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Great Getaways: Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine

By Kaeli Conforti
January 12, 2022
Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida
Courtesy Kaeli Conforti
Whether you're looking for a golf getaway or a Florida family vacation, we've rounded up six affordable adventures in Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine that should be on your radar.

There's more to Florida than theme parks, beaches, and cities where you can party til dawn (although those are pretty great, too!) Whether you're looking for a quick golf getaway or your next great family vacation, here are six of our favorite family-friendly activities and affordable adventures in Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine—all within an hour's drive of Jacksonville on Florida's northeast coast. Many area hotel options start at well under $100 a night, making a trip to this area super-affordable. 

Tour the World Golf Hall of Fame

Golf enthusiasts will love tracing the roots of the game from its early days in Scotland, testing out old versions of golf clubs, and learning where certain traditions like sand traps and caddies hail from (both stories will surprise you, I promise). The World Golf Hall of Fame also features a replica of the Swilcan Burn Bridge from the Old Course at St. Andrews, displays of the Hall of Fame Members Locker Room with more than 2,000 personal items from all your favorite players, and a large collection of memorabilia dedicated to golf lover Bob Hope. The World Golf Hall of Fame is part of the World Golf Village, home to the PGA Tour Golf Academy, two major golf courses, and a number of shops and restaurants including Murray Bros. Caddyshack, owned by actor Bill Murray and his five brothers. Want to stay close to all the action? The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort offers rooms from under $200 a night—check the website for specials for Florida Villages residents, military members, firefighters, and law enforcement officers where rates start at $109 a night, as well as Stay & Play packages for from $259 a night for two golfers.

Visit TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship

If watching The Players Championship each May has you itching to hit the greens, you can still visit the course in Ponte Vedra and its massive clubhouse year-round, or start planning for this year's visit to this surprisingly affordable tournament held in May 6-11 in 2014. For the price of a TPC Sawgrass adult Grounds ticket (options from $66 per person per day), you'll be able to see your favorite players—like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Matt Kuchar—up close as they take on the 17th hole island green, one of the most famous holes in golf. Families can save money with free admission for ages 18 and under (with a paying adult), while active-duty, reserve, retired military members, and their dependents get free admission with a valid military ID. You're also allowed to bring your own food to the tournament as long as it's packed in a one gallon clear plastic bag (food items must also be wrapped in clear wrap), and bring your water bottle along to refill during the day. A variety of food trucks ranging from Corner Taco to The Swedish Bistro will also be on site, and those who plan to carpool with four or more people in the car will be rewarded with free parking this year. Looking to indulge in a little VIP experience? You can score access to The Blue Room VIP Lounge for under $150 per person per day including entry to the tournament, exclusive access to music and entertainment, unlimited food from the local restaurants, and all-inclusive beer, wine, water, and soda while you watch.

Zip line over alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park

As if an entire zoological park full of alligators, crocodiles, caimans, pythons, lemurs, and exotic birds wasn't cool enough, just wait til you try zip lining over them. Crocodile Crossing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park gives you two options—the 45-minute short course or the 90-minute long course—with each offering an extensive aerial obstacle course and several opportunities to zip line over the wildlife enclosures. At 20 to 60 feet up, you're out of reach of the many reptiles you're zooming over but still able to get a good look at the impressive creatures as you take on the ropes course. Make sure you're wearing closed toe shoes (with laces) and weigh less than 250 pounds, and you're good to go! Definitely give this one a try if you're in the neighborhood—the bragging rights alone are worth the cost of admission.

Step back in time at Castillo de San Marcos and the Colonial Quarter

Get to know Old St. Augustine with a trip to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 20.5-acre fortress built in 1672 that has protected the city's people during various battles against the Spanish, French, British, and even attacks by pirates throughout history. Nowadays visitors can explore the fort and view colonial era weapon and cannon firing demonstrations on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. The best part: adults pay $7 while children under age 15 get in free, and your ticket is valid for up to seven consecutive days. For an in-depth look at what everyday life was like in 16th to 18th century St. Augustine, check out the Colonial Quarter, a living history museum featuring traditional musket demonstrations, a working blacksmith shop, and the chance to climb a 17th century watchtower for panoramic views of the city. 

Indulge your inner pirate

Formerly The Pirate Soul Museum in Key West, the entire collection was moved to St. Augustine and reopened in December of 2010 as Pat Croce's St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Home to one of the largest collections of authentic pirate artifacts in the world, the museum features one of only two original Jolly Roger flags in existence, Captain Thomas Tew's treasure chest, an official journal of Captain Kidd's final voyage, and one of the world's oldest wanted posters from the 1696 search for Captain Henry Every.

