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March Break travel: Best sun spots for Canadians

Gail Johnson
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Along with her two young kids, Becky Gibbons is counting the number of sleeps until her family heads to Mexico for a week during spring break.

“We really wanted to go to Hawaii, but we couldn’t afford it,” says the Vancouver mom. “We did some research and found a place in Mazatlan for half the price.”

The family is also flying out of Seattle, which cut their airfare costs by about half, which has become a popular alternative for Canadians living close to the U.S. border who want to save on high taxes, airport and fuel surcharges and security fees.

As Gibbons discovered, Mazatlan is indeed a deal. “Because this destination has made the news more than other Mexican sun destinations in recent years in regard to crime, Mazatlan remains the most affordable destination in Mexico if you can ignore the hype,” says Marlin Travel senior travel consultant Toni Bissett.

Mexico seems to be the go-to place for budget-conscious, sun-seeking travellers. “It’s always provided great value,” says Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ consultant Gloria Meeder, who’s worked in the business for 47 years. She says the Mayan Riviera is her preferred Mexican destination. “The beaches are clean, the people are wonderful, and it’s just gorgeous.” (Travel tip: if you’re open to cruising, the company accepts Aeroplan miles to be put toward cruise vacations.)

Jennifer Deacon, who co-owns Toronto’s Quench Trip Design with fellow trip designer Mercedeh Sanati, adores the Yucatán Peninsula's Isla Holbox, which she describes as “affordable and peaceful”.

“I love Holbox because it’s still a ‘real’ place,” Deacon says. “I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, sadly, but for now it’s still a small fishing community with sand streets, a few little shops, and a couple of great little bars that serve good food--fab ceviche!

“There are no large resorts there but a few charming boutique hotels on the higher end and then some great little places that rent reasonable rooms and self-catering digs of various styles for people who want the independence. As a result it’s not great for lovers of the all-inclusive,” Deacon adds.

But if Mexico’s not your speed, Deacon has other suggestions for people in search of accessible, authentic, sunny getaways.

“Havana is one of Mercedeh’s favourite cities,” Deacon says. “Although the higher-end boutique hotels are starting to creep up in price, the low cost of everything else when you’re there makes it affordable. It’s a great city and cultural destination for people who want a warm weather vacation that’s not all about the beach ... People can easily combine it with a few days at a beach resort if they want.”

“It’s an easy direct flight from Toronto to Bogota, and there are some interesting boutique hotels opening in the cities there,” Deacon says. “Both Bogota and Cartagena have some charming and stylish properties emerging that are good value, plus it’s a great cultural destination," says Deacon.

Colombia is considered an emerging destination like Panama, but is still affordable and rich in culture.

Venice Beach, California
“For a city break, renting a bungalow in Venice Beach is almost unbeatable as a way to stay in one spot and immerse yourself in a cool community while you explore a city,” Deacon says.

So long as you stay away from accomodation right on the boardwalk, Venice Beach will offer a chill, fun vibe, Deacon says.

"Abbot Kinney, the main drag, is a great little strip with good restaurants and interesting galleries and boutiques. You can walk the boardwalk all the way up to Santa Monica just a few kilometres up ... Much of the city is a bit on the tacky side, but there are some true gems there like the Getty Centre and some modern art galleries.”

Austin, Texas
Hitting up a sun spot to escape Canada's harsh winter doesn't mean you need to concentrate on the usual destinations like Florida or the Caribbean.

“Austin is a great spot if you want some warmer weather and you happen to be a music fan," Deacon says. "The arts scene there is cool, and there are plenty of great houses and apartments to rent if you want to just spend a week without having to pay hotel prices. There are plenty of great restaurants there, and nothing really breaks the bank.”