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10 Cheap Travel Destinations That Can Still Feel Like VIP Adventures

Make the most out of your vacation days and book a flight—or two—to these totally amazing and inexpensive travel destinations. Once you pay for your flight, the rest of the trip is practically free.

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South Africa

Sit back and enjoy the complimentary wine on South African Airways as you fly to the Mother City. Cape Town, South Africa, has some of the most beautiful hiking spots in the world. Adrenaline junkies will love the Three Peaks Challenge, a route that takes climbers over Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, and Devil’s Peak in one day. Pack food for your trek, like an orange from a street vendor or a BBQ chicken sandwich from high-end grocery store Woolworths that will set you back less than $2.50. Another challenging (and free) hike is at the Twelve Apostles mountain peaks in Camps Bay. Locals and tourists alike enjoy hitting the trail at sunrise to see the view from the Rhodes Memorial on Table Mountain and the full moon at night on Lion’s Head.

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The exchange rate from Thai Baht to U.S. dollars is almost 31 to 1, currently. That means you can enjoy a full dinner for around $1, but be wary of food sellers who price the meal in dollars rather than the local currency. Buy dessert or fruit from a street vendor for pennies. Learn how to avoid the 10 money traps you fall for every time you travel.

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Fun fact: Travelers head to Hanoi to get custom tailoring for a fraction of the cost. You can have button-down shirts custom-made or a full, stylish wardrobe made for less than the cost of a pair of designer jeans.

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Peru’s capital, Lima, offers some of the most beautiful coastline views, particularly in El Parque del Amor and the Larcomar shopping center. The latter, a two-story outdoor mall, is built into the cliffside to offer unparalleled views as you shop and dine. The park has a 5 km multi-use path for running, biking or walking, plus exercise equipment and tennis courts scattered throughout. Visitors can stroll through the park and make their way down to pebbled beaches for a two-hour surf lesson with local instructors ($30). Afterward, cheap travelers can splurge on $6 ceviche, one of the most popular Peruvian meals, before heading to downtown Lima on a free walking tour. Want to stay local? Learn the cheapest time of year to visit each of the 50 states.

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A short ferry ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Uruguay is a great place for travelers already in South America. The exchange rate, from Uruguayan pesos to USD, is nearly 30 to 1, so Americans will get a lot of bang for their buck. In particular, the historic city of Colonia del Sacramento is the best place for history nerds to revel in relics of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Listed on the World Heritage List, Colonia offers historic walking tours of the cobbled streets flanked with colorful homes, restaurants, and shops. In the warmer season, residents throw block parties where you can purchase homemade Uruguayan street food. Visitors can spend a whole day there without spending more than $10 on food, even at restaurants.

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One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal can be seen on a private guided tour, with transportation included, for under $100. In Jaipur, a full day trip to and from elephant sanctuary Elefantastic, a must-do activity ranked by TripAdvisor, with a meal and amenities runs for less than $55 per person. Travelers should splurge on activities in India, where the cost of doing so is lower than other places in the world.

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Mexico City has a host of world-class museums and amazing art centers clustered together. The Palacio de Bellas Artes showcases murals from Mexican artists and the Palacio Nacional hosts murals from famed artist Diego Rivera. Worth visiting, but further away, are Museo Frida Kahlo and Museo Nacional de Antropología. One of three incredible underwater museums is also located in Mexico, which is worth checking out! Some museums will offer free admission on Sundays, and with the exchange rate of nearly 18 pesos to $1, full-priced admission won’t be too pricey for visitors at this cheap travel destination.

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To increase tourism, airline TAP Portugal offers a “stopover” program, which gives travelers an incentive to stay up to three nights as an extended layover to their final destination. The stopover program boasts “two destinations for the price of one,” where travelers can travel cheap by getting discounted hotel rates and perks, such as free bottles of wine at participating restaurants, guided tours, museum tours, and dolphin watching. The discounts will help offset the exchange rate from the dollar to the euro. Learn the 9 secrets to cheap travel, according to travel agents.

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When in Cuba, dance as the Cubans do. Travelers should head to La Casa del Son for $15 salsa classes before testing out their moves at dancing spots like outdoor club Jardines del 1830 and Casa de la Musica in Havana. Cover for the live bands will cost around $3 to $15, depending on the location, and drinks tend to be cheaper than at home. One traveler posted a review on TripAdvisor, noting that hungry dancers can head to a restaurant down the street from La Casa del Son for 60 cent spaghetti.

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For as little as $22, tourists can get a local guide to conduct a half-day walking tour of the Pacaya Volcano in Antigua, complete with the park entry fee, a water bottle and transportation to and from the hotel. Travelers who pack marshmallows and skewers can actually roast them using the heat emanating from the volcano. For travelers who prefer the water to the mountains, Jorge’s Rope Swing is a must-see activity off the coast of Lake Petén Itzá, near Flores Island. For about $3 to $5, you can get a roundtrip ride to the rope swing or pay $10 for a canoe to paddle there. The cost of using the swing is a little more than a dollar, and you can spend the whole day hanging out by the lake. Before you book, check out the 16 ways to snag the best airfare possible.

Amanda Eisenberg
Amanda Eisenberg is a New York City-based journalist. She's covered everything from unlawful nursing home discharges in Maryland to excess helicopter noise in Hoboken. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Elle Decor, McClatchy-Tribune Wire Service and dozens of other publications. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland (go Terps!). In her free time, Eisenberg enjoys traveling, volunteering and cliff diving. She can be reached at [email protected]