March 5, 2004 -- Shellshocked by the weak dollar, but looking for an exotic getaway? Try heading south. Your limp greenbacks will still get you pretty good value in Mexico, Central and South America, and several airlines are offering sales right now to natural, exotic and cultured locations.
Fresh Mex For Fewer Bux
Exotic, challenging, cheap and nearby, Mexico City is still undiscovered by many US travelers. That's probably because of its reputation for crime and sprawl -- but Mexico's capital is a vibrant, vital place, full of food, culture, and life. Don't believe me? See what our Frommer's guide has to say. Right now Aeromexico, United, American and America West all have low fares to Mexico's capital:
- From Atlanta: $285 on Aeromexico
- From Boston: $240 on Aeromexico
- From Chicago: $244 on American
- From Dallas: $179 on Aeromexico
- From DC: $258 on United
- From Houston: $208 on Aeromexico
- From LA: $268 on United; $253 on Aeromexico
- From Miami: $324 on American; $189 on Aeromexico
- From Phoenix: $258 on America West
- From San Francisco: $318 on United
The America West fare is only on sale through Friday; the Aeromexico fares are available through March 8, but you have to travel in March; the United fares are on sale through March 19, and the American fares are on sale through March 31 and good for travel all year.
Cancun, meanwhile, isn't likely to challenge anyone's assumptions or perceptions. A purpose-built resort on the Carribbean coast of Mexico lined with luxury hotels, it's a place to sit back, relax and sunbathe. Spirit Airlines offers consistently low fares to Cancun, but right now they're being undercut in some places by sales from American Airlines and Aeromexico. Great prices we found include (before tax):
- From Chicago: $325 on American; $310 on Aeromexico for travel in March
- From DC: $248 on Spirit
- From Fort Lauderdale: $188 on Spirit
- From New York: $262 on Spirit
Central America For Mere Cents (Sort Of)
For unspoiled nature, the place is Central America. Costa Rica offers a great combination of beach, rainforest and a well-developed tourist industry. Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala are all much farther off the beaten path, great trips for adventurous travelers. Right now American Airlines and local airline TACA are running discounted fares to Central America. All prices are before taxes, and you must buy the American fares by March 11.
- Baltimore to San Jose, CR: $246 on American
- Baltimore to Guatemala City, Guatemala: $330
- Boston to San Jose, CR: $306 on American
- Boston to Guatemala City, Guatemala: $330
- DC (both National and Dulles!) to San Jose, CR: $248 on American
- DC to Guatemala City, Guatemala: $330
- LA to Managua, Nicaragua: $399 on TACA
- LA to Panama City, Panama: $386 on American
- LA to San Jose, CR: $367 on TACA
- Miami to Managua, Nicaragua: $225 on American
- Miami to Panama City, Panama: $221
- Miami to San Jose, CR: $248 on American
The American "Down Under"
South America is full of surprises. Not only is the continent covered by gorgeous mountains, fabulous rainforests and craggy coastlines, cities such as Rio, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires and Montevideo are places of sophistication, culture, and luxury.
For trips to Brazil, right now the best fares come from the national airline Varig. For flights before June 17 or after August 5, they're offering flights from New York to Rio, Sao Paulo or Belo Horizonte for $542 plus tax on weekdays or $582 on weekends; from LA for $592 on weekdays or $647 on weekends; or from Miami for $462, seven days a week. They also offer similar sale fares to dozens of other Brazilian cities.
For pure culture and sophistication, Buenos Aires is a great pick. Other South Americans like to joke that Argentinians think they're actually Spanish, and B.A. offers a lot of the ambience of Spain with even better scenery and much, much lower prices. Right now many of the best fares to Argentina we found are from long-time, reliable consolidator Carbone Travel (www.1800argentina.com/fares.html). Their fares include:
- From Miami: $549
- From New York: $570
- From Philadelphia or DC: $630
- From Boston or Baltimore: $640
- From Denver, San Diego or San Francisco: $720
United fills in the gaps with their South American sale to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Their top fares include:
- Miami - Buenos Aires or Montevideo: $518
- Chicago - Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio or Sao Paulo: $698
- LA - Buenos Aires or Montevideo: $698
Buy online by March 19 to get these fares.