Easy & Affordable Caribbean Escapes!
Hurricane season ends on November 30, and early December is a great time to grab bargains in the Caribbean, before the holiday and winter crowds descend, driving up prices. Here, some tips for booking your pre-holiday escape and some money-saving tips that will last all winter long.
NASSAU, BAHAMAS: Ready for conch fritters and a beautiful beach? A family of four traveling to Nassau in early December can expect to pay around $1,700 for round-trip airfare and three nights at a nice hotel on Paradise Island. The same family trying to book a comparable deal in February could end up easily paying 50 percent more! (BT's Digital Editor, Kaeli Conforti, just got back from a wonderful weekend escape to Nassau and shared it in Three-Day Weekend: Nassau & Paradise Island.)
CURACAO: If you're the impulsive type, we’re especially fond of JetBlue Getaways, which can often be a bit last-minute. You may have to book it within a day or two, but you’ll have till, say, January to travel. JetBlue's Curacao vacation packages start at under $700 per person for airfare and three nights' accommodations at a cushy resort.
GUADELUPE ISLANDS AND MARTINIQUE. Norwegian Air Shuttle is offering $99 one-way airfare to the French Caribbean! Nab a flight to the perfect beaches, beautiful volcanic mountains, lush rainforests, and unique cuisine of Guadelupe and Martinique. Norwegian Air Shuttle is making waves with super-discounted airfares, but of course availability is limited and seats go fast—check Norwegian.com regularly and be flexible with your travel dates.
Three-Day Weekend: Barcelona
Sunlight pours through stained-glass windows, illuminating the interior of La Sagrada Família’s columns and pillars, evoking a forest. Wow, I think. That’s just the inside of the cathedral. The building’s magnificent, still-under-construction facade, which depicts famous Bible scenes and is expected to be completed by 2026 (more than 90 years after architect Antoni Gaudí’s death), is what most people come to Barcelona to see. The first time I visited the city, I made a tragic rookie mistake: I didn’t plan my visit to La Sagrada Família ahead of time. If I had, I would’ve learned that a special event was taking place on the one day I was able to visit, and only those who had previously purchased tickets could go in. I was out of luck. In May 2015, I returned to this beautiful basilica, ticket in hand, and got the experience I’d been waiting for. The price was well worth the view ($16, sagradafamilia.org). That day, at the basilica, Barcelona became my new favorite place on earth. The same might happen to you, too. Whether you’re an art lover or a foodie, or you simply love strolling along European boulevards admiring beautiful buildings, here’s how to make the most of a quick visit. Get your Gaudí fix Another Gaudí masterpiece, Parc Güell (pronounced “gway”), offers the best panoramic views of the city, but the number of daily visitors is limited. Be sure to get a timed-entry ticket early—up to three months ahead of time online—in order to avoid missing out ($8, parkguell.cat). For a solid primer on the artist’s life, visit Gaudí’s former residence, Casa Milà, with the striking rooftop piece La Pedrera ($22, lapedrera.com). Casa Batlló is another colorful modernist masterpiece based on nature, and the last that Gaudí designed, between 1906 and 1910 ($23, casabatllo.es). Feast on tons of tasty tapas The best way to enjoy Barcelona’s creative food scene is by ordering plenty of tapas (small plates) and washing them down with a cool, refreshing glass of cava, Spain’s delicious answer to champagne. Sample staples like fried hot green padrón peppers and grilled artichokes topped with Iberian ham at Bar Lobo, located in the trendy El Raval neighborhood (padrón peppers tapas from $6, artichokes tapas from $9, grupotragaluz.com). Or toast the start of a great trip with a glass of the bubbly stuff in the fairy-tale atmosphere at El Bosc de les Fades Café, hidden away in Passatge de la Banca, just a few steps from La Rambla, a beautiful pedestrian-only boulevard that stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell. Its montaditos—mini-sandwiches with ham, sausage, and cheese—and olive tapas pair nicely with your cava (from about $4 per glass, montaditos and olive tapas from about $2 each, museocerabcn.com). Visit La Boqueria market Don’t miss this brightly colored market, located just off La Rambla, where vendors sell locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Stock up on candies and nuts and sip delicious fresh-squeezed juice drinks for a refreshing afternoon treat (prices vary, Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria, boqueria.info). Stroll beautiful boulevards and experience local Catalan culture Strolling La Rambla will be one of your favorite parts of your weekend, but pay close attention to your belongings at all times, as this area is, unfortunately, as popular with pickpockets as any other European hotspot. As you walk along ancient streets, look up and admire the buildings of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. On Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. or Sundays at noon, stop by the Catedral de Barcelona to see locals perform the solemn Sardana dance, a proud Catalan custom that was banned under the Franco regime. If you visit in summer, don’t miss the tradition of castellers building tall human towers by standing on one another’s shoulders on Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Stay in the center of town—for less Experience Barcelona like a local (and save cash) by renting your own private apartment in the city center (from $54, airbnb.com). Generator Barcelona, a new “poshtel” designed to resemble a boutique hotel more than a hostel, offers private rooms and a ton of fun activities like tapas nights, game nights, movie nights, and Barcelona bar crawls designed to help you connect with your fellow travelers (private rooms for two start at $60 per night per couple depending on room style, single bunks from $12 per person per night, generatorhostels.com). WANNA TAKE A DAY TRIP? TRY SITGES, MONTSERRAT, OR THE DALÍ TRIANGLE Hop on a 30-minute commuter train on the RD Sud Southbound line from Barcelona-Sants to soak up rays on the beach in Sitges, known for its epic nightlife scene and LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere (round-trip train ticket from about $8, free beach access). Visit Montserrat Monastery for gorgeous mountaintop views and a chance to see where Benedictine monks defied Franco by continuing to hold Catholic mass in the traditional Catalan language. Viator offers half-day trips from Barcelona ($57, viator.com). Mix some surrealism into the natural beauty and venture to the Dalí Triangle: the Salvador Dalí House in Portlligat, the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol, and the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres (house from about $12 per person, castle from about $9, museum from about $13; tickets must be reserved online ahead of time, salvador-dali.org). Bus and train service from Barcelona is available but time-consuming, so consider driving (from $97 for a one-day car rental, hotwire.com).
