My fellow Americans, you don’t need to shell out thousands of dollars on a trip to Europe or Asia or Australia when there is so much to see in our backyards or just around the corner. $400 could get you anywhere in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and most places in South America. In 2016, I traveled to 20 different U.S. states and took six flights to Central and South America, and I found myself spending significantly less getting there and staying there. Scratch that Paris trip and check out these 17 places instead.
Mexico City, Mexico
No other city has surprised me as much as Mexico City. Expecting a crowded and messy sensory overload akin to Manila or New Delhi, instead I was met with what is one of the most pristine and modern cities I have ever been to. That’s not to say that Mexico City, a massive city of 22 million residents, doesn’t have its fair share of problems, but they are nowhere near the crime-infested, cartel-ridden slum that fear-mongering orange presidents will tell you it is.
I felt safe, I felt welcomed, and I felt in awe almost the entire time. To experience the diversity and vibrance of the Mexican culture, skip Cancun and Cabo and go to Mexico City. From the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan to the colorful boats in Xochimilco, you’ll find at least one or two things that will blow your mind. Mexico City is unlike any other big city I’ve been in because despite its size, it still felt like a warm and welcoming community.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Believe it or not, you can get paid to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands this year. In celebration of their centennial, they are offering $300 to any visitors staying there for at least three days. This can go towards activities like kayaking, rafting, and many other things. Considering that a flight there can be as cheap as $100, it’s well worth your time to visit this beautiful island getaway.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is one of those places that I have a hard time believing is from this planet, let alone in Wyoming. From the powerful geysers to the luminescent hot springs, Yellowstone makes you wonder how anything is real. The lush green forests and vast meadows of America’s most famous national park are home to some incredible wildlife, from bears to elk to many more. With the future of America’s national parks and protected lands being jeopardized under the new administration, I strongly encourage everyone to go out and experience the wonder of our national parks. You might not care about them or understand why they matter, but I guarantee once you find yourself in one, the powerful experience might just change your mind. Yellowstone is a great place to start.
If you can’t make it out there this year, I also encourage you to donate to help preserve them so that future generations can experience the natural wonders of our country.
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
You won’t believe that Rainbow Mountain exists until you actually see it. Just a few hours away from Cusco, Peru it’s a great side adventure for those traveling to see Machu Picchu. Don’t be fooled by the name, the trek to Rainbow Mountain is everything but sunshine and rainbows. With extremely thin air in the high altitudes, combined with battling all sorts of weather on your way to the 16,000 foot high peak, it is a daunting task for anyone who is unprepared. I suffered mightily with the altitude and was sick for a week following the hailstorms, snowstorms, and powerful sun in just a few hours.
Making it to the top will be one of the most breathtaking 360 degree views you will ever see in your life. If you have the opportunity, take it, but be smarter than I was about it.
Unless you’re already in the Midwest, a trip to Chicago seems like an awful lot of trouble to just stay in the U.S. If you’re going to travel within the states, why not go to Vegas or New York or Miami, right? Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world, and its international airports makes it one of the most accessible and cheapest cities to get to. From world class museums and art galleries to the most poppin’ nightlife areas in the midwest, Chicago has something for everyone. From local to widely international, the food scene is unlike any other in the U.S. Catch a game from any one of the Chi’s legendary sports teams, from the world-famous Chicago Bulls to your World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Take a bike ride down Lake Michigan, catch a fireworks show at Navy Pier during the summer, and witness some breathtaking views from the Skydeck.
Banff National Park, Canada
Canada is incredible, and there has never been a better time to go there than 2017. Its plethora of otherworldly national parks are all free to enter this year, including Banff. You’ve probably seen pictures of Banff on every wanderluster’s bucket list, and I can’t blame them at all. I’m making the trip up there this year, and recommend you do as well. A roundtrip flight to Calgary (closest major city to Banff) from most major cities in the U.S. should cost you no more than $300, so why not?
Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Utah is full of amazing National Parks, but few come close to the wonders of Zion. Even just driving through the park brings a feeling of irrelevance when you compare yourself to the towering mountains and canyons. If you really wanted to feel small, take on The Narrows, one of my favorite hikes I have ever done. On the flipside, if you want to feel like you’re on top of the world, take on Angel’s Landing and take in the views of what feels like a different planet at times.
