I recently spoke at the Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show, a big gathering where people who love to travel meet with tourism industry professionals and experts to get the latest travel tips and advice for vacation planning.
The panel in which I participated was focused on trends in LGBT travel, but since I was asked to name some of the hottest places for travelers in Latin America (which is the area of my specialty, especially on my travel blog, LatinFlyer.com), I came up with a list of must-see places for vacation travel this year -- and the current strength of the U.S. dollar makes nearly all of these destinations an especially good deal. So if you're looking for Latin America vacation inspiration this year, here are some ideas on what should be in your itinerary.
Brazil: This South American nation got a lot of coverage when it hosted the World Cup, and now, Rio de Janeiro is gearing up to host the Olympics. You probably won't get very good vacation deals in Rio during the Olympics, of course, but Brazil's current financial downturn -- coupled with the strong U.S. dollar -- makes Brazil a much more affordable destination than in years past. In addition, the Brazilian government is waiving the visa requirement for U.S. travelers, for dates around the Olympics. That makes it even easier -- and cheaper -- to visit Brazil this year.
Colombia: Cartagena has become one of the hot destinations in Latin America, and with good reason; its historic center is gorgeous, with pristine architecture, stylish hotels and excellent restaurants. The strong U.S. dollar -- as well as the growth in new hotel construction -- has resulted in better vacation deals (as well as for business travelers) in various cities around Colombia, especially in the capital of Bogota, which has lots of cultural allure (as well as great shopping and dining). Now is the perfect time to put together a multi-destination Colombia vacation.
Cuba: The increasingly relaxed relationship between the Cuban and U.S. governments has cast lots of attention on this Caribbean island nation. A lot of people are eager to get to Cuba before McDonald's and Starbucks does. The limited infrastructure, insufficient number of hotels and spotty WiFi service, however, makes Cuba a decidedly less-than-cheap vacation destination. Also, most U.S. travelers still need to join organized Cuba tours, which also aren't cheap. But as regulations continue to evolve and new hotel rooms open up, this dream destination will likely become more affordable. For now, it's a unique and challenging -- but very rewarding -- place to visit.
Mexico: A perennial favorite for North America travelers, thanks to its abundant natural beauty, lovely beaches and fascinating culture, Mexico has lots to offer. But don't limit yourself to an all-inclusive beach experience. Mexico City made The New York Times' list of "52 Places to Go in 2016," and the nation's capital is a hotspot for culture, history, design, cuisine, shopping and nightlife. I've been visiting Mexico City regularly for years, and I never fail to find something new and exciting on every visit. In general, since many hotels are priced in U.S. dollars in Mexico when you buy from the United States, you may not find super-low prices on hotels, but you will find the favorable exchange rate makes for great deals on dining, shopping and local transportation, as the dollar continues to buy more and more pesos.
Panama: This Central American country is a land of firsts: The first modern urban rail system (the Metro), the first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Central or South america, the first creation by famed architect Frank Gehry in Latin America (the BioMuseo). Add to this the expanding Panama Canal and the increasingly hip historic neighborhood called the Casco Antiguo in Panama City, and you've got plenty of reasons to visit Panama. The ridiculously massive growth in new hotels in Panama City -- nearly every major hotel chain is now present -- has also created a downward pressure on room rates, making it easier than ever to get good hotel deals.