Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa
Going where the bargains are can feel a bit like surfing, metaphorically speaking. You hang out nowhere in particular for a while, keeping an eye out for ripples, and when you spot an ideal change in the swell, you ride it for as far as you can.
Kowabunga: Surf's up! In the past few months, these currencies have taken a dive, so if you ever wanted to dip your toes in the waters here, the time is right to hop on it.
South Africa: In June, one U.S. dollar bought a little over 12 rands. Now a buck gets you more like 17—or nearly a 50% increase in value. South Africa, a land where a beer can cost you only R4, was already cheap, but this is getting ridiculous. The ultra-luxury private safari preserves and exclusive hotels like Cape Town's famous Mount Nelson Hotel tend to hike their rates accordingly, but at mom-and-pop hotels (which need your money even more), deals abound. Now, once you overcome the high price of flying to Africa, the prices on the ground are much lower than they used to be, which goes a long way toward offsetting transportations costs: A boutique property such as Cape Town's An African Villa, which was going for $108 a night in early 2015, has dropped to $78 a night.
Canada: A few years ago, the American greenback was worth less than the Canadian dollar. Then by 2014, they were pretty much at parity. Now the bottom has fallen out, and for Americans, everything is Canada feels like it's 40% off. That's because the Canadian loonie is now trading at 1.41 to the American dollar. We love our northern neighbors, we admire their political system and their natural beauty, and we only wish them well. So we hope they won't think we're taking advantage of them when we encourage Americans to shift a visit to Canada to the top of their priority lists. This exchange-rate boon can't last.
Argentina: Two years ago today, the Argentine peso came at 6.7 to the U.S. dollar. Today, it's 13.6. Is the country in crisis again? Not exactly: Its new president has removed some draconian economic controls in an effort to get the peso back to where it more accurately reflects its true value. Economists knew the peso would descend in value, but by most reports, the removals of controls have not resulted in chaos but a steady and encouraging resettling of its value at a position that's easier to maintain and will bode well for the future of Argentina's stability. All that's a complicated way of saying that there's nothing to be afraid of: Argentineans are not rioting in the streets over the decline because this currency devaluation was, in effect, planned. It's a sensational bargain, and so far it's a safe one.
Mexico: The peso was worth around 13 two years ago. Today, it's at 17, which, just like South Africa's rand, is a historic low compared to the U.S. dollar.
Brazil: The same here. Two years ago, it traded between 2 and 2.5. Now, it's at 4 real to the U.S. dollar—a precipitious plunge.
There are other places where the bargains are totally tubular today. Arthur Frommer has used these pages to routinely point out (it bears repeating) that Japan has also been a sensational bargain for these past few years. India, too, has seen a drop that has made an affordable country even cheaper. Have you gone yet?
With so many currencies going into steep decline at the same time, some economists have the jitters. They point out that the world economy is interconnected, and the U.S. dollar is strengthening at the expense of smaller economies could have ramifications later. If too many economies sink, they could pull the world economy, and the dollar, down with them in a recession. As of this moment, though, we're in a sweet spot where people who carry U.S. dollars are seeing benefits even if the final cost has yet to be counted. These are the moments when opportunities can be made.
Some grumps grouse at the thought of taking advantage of currencies when they weaken. We don't. From a travel standpoint, a depressed value could be the very thing that finally convinces a tourist to visit a place they have long procrastinated about seeing. Favorable exchange rates not only benefit the locals who see an influx of foreign funds in their cash registers and local economies, but they also benefit the visitor, who finally sees the gates open on experiences and understandings they might not otherwise have had.
(Photo credit: Cape Town Tourism)