Pick a ghost tour, any ghost tour

There seem to be an abundance of ghost tours available in the nation's oldest city. I went on the Ghosts & Gravestones St. Augustine Frightseeing Tour, a late night trolley ride around town with stops at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Grounds—you'll hear the heartbreaking story of what happened to the three little girls who can still be seen and heard playing on the playground swings more than one hundred years later—and get to explore the Old Jail at night on a tour led by an actor in traditional prison garb who tells stories of the jail's former inhabitants. While it is a fun chance to hear some creepy legends and ghost stories, the tour may not be appropriate for children under age 13.

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Inspiration

What Are Your Favorite Things To Do In Lima and Cusco?

A few weeks from now, I'll be checking off the number one spot on my travel bucket list: Machu Picchu. I've pretty much been obsessed with this beautiful place ever since I was a kid and saw an episode of The Wild Thornberrys on Nickelodeon when the family visited Peru (and Tim Curry as Nigel Thornberry brilliantly taught his daughter how to breathe deeply while hiking the Inca Trail by singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as they hiked—a scene I may have to re-enact when I visit!). The good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our Instagram page, @budgettravel. I'm going to be living out my ultimate dream trip by taking the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures, a small-group adventure tour company that offers a wide variety of trips around the world for people of all ages at super affordable prices. Not only do their trips guarantee departures (once you book, you're going!) and incredible inclusions (like guided tours of the Sacred Valley and the Ollantaytambo ruins, for instance), the company is also big on making a difference in the world. G Adventures' founder, Bruce Poon Tip, started the company in 1990 by maxing out two credit cards to follow his dream—G Adventures is now the largest adventure travel company in the world and features more than 1,000 tours on all seven continents. He recently wrote Looptail, a book that became a New York Times bestseller, about his company philosophy and how he reinvented the business model by focusing on the human element, karma, and happiness within the company. He also started the Planeterra Foundation in 2003, a non-profit that works to give back to the communities G Adventures tours visit and creates a sustainable travel network around the world—tours often stop at project sites, putting money back into the communities and allowing travelers to have a more authentic experience getting to know the local people who run them. The trip I'm taking includes lunch at a Planeterra-supported Sacred Valley Community Restautant in Huchuy Qosco village and a visit to a women's weaving project that the company started as a way to help support the area's indigenous community. The tour starts in Lima and includes internal flights from Lima to Cusco, time in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes (hot springs, anyone?), and of course, Machu Picchu. G Adventures offers a ton of Peru packages that include time in Machu Picchu and along the legendary Inca Trail. This particular tour actually offers an optional one-day hike along the end of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu, something that must be booked far in advance so, unfortunately, I won't have a chance to do it this time around (lesson learned: always, always, always book early for sites that require permits to enter). But, I'll still be able to tour the site at another point during the tour, so it's all good. The trip ends with some more time to explore Cusco before hopping on an internal flight back to Lima for one more day of sightseeing, one of the perks of purposely booking a red-eye back to New York City. This is also going to be my first trip to South America, so I'm really excited to be visiting another continent (three down, four more to go!), but also a little nervous about accidentally ruining my whole trip by being overzealous and eating the wrong thing on day one—let's just say I've been studying this Budget Travel article about how to keep your stomach safe while traveling and reading up on foods to avoid on the road, you know, just in case. My doctor recommended getting a Typhoid vaccine before traveling to the area since water can sometimes be questionable, but I'm told as long as I stick to bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, there's not much to worry about. Altitude sickness was another concern, but my friends who have traveled to Peru said to just keep drinking water, take it easy, and when in doubt, do as the locals do and sample the coca tea that they use to help keep their own altitude sickness at bay. (Please feel free to share any tips or recommendations from your own Peru travel adventures in the comments section below). While the G Adventures tour includes a lot of sightseeing, there is also a decent amount of free time built in. That's where you come in. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for great places to eat, things I shouldn't miss, and other off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite places to visit in Lima and Cusco? What tips would you give to someone traveling to Peru for the first time? Sound off below!

