Vacation Values HERE ARE ALL THE BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD you can visit for every month of the year -- from Mississippi to Madagascar.
(MONEY Magazine) – JANUARY Salsa and savings. Gold-sand beaches, Spanish colonial heritage and vibrant night life make Puerto Rico one of the best buys in the Caribbean, especially after last year's $700 million Columbus quincentennial spruce-up of the historic island. American Airlines (800-321-2121) offers several five-night package tours from New York City that include hotel and air fare, priced from $519 for each person at San Juan's 225-room Carib Inn to $997 at the glamorous 389-room El San Juan Hotel. Rates are double occupancy. Add $145 from Chicago and $150 from Dallas. Or you can rent a car, explore rain forests and mountains and stay at a few of the 15 government-run paradors. These small hotels, nine to 65 rooms, range from converted mansions on coffee plantations to sometimes spartan guest rooms at village inns. One, Parador Banos de Coamo, is at the site of one of the oldest hot-spring spas in the Western Hemisphere. Parador rates run $38 to $90 for two (for reservations, 800-443-0266; be persistent). Weekends with wolves. Experts from the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn. ( take parties of 15 by plane, dogsled, cross-country skis and snowshoes into the largest U.S. wolf range outside of Alaska to track the timber wolf. Meals and three nights at a rustic lodge run $330 (800-657-3609). Space is limited and the season short. Book in advance. Seychelles seashores. Ten- and 11-day luxury Renaissance cruises (800-525-5350), departing Jan. 3, 14 and 24, will get you to the rare birds and palm-shaded beaches of the Indian Ocean's Seychelles islands. Cruises start at $4,955 plus air fare to Mahe (about $2,000 from the East Coast).
FEBRUARY World-class tour. On Feb. 10, United Airlines (800-538-2929) revives Pan Am's famed round-the-world Flight 1 (westbound) and Flight 2 (eastbound). The basic route -- New York, London, Delhi, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York -- takes about 60 air hours. For $2,241 (coach) to $4,159 (first class with sleeper seats), you can stick to that or add a loop around Europe and the North Pacific. Crossing Vermont. Blanketed in pristine snow, northeast Vermont's picturesque villages and gentle hills are ideal for cross-country skiers. Backroads' (800-245-3874) six-day plan features lodging, breakfasts and dinners at country inns, lessons, an optional downhill day at Stowe, plus a sleigh ride -- for $1,195 (van transfers from the Burlington airport, $50; gear rentals, $35). Another Key. Outside jam-packed Key West, traces of the Hemingway days can be found in lesser-known Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key. The 203-room Cheeca Lodge ($200 to $475; 800-327-2888), with a beach, dive center and $22 (all day) or $12 (half a day) children's camp, often has vacancies on short notice. Or try the 65-room Chesapeake ($125 to $350; 800-338-3395) and 63-room Pelican Cove ($165 to $285; 800-445-4690).
MARCH Space city. Disney designs are housed in the new $70 million Space Center Houston, where NASA programs are recreated: touch moon rocks, tour Mission Control and attempt to land space shuttles. In March, Houston is balmy. Theater, ballet and the symphony are options. For kids, try the new Children's Museum and the Museum of Natural Science. Stay at the 244-room Nassau Bay Hilton ($89 to $129; 800-445-8667) across from the Space Center. Budget Israel. This is the top time to see Israel, when mild days invite exploration but before the Passover and Holy Week crowds arrive. You can keep costs down by staying in guesthouses and hotels on kibbutzim ($54 to $108 for two). Most kibbutzim are secular, and even religious ones welcome visitors. Top choices: the lush Kibbutz E'in Gedi, not far from the Dead Sea Scrolls Caves in Qumran, and scenic Kibbutz La Vi. Israel Hotels (800-552-0141) can book these and four-star city hotels. Laid-back Mojave. Beginning north of Interstate 10, about 70 miles east of L.A., California's Mojave Desert has been carefully preserved. Camp in Joshua Tree National Monument, named for the tall yucca relatives native to the area, or explore the park by day and bunk nearby at the 16-room 29 Palms Inn ($50 to $90 double; 619-367-3505), an offbeat mecca for desert lovers since 1928.
