Obviously “cheap” is a relative term, but these are the cheapest holiday resort areas around the world that also have warm and sunny weather in late December and early January.
Hotel rates listed are current as of August, 2018.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
On Mexico’s Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta remains as one of the country’s tourism jewels. Not only has it avoided the safety problems that a few other resort areas have struggled with in recent years, but it’s also regarded as the most interesting and authentic of Mexico’s resort areas.
The weather during Christmas time is pretty much perfect for anyone wanting to escape the cold, and the large international airport also has good deals on flights from many North American cities as well. Hotels for well under US$100 per night per couple are easy to find, although if you want a well-located chain hotel you’ll be paying at least a bit more.
Cancún/Cozumel/Riviera Maya, Mexico
In case you aren’t aware of all of these, Cancún is the purpose-built resort city on the Yucatán Peninsula facing the Caribbean, and the area just to its south is known as the Riviera Maya, which includes the nearby island of Cozumel. In other words, they are all basically the same travel market, with nearly 1,000 hotels in total, and all served by the huge Cancún Airport with cheap flights from all over.
The weather in late December is predictably perfect with barely a chance of a quick thunderstorm, much less anything worse. With so many hundreds of hotels competing for business, holiday room rates for well under US$100 per night are easy to find. Package deals to Cancún are very popular, and probably the best deal for those who book early. As you can see by the room rates below, there is a huge difference between 3-star and 4-star properties in this area. A 3-star can be just a normal hotel room in the city, while the 4-stars are all wonderful resorts with pools, usually on the beach.
Punta Cana/Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has a reputation for its large all-inclusive hotels at great prices, and its two most popular resort areas are Punta Cana (on the eastern tip) and Puerto Plata (on the northern shore). Each has about 200 hotels to choose from, including dozens of all-inclusive resorts designed to keep you there for your entire stay.
The weather and resort prices are similar in both places in late December, so either one would be a fine choice for someone looking for a cheap and warm place to spend a week. You’ll find that flight+hotel package prices are especially appealing to the DR, and those who book early will usually get the best deals.
Montego Bay/Ocho Rios/Negril, Jamaica
Similar to the greater Cancun area mentioned above, Jamaica has 3 busy resort towns that are all served by the same large airport so they are somewhat interchangeable. Montego Bay has the airport so it’s the easiest to reach, but it has fewer affordable 4-star hotels so Ocho Rios and Negril might be better options if you are interested in that category.
All three towns have a different vibe, so it’s really only the weather and most prices that are similar. Along with the Cancun area and the Dominican Republic, these Jamaican resorts are also known for all-inclusive resorts and appealing package deals. Even during the peak holiday months, it’s possible to lock in an appealing deal if you book early enough.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
While San Juan isn’t among the cheapest places on this list for Christmas, it’s still very good value and it’s a great place for a longer stay during this period. The wide and sandy beaches just next to the historic center are some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and since it’s part of the US, things like shopping and sightseeing are much easier here than in most of the cheaper islands.
Especially if you are going to stay for more than a week, it pays to look into an apartment rental instead of a hotel. There is an abundance of nice apartments in the tourist area that are rented out most of the year. If you are staying for a month, you can get an amazing deal compared to a hotel. San Juan was famously hit hard by storms in 2017, but as of summer 2018 the city is very close to normal again and visitors can help the economy recover.
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Ambergris Caye/Caye Caulker, Belize
Those looking for more of a low-key holiday with no huge chain hotels in sight might prefer the islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, both just off the coast of Belize City. These are both long, thin islands where golf carts serve as taxis and there is little or no pavement in sight. The diving and snorkeling here are some of the best in the world, even if these islands are short on long sandy beaches.
Belize is (more or less) an English-speaking country, and these islands both have a bit of a Rastafarian feel in places, so it’s an interesting mix of culture and convenience. Nearly all 4-star hotels here start over US$200 per night for the holiday weeks, but there are 3-star bargains nearby in addition to holiday villas for rent for those with higher budgets.
Roatán Island, Honduras
Similar in most ways to the islands of Belize mentioned just above, Roatán Island is actually just to their south, so it also sits off the world’s second largest barrier reef. This means there is excellent diving and snorkeling, plus more sandy beaches than you’d get in the Belize islands.
Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country, though especially with the recent influx of cruise-ship crowds here, it’s very easy to get by in English only. There are only about 60 hotels on the island at this point, and holiday rates are still surprisingly reasonable considering what is on offer. Still, booking early is probably wise.
Tamarindo/Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a wide variety of resort towns along both its Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and all of them will be warm and sunny in late December. There are also national parks and volcanos (not always sunny) in the interior, but if your main goal is to relax and be a tourist, the best area is around Tamarindo in the Guanacaste province. There’s even a newer international airport nearby in the main city of Liberia, so finding cheap direct flights is fairly easy.
Most of this northwestern area is new and quite luxurious, so 4-star resorts and rental properties aren’t much cheaper than in Hawaii, but there are still some really good 3-star bargains. Nosara is another small town in the area that doesn’t feel quite so mass-market compared to Tamarindo.
Panama City, Panama
Panama has some very nice beach resort areas with reasonable prices during Christmas, but it also has this large and mostly modern city at its heart, which appeals to a different type of traveler. You might even consider spending some of your stay at a beach and another part of your stay in the city, as both are very good value this time of year and any other.
It helps if you know at least a bit of Spanish, but even those who don’t can find plenty to do here to keep them busy. The city has a few large shopping malls in the tourist area, so it could be a good place to do some Christmas shopping or just hanging around. The restaurant scene here is notoriously good as well.
The entire country of Colombia has been rediscovered by the tourism world in recent years, but the historic beach city of Cartagena has been popular for much longer. Along the country’s Caribbean coast (about the same latitude as northern Costa Rica, by the way), Cartagena is an interesting mix of beach hotels and a gorgeous walled colonial city with plenty to see.
Not only is Cartagena popular with international tourists in the winter months, but domestic Colombian tourists taking their holidays as well. So you won’t be avoiding the crowds here, but at least it’s one of the more affordable sunshine destinations in the region. The 4-star hotels along the beach just west of the historic center are some of the best Christmas season bargains going. Speaking at least a bit of Spanish is helpful.
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