Inspiration

Great Getaways: Three Days in Quito, Ecuador

Snow-capped volcanoes. Whitewashed Spanish colonial houses. Narrow cobblestone streets that mount steeply upward, then just as steeply descend. A fantastic labyrinth of hidden passageways and noisy markets. Brilliant white sunlight that gives way in late afternoon to swirling mists coming in off dark mountain peaks. Soaring church interiors drenched in gold. Quito, Ecuador is all this, and more. A decade ago, the world's second-highest capital had a reputation for being disorderly and dangerous, full of panhandlers and thieves. Nowadays, thanks to government initiatives to clean up the downtown neighborhoods, the city is among the safest in Latin America with the added distinction of being one of New7Wonders' 28 candidates for World's Most Beautiful City. Add to this the immaculate condition of its historical landmarks—it was the first city chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage site—and the perfect year-round weather, and you have an ideal weekend travel destination. To maximize your 72 hours in what locals call "the city of bell towers," check out the following itinerary. Be sure to bring your walking shoes: Quito's hills can put even experienced hikers to the test. Friday 9:00     This DIY walking tour starts with two of Quito's not-to-be-missed historical churches, the Compañía de Jesús and the Convento de San Francisco. The former is the Latin American baroque at its most dazzling: lofty cupolas, intricately carved cedar framing the side chapels, ceilings crowded with indigenous designs, and gold leaf everywhere. The latter is more somber and houses one of Quito's most famous statues, the Virgen Inmaculada by Bernardo Legarda. Note: Your experience of the Compañía will be greatly enhanced if you hire one of the excellent English-speaking guides that haunt the vestibule. If you're a souvenir junkie, the Tianguez market in the Plaza de San Francisco, just below the church itself, is popular but overpriced. 11:30   Two blocks from the plaza is the house of Quito's greatest revolutionary leader, Antonio José de Sucre. Hero of the Battle of Pichincha, which secured Ecuador's independence, Sucre spent just one year in this lovely 18th-century home before being assassinated. The stables, kitchen, salon, and dining room are elegant yet homey—you can still see the Mariscal's guitar hanging from the bedroom wall. 12:30   After all that history, you'll have worked up an appetite. To feed it, head to ¡Hasta la Vuelta, Señor!, located in a charming inner courtyard of the Palacio Arzobispal in the Plaza Grande. If you've never sampled Ecuadorian cuisine, seco de chivo (goat stew) and a plate of mixed empanadas are a perfect introduction. 2:30     Ecuadorian food can be rich, so while you're digesting, take advantage of your body's down time to hail a cab to the TelefériQo, the cable-car system that whisks visitors up the slopes of Pichincha Volcano to an altitude of 14,000 feet. The views of the surrounding valley are awe-inspiring. If there's a line, you can buy an express ticket, and near the exit there's also a cute amusement park for children (and their parents). 5:30     Next it's off to New Town, Quito's modern tourist district to the north, and the seat of the city's two main parks, Parque el Ejido and Parque Carolina. The former has a thriving souvenirs market; the latter features a beautiful lagoon with paddleboats for rent. Take a few hours to wander and soak up the Andean sunset. 7:30     For dinner, New Town's La Mariscal district offers many options. Among the best is Mama Clorinda, a small tavern that serves excellent fritada (fried pork) and seafood. Try the llapingachos, small pancakes made with potatoes and cheese. 10:00   Quito's nightlife scene isn't as raucous as that of other South American capitals, but the bars and discos around the Mariscal's Plaza Foch are lively enough. Every night is different, but Bungalow 6 and NoBar consistently seem to draw heavy crowds. If you want to get your salsa on, head to the underground Seseribó, a short cab ride away. Saturday 9:00     Ecuador means "equator," and no trip to Quito is complete without visiting Mitad del Mundo, the point through which (supposedly) the Big Line passes. Any one of countless buses will take you directly to the tourist complex. After snapping the requisite photos, check out the Inti Nan museum, which claims to be the site of the true equator and features interesting activities and reconstructions of native lodgings. For lunch, browse through the menus of the inexpensive restaurants just down the road. 2:00     The House of Oswaldo Guayasimin, Ecuador's most famous modern artist, is testimony to its owner's lifelong pursuit of beauty. Home to the painter's own impressive collection of South American masterpieces (his own and those from the pre-Hispanic period onward), it is also one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever have the privilege of entering, a true paradise of the senses. Next door is his magnum opus, the Capilla del Hombre, a memorial to the sufferings of indigenous peoples everywhere. 5:00     Late afternoon is a perfect time to see the Panecillo, the hill that overlooks Old Town Quito, and a former Inca site for sun worship. The best views to be had are from the observation deck of the Virgin of the Americas, the apocalyptic statue on the hill's peak. As the sun sets, the surrounding hills become swathed in mist. Be sure to take taxis to and from the hilltop site for safety. 8:00     For dinner, it's back down the hill to La Ronda, the most romantic street in Quito. A former red-light district, it underwent gentrification a decade ago and is now a mix of artisans' studios, bohemian cafés, peñas (supper clubs with live folk music), and criollo restaurants. Good options for dinner are La Primera Casa, Café Ferran, and Los Geranios. Don't forget to try canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian hot toddy with cinnamon. Sunday 10:00   After sleeping in, start your Sunday with a leisurely American brunch at The Magic Bean in La Mariscal. Yes, the prices are a bit high, and it's full of backpackers, but the big breakfasts really hit the spot after a festive night out. 12:00   For a final, comprehensive look at Ecuador's long history, head to the Museo Nacional de Ecuador, near Parque el Ejido. There you'll find three wings dedicated to the pre-Hispanic, Colonial, and Modern periods, with abundant artwork from each. Highlights: one of the world's only statues of a pregnant Virgin Mary, and pre-Colombian animal sculptures that you'd swear were from Ming China. 3:00     For your final meal prior to catching your flight out, consider La Canoa in La Mariscal. This friendly diner serves excellent carne asada, fried fish, and of course, empanadas. A perfect ending to your perfect weekend in Ecuador's luminous capital. Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator who devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of tours to Ecuador and throughout all of South America.

