Whether you want sun and sand or prefer a winter wonderland, you don’t have to break the bank for a year-end vacation. It’s true that some of the traditional budget standbys in Mexico and the Caribbean are recovering from being hit by natural disasters but there are plenty of other destinations that are affordable and are great to visit in the winter. Some may even surprise you!
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Lisbon is still one of the most affordable cities in Europe and in winter it’s also one of the warmest. The Lisbon Guide says that in addition to the great weather, winter in Lisbon means smaller crowds, lower prices and better service.
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Hoi An, Vietnam
Winter is Vietnam’s rainy season and unless you’re a surfer, this isn’t the best time to hit Hoi An’s beaches. However, the weather is milder and perfect for exploring the city’s rich architecture and excellent food. A bonus is that what Lonely Planet calls "the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution" are almost non-existent.
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If you want to hit the ski slopes this winter, avoid Whistler and head instead for Nelson, which is more affordable and less crowded. There’s plenty to do away from the slopes too, including exploring the heritage buildings — an activity that Nelson and Kootenay Lake Tourism describes as like opening the history books.
Related: The most beautiful places in Canada.
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As a major seaport, Valparaiso has the kind of gritty charm that has inspired artists and poets like Pablo Neruda. Its alleys and stairways can keep you exploring for days and, according to Lonely Planet, the city is making concerted efforts to keep the tourist zones safe.
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Bocas del Toro, Panama
The islands of Bocas del Toro are hot and humid throughout the year, but you’ll spend much of your time cooling off in the surf anyway. The archipelago has a rich biodiversity and is a prime ecotourism destination.
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Croatia’s famed beaches aren’t that much fun in winter, but the country’s capital is incredibly charming during the cold months. It’s lit up with Christmas decorations but, never feels contrived. Get excited: all the great winter food on offer means you'll be eating very well.
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Vancouver Island, BC
Vancouver Island in winter is home to one of the great Canadian adventures, storm watching, and you can even book storm watching packages. BC’s official travel website doesn't really need to remind us that you’ll also find plenty of snow on the mountains: perfect for winter fun.
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Bariloche is the premier destination in Argentina’s Lake District and, according to Lonely Planet, summer — which coincides with the Canadian winter — is when nature lovers flock to the area. Bariloche is also Argentina’s chocolate capital. Just sayin’.
Related: 14 ways to get the best travel deals.
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Arniston, South Africa
Winter in Canada means it’s summer in South Africa. To avoid the winter crowds, do like the locals do and head to Arniston, a tranquil fishing village some two hours from Cape Town. Due to the favourable exchange rate, the most expensive part of your trip may be getting there, but if you’re clever, you can save on your flight too.
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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta escaped the natural disasters that ravaged other parts of Mexico in the last few years. More than just a beach destination, the city boasts fascinating colonial buildings and a rich artistic heritage. Oh, and winter is whale-watching season too.
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This popular island destination comes, as Lonely Planet puts it, with its own soundtrack. You’ll find plenty of affordable all-inclusive packages and with a bit of savvy you can even score last-minute deals.
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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The towns around Lake Atitlan offer everything from luxurious retreats to bustling nightlife at a bargain, depending on where you look. Winter here is called verano — summer — because it’s dry with warm days and cool nights.
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Since many of Mexico’s historic towns suffered severe earthquake damage recently, Granada makes a great, cheap alternative if you want stunning Spanish colonial architecture. The city also lies on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, with plenty of outdoor activities on offer in the area.
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As Lonely Planet says, the way to see Cartagena is to simply stroll along the streets and soak up the atmosphere. It’s hot and humid here even in winter, but there’s a smaller chance of rain than in summer.
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Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island may be one of Canada’s favourite beach destinations, but as Tourism PEI says, the island is anything but sleepy when the snow falls. It’s a snowmobiling paradise and offers most other winter sports too. You may even see the Northern Lights from here.
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The Bahamas has been recovering from recent hurricane seasons but, according to The New York Times, the tourist areas haven’t been affected. This means you’ll still be able to find great all-inclusive deals.
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Las Vegas, Nevada
While there will be fewer people basking by the poolside, winter is the time when, according to Time Out, Sin City goes all out. With good package deals available, Vegas definitely gives you a lot of value. Flying into Vegas is always fun — just behave and avoid doing these weird things people have done to get kicked off of flights.
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Tulum is, as Forbes puts it, the hottest spot on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The town is a haven for hippies and a great destination if you’re looking for a yoga retreat in a slice of paradise. The nearby Mayan ruins and spectacular beaches will help you reach nirvana.
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In summer, Venice is overrun by tourists, but in the winter, things calm down and prices drop. The city becomes shrouded in fog, lending it an air of mystery. Vogue says that this is the best time to visit the romantic city.
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Winter brings more bearable temperatures, making this high season in Bangkok. It’s still pretty affordable, though, especially if you go for free activities like simply exploring the streets. As Lonely Planet notes, few cities reward exploration as handsomely. Never forget, the cost of flying down to the islands to experience the best beaches in all of Thailand is so low — it's 100 per cent worth it.