X

Top five off-peak destinations for fall 2006

At SmarterTravel.com, we’ve long been believers in traveling off-peak; that is, visiting a destination during its slower tourist season. This summer, travelers have suffered expensive airfares and crowded planes, but according to recent reports, they will get some reprieve for fall travel. A handful of airlines including American, Continental, Delta, and United recently cut prices on hundreds of routes for fall travel, lowering prices by four to eight percent.

There are plenty of airfare, vacation, and hotel deals to be found all around the world for post-Labor Day travel, particularly in the U.S., Caribbean, and Central America. Plus, many of these destinations offer unique autumn festivals and events.

Our top five picks for off-peak travel this fall are Barbados; Jamaica; Panama; Sarasota; and Taos.

Barbados

The most easterly of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is known as “Little England.” English, complete with British accents, is widely spoken among native Bajans, but Barbados also has a West Indian flair. The island has been spared from recent hurricanes, making it an ideal vacation spot during the Caribbean’s stormy season.

The miles of beaches on the island’s tranquil Caribbean and wilder Atlantic coasts draw many of Barbados’ visitors. Coral reefs surround Barbados, making watersports like snorkeling, diving, and “snuba” (a mix of the two) popular pursuits.

Other attractions include Barbados’ botanical gardens, forests, and wildlife.

Rum is also big business in Barbados, and tours and tastings are available at the Mount Gay, Foursquare, and Malibu distilleries. Banks Brewery also offers tours and beer tastings.

The Barbados Tourism Authority is offering “Best of Barbados” off-peak season deals for weeklong stays. The deals include $200 to $300 off airfare, free hotel stays, attractions discounts, and kids stay-and-eat-free offers. US Airways Vacations currently has a similar promotion, with airfare, accommodations, and attractions deals.

Barbados is a three-hour, 40-minute flight from Miami, and is served by several U.S. carriers including American, Delta, and US Airways. Air Jamaica also serves Barbados, and sometimes offers sale fares from the U.S.

I searched for hotel rates in Barbados to see how much you can save by traveling in the off-peak fall season and found savings of up to $58 per night.

Room type Hotel Off-peak rate Peak rate
King bed, partial ocean view The New Edgewater $78 (April 15 to December 14, 2006) $102 (December 15, 2006, to May 14, 2007)
Two-person studio Allamanda Beach Hotel $137 (April 16 to December 12, 2006) $197 (December 16, 2005, to April 15, 2006)
Studio apartment Coral Mist Beach Hotel $102 (April 16 to December 15, 2006) $170 (December 16, 2006, to April 15, 2007)

For more information about Barbados, check VisitBardados.org.

Next>> Jamaica

Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most affordable Caribbean islands, and fall is an especially economical season to visit. Visitors can expect to find big savings on airfare and accommodations, as well as pleasant weather. According to a famous line by H.D. Carberry, a Jamaican poet, “We have neither summer nor winter, neither autumn nor spring,” as temperatures on the island don’t vary much throughout the year. Although autumn is Jamaica’s rainy season, it rains in short bursts, usually not enough to spoil a day at the beach. Historically, hurricanes haven’t been much of a threat to Jamaica; the island was last hit in 1988.

Many travelers to Jamaica visit for its picture-perfect beaches, famous sunsets, and sprawling resorts, particularly in Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. Watersports like snorkeling, diving, rafting, and tubing are popular pursuits in beach areas. Inland, in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston, visitors will find opportunities for dining and nightlife, though the peaceful hiking trails and coffee plantations of the Blue Mountains aren’t far from the city’s hustle and bustle.

The Best of Jamaica 2006 festival takes place October 4 to 8 at the Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa in Montego Bay. The event celebrates Jamaica’s culture, food, and history with cooking lessons, patois language instruction, food and drink tastings, and reggae and steel drum performances.