APRIL Cycle the Natchez Trace. Spend six days at the height of magnolia and dogwood season biking the historic route that links Tennessee with the rich Delta country of Mississippi and Louisiana. Beginning in the Confederate Civil War stronghold of Vicksburg, Miss., this gently rolling road takes you along bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River, and then on along to four restored 19th-century plantations, where you stay at night. The $998 (plus $50 for van transfers and $109 bike rental) for this inn-to-inn Backroads (800-462-2848) tour includes breakfast, dinner and some lunches. Mexico's grand canyon. No roads run from the desert city of Chihuahua, home to Pancho Villa, across Mexico's rugged Sierra Madre to the Sea of Cortez. Only a railway can carry you, flying along the edge of sheer cliffs as you wind between these steep peaks past plunging waterfalls until you reach the Canon del Cobre -- the Copper Canyon, wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Tarahumara Indians, famous for long-distance running, winter at the almost tropical bottom of the canyon and summer on its cool upper terraces, much as they did before Columbus. From Chihuahua to the west coast port of Los Mochis, the trip takes 14 hours. Buy a round-trip ticket ($80, plus $5 per stopover) and spend a few days at either end in your choice of several lodges. The 30- room Cabanas Divisidero ($150, including meals) is on the canyon rim and Cerocahui's 30-room Hotel Mision is a converted monastery. Book tickets and hotels with Mexico by Rail (800-228-3225). Dramatic Toronto. After New York and London, Toronto is the biggest theater town in the English-speaking world. Forty stages mount everything from Broadway blockbusters to the avant-garde. Three restored turn-of-the-century theaters -- Pantages, the Royal Alexandra and the Elgin & Winter Garden Theater Center -- have earned raves all by themselves. Stay downtown in the 1882-vintage, 67-room Hotel Selby ($40, with Continental breakfast; 800-387-4788) or the 102-room Clarion Essex Park Hotel ($75 to $125; 800-567-2233).
MAY Golf on the Gulf. Shaded by oaks on the shore of Mobile Bay, Marriott's renovated 1940-vintage, 306-room Grand Hotel blends the Old South with 36 holes of golf, tennis and fishing. Go before the summer turns steamy. (Room rates: $155 to $185; for $245 to $275, you can also get unlimited golf and breakfast; 800-238-1989.) Olympic Peninsula. If you take the scenic half-hour ferry ride ($8.85 for two and a car; 206-464-6400) from Seattle, you'll find the 911-acre Olympic National Park -- a Pacific Northwest microcosm of rocky seashores, snow- crested mountain peaks, roaring salmon streams and Indian fishing villages. Both the pace and prices hark back to a bygone time. Some examples: At Log Cabin Resort (206-928-3325) on Crescent Lake, a large room costs about $75 for two, a chalet with a kitchenette and a sleeping loft, $95 for four; and at Sol Duc Hot Springs (206-327-3583) -- which has three thermal pools and a restaurant with topnotch northwestern cuisine -- a one-room cabin costs $73.
JUNE Oregon Trail anniversary. For the 150th anniversary of the first pioneers to journey to the Northwest, the Oregon Trail Celebration '93 is reenacting an authentic prairie-wagon-train trip over two months on a 1,000-mile trail. It begins June 25 in Border, Idaho and arrives in Oregon City, Ore. on Sept. 4. You can drive the reenactment route, stopping to see preserved wagon ruts, or you can head directly to Oregon, where statewide activities have been in high gear all spring. Be sure to check out the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center in Baker City, which opened last year. For more details and a town-by-town schedule, call 800-252-2290. Sail Nova Scotia. In the historic port of Halifax, the Atlantic Yachting Academy (902-423-7245) offers three-day to two-week programs that are suited for novices as well as sailors of transoceanic levels. Congenial classes, no bigger than four, train on 25- to 35-foot boats. These are ideal for singles as well as for couples. For about $300, sailors with modest bay or lake experience eat and sleep aboard for three days as they learn open-water skills by sailing down the coast past rocky bluffs and old-fashioned lighthouses. On the $290, five-day option, beginners learn to skipper a 25- to 30-foot sailboat within the Halifax Harbor. They bunk and take meals on their own in town. Top picks on shore in Halifax: the 27-room Halliburton House ($79 to $110 double with breakfast; 902-420-0658) and the 32-room Waverley Inn ($65 to $75 double with breakfast; 902-423-9346). Navajo country. Covering a vast area and spreading across northern Arizona into New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, the Navajo Reservation covers more than 26,000 square miles of austere mesas and buttes. Cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, the culture that predated the Navajos, line the walls of Canyon de Chelly. Before the summer family-vacation peak, you can find rooms on short notice. Start at the tribal capital of Window Rock, Ariz., about 150 miles from Albuquerque, and stay at the tribe-run 56-room Navajo Nation Inn ($55; 602-871-4108). Then drive to 72-room Thunderbird Lodge ($80 to $84; 602-674-5841) at Canyon de Chelly, and Goulding's Lodge ($92; 801-727-3231), overlooking Monument Valley in Utah.
