Vacation Suggestions
January 31, 2004 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Vacation advice - - A week at the end of March has opened up, and me and Mrs. _sirmissalot_ would like to go somewhere interesting and off the beaten path. Complicating factor: it's spring break time, and I don't want to run into drunk frat boys (otherwise I'd like to go snorkeling and caving in Belize). Can't spend a mint but a decent tax refund is on the way. We would be leaving from San Franciso/Oakland and don't want to spend the whole time in the air . . . any ideas folks?

We're more Lonely Planet types, less Let's Go! or Fodor's. Just having a hard time coming up with an idea for a short, week-long trip.
posted by _sirmissalot_ to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
Do lots of frat boys go to Belize? Most of the ones here seem to be happy enough with Mexico.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:16 PM on January 31, 2004

You may want to do a little research on Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras. The West End is really nice, very mellow, lots of snorkeling and scuba, and pretty damned cheap. I've of direct filghts from Houston for around $150 or so. Should be pretty college-folk free too.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:04 PM on January 31, 2004

You want natural wonders stuff?

The area around Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in SW Texas and SE New Mexico is really nice and interesting, not usually very crowded, and doesn't seem to conduce to drunk pinheads. Big Bend is really surprising -- it's rock and sand desert with a mountain range that's an island of other ecosystems, as you climb you leave the proper desert and enter scrubby oak forests. The air was good when I was there in 1992, and visibility was 200+ miles. And you can catch a rowboat ride into Mexico if you want.

Carlsbad Caverns is a bit touristy, but you can arrange guided tours of "wild" caves within the park as well. There's also a meteor crater near Odessa (never been there), and a giant jackrabbit or jackelope statue there too, and the Commemorative Air Force has a reasonable warbird museum there. The usual SW weirdness abounds, and La Posta de Mesilla in Las Cruces NM is yummy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:33 PM on January 31, 2004

I think you need to provide a little more information on what your idea of a good time is. Are you looking to lie on a beach? Go practice your Spanish? See some sights? Hike and camp? Sip wine in a private hot tub? Kayak? To narrow a wee bit, how about:

International: preferred/don't care

Do you enjoy the outdoors?

Do you want to do athletic stuff? Just laze around?

Hotels/Hostels/Camping all ok?

"The beaten path" is also highly subjective. Help us out here. Do you mean you just want to avoid crowds, or seek out some kind of beatific, visceral experience?
posted by scarabic at 8:02 PM on January 31, 2004

Yellowstone and/or Glacier National Parks. They've got everything you need, no matter what type of vacation you're looking for!
posted by davidmsc at 8:53 PM on January 31, 2004

International: preferred

Outdoors? - check. after some talk tonight, i think we're leaning toward a beach/snorkeling/ocean kayaking/diving kind of location. if hiking/exploring around was also part of that equation, that would be a nice bonus.

Hotels/Hostels/Camping - all okay. most preferable would be a cheap but clean hotel, though i have done all three.

Beaten path thing - we don't like touristy crowds or typically touristy places. my favorite trip was backpacking in india. but like i said, this is only a week. i think R&R and kind of forgetting yourself is the key thing this time around.

Thanks for advice already given. I really do want to explore Big Bend but I think I'd like to go there with more time.

As for Honduras - that sounds great! I just checked ticket prices, but they seem pretty expensive. Still maybe doable. But I've heard that Honduras is getting really dangerous . . . true, or just rumor?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2004

Belgium is awesome, specifically Brussels, especially if you like European comics - for which they have a whole museum - musical instruments - same thing - or beer.

Which there is tons of, and it's all great.
posted by interrobang at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2004

Assuming you don't want to dive into a pool of ale and bourgeois ennui, I would avoid Brussels. Costa Rica is supposed to be the least fascist of the Central American countries, if you're at all into the politically correct, "not funding fascists" thang. This, I am told, is a good starting point for Costa Rican diving.
posted by stonerose at 9:07 PM on January 31, 2004

I recommend Bora Bora. No, really! I was just there for my honeymoon this past December. It's a direct 8.5-hour flight from Los Angeles (probably similar for San Francisco) to Papeete, which is the main city in Tahiti, then a half-hour island-hopper flight to Bora Bora (which has its own airport, built by the American GI's in WWII).