This fall brings savings on airfare, accommodations, and bundled packages. Air Jamaica has sale fares for travel through December, and Air Jamaica Vacations is currently offering a handful of Jamaica vacation packages. Spirit often discounts flights to Kingston and Montego Bay, and Spirit Vacations has several package deals.

In addition, several properties, including FDR Resorts, Round Hill, Jamaica Inn, Royal Plantation, and Coyaba Beach Club, are offering free nights as part of their off-peak specials.

I compared fall and winter vacation package prices, and found savings of up to $390 by traveling in autumn.

Package Provider Off-peak rate Peak rate
Airfare from Orlando, nine nights’ all-inclusive hotel in Montego Bay CheapCaribbean.com $659 (August 20 to November 30, 2006) $1,049 (February 11 to 24, 2007)
Airfare from Boston, six nights’ hotel in Montego Bay Expedia $681 (October 5 to 12, 2006) $771 (February 15 to 21, 2007)
Airfare from San Diego, three nights’ hotel in Negril Orbitz $620 (November 1 to 5, 2006) $845 (February 22 to 25, 2007)

Browse VisitJamaica.com for vacation-planning tips and ideas.

Next>>Panama

Panama

Panama is one of Central America’s up-and-coming destinations. It is one of the region’s safest countries, with plenty of adventure and ecotourism travel opportunities, yet hasn’t gained the popularity of its neighbor Costa Rica. Like most countries in Central America, in-country costs in Panama tend to be easier on the wallet than other international destinations. The autumn months are part of Panama’s rainy season, but rain showers are brief, and temperatures remain hot year-round.

Naturally, the Panama Canal is the major tourist attraction, and is easily accessible from the Miraflores Visitors Center, which has several dedicated exhibits and a terrace for viewing the canal. Panama City is also a popular tourist destination, particularly the modern section of Panama City with its lively shops, restaurants, and nightlife, and the Spanish Colonial Casco Viejo neighborhood.

Panama has a host of outdoor activities in its 14 national parks, ranging from bird-watching to white-water rafting, hiking, and horseback riding. Soberania National Park (home to the popular Pipeline Road trail) is close to Panama City, while the picturesque mountain town of Boquete, near the rainforests of Volcan Baru National Park, is a popular destination in western Panama. Besides adventure activities, there are several coffee farms offering tours and tastings in the Boquete area.

Most flights to Panama City originate in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, or Orlando, on American, Continental, Delta, and Copa Airlines (Panama’s national airline). American recently offered two sales that included Panama, and though they’ve since expired, airfare in the fall will likely be cheaper than during the winter and spring high season. The Panama Info website lists off-season accommodation and tour specials offered from providers around Panama.

I compared high- and low-season accommodations rates and found savings of $60 per night in autumn.

Room type Hotel Off-peak rate Peak rate
Garden view room Gamboa Rainforest Resort $175 (April 16 to December 15, 2006) $225 (January 2 to April 15, 2007)
Double Punta Caracol suite Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge $265 (September 1 to December 15, 2006) $325 (December 16, 2005, to May 15, 2006)
Canopy room Canopy Tower Hotel $145 (October 1 to November 30, 2006) $175 (December 1, 2006, through April 30, 2007)

The Panama Info website has a wealth of information about planning a Panama vacation, and includes information on accommodations, destinations, transportation, and activities.

Next>> Sarasota

Sarasota

Sarasota, located between Ft. Myers and Tampa on Florida’s west coast, enjoys year-round summer weather. Fall is a particularly pleasant time to visit, with plenty of activities and events to keep travelers busy before the crowds of the winter high season descend.

Besides hitting the beach, other year-round activities include golf (Florida’s first golf course is in Sarasota); hiking, bird-watching, and camping at the area’s two state parks; and visiting botanical or jungle gardens. Sarasota is known as Florida’s cultural coast, and has dozens of galleries, an art museum, 10 theaters, and is home to a professional ballet, symphony, and opera.

