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The U.S. dollar has taken a bit of a beating of late, devaluing against many world currencies, but nowhere have the effects been felt more strongly than in Europe where the dollar dipped to new depths against the Euro and the Pound. For those always keen to travel this means either spending more and still traveling to these destinations or rethinking their next vacation and looking further a field for bargains.
Despite all the financial doom and gloom, there are still some bright spots on the U.S. travelers' horizon, countries where the U.S. dollar will always reign supreme or where local currency devaluations mean that the green back is still a powerful player. With Valentine's Day fast approaching, the common theme here is luxury and romance with a low price tag. It is not just accommodation prices that makes these destinations within budget. Low prices extend from transportation to meals, shopping to museum entries. Always carry some U.S. cash in small denominations -- it makes for a great bargaining tool with many local businesses more than happy to accept dollars rather than their local currencies.
Here are four suggestions that may inspire you at any time of the year.
The first destination to consider is Argentina. When I visited some five years ago, it was a rather expensive exercise with the Argentine Peso worth the same as the U.S. dollar. Now it is less than a third -- around $0.32 at the time of publication. What that means is that you can now travel in Argentina for a lot less and as people love to receive American currency, you may not need to convert your money when you get there.
Learn to Tango in Buenos Aires for less with hotels like the super chic and funky boutique hotel Five (tel. +54/11-5235-5555; www.fivebuenosaires.com) in the cool Palermo Soho area which offers free WiFi, free breakfast, rooms with Jacuzzis, car parking and a roof top terrace with a view. A stylishly appointed room straight out of a design magazine will set you back between $100 and $150 per night.
Another fashionable option is the Bobo Hotel (tel. +54/11-4774-0505; www.bobohotel.com) which is a converted 1920's mansion with seven sensational rooms. Also located in Palermo Soho, room rates here start from $110 plus taxes and include parking, breakfast and free WiFi.
Of course you can stay at one of the dozens of budget hotels with room rates starting below $50, per night, but why would you when you can enjoy luxury for less?
Most third world and developing countries continue to be highly affordable, although many peg their prices to the U.S. dollar and luxury hotels will often remain on the expensive side.
Between floods, tsunamis and terrorist attacks, Indonesia has had it pretty tough over the last few years. Bali remains one of those idyllic tropical islands where a few dollars buys a lot of luxury. Rent a private villa with a pool or a smaller villa/bungalow with a shared pool. One of my personal favorites is the romantic Pondok Sara (tel. +62/361-732-142; www.pondoksara.com) located in the fashionable heart of the Seminyak area. A gorgeous thatched roof two story bungalow with two bedrooms, a kitchen, garden and romantic indoor/outdoor bathroom with a massive bath tub is priced from under $50 per night, or a one bedroom is only $34 per night. There are two pools on the property which you'll share with possibly another one or two dozen guests at most, plus they can arrange in-bungalow chefs to prepare meals for you. Larger villas with their own pools and staff generally start from around $100 per night from websites like www.indovillas.com, www.balivillasforrent.com and www.balivillas.com. With over 9,000 Indonesian Rupiah to the U.S. dollar, you'll find everything from meals to clothing, souvenirs to massages, day trips to diving also inexpensive.
Guatemala is one place that few people seem to visit, despite being so close to the U.S.; maybe that is a good thing. Smaller than Mexico but boasting magnificent colonial cities, awe-inspiring Mayan ruins, colorful markets and sensational food, this petite Central American jewel is also a budget paradise.
Towns like Chichicastenango should be on everyone's "must see" list with its Maya market, fascinating cemetery and welcoming small town atmosphere. Stay at the beautiful Hotel Santo Tomas (+502/756-1061) which is a traditional colonial property with a central courtyard graced by a fountain and cascading bougainvillea. With a stunning local art collection, fire places in every room, flowered patios and exotic macaws and parrots, the hotel has an authentic Guatemalan flavor. Prices start at $71 per room per night for Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday nights (market days are Thursdays and Sundays so Wednesday and Saturday nights start from $83). Another majestic city is the old capital Antigua and if it is romance you are after, you can't look past the MesÃ³n Panza Verde (+502/7832-1745; www.panzaverde.com) which looks more like medieval cloisters than a hotel. The rooftop terrace provides endless views of the surrounding volcano and individual rooms are lavishly decorated with four-poster beds, fire places, Jacuzzi tubs, private verandahs and antique furnishings. Room rates including breakfast start from $75 per night.
The Riads (traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden) of Marrakech are like stepping on to an Arabian Nights movie set -- they are luxurious, romantic and simply stunning. The best part is that so many of these properties are priced from under $100 per night. One of the most beautiful is Riad Al Jazira (don't let the name, which sounds like the Arab TV network confuse you). The Al Jazira is actually three combined riads restored beyond their former glory with15 suites bedrooms, a large patio with banana trees, ancient galleries with graceful columns, a roof terrace with fabulous vistas and a central swimming pool. Rooms are priced at $106 per room per night including a sumptuous breakfast. Riad Ahira is another picture postcard property with traditional Moroccan architecture and furnishings located in the Medina. Room rates here start from $70 per night. The antiques-filled Riad Dama is located right in the center of Marrakech by the legendary Jema El Fna square, although it seems a peaceful oasis amidst all the traffic and chaos of the market area. Rooms start from $64 per night. These properties and more can be booked through Secret Places of Marrakech (+351/21-464-7430; www.secretplaces.com).