Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 24, 2017

On the outskirts of Punta del Este, Uruguay, the Casa Pueblo Hotel has been a backdrop for high-end fashion shoots.

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Budget beachfront

The standard strategy for cutting costs on vacation is to take the road less travelled. Going too far off the beaten path, however, has definite drawbacks. After all, emerging destinations, like Guatemala, can be “hot spots” in more ways than one! The good news is that, given worldwide currency fluctuations, some of today’s best deals are actually hiding in plain sight. Here are four of our favourite options for a safe, affordable winter getaway.

Bermuda

Left-hand drive and high tea are cherished reminders of Britain’s colonial rule in Bermuda (bermudatourism.com). But the British pound has blessedly been forsaken in favour of a dollar that is pegged to the American greenback, making the island a prudent pick right now.

The fact that Bermuda sits in the Atlantic, just over 1000 kilometres east of the Carolinas, is another asset. First, because the relatively short flying time translates into lower airfare costs; second, because winter here (as opposed to the Caribbean) qualifies as off season. Don’t worry, though: the welcome mat stays out, so you won’t get the cold shoulder — or even too cold.

Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Bermuda’s winters are mild (think average afternoon temps of 21°C), creating optimal conditions for golfers eager to hit those fabled links. November through March, the island even schedules special tournaments for visitors that feature reduced green fees and are hosted by highly-regarded courses like Port Royal, a favourite of Jack Nicklaus.

Non-golfers, of course, can while away the hours hiking through Spittal Pond Nature Reserve (a big draw for bird-watchers due to the 30-plus species of waterfowl that winter here) or taking in performances of the Bermuda Festival (a seven-week cultural fete running January 8 to February 28).

Another option is to enjoy the many no- or low-cost events sponsored daily through March by the Bermuda Heart & Soul program. Town tours, garden strolls, cooking classes and craft demos are in the line up. Best of all, after a full day out, you can bed down affordably, since hotel rates drop along with the mercury in local thermometers. Take the venerable Fairmont Hamilton Princess and its sportier sister resort, the Fairmont Southampton (fairmont.com/southampton). At the former, January rates start at $279 a night. In June they’re priced from $479. At the latter, the savings are even greater. Rooms start at $229 in low season, $479 in high.

Uruguay

The West Indian island of St. Barthélemy has long been a magnet for both celebs and those who want to live like them, if only for a week or two. Always expensive, St. Barth’s is astronomical these days because, as part of a French overseas département, it uses the euro as currency.

So what’s a star-gazing sybarite do? Try continuing south to Uruguay (turismo.gub.uy). Like Argentina, its larger neighbour next door, Uruguay is a place where you can get luxury for less; plus, it has beaches galore.

The undisputed queen of its 480-kilometre coast is Punta del Este, which sits 90 minutes east of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. Each summer (conveniently our winter) well-heeled hipsters from Buenos Aires converge on it to shed their shoes… and their inhibitions. The town, washed by both the Atlantic and tamer Río de la Plata, offers endless opportunities for beach bumming and boating.

Indulging in retail therapy is popular as well, considering the range of upscale shops and brand-name boutiques on Calle 20. Punta, moreover, has an exuberant club scene that makes going out seem like an extreme sport. High rollers can stay in the heart of the action at the Conrad Resort & Casino (ConradHotels.Hilton.com), where rooms this time of year start at $300.

Alternately, you can play it cool, sipping cocktails on the multi-tiered terraces of the Casapueblo Club Hotel (clubhotel.com.ar). Poised on the edge of town, it’s a Gaudí-esque extravaganza that has served as the backdrop for fashion spreads and has high-season double rooms priced from $185.

Costa Rica

Columbus dubbed Costa Rica (visitcostarica.com) the “rich” coast, and that adjective accurately describes its diverse terrain. Rain forests, cloud forests, fertile valleys, towering volcanoes, Pacific and Caribbean beaches: this tiny nation has them all. But luckily, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy them.

In our haste to embrace new Central American destinations, we tend to forget that Costa Rica has historically been one of the best buys around — especially for those who appreciate little luxuries like passable roads or potable water — and, with the dollar faring better against the colón than it was five years ago, our travel budget stretches farther there than it used to.

Another plus is Costa Rica’s well-developed tourism infrastructure. As a result of it, lodgings are available at every price point as opposed to simply high-end digs for foreign guests and low-rent ones for vacationing locals. You could spend thousands per night at a plush Four Seasons-style resort or under $30 for a bare-bones beach cabana.

But if you’re looking to hit the sweet spot in between those extremes, there is also a wealth of mid-range properties, many of them concentrated on the west coast, around the fringes of Manuel Antonio Park, where the rainforest meets the Pacific Ocean. Sí Como No (sicomono.com) is a case in point.

Jungle-view doubles at this stylish boutique resort cost $210 in high season (all prices in US dollars), with buffet breakfast included, and guests can choose from an extensive roster of realistically-priced excursions. For example, a Damas Island Boat Tour, complete with mangroves, monkeys and plenty of snakes, goes for $59, while a five-hour zipline safari will set you back $65.

Mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, surfing and more are also on tap. However, the best bargain is still Manuel Antonio itself. Admission to the famed national park is only $10, and good negotiators can hire a private guide at the entrance for $15 an hour.

Mexico

Mexico (visitmexico.com) is another sunny destination that is giving us more buying power than ever. Indeed, with one dollar currently equalling 12 pesos, it’s a certifiable steal — and not only for vacationers entranced by dubious buffets and bottomless glasses of tequila.

For instance, just northwest of Cancún (the capital for all-inclusive resorts), those who enjoy life’s simpler pleasures can beach themselves for a song on the blissful shores of Isla Holbox. The lilliputian Caribbean island, covering just 32-square kilometres, sits within Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, and the Xaloc Resort (holbox-xalocresort.com) makes an ideal base for exploring it.

This resort has the prerequisites for a relaxing holiday — starting with B&B rates that won’t stress you out. Double rooms begin at $121 this winter, and the 18 casitas they’re housed in seem tailor-made for lounging. Inside, beds are draped with pretty (and practical) mosquito netting; outside, hammocks hang on private porches. Chaises scattered around two pools offer further opportunities for indolence.

Nevertheless, most guests have something more active in mind. Thanks to a menu of à la carte activities, you can snorkel, kite surf, kayak, boat out to view dolphins by day and crocodiles by night, or opt for phenomenal fishing.

Can’t go now? Prices are the same in summer when supersized turtles come to nest on the beaches and pink flamingos flock down to feed in the plankton-rich water. Whale sharks up to 15-metres long swim in too, and Xaloc will arrange for intrepid souls to swim with them in the open sea.

Adventures aside, another selling point is that, unlike some Gilligan-esque getaways being touted today (Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island comes to mind), accessing all of this won’t cost you an arm and a leg — or eat up valuable vacation days. You can patch together the three-hour trip from Cancún yourself on a bus and public ferry or have Xaloc organize a transfer for $65 each way.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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