique additions, Little Italy's Porto Vista exudes a laid-back, European vibe (portovistasd.com, from $119). Most rooms have black-and-white, floor-to-ceiling photographs that evoke 1960s Italy—think glammed-up fashion models and young men on scooters—and the surrounding neighborhood is lined with sausage shops and old-school pizza joints.
Price Check: February fares to San Diego are $156 from Portland (one stop on Spirit), $151 from Denver (nonstop on Frontier), and $339 from New York (nonstop on JetBlue).
Why in 2012: The provinces lining Canada's eastern seaboard have always had plenty to offer the outdoorsy traveler—from scenic kayak rides around Prince Edward Island to whale watching in the Bay of Fundy to wilderness hikes in the glacier-specked Torngat Mountains. But the region's biggest attraction this year only comes around once in a lifetime: the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking off the coast of Newfoundland. There's a full calendar of events in Halifax to commemorate the tragedy this April, including a town parade, concerts, and a film festival; the city's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is also expanding its permanent Titanic exhibit this year. Along with two other eastern cities (Charlottetown and Fredericton), Halifax once again made Hotels.com's list of cheapest Canadian cities in 2011, with rates averaging $145.
And if you want the full Titanic experience—only with a happier ending—consider one of Carnival Cruise Lines' new four- and five-day voyages from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Glory, launching in June; departures from New York will follow in the fall (carnival.com, from $73 per night).
Best Time to Visit: Hurricane season officially spans June through November, but since September and October are the highest-risk months, you can feel safe traveling here in June, when humidity is low and temperatures peak between 65 and 77 degrees.
Where to Stay: The Halliburton Hotel occupies a trio of 19th-century town houses near Halifax's waterfront (thehalliburton.com, from $122). Each of its 29 rooms is decorated differently; some even have wood-burning fireplaces.
Price Check: Cities on the Eastern Seaboard are the best jumping-off points for your Canadian journey. In June, nonstop flights to Halifax begin at $612 from New York (Continental and United), and $629 from Philadelphia and Boston (US Airways). West-coasters have to book one-stop tickets, like one from Portland that goes for $692 (Air Canada).
Why in 2012: Belize tends to be overshadowed by its neighbors: Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, which in 2010 saw twice the visitor arrivals that Belize did. Yet this English-speaking nation has plenty to recommend it, including a bounty of exotic birds, stunning Mayan ruins, and the world's second-largest barrier reef. On top of all that, Belize is also one of the region's biggest bargains. In 2011, the dollar appreciated 1.3 percent against the native currency; as of September, the exchange rate was nearly two to one. The savings should last until December 2012, which marks the end of the 5,126-year era of the Maya calendar and the culmination of a year's worth of festivals and sporting events—and a likely spike in hotel prices and crowds.