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Lower prices, unique activities land snowbirds in southern Texas

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 11, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: destination, McAllen, Molly Feltner, rv, senior travel, vacation package.

Texans are known for their staunch independence, and even part-time residents and visitors who flock here in the winter from homes in the north insist on being different. If you spend the winter months in the Lone Star State you're not a snowbird, you're a "Winter Texan."

Like Florida, Arizona, and California, south Texas attracts many retirees looking to escape the cold of winter. The city of McAllen, located near the southern tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the state's top destinations for Winter Texans and other mature travelers, offering plenty of senior-friendly activities and services, and a lower cost of living than many other popular winter spots.

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Winter weather

The weather November through March is usually sunny and dry with an average temperature of 74 degrees. Temperatures in January and February tend to be in the 60s and can occasionally drop into the 40s.

How to get there

American, Continental, and Allegiant all serve McAllen's local airport, McAllen-Miller International, which is located just a few miles from the city center. Southwest flies to nearby Valley International Airport, about 30 miles away in Harlingen, Texas.

Where to stay

Many Winter Texans arrive with their RVs and stay in one of the region's more than 500 RV parks. You can find online listings for area RV parks on RV-Clubs.us or Woodalls.com.

If you'd prefer to stay in a hotel, you can find contact information for McAllen hotels on the McAllen Chamber of Commerce website. Although winter is high season in McAllen, rates for accommodations are still lower than hotel prices in other popular winter destinations. For example, we checked Orbitz for rates at McAllen area hotels in February and found prices starting at $49 per night for two-star hotels and $74 for three-star hotels. In contrast, nightly rates for accommodations in St. Petersburg, Florida, started at $59 for two-star hotels and $90 for three-star hotels.

What to do

McAllen and its surrounding area offer many of the same activities you can find in other popular snowbird destinations, such as golf and shopping, but its unique attractions are what make it most alluring to visitors. Here are the top "must-do" activities:

  • Go bird or butterfly watching: The most popular birding and butterflying destination in the U.S., Texas' Rio Grande Valley serves as a home or migration stop for more than 500 species of birds and 300 species of butterflies. The region is made up of 11 different ecosystems, each attracting different species, so in order to experience a diversity of birds and butterflies, you should try visiting a variety of viewing spots. Popular bird-watching destinations near McAllen include the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Anazalduas Park, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grandee Sate Park (the headquarters for the World Birding Center).
  • Take up square dancing: McAllen bills itself as the "Square Dance Capital of the World," and on any given day during the winter, you can find dances and classes going on in the city and other nearby towns. Check out listings for dances, workshops, and classes on the McAllen Chamber of Commerce website.
  • Head south of the border: One of McAllen's biggest draws is its proximity to Mexico, located only eight miles away. You can easily cross the border and spend the day, or just a few hours in colorful towns like Nuevo Progreso and Reynosa, to take advantage of affordable shopping and dining. Both towns draw visitors in search of Mexican art and handicrafts like hand-blown glass and woven blankets. For a more cosmopolitan experience, head 150 miles south to Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico, where you'll find world-class museums and historic sites, fine-dining restaurants, four-star hotels, and excellent shopping. You can reach the city by driving down a well-maintained toll highway or you can take buses from McAllen, which depart hourly. Learn more about nearby Mexico destinations by visiting the McAllen Chamber of Commerce website and the Mexico Tourist Board website.
  • Attend a festival: The winter months in McAllen are packed with festivals and special events, many geared towards visiting seniors and free of charge. Highlights include the "World's Largest Beginner's Square Dance Class" and the "McAllen Street Market," which both occur multiple times throughout the winter. The season ends in late March with the 10th annual "Texas Tropics Nature Festival," which includes field trips to popular birding areas, seminars, speakers, photography workshops, and more.

To learn more about visiting McAllen, go to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce website or call 956-682-2871. On the website you can request area guides and maps, including brochures and guide books designed especially for Winter Texans.

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