JULY Hydra. This is the gleaming, whitewashed Greek fishing village that you dream about. Fourteen miles long by about four miles wide with one of the most scenic harbors on the Aegean, the island has no cars or chain hotels. You get around by foot, donkey or water taxi. Climb the stone steps from the port into another era. Hydra's small, privately owned inns are much in demand. You'll need to book well ahead. This year, Greece is an especially inexpensive destination, thanks to its weak currency. Season rates at the 62-room Hydroussa begin at $80. At 20-room Miranda Guest House, rooms start at $52. Book through the Greek Hotel Reservation Center (800-736-5717). Lesser Caymans. The talcum-powder white beaches and clear, fish-filled turquoise waters of the three Cayman Islands, a mecca for snorkelers and scuba divers, are only about two air hours from Miami or a bit longer from Houston. Sea breezes, moderate summer temperatures of 80 degreesF. Some 90% of the British crown colony's 26,000 inhabitants live on Grand Cayman, the hub of banking and tourism. So head for even clearer waters on less discovered Cayman Brac, with its West Indian ambience and seafaring heritage. Cayman Airways (800-247-2966) has a five-night package at the 58-room Divi Tiara Beach Resort on Cayman Brac for about $1,040 for two, including air fare from Miami.
AUGUST Explore Madagascar. Despite being close to the African mainland and settled $ some 1,200 years ago, Madagascar remains ecologically unique. The world's fourth largest island is the only place to find wild lemurs. On Guerba Expedition's 21-day trek, booked through the Adventure Center (800-227-8747), groups of 13 or so hike through forest, desert and highland wildlife preserves. Except for a few nights in hotels, this is basic camping with participants pitching in. Costs: $1,560 plus $360 for food while camping and $90 for city lunches and dinners. Lake of the Ozarks. Marriott's 919-room Tan-Tar-A Resort (800-238-1989) on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks offers about 30 activities, including 27 holes of golf, six tennis and four racquetball courts, and water sports. Children ages five to 12 learn sports at Camp Tan-Tar-A ($25 for each kid the first day, $20 thereafter). In the evening, for $4 an hour (50 cents an hour for each additional child), kids get to enjoy a supervised playhouse filled with toys and board games while their parents dine. Rates for a family of four are $115 for a room with two double beds, $308 for a two-bedroom suite.
SEPTEMBER Hong Kong on the verge. In 1997, Great Britain returns Hong Kong to China. So the time to see this quintessentially capitalist colony and savor its world- famous cuisine is now. Asia, however, can be exorbitant. To cut costs, book one of the 11 American Express (800-241-1700) packages that include Hong Kong. Example: AmEx's 13-day Noble Capitals (Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong) is about $1,675, with 17 meals, sights and ground transportation. Round-trip air fare from the West Coast: $1,000 or so. Historic Bermuda. More than pink beaches and green golf courses and about two hours air time from New York City, Bermuda is a window into American history, a kind of contrarian 14th colony that stayed loyal to England. Along with the Maritime Museum at the Dockyard and the Bermuda Archives in Hamilton, houses and public buildings preserved by the National Trust bring colonial times to life. You can even stay at the restored 17th-century, 50-room Horizons (800-468-0022) for $272 to $324, with breakfasts and dinners. Biking the rails. The tracks of America's once great railroads have been torn up, but roadbeds remain. Winding through the countryside, often far from busy highways, 519 of them, with a total length of 6,392 miles, have been converted into bike trails, thanks to Rails to Trails Conservancy. Try the 200-mile-long Katy State Trail, which runs beside the Missouri River, following part of the route Lewis and Clark took from St. Charles to Sedalia, Mo. Stay overnight at Marthaville and Rocheport. Or bike Wisconsin's Elroy-Sparta Trail, featuring three exciting tunnels (pack a flashlight). For details, call 202-797-5407. For a list of motels and country inns along the route, call the Missouri (800-877-1234) or Wisconsin (800-432-8747) departments of tourism.
