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Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.


Why: Peru’s northern beaches are an excellent option for budget travel, and Trujillo is no exception. The vibrant coastal city is awash with warm-colored colonial façades dating back to its status as a colonial powerhouse, and it offers excellent cultural and adventure activities, as well as upscale restaurants that are surprisingly affordable ($10-15). Accommodations are also very inexpensive; for example, the four-star Costal del Sol Wyndham can run as low as $65. Trujillo is home to the former capital of the Chimú people, the behemoth archaeological site of Chan Chan. Its Spanish-influenced architecture and bohemianism were an inspiration for the illustrious author Cesar Vallejo, and it continues to keep traditions alive by hosting prestigious events such as the month-long Marinera Dance Festival. For some action under the sun, check out the famous beach Huanchaco, Latin America’s first designated world-surfing reserve. Watch wave chasers in their caballito de totora boats and cool off with a plate of fine ceviche at its birthplace. Trujillo flies under the radar for tourists who focus on Cusco and Machu Picchu, but with its rich heritage — in addition to year-round sunshine, delicious food, vibrant dance and beaches — you’ll have plenty to write home about.
Whether you are an art aficionado, history buff, or nature lover, the SDMC has a variety of member organizations that are bound to capture your interest. And with these special savings that are only offered once a year, it’s a great time to visit both old favorites and new attractions you have never even heard of. See below for the full roster of participating organizations.
Why: La Paz is the perfect destination for those looking for a bit of adventure with the comfort of being in a vibrant, bustling city. Surrounded by the Bolivian Andes, La Paz is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Visiting during the winter season (May through October) is the best time for escaping to the slopes. If you’re looking for a real adventure, day tours to ski on one of the highest ski slopes in the world go for less than $70, including transportation and food. If you’re looking to stay more grounded, check out the local activities, such as Cholita Wresting, a La Paz specialty combining WWF and lucha libra. Or check out the Mercado de las Brujas (the Witches’ Market), an attraction not to be missed with locally handcrafted items and some herbal and folk remedies. The best part of all: You can live in near-luxury at five-star hotels around the city, with prices almost always less than $150 per night. Check out the Camino Real Aparthotel & Spa and the Casa Grande Hotel.

Why you’ll love it: Ruminate on the Revolution on Beantown’s historic streets while following the (free) Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that winds past 16 historically significant sites dating back to the American Revolution. Don’t miss taking a spin on the swan boats in the lake at the Boston Public Gardens in Boston Common, and plan a stop at the New England Aquarium and Museum of Science too.
Yelapa: Yelapa is “Mexico’s last authentic beach town,” says Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, “and is definitely under the radar. [Expect] great seafood, great beaches, nice hotels and none of the inflated prices.” Note that it’s in one of the State Department’s orange zones, while nearby Puerto Vallarta is exempted — so you’ll want to do a bit more research before choosing this part of Jalisco. Getty Images/iStockphoto
St. Augustine, FL: Strolling through St. Augustine, you will sometimes have a hard time believing that it belongs to the 21st century America. From the 17th century Castillo de San Marcos on the western shore of Matanzas Bay to the lavish historic Hotel Alcazar that today hosts the Lightner Museum of Victorian times, St. Augustine has retained the elegance and charm of its past and preserved its historic treasures with lots of love and care. Stroll through the cobblestoned streets of the Old City, St. George, Hypolita and Charlotte Streets, and have a cup of coffee in one of the many quaint shops. Visit the Ximenez-Fatio House built in 1798, an architectural gem that showcases the life of 19th century Florida. A visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park and pristine beaches of Anastasia State Park will show you that some things are timeless and never change.
Why you’ll love it: Playful Pismo Beach and nearby Shell Beach offer the quintessential southern California beach vacation, from swimming and hiking to kayaking and surfing—it’s all outdoor fun all the time. Energize your vacation with an ATV drive on 5.5 miles of beaches open to off-road vehicle use in Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach. If actual horsepower is more your thing, enjoy a horseback ride instead. Pismo Beach Pier is the place to go to throw a line in the water and wait for a tug, while Pismo Beach’s award-winning boardwalk is rife with delicious treats and colorful boutique shops.
According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau files well over 1,000 complaints in a single year from victims of “free” cruise scams. Other “too good to be true” deals may not be actual scams, but may require you to participate in a sales presentation, commonly for a time-share. Be alert, be skeptical, and be willing to put in the time to verify anything that doesn’t feel right.
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