Inspiration

A European City in South America!

Buenos Aires isn't Europe, but the architecture, museums, street life, and plentiful cafes and late night restaurants make it feel like a big city in Spain or Italy. Most city residents, called porteños, trace their origins just a few generations back to Europe, mostly Italy and Spain but also Russia and Eastern Europe. The city's gorgeous architecture is an eclectic mix, though to view much of it you'll have to walk on gritty streets and ignore the graffiti. A highlight is Teatro Colón, the lushly decorated Beaux-Arts performance hall that is home to the opera, orchestra, and ballet. The guided tour in English is worth the 130 pesos (discounts for seniors & students), and you might be lucky enough to glimpse performers rehearsing. A better way to appreciate its great acoustics is to book tickets to a performance in advance of your visit—unless you are willing to try standing room. Recoleta Cemetery is a must-see. The Cemetery is like a tiny city built for munchkins, with sculpture-covered mausoleums 20 feet high and grouped closely together along narrow paved walkways. Admission is free. Fifteen pesos gets you a map to the 4800 tombs of the elite, and also to the cemetery's biggest draw, the grave of Eva Peron, the Argentinian First Lady from 1946 until her death in 1952. To learn more about Evita's decidedly non-elite background, visit the Evita Museum (admission fee), housed in a mansion Evita converted into a temporary shelter for rural women migrating to the city. The museum features photographs from her early career as an actress and magazine pinup, newsreel of her good works, and a sampling of her gowns. Eva Peron still has a hold on Argentine people. Her image is used in ads for current political figures, appears on restaurant facades, in public art, and in graffiti. Visit the Latin American art museum, MALBA, to see a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, be introduced to other Latin American painters and sculptors, and enjoy the light and air of its soaring modern interior and glass-walled cafe. (Admission 45 pesos, discounts for students & seniors, half-price Wednesdays.) The decorative arts museum, housed in the luxurious former palace of a family that lost its fortune in the 1930's, also has a lovely café with indoor and outdoor seating. A quirky museum is Zanjon, an urban archeological site, with guided tours in English for 120 pesos.  Zanjon is a gutted 19th century mansion that, after the yellow fever outbreak of the 1870's, served as an overcrowded tenement shared by immigrant families. Its cisterns, artifacts, and underground tunnel give a glimpse into three centuries of urban life. By contrast, the Immigration Museum is a missed opportunity, a single room that barely skims the surface of the immigration story that has shaped Argentina, and has no English explanations. One legacy of Buenos Aires' Italian roots is its delight in ice cream. It is such an integral part of Buenos Aires life that ice cream shops often stay open after midnight and on major holidays such as Christmas or New Years Day and - incredibly—many will even deliver to your door. Dulce de leche is not just a rich caramel flavor but its own food group. It crops up in morning pastries, as a topping for coffee, in desserts, and most memorably in ice cream. Expect to see at least five varieties of dulce de leche ice cream on the menu. Good ice cream chains include Freddo and Persicco. Better yet, try one of the artisanal heladerías that make small batches, such as Faricci, also with multiple locations. Cadare is a hole in the wall that may make the best ice cream in the world. Try the bittersweet chocolate (chocolate amargo), samboyón (like eggnog), chocolate chip (chocolate granizado), and of course dulce de leche. Reflecting their Spanish roots, Buenos Aires eats dinner late: 10 p.m., 11 p.m., even midnight. While restaurants open at 7, few locals arrive before 9 and you may have better luck getting a table at 7:30 or 8. A visit to Buenos Aires must include grilled beef. Steakhouses, called parillas, are plentiful. While the highly recommended parillas Don Julio and La Cabrera were booked during our visit, we lucked into thoroughly delicious steaks at a nearby restaurant that did not specialize in beef, LeLe de Troy. If you go to the parillo Chiquilin, which was good but not great, skip dessert and walk a few blocks for outstanding ice cream at Cadare (see above). Wash all that steak down with Malbec, an Argentinian red wine. Every grocery store, even tiny ones, have a wine aisle, about $5 a bottle. Buenos Aires is a great walking city in part because there are plenty of welcoming spots to rest. You are never more than a block from the next café. An espresso or café con leche comes with a gracious extra—a tiny cookie or bite of corn bread. And the many parks are rejuvenating nature breaks. The tranquil Japanese Garden is especially lovely, with koi ponds, tiny bridges, benches studding the walking path, and landscaped grounds that somehow muffle noise from the street. Admission fee of 40 pesos; the ice cream kiosk and elegant tea house are extra. There is no admission fee for the slightly down-at-the heels Botanical Garden, which features outdoor sculptures, a green house, flowering shrubs, and shade trees, plus park benches and imperious stray cats lounging in the sun. Also free is wandering the Parque Tres de Febrero, shaded by trees and used by picnickers, joggers, and families. Kids may enjoy the many small playgrounds that dot the Ricoleta and Palermo neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods (barrios) have distinct personalities. For cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, both glamorous and funky, visit the tree-lined streets of the Palermo barrios—Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho, Palermo Viejo, and Palermo Chico. Lining the streets of Recoleta are upscale apartment buildings built in lush early 20thcentury styles. The Once neighborhood is home to observant Jews and has kosher restaurants, like the family-friendly Romini Pizzeria which serves up thick crusted pizza with gobs of gooey cheese, and Kehot, which sells Judaica. Chine is a miniature Chinatown, with Asian grocery stores, tea houses, sushi, and other restaurants born out of recent waves of immigration. The subway (subte), at less than a dollar per trip, is a quick way to jump between neighborhoods. At first we resisted going to a tango show because it seemed too touristy. But ultimately I was glad we did see one, and glad we waited until we had some cultural context for Argentina's sexy signature dance—like that tango originated in the immigrant slums of Buenos Aires and became "respectable" in Argentina only after Parisians embraced it in the early 20th century. The Esquina Carlos Gardel, an elegant 500-person theater, showcases pairs of professional tango dancers. It also serves dinner. This splurge can be more affordable if you skip dinner and buy tickets only to the show, then ask for a discount for paying in dollars rather than pesos. Key tips for travelers to Buenos Aires: Bring U.S. dollars. You may get discounts if you pay in dollars instead of pesos and the black market exchange rate is much higher than the official rate. Since Buenos Aires is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the opposite of the U.S. Our winter is their summer. January-February is the equivalent of July-August and temperatures can reach 90-100's. Porteños love their dogs. And the sidewalks, littered with dog poop, are proof. Watch your step.   Sarah Ricks is a Clinical Professor at Rutgers Law School-Camden and a lifelong travel junkie.

