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Affordable Places To Escape The Cold

Jacqueline Detwiler, 11.20.08, 04:45 PM EST

Airlines and hotels in warmer locales are cutting prices to keep the tourists coming.

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Winter in the city is substantially less fun than those scenic television shots of Rockefeller Center's tree and skating rink might lead one to believe. The icy sidewalks, skyscraper wind tunnels and crazed hordes of holiday shoppers can make December almost intolerable.

When average daily temperatures dip far below freezing, it's time to get out of the city. But with the economy struggling, sunbathing on a private beach in Maldives may not be a financially feasible option.

Fortunately, getting warm this winter doesn't have to break the bank. Travelers who stick close to home, select up-and- coming locations and score travel deals from financially ailing resorts and airlines can get out of the cold for an affordable price.

Central America and the Caribbean deliver a major cost-saving advantage, according to Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money Is Worth a Fortune.

"If you're coming from the U.S., you don't have to pay very much to get there, and there's less jet lag, so you can really hit the ground running," he says. Better yet, both regions contain a plethora of lesser-known destinations where the U.S. dollar is especially strong.

In Panama, where economic and political turmoil stifled investment in tourism as recently as the early '90s, chain super-hotels haven't been able to gain the foothold they have elsewhere in Central America--which keeps the area cheaper. Many travel experts are calling Panama the new Costa Rica, and Leffel likens the region to a pre-Ambergris-Caye-rush Belize.

Bocas del Toro, an Atlantic coast Panamanian archipelago, offers "the charm of the Caribbean Islands without the prices," says Leffel.

©AP Photo/Kathryn Cook

Bocas del Toro, Panama

A tiny archipelago hugging Panama's Atlantic coast, Bocas del Toro is known for attracting visitors who love it so much they never leave.

Great Hotel Deals: Tierra Verde Hotel on Carenero Island (ocean view rooms for $75 per night), Punta Caracol (from $215 per person for an overwater bungalow, double occupancy).

In Pictures: Affordable Places To Escape The Cold