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10 of the “Best Value” Destinations for 2014

Article Summary:

In this exclusive extract from Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’ guide, we reveal 10 destinations that offer great value next year.

Photo Credit: Creative Shop

Original Article Text From The Independent:

Ten destinations where you’ll get more for your money in 2014

1 Greek Islands

Greece has had a tough few years, with harsh austerity measures, soaring unemployment and demonstrations hitting the world’s headlines. For a place that thrives on tourists, this is bad news. But Greece still does what it’s done brilliantly for generations. What’s missing are visitor numbers from previous years and prices have come down in an attempt to woo them back. Combined with the chance to explore Greece’s more popular sights with fewer visitors, this means that in 2014 it offers remarkable value.

2 Italy’s foot

If you’ve ever rubbed shoulders with billionaires on the Amalfi Coast or spent the weekend in Venice, you’ll know that Italy can drain travel budgets. This year, look south. Italy’s heel has arguably the best beaches in the country, hilltop towns and ancient sights. But what makes Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria such good value is not just the financial side of being in this part of the country. It’s the fabulous food – cucina povera (poor man’s food), simple, tasty and cheap – and the relaxed pace of life even in peak season, coupled with good-value accommodation for all budgets.

3 Nicaragua

Costa Rica is a delight, but it’s neither a secret nor really cheap. Nicaragua though, in the latter category, is fast making its name for more than simply saving a few dollars on the road. The country is an A-grade Central American attraction in itself, from brooding Volcán Concepción to the dreamlike experience of floating down the Río San Juan. True budget travellers trying to make it on US$20 (£12.50) a day (still possible here) may think twice about visiting the Corn Islands due to the cost of flying from the mainland, but Nicaragua does offer some of the cheapest beach living (and diving) in the Caribbean.

4 Bulgaria

The days of frugal visits to Eastern Europe have passed. Especially in well-known cities, costs have gone up with the crowds. This is one of the reasons to go to Bulgaria, still so puzzlingly underrated that few but travel geeks can name a city beyond the capital, Sofia – try Plovdiv or Varna. The latter is part of the Black Sea riviera that brings crowds and high prices in the summer. Elsewhere (including Sofia), transport, museums and the ubiquitous private rooms (look for “Zimmer frei” signs) are quite reasonably priced. The most famous site, Rila Monastery, is free and offers simple rooms for pilgrims.

5 Portugal

Each year the British Post Office surveys the prices in European holiday resorts. The most recent edition names Albufeira in the Algarve as the cheapest option for a summer family holiday. The Algarve in high summer may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it shows that Portugal is great for the budget-conscious. There are excellent deals elsewhere too. Lisbon has wonderful coffee and sweet treats for a few euros, and you can ride cheap trams around to your heart’s content. Portugal is also, for Europeans, a superb place to surf without having to fork out the airfare to the sport’s traditional heartlands.

6 Fiji

A South Pacific island destination on a value travel list? Yes, Fiji may just be the most affordable slice of paradise. The Yasawas and the Mamanucas islands are home to the unusual phenomenon of resorts aimed at backpackers. While it’s not as cheap as South-east Asia, the value here is in bringing the South Pacific within reach of midrange travellers. Combine some island-hopping by daily catamaran with public buses around Viti Levu, Fiji’s “mainland”, and get almost as much Polynesia as possible for not all of your money.

7 Mexico

Ignore the headlines about budget-busting resorts and savour the value of a visit to Mexico. Grab a good-value flight and try to avoid periods such US school holidays. Travellers who explore off the established trail will find Mexico hugely rewarding. North of Puerto Vallarta, laid-back beach towns such as Chacala offer guesthouse rooms for US$40 (£27), and the relaxed ambience is its own reward. Good value can be had even in the tourist heartland of the Yucatán Peninsula. Cheap bus trips to Mérida and Tulum provide all the Mayan wonders you can muster at a fraction of the cost of Cancún- based tours.

8 Karnataka, India

India still has lots to offer the budget traveller, though if you’ve been to Goa in high season you might doubt this. Over the European winter, bargains can feel in short supply. While Goa devotees manage by travelling off-season or with package deals, it’s worth considering other options. Neighbouring Karnataka’s coast has serene beaches, fishing harbours and peaceful resorts, plus inland temple towns such as Hampi, one of South India’s most laid-back traveller hangouts. Best of all, lodgings are cheap and most temples and ruins are free. More upmarket places to stay are opening all the time, but you’ll find some rewarding budget travel here.

9 Palawan, The Philippines

Jungle rivers, limestone cliffs and awesome beaches – Palawan’s no secret, but it certainly rewards those who visit. This mix, combined with standout attractions such as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the Bacuit Archipelago (all available at a competitive price), makes it a great-value pick for old Asia hands and novices alike. A journey on from Palawan leads to the Calamian Islands where apparently Alex Garland saw the strip of sand that later inspired him to write The Beach.