Inspiration

What's Your Dream Trip?

We've got dream trips on the brain—I realized my dream of visiting Paris last year when I went on Contiki's London & Paris Plus Paris Extension tour, and will finally realize my dream of seeing Machu Picchu when I go on the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures in a few weeks. Dream trips were also the theme for our March/April digital issue of Budget Travel magazine (now available on BudgetTravel.com, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share their dream trips—here's what they said: "My husband and I honeymooned in Turkey. I dream of going back to take the blue cruise through the Mediterranean Sea." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Rafting through the Grand Canyon." —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Hot air balloon ride through Cappadocia, Turkey!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "My dream trip would be a week on a private island!" —Ruthie Kaposi, Digital Project Manager "An epic round-the-world adventure where I'd start with a road trip from NY to CA, then fly to Buenos Aires, Sydney, Cape Town, Dubai, and end in Paris, where I'd stay." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "Someplace tropical and mountainous, where you can explore the terrain unguided, like Hawaii. I like to choose my own adventure!" —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "I've always wanted to go to Egypt, take a Nile cruise, and fully immerse myself in the history and culture!" —Jennifer O'Brien, Associate Account Manager "In honor of our special wedding anniversary, my mind and heart are in full dream mode for a romantic and extended Mediterranean cruise." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "To eat my way through Italy." —Dustin Gontarski, Compass Marketing Now it's your turn: we want to know what your dream trip is! Have you already done it or is it an epic adventure you've been planning and thinking about ever since you were a kid? Tell us all about it!