Icelandair’s New Buddy System Will Team You Up With a Local—For Free!
If you thought free in-flight movies and unlimited snacks were a major perk, Icelandair is really raising the stakes for airline amenities. Their new Stopover Buddy program provides you with a pal to show you around the country. All you have to do is book a flight across the Atlantic and opt to stay in Iceland—our top pick for Where to Go in 2016—for up to seven days on a layover, which won’t run you any extra airfare. Then they’ll team you up with a pal who shares your interests (food, adventure, nature, etc.) for one of the days. The only cost is paying for your new friend’s food, admission, and whatever else you decide to do that day. That’s an excellent deal considering you're getting your own personal tour guide who has the local scoop. The airline will match you with a buddy who is all about your personal tastes and knows the region well. Icelandair employees are as varied as the people who visit their country, spending their time doing everything from swimming in the ocean to mountain biking, heli-skiing, cross-country running, and knitting, and they want to share it with you. For example, there are Adventure Buddies for a day on the ski slopes; Culture Buddies who will take you beyond the museums; Food Buddies who know the culinary hotspots and just might bring you to catch your dinner; Health Buddies for bike rides, runs, and other athletic expeditions; Lifestyle Buddies to lead you on mountain climbs and volcano explorations; and Nature Buddies who will put you in the saddle on an Icelandic horse. You can even opt to go backcountry skiing with Icelandair’s CEO, Birkir Holm Gudnason. Icelandair will help you schedule a time and meet-up point, and then you’re all set. But keep in mind that travelers have to be 18 years or older, and must stop in Iceland before heading to their final destination. Also, the Stopover Buddy program won’t last forever—it’s only now through April 30—so now's the time to make a new friend overseas.
$69 Flights to Caribbean Paradise? You Bet!
When it’s this cold outside, all we can imagine is lying on the beach with coconut trees as shade, sipping on delicious local rum. And now Norwegian Air is making our tropical paradise dreams come true, releasing a crazy-good deal for flights as low as $69 each way to Martinique, one of our Where to Go in 2016 destinations. That's 10 bucks lower than rates we reported just a few weeks ago. What's more, Norwegian is offering additional flights: up to eight nonstops every week out of the U.S., including just-added flights on Sundays in April out of New York City's JFK airport. Once you touch down, the island's currency is the euro, and with the dollar still going strong, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. Budget Traveler-–friendly perks aside, we love the French Caribbean island for its varied landscape: Rain forest preserves and black-sand beaches in the north, plus white-sand beaches in the south make it perfect for adventurers and beach bums alike. Two-thirds of the island is protected parkland, so it's no surprise it was nicknamed the Island of Flowers by the Caribbean Indians dating back centuries. Get up close and personal with the island’s greenery at The Balata Botanical Gardens, which is home to more than 3,000 species of tropical plants and flowers, including Instagram-worthy ponds dotted with lilies and lotus blossoms (admission about $15, jardindebalata.fr). And the selection of French and Creole restaurants—ranging from street food to elegant dining—makes Martinique perfect for foodie travelers.
Make It Happen: Bangkok
FLIGHTS: No carrier flies directly from the U.S. to Bangkok anymore, but here's what you can do: From the East Coast, fly in any direction, and air travel generally costs more than $1,000. From the west, airfare is almost the same price, but recently round-trip fares with carriers like Air China and EVA Air have been dipping as low as around $700 from LAX and SFO. STAY: The colorful, stylish Hotel Indigo Bangkok Wireless Road opened a year ago in the city’s embassy district. It might not be the sexiest address, but it’s near Lumphini Park and has a 24th-floor infinity pool with great views of Bangkok (from about $115 per night, ihg.com). EAT: For street food, head to trendy Chinatown, which is now home to buzzy bars and cool galleries. If you're looking for authentic street food, don't worry: Its alleys are still noisy with vendors hawking grilled meatballs on a stick, plates piled high with pad thai, spicy noodle soup, and more. Err—minutes away from Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)—is a gastropub painted with murals that serves comfort dishes like slices of green mango soaked in fish sauce spiked with chilies and crisp-on-the-outside coconut sticky rice (small plates start at about $1, errbkk.com). DO: The Buddhist temples, like Wat Pho and Wat Arun, are must-dos, but so is a longboat sail through the city’s network of canals. There are many operators waiting at Tha Tien (Tien Pier) that provide everything from basic tours to excursions that serve a meal onboard. Bangkok’s markets are great for haggling and people-watching. The most exciting is the massive Train Market—located behind Seacon Square shopping mall—at night. Its countless stalls house vintage motorcycles, homemade clothes by local designers, antique furniture, and old vinyls. WHEN TO GO: The tail end of monsoon season (September and October) can mean more budget-friendly prices at some of the city’s hotels, but there really is no concrete low season in popular Bangkok anymore. Visit during Loy Krathong, an annual festival that typically lands in November. That's when Thai people all over the country celebrate the water goddess by floating candles on rivers, the sea, lakes—any body of water. In Bangkok, on the night of the festival, the Chao Phraya River takes on a romantic glow.