OCTOBER New York's Finger Lakes. While New England's highways become jammed with cars and tourists, the woods around the Finger Lakes in upstate New York are also ablaze with the colors of autumn. But here the pace will be slower, the vistas will be longer and accommodations much easier to find. A bonus: October is the harvest and wine-pressing season for Knapp, Glenora, Wagner, Hermann J. Wiemer and the other premium wineries that surround Cayuga and Seneca lakes. Most have tasting rooms; some feature restaurants. Make your base in Geneva, N.Y., a lakeside town where the early-19th-century industrialists built imposing mansions. Some of these, like Rose Hill, a Greek Revival gem, are open for tours. Stay at Geneva on the Lake (800-343-6382), a 1910-vintage Italian Renaissance villa set amid formal gardens overlooking Seneca Lake, where the 29 suites have kitchens, but the main dining room is the place to eat. The $187 to $363 tariff includes a hearty breakfast. Spain afoot. Mountain Travel-Sobek (800-227-2384) offers three Spanish options: For fit hikers, a 13-day trek through northwest Spain's Picas de Europa will let you sample a side of Iberia few tourists see ($1,775); for experienced hikers game for mountain terrain, a 10-day sojourn across the soaring Pyrenees, in the heart of Basque country ($2,190); for just plain walkers, 14 days in southern La Mancha and Andalucia, drenched in Roman, Moorish and late medieval history ($3,190). On all three, you stay in country inns and eat hearty regional food. Prices cover all costs while there.
NOVEMBER Australia's Whitsunday Islands. Late fall in the U.S. is late spring in Australia, the best season for the 74 islands that lie between the coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef with its mammoth clams and vase sponges, brilliant blue coral and giant tropical fish. Protected as a national park, the 100-mile-long Whitsunday archipelago is virtually uninhabited except by wallabies, gold-crested cockatoos, bright-plumaged lorikeets and such. Only five islands have any sort of development, generally one or two small resorts. The rest are wild woods, clear-water coves and deserted beaches. For an Aussie-style holiday with lots of children's activities, head for South Molle Island (61-79-46-94-33). Seven nights, including meals and activities, cost about $2,000 for a family of four. For a low-key retreat, book one of only six bures (Indonesian-style cottages) that are right on the beach at Palm Bay Hideaway (61-79-46-92-33) -- a week with meals for two runs about $1,500. For luxury, you can also book at the Hayman Island Resort ($245 to $980; 800-366-1300). Ski Banff. If you fly to Calgary, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies and drive west for an hour and a half, you'll find that the snow falls early on the ski slopes of Banff National Park. What's more, November accommodations are often available on short notice at the charmingly eccentric 850-room Banff Springs Hotel (800-828-7447), built in 1888 to resemble a Scottish laird's hunting lodge. The Winter Start Package, $56 per person, includes a lift ticket for each night. These rates also hold for the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, but you ought to book early for those dates.
DECEMBER An English Christmas. The place for a thoroughly British yule, with plum pudding, roast turkey, midnight mass at an Anglican country church and a gift- bearing Father Christmas arriving in a Victorian coach, is, of course, in England. You'll find all that in the three-night holiday package at Lucknam Park, a grand country house near Bath in Wiltshire. All-inclusive prices for two range from $1,100 to $1,600. Book through your travel agent, or call the hotel directly (44-225-742-777). Family or solo holiday. Overseas Adventure Travel (800-221-0814) solves two Christmas holiday dilemmas by offering singles-only and family versions of its most popular trips in late December. Designed for memories, OAT's Serengeti, Costa Rica and Galapagos Family Adventures accommodate kids' short attention spans, physical limitations and special interests. All-inclusive land prices for one- and two-week itineraries range from $1,390 per child to $2,390 per adult. On OAT's Real Affordable Adventures for Singles, you set up your own tent and save on one- and two- week trips to Costa Rica, Tanzania, Nepal and the headwaters of the Amazon. Prices range from $1,175 to $1,990. For the best group rates, have OAT book your air transportation too. Capital break. During the holiday season, the nation's capital decks out public monuments and offers a gala choice of performing arts. Center-city hotels are good buys on weekends. For example, the Hay Adams (800-424-5054) drops from $220 to $175 ($199 for a White House view); the Sheraton Carlton (800-562-5661) cuts prices from $270 to $155.