10 Ethiopia

While you can’t get everywhere in Ethiopia on US$30 (£18.50) a day, you can see a huge number of its highlights by taking great-value and time-saving flights along the country’s Historic Route. This astonishing journey includes the Lake Tana monasteries and the Blue Nile Falls, the rock-hewn wonders of Lalibela and much more. True, the budget goes out the window if you hire a vehicle and driver or join an organised tour – which you need in order to get the most out of the country’s wild west – but you can always save that for another visit. This is one slice of Africa that rewards the curious as well as the deep-pocketed.

Link to Original Article:

From The Independent

THEN THE NEXT

Loving it in Nicaragua

Affordable healthcare, along with Nicaragua’s beauty, drew this Tennessee couple to retire abroad

Original Article Text From Wall Street Journal:

Retired in Nicaragua, and Loving It

Each new day in this nearly 500-year-old city is greeted with a symphony of crowing roosters, the clippity-clop of horse-drawn carriages, and barking dogs. My wife and I moved here, to Granada, Nicaragua, three years ago after living in Costa Rica for two years.

Located on the northern shore of Lake Nicaragua, Granada is a flat city of narrow streets and endless, brightly colored walls, some of which are hundreds of years old. These walls are interspersed with occasional doors, some fancy, some plain, behind which can be anything from a palace to an earthen-floored shack. Often referred to as the “City of Doors,” Granada is a wonderful town for walking and bicycling, as it features restaurants, shops and markets down every street.

Our decision to move to Central America in 2008 was tied in large part to health care. We retired when we were both 62, but Medicare isn’t available until age 65. Therefore, we decided to leave the U.S. during this gap and seek good, affordable health care in a new environment.

Costa Rica certainly qualified in that regard, but Nicaragua has turned out to be even better. We chose Granada because of its beauty and proximity to the highly regarded Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas, about 45 minutes away on the outskirts of Managua. Health care here is as good as, if not better than, anything we had in our native Tennessee—and a fraction of the cost.

All that said, we didn’t take our move here lightly. Like many others, we initially envisioned Nicaragua as war-torn, desolate and dangerous. The reality is something quite different.

Friendly People
The list of pleasant discoveries would begin with the people, some of the friendliest we’ve encountered anywhere. For the most part, the locals have met the gradual influx of expats, especially retirees, with open arms. Many are aware of the boon to the economy that we represent, and are tolerant of our feeble attempts at Spanish. Many of them speak good English, besides. Language, thankfully, hasn’t been much of an issue.

With the exception of electricity and gasoline, expenses here are remarkably low. A good haircut can be had for about $2, and a filet mignon dinner at one of the nicer restaurants will cost about $10. Taxis will take you from one end of town to the other for 45 cents (we don’t own a car), and a cold beer will run less than a dollar.

We rent a nice apartment that includes a swimming pool, pavilion and a garden filled with fruit trees. (Bananas, mangoes, avocados, lemons and coconuts are available for the picking when in season.) Our monthly budget—which includes rent, utilities, food, medications and miscellaneous items—is about $1,800. For those who want something more permanent, property is readily available and easily bought.

A typical day for us might include visits and meals with friends, excursions to nearby attractions, attendance at any number of cultural happenings, baseball games, leisurely walks or simply enjoying our home.

Getting back to health care, we pay out of pocket for all services and medications. Fees are about 20% to 30% of what they would be in the U.S. For instance, an office visit to our doctor is $15, and we get his undivided attention for as long as it takes. (He even makes house calls for the same price.) Vivian Pellas hospital accepts several international insurance plans (but not Medicare) and offers two discount plans of its own that, depending on one’s age, offer considerable savings.

We often are asked about safety and security. We use common sense and feel comfortable wandering the city’s streets at most any time. The prevailing wisdom is to carry little money, wear no expensive jewelry and use taxis to get around after 9 p.m. Until that hour, most families have their rocking chairs by the sidewalks after dinner to visit with neighbors and enjoy the evening breeze.

Heat Factor
The major drawback for us is the heat. Nicaragua has only two seasons, wet and dry, and the temperatures can be oppressive during both. The rainy season runs from mid-May until mid-December and offers little relief.

Then there is the poverty. Only Haiti is poorer among Latin American countries. Nicaragua has a massive lower class—probably over half the population—and very little seems to get done by the government to benefit the poor. A goodly portion of Carol’s and my retirement funds go to local charities.

Lastly, Nicaraguans are notoriously indifferent to timetables. A workman scheduled to appear at noon might, in fact, appear at noon. Or he might appear tomorrow. Or next Tuesday. Or not at all. Patience is a virtue.

We haven’t been back to the States since we left and have no plans to go soon. We have had several stateside friends visit, and have received promises from several others. As we tell them all: “Come on down. The beer’s cold, and the door’s always open.”

Link to Original Article:

From Wall Street Journal

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