School’s out and the weather’s glorious: It’s no wonder that you—and nearly everybody else—are itching to pack your bags and make the most of summer’s ideal travel conditions. Of course, with crowds come competition, meaning that prices on everything, from airfare to hotel rooms, spike as a result. Happily, there are some exceptions to this summer-vacation rule, if you’re willing to wander a bit off the most well-trodden paths. From a sun-kissed Caribbean island overlooked during hurricane season to Alps mountain towns that are just as charming once the pistes are closed, these five destinations will ensure your dollar goes far this summer.
Once the Caribbean hurricane season rolls around in June—as summer temps in North America begin their ascent—the allure of the Caribbean as an escape from the cold fades slightly. And that’s what makes it the perfect time to head to Aruba. During this season, crowds and costs plummet, and the isle’s southerly position in the Caribbean Sea, just off the Venezuelan coast, positions it well below the hurricane belt and the threat of tropical storms. Trade winds and the Dutch Caribbean island’s desert heat keep the summer temps—averaging into the high 80s—pleasantly sunny, dry, and breezy. It’s easy to nab high-end hotel deals for half the price during this low-season stretch, so you can sunbathe, snorkel, or dive along the island’s sugary strands; hike past cacti, divi-divi trees, and abandoned gold mines at Arikok National Park; or drink, eat, shop, and gamble your way through the Dutch architecture of the capital city, Oranjestad.
Heading into the desert in the summertime might seem counterintuitive, but Sedona, Arizona, is technically high desert, making its higher-altitude (4,350 feet) red rock terrain and lower temps (low- to mid-90s) a comparable oasis to the more oppressive triple-digit degrees racked up in more southerly Arizona desert cities like Phoenix and Tucson. There’s plenty to offset the warm temps, too—including some of the year’s most favorable deals. Be sure to pack your swimsuit—there are plenty of swimming holes amid Sedona’s forest-and-stream-filled landscapes, including Slide Rock State Park along Oak Creek, where the cool-water creek beds make for natural waterslides. It’s also a good time to dip into the city’s superlative—and air-conditioned—art galleries. In addition, Sedona is known for its spas and New Age treatments (the area is purportedly surrounded by vortex sites of energy). For example, stop by L’Auberge de Sedona for a treatment in its new Vortex Treehouse or try sound therapy.
You won’t head to this Brazilian beach city in June, July, and August for its sizzling temps. But thanks to minimal rainfall this time of year and daytime averages hovering in the high 70s—as well as a lull in tourist crowds long gone from Carnival—Rio’s Southern Hemisphere winter is an excellent season to experience the city. You can still lap up rays on legendary beaches like Ipanema or Copacabana with elbow room to spare, or make your way atop the lush green mountaintops to scenic spots like the landmark Christ the Redeemer statue. The sultry samba clubs of Lapa don’t lose any steam, the grilled meat at city churrascarias is just as tasty, the caipirinhas are equally refreshing—but the prices on airfare and hotel rooms are discernibly lower. Travelers from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia will also save $40 on their tourist visa after June 17, when the country eliminates the fee. Keep in mind that Brazilian schools take a winter break during the month of July, so family-oriented hotels and resorts can get busy with domestic travel.
Swing across the Swiss Alps
Switzerland is rarely the most budget-friendly travel destination, and shelling out for airfare to Europe during the height of the summer tourist season will surely set you back some. But what the ski-centric Swiss Alps can offer you come summertime is loads of comparative value over a wintertime visit here, when access to these posh European peaks is priced at a premium. Once the well-to-do winter sports set clears out, the majesty of the picture-perfect peaks remains, beckoning savings-savvy visitors for outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, and mountain biking—although simply reveling in the verdant view is reward all its own. Hotel rates are slashed at top ski resorts like Gstaad and Zermatt (the latter is home to the Matterhorn) because Europeans tend to favor Swiss lakeside retreats or beach destinations further afield. Bonus: The once-in-a-generation Fête des Vignerons takes place this summer. Plus, the cheese and chocolate taste as good in summer, too, and who says you need to actually to ski to enjoy some après-ski indulgence?
Make it to Mexico City
Mexico City has a greater metropolitan area that counts some 20 million denizens, so the dwindling of additional tourist hordes during the summer months offers a welcome break to the frenzied pace—and to the massive lines that can snake around city attractions, from Aztec archeological sites to Spanish colonial palaces. Sure, it’s the rainy season, but agreeable daytime temps hover in the 70s, and those downpours have a knack for holding off until evening. But even if they don’t, you won’t lack for a world-class museum to duck into: Mexico City has the second-highest number of museums in the world (lagging only behind Paris), including an exceptional anthropology museum, as well as art collections dedicated to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And rain or shine, you can always eat well, thanks to the city’s more than 40,000 restaurants and world-class culinary reputation.
Wind up in the Windy City
Chicago may not be anywhere to write home about in, say, February, when the snow is piling up, but come summer, the sun is shining, the weather is warm, and there is always something free going on.
Visit the penguins at Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in America (entry is free, or opt for the penguin encounter), spike a few aces during a sand volleyball game at one of the (also free) lakeside beaches that open over Memorial Day weekend, and hunt for Chi-Town’s public art by artists like Picasso and Yoko Ono (you guessed it—free). Don’t forget about 24-acre Millennium Park, either: take a stroll (free), bring a picnic to enjoy the blue skies, or maybe catch a movie (free).
Of course, there are plenty of not-free things to do that are worth the trip, like sipping cocktails at one of the city’s many rooftop bars.
Go to Georgia (the country, that is)
Bordered by Russia to the north, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the west, the country of Georgia has long been a crossroads of culture and history. (Fun fact: its winemaking region is one of the world’s oldest, maybe dating back as far as 8,000 years.) These days, the country is safe, super welcoming, politically stable, and cheap. The exchange rate between the Georgian lari and the U.S. dollar is strong: A bus ride costs a quarter and five-star hotels can ballpark less than $200/night in the capital of Tbilisi, with cheaper options in other parts of the country.
Summer is the perfect time to go, too. Temps hover between the mid-60s to high-80s, ideal for swimming and relaxing in beach towns like Batumi or hiking in the Caucasus Mountains. And remember that 8,000-year-old wine? It’s still flowing, and there are plenty of delicious places to eat and drink for a traditional Georgian meal.
This article originally appeared online in April 2018. It was updated on April 1, 2019, to include current information.
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