The vibrant city of Medellin ranks among my favorite cities in the world for a number of reasons. The weather is brilliant year-round. The people are the most fun you’ll find anywhere in the world. During the day, you can take in the beauty of the this red city residing along the lush green hills of Colombia. During the night, you can take in a lot of alcohol as you dance the night away to anything from reggaeton to salsa.
Oft-overlooked in favor of the legendary party hubs of Rio and Sao Paulo, Florianopolis offers an alternative destination for travelers of all kinds. From partiers to those looking for a more relaxing beach scene, Floripa has an abundance of attractions. The club scene is world-class, with the top DJs coming from all over the globe to perform at this gem just a little bit south of its more famous cousins Rio and Paulo. Everyone I’ve met who has been to or lives in Floripa has been more passionate about their love of the city than anyone other citizen has been of theirs.
Portland has only recently become a popular destination for travelers, but it is deserved for a variety of reasons. For me, it was easily the abundance of food carts. If you thought Portland was just a quirky fad destination that people would get over, you couldn’t be any more wrong. Portland’s slogan, “Keep Portland Weird”, is still going strong as Portland just continues getting weirder. The Pacific Northwest is arguably the United States’ most beautiful region, and there’s no better home base than Portland. If you wanted the whole world on a plate, look no further. Treat yourself to a lot of food after taking on any of the magnificent hikes around the area.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
It’s not hard to see why this National Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Chile. Ranked as the 5th most beautiful place in the world by National Geographic, this land in the southern area of the Chilean Patagonia contains some iconic views. Getting to this part of the world is easily the most expensive thing on this list, but it might also be the most worthy. Personally, it is one of my definite bucket-list items.
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia is the biggest Salt Flat in the world. With Bolivia’s tourism industry picking up and the infrastructure constantly improving (I think.. I know it can’t really get worse), the time to go to the Salt Flats is this year. Mix it in with a three day tour and you’ll be able to see more unbelievable sights from red and green lagunas to an eerie island of cacti. If you’re lucky enough to go when there’s a little water on the salt flats, you’ll see some incredible sights due to the reflectivity of the area.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina
Unfortunately, I have yet to make it to what is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders. Iguazu is the largest waterfall system in the world and can be found on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is one of South America’s most breathtaking attractions.
Chile is probably the most expensive country to fly to directly from the U.S., but if you mix it within your tour de South America, you won’t have a problem affording to go to Chile. A $300 flight to Lima, $30 bus ride to the Chilean border, and a $50 flight to the capital will get you on your way to a perfect Chilean vacation. Santiago is fantastic, but the magic lies in the coastal city of Valparaiso. The colored houses on the hills are nothing short of magical, and the beaches on the Pacific Ocean make for probably the best use of your vacation days possible.
Since the travel ban has been lifted and the U.S. and Cuba are slowly making their way towards a friendly diplomacy, Cuba has become a popular destination. From the natural scenery all around the island to the extremely vibrant and passionate culture of the Cubans, you’re guaranteed to have a good time here. If you’re worried that maybe you won’t be welcomed as an American, take it easy. Relations among governments are always 10x more amplified than relations between the actual human beings that call each country home. Humans are humans, and at the end of the day, as long as you’re not the one causing trouble, you’ll be bound to have a good time.
This tiny town in the southern part of Peru only has a population of about 100 people, but don’t expect to go here for nightlife or restaurants or anything you’d traditionally expect from a town. Come here to relax by a real desert oasis and then take on the vast desert via dune buggy or sand board. If you’re planning on going to Peru at all, then Huacachina is basically on your way to wherever you’re trying to get to. Just a few hours south of Lima, and a few hours north of Arequipa, it’s worth the stop.
Costa Rica has flown under my radar as a top travel destination, but I am changing that this year. After seeing my friends’ pictures and hearing their stories, I knew I had to go. I chose it over a few other Central American and Caribbean destinations, and am already certain I made the right decision before having even been there. It’s small enough that you can see a lot of the country in just a week, but also diverse enough that you won’t ever be doing the same thing twice.
The biodiversity makes for an amazing vacation for an animal lover, and the options for adventure travelers are limitless. From volcanoes to rainforests and waterfalls, the scenery in Costa Rica is extremely diverse. Despite being a Central American country, Costa Rica also boasts infrastructure, government stability, and modernity that puts it far above our ideas of a more “developed” country.
Did I miss any good spots? Let me know where your favorite places to go in the Americas are in the comments!