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Best Bets for Winter Travel

If you’ve got the itch to travel this winter, here are 12 ways to do it and save at the same time.

Buenos Aires: Beautiful and cosmopolitan, Buenos Aires has just about everything a traveler could possibly want in a city, and it’s still a relative bargain. Even though the Argentine peso has gained in strength (prices there have gone up), the exchange rate has been fairly constant with the U.S. dollar for the past year, even as the dollar has lost value against many other currencies.

Bargains abound in restaurants and hotels. Travelers can stay in a five-star hotel like the Marriott for roughly $200 per night. A more modest hotel, like the Bel Air Hotel in Recoleta, is around $128, and there are many other cheaper hotels. And it’s quite possible to find dinner for two in a nice restaurant for about $40-$60. In the Palermo neighborhood, where you’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants, you might pay $30 for dinner for two at Bar 6, or $70 for two at the more upscale Casa Cruz (both prices shown include wine).

January through March are the warmest months in Buenos Aires, but that’s the upside for travelers. As locals flee the city, travelers swoop in and gather up all the bargains. Splurgers may want to see if there are any lingering deals to Patagonia, South America’s other hot spot.

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Caribbean Cruises: With the Wave season (the major cruise-booking season, which stretches from January to mid-March) off to a slow start, there are good deals to be had for Caribbean and Bahamas cruises. If you don’t want to cruise from a busy port like Miami or Fort Lauderdale, there are cruises leaving from New Orleans, Galveston, Mobile, Charleston, and even New York City. During the height of winter, prices on New York City-based Bahamas cruises are particularly affordable.

Jamaica: Always a popular wintertime destination, Jamaica is especially attractive this year because of several big new resorts that have opened up in the past couple of years (among them an Iberostar in Montego Bay), increasing the number of rooms and offering more opportunities for good deals. Although the Jamaican government authorized hotels to add an energy surcharge, most of the island’s top properties have said no, a pleasant and unusual development for travelers. Even Sandals, which originally said it would adopt the $10 per night fee, changed its mind. We can only say thanks.

Mexico: While the U.S. dollar is taking a pounding against most world currencies, the dollar has been holding its own against the peso and still hasn’t dropped below 10 pesos to the dollar for the past 12 months. That’s not to say that prices in Mexico aren’t on the rise, but at least you’re not punished by loss of value when you merely exchange your money as well. American travelers looking for a warm-weather destination in the cold winter months may very well want to look at Mexico in general.

Norway: Book a Norwegian coastal cruise on Hurtigruten and pay less in the winter than in the summer high season (ships are able to get into most all the ports year-round). Well-priced packages, which include airfare to Norway, permit stays of up to several days in Oslo or Bergen before or after the cruise. Hurtigruten cruises start at $1,299 for a six-day cruise in winter; 12-night packages that combine a six-night cruise with stops in both Oslo and Bergen start at $2,999 (price includes airfare within Norway only).

Peru: It seems like everyone is planning a trip to Peru. And why not? It’s cheap, and the scenery is spectacular. The popular tourist circuit of Lima, Cuzco, Macchu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley is popular for a reason. Remember that winter (low season) in the U.S. is summer (high season) in Peru, so make sure to check rates and availability before jumping off to the southern climes. Most major U.S. airlines, as well as LAN Peru, fly to Lima offering airfares from $600 to $950 round-trip during the high season (including all taxes). LAN Peru flies nonstop to Lima from JFK, Los Angeles, and Miami; American flies nonstop from Miami; Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta; and Continental flies nonstop from Houston. Other airlines offer connecting service through Bogota, Mexico City, Panama City, or San Salvador. Once you are in Peru, a round-trip flight from Lima to Cusco costs about $250.

San Diego: With mild weather year-round, San Diego is an ideal winter destination. The city itself is manageable and pleasant, there are plenty of things to see and do, and there are reasonably priced accommodations amid the pricey ones. A major attraction here are the restaurants, which are drawing the attention of foodies everywhere. We like San Diego all the time, but in the winter we especially like the mild temperatures and relatively laid-back vibe.

Sanibel, Florida: Famous as one of the world’s best shelling grounds, Sanibel Island, 23 miles or so from Fort Myers, is especially fun in the winter when shell deposits are at their peak. With plenty of great restaurants and resorts, and miles of uncrowded beaches, Sanibel Island is one of Florida’s most peaceful and fun tropical getaways.

Savannah & Charleston: These two popular cities in the southeast have been colder than normal this year, all the more reason to recommend them. Cold is a relative thing in Savannah and Charleston. People shivering in the Northeast and upper Midwest may find average daytime temperatures in the 50s a pleasant alternative, and fewer crowds mean more elbow room to stroll and less difficulty getting reservations at some of the fantastic restaurants.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado: The beach isn’t the only destination for winter travel. Skiiers are also looking for the best deals, and Steamboat Springs is one place to look. Less expensive than Aspen, Steamboat Springs is a good place for intermediate skiiers who want to have some fun without having to take out a second mortgage on their house. Add friendly people and unpretentious hotels and resorts, and you have a winner.

Texas Hill Country: The weather in the Texas Hill Country is perfect this time of year — most days are sunny with daytime highs in the 60s — and the rolling landscape is dotted with small, quiet towns like Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Kerrville, and Bandera, all of them filled with cute shops, cozy B&Bs, and laid-back restaurants serving great barbecue, Tex-Mex, and German cuisine. This is also one of the nation’s up-and-coming wine regions (Torre di Pietra and Becker, both near Fredericksburg, are two of our favorite wineries). Once you’ve recharged your batteries, San Antonio and Austin’s buzzing music scene are only an hour or two away by car.

Doug Stallings, Paul Eisenberg, and Mike Nalepa

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