Panama can be low-cost vacation option

02/21/2010 1:19 AM

02/21/2010 1:19 AM

Looking for an alternative to pricey Europe for your summer vacation? Consider Panama, where round-trip airfares can be as low as $300 from many U.S. cities.

Go to any number of airfare search engines (Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Momondo.com, Kayak.com). Though nonstop round-trip airfares to that Central American nation can run as high as $800-$1,000, you'll discover round-trip, one- stop flights there on numerous dates for as little as $300, especially in summer.

And once in Panama, you'll encounter wonderfully low prices for rooms and meals, all quoted in U.S. dollars (the currency of this one-time American protectorate).

Mudslide damage to the roads and other approaches to Machu Picchu in Peru is so serious that local authorities have shut down the famed site for "at least" two months. That undoubtedly means that three months are the least you'll have to wait, but your eventual visit will contribute to the recovery of the villages and villagers so cruelly affected by this natural catastrophe.

No fewer than two major tour operators (Gate 1 Travel and FriendlyPlanet Travel) have recently cut the price for an airfare-included, one-week visit to India's "Golden Triangle" (New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) to $1,099 — a remarkable bargain opportunity. You're placed at comfortable hotels, given daily breakfast and a couple of other meals, and taken by escorted sightseeing to India's most awesome attractions — and, of course, you're also flown to India round-trip. I doubt we'll ever again see a $1,099 price tag for such a trip after the current programs expire in a few months.

Though lodgings and tickets to the historic Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria are an obvious seller's market, there are some indications of a weakening of prices. Recently, Gate 1 Travel reduced the price to $799 per person for two hotel nights in Oberammergau, several meals, and a Category 1 ticket to the famed, all-day performance. Though you'll have to add airfare to Europe and transport to Oberammergau (near Munich), you'll pay much less than the sky-high rates that tour operators have been asking until now.

Business doesn't seem to have picked up in Las Vegas (to put it mildly). I use, as my indicator of that, the calendars of room prices posted by the MGMMirage.com organization for its deluxe, 4,000-room Aria Hotel in Vegas' new City Center development. Those show plenty of dates in February and March when rooms are available at $149 and $159 per night, and scattered dates in April when rooms are available for $159 a room per night. Prior to the slowdown, badly affecting Vegas, the Aria was undoubtedly hoping for $300 a night — a rate supported by the amenities of that spectacular structure.

So many vacationers are now substituting condos and vacation homes for hotels that no fewer than 44 brokers are now operating Web sites to make those facilities available. Among them you'll of course find the familiar names: VRBO, HomeAway, ResortQuest, Endless Vacation Rentals, Rentalo.com, and Zonder. But simply because a rental firm doesn't yet possess an instantly recognizable name doesn't mean its services can't be valuable. VacationHomes2Rent.com has one of the largest inventories of private homes and condos in Florida, to which it limits its activity. You go to a listing of no fewer than 90 cities and towns in that state, and then survey the condos and private homes offered in or near each.

MediaVacationRentals.com deals primarily in international properties, and features a service called "169 Last-Minute Deals." GulfcoastRentals.com is the specialist in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, but also has some listings in four different areas of Florida. LakeRentals.com means just that: It is broken down by state, and lists within each state the chief recreational lakes and the vacation properties located alongside or nearby. Go to any of the Web sites I've listed above, and you'll be impressed, I think, with the vitality of the vacation rental industry and the number of properties available for rental at excellent prices.

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