It's the off-season there now--i.e. it's only blazingly sunny every 1 or 2 out of 3 days instead of all 3--so the hotels are only partially booked and cheaper. Fabulous scuba diving (my first time--a nice coral reef with fishies and sharks only 18 feet down) and snorkeling, since the water is an insanely clear blue. The whole place looks like a Hollywood set of what an ideal island paradise would look like. And it's off the beaten path (but still has Internet access at hotels and cybercafes!), but even moreso are the other islands around it, such as Taha'a and Moorea, most of which are also serviced by the little island-hopper planes (Air Tahiti).

Also, they have this yummy-smelling ultra-lathery soap there called Monoi which we brought home by the bundle. And "French vanilla" mainly comes from the island of Taha'a, so I brought some of that home to (learn how to) cook with.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:09 PM on January 31, 2004

what interrobang said re: Belgium, ....or if Asia isn't too far Bali's cheap now...or Costa Rica? (rainforests, beaches, etc)....or Alaska could be fun...or the Canadian rockies
posted by amberglow at 9:23 PM on January 31, 2004

Davidmsc - the problem with Yellowstone and Glacier are that they're still frozen in until late May at the least- the high passes, which are the main draw, are still impassible. You have to stay pretty much toward the south in May if you don't want to worry about snow and really cold. That said, Zion and Bryce national Parks should be decent by March; a loop around the east side to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, then back via Death valley is *very* doable in a week.
posted by notsnot at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2004

I'll second Costa Rica, though only from hearsay. It's far from unknown, but it's got to be the off-season now, no? And it's hardly a spring-break destination like Mazatlan, et al.

Its being Winter and all you're likely to get good rates wherever you stay, but the further towrad the equator the better. But if you want to do something really close to home, check out the Jenner Inn, up north of Bodega Bay. They sport a few unique cottages as well as a more traditional B&B. Think fireplaces and hot-tubs with kayaking and hiking nearby.

The 101 coast is none too sunny, even in summer, but if you cotton to the idea of renting out a cottage and snuggling in front of the fire for a week, with a nice view of the Russian River and occasional outings of a hike/kayak nature (into questionable weather), I'm sure you can score a deal.
posted by scarabic at 1:24 AM on February 1, 2004

If you are open to some cool nearby spots, there were some good ideas for natural splendor in this thread. Also, gottabefunky's site has some great travel info and resources.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:47 AM on February 1, 2004

only because i live here, but have you considered chile? it's more or less the same time zone as the usa and the flights are quite short.

santiago's not that great, but in the north you've got desert (atacama - hot springs, desolate views) and in the south some spectacular mountain scenery (las torres del paine - glaciers, penguins, hiking, kayaks etc). it's cheap compared to the usa and march is just after the tourist season, so you get the good weather, but not the crowds (jan/feb is the time when everyone here takes holidays - the country practically comes to a halt). also, you could do some serious mtn biking in either the north or the south.

you do need to get from santiago to your final destination - there are flights (a couple of hours - see, but one alternative is a night + day in a bus, which sounds terrible, but is actually an excellent way to see a lot of scenery in a short time and, if you get salon cama/platinium, it's like business class on the plane, only for a tiny fraction of the cost - i commute every fortnight to/from work on a salon cama bus. the train south is also amazingly cool - we've had an old wooden sleeper carriage to ourselves, with fold-away beds, breakfast etc - but these days stops short of where you really want to be.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:08 AM on February 1, 2004

I just checked ticket prices, but they seem pretty expensive. Still maybe doable. But I've heard that Honduras is getting really dangerous . . . true, or just rumor?

In parts, but the Bay Islands are pretty much just 'Honduras' by name, not in nature. My girlfriend is from San Pedro Sula (the 2nd largest city) and there are some kidnapping gangs and whatnot there, although last I heard they were targetting well-known families, not tourists.

But the Bay Islands are completely different. Mostly a bunch of USian and Canadian ex-pats that just wanted a place to be away from it all and chill. English is more common there than Spanish is, the dress code is completely different, the atmosphere is completely different, but fortunately, the food is still the same....mmm, conch soup.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:16 AM on February 1, 2004

Oddly enough, andrew, the san francisco chronicle has a little featurette on Atacama. looks great!
posted by vacapinta at 10:32 AM on February 1, 2004

we are headed to nicoya peninsula (mal pais), costa rica next weekend for a week - we have a rough itinerary but any suggestions for good things to do or see while there would be appreciated.

thanks in advance.
posted by specialk420 at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2004

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