Sarasota’s art is highlighted during Palm Avenue’s First Friday Art Walks, which feature gallery openings, fine dining, and live music on the first Friday of every month. Music lovers can attend Friday Fest on the Bay, a free jazz festival with music, food, and arts and crafts at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (the last of the year on October 20), or check out the 16th Annual Sarasota Blues Festival, featuring Greg Allman and friends, in October.

Seafood and wine are highlighted at the end of October at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort‘s 17th annual Stone Crab, Seafood, & Wine Festival, with culinary demonstrations and tastings, as well as live music and dancing.

Sarasota’s Medieval Fair takes place on four days in November, and features more than 75 performances per day. Knights, jesters, dancers, and musicians perform, and visitors can watch jousting matches and participate in a “royal feast.”

Several airlines are introducing service to Sarasota this fall. JetBlue begins its nonstop service from New York on September 21, while AirTran will resume its seasonal service from Dallas to Sarasota in late fall. US Airways has promotional fares from Washington, D.C., to Sarasota for travel though mid-November.

I compared peak and off-peak airfares and found savings of up to $50 in fall.

Route Off-peak fare Peak fare
New York (JFK) to Sarasota $207 $241
Oakland to Sarasota $377 $426
Phoenix to Sarasota $427 $447
Washington, D.C. (Dulles), to Sarasota $214 $264

Off-peak fares are based on travel from October 17 to 24, 2006, and peak fares are based on travel from February 20 to 27, 2007. Prices were found on Travelocity’s website and include taxes and fees.

For more information on accommodations and events in Sarasota, refer to the Sarasota CVB’s website.

Next>>Taos

Taos

Taos, New Mexico, is a busy destination year-round. While winter draws skiers and snowboarders, and summer is popular for river rafting, hiking, and strolling through the town’s art galleries, fall is a particularly appealing time to visit. The autumn shoulder season brings eye-popping fall foliage to the Taos Ski Valley, mild weather perfect for outdoor adventure, and an array of seasonal events.

Fall is festival time in Taos. From September 29 through October 16, Taos’ artistic side is highlighted with the Taos Fall Arts Festival, featuring art exhibits from more than 100 local artists, as well as gallery and museum openings, and an arts and crafts fair. Art lovers should also note that admission to the Taos Art Museum is free with the donation of a non-perishable food item in November.

For nearly 1,000 years, Taos has been home to the Pueblo tribe. On September 29 and 30, the tribe hosts San Geronimo Eve vespers and San Geronimo Feast Day, popular events complete with an arts and crafts fair, footraces, and ceremonial pole climbing.

October 6 through 8 is the Taos Mountain Film Festival. Dubbed “the film festival for mountaineers, mountain lovers, and mountain characters,” the festival showcases films that highlight all aspects of mountains. The Wool Festival at Taos, an event featuring all things wool, takes place October 7 and 8 in Kit Carson Park. Late October brings the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, with tethered balloon rides, a balloon parade, and a nighttime balloon glow.

To get to Taos, visitors fly into Albuquerque, then drive the two hours and 15 minutes to Taos (or drive from a neighboring state). Southwest serves Albuquerque and has periodically offered sales, including departures to Albuquerque, throughout the summer. Taos has dozens of B&Bs, some of which offer cheaper fall rates. Other properties keep the same rates year-round, sometimes well under $100 per night, while still others raise prices only around the December holidays. By traveling in Taos’ shoulder season, I found savings of up to $50.

Room type Hotel Off-peak rate Peak rate
Jacuzzi suite American Artists Gallery House $185 (October 23 to December 21, 2006) $205 (December 22, 2006, to January 7, 2007)
Standard room Hotel La Fonda de Taos $119 (May 26 to October 31, 2006) $169 (December 23, 2006, to January 1, 2007)
Studio apartment Dobson House $118 (January 2 to December 22, 2006) $140 (December 23, 2006, to January 1, 2007)

To plan your trip, visit the Taos Vacation Guide website.

Top Fares From

Comments