5 Can’t-Miss Off-Season Summer Destinations

Zig when the masses are zagging

Jul 11, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
5 Can’t-Miss Off-Season Summer Destinations

New Zealand in the off season is still New Zealand.    Photo: Tobias Keller/Unsplash

You could go to Europe this summer, overpay for plane tickets and stand in line for three hours waiting to get into the Louvre so you can see the Mona Lisa and say, “Kinda small, isn’t it?” Another option? Pick a destination that doesn’t get inundated with tourists during the summer. Traveling off-season allows you to hit iconic destinations at a fraction of the cost. We picked five destinations where, if you’re willing to put up with the weather you can have big, crowd-free adventure.

New Zealand 

Our summer is their winter, so their low tourist season hits exactly when you need a vacation most: June through August. Yes, it’s colder and yes, it’s going to rain. But it’s going to rain in New Zealand no matter what time of the year you visit. And between June and August, the country becomes surprisingly affordable.

The most expensive part of a trip to New Zealand is airfare. You’re looking at a minimum of $1,500 for a round trip ticket if you’re traveling during November through March, and that’s if you book six months in advance. United flies nonstop from a dozen cities in the U.S. and has summer deals starting at $900 round trip. 

Once you’re there, you’re going to want to rent a camper van and put in some miles so you can see the best the country has to offer. We found vans you could rent starting at $23 a day during June, which is half the cost of the same van in December. 

Not into living the #vanlife? Head to wine country along the Matakana Coast, north of Auckland, and stay at the five star Takatu Lodge and Vineyard with winter rates that are $200 cheaper a night than summer rates, with breakfast included. Winter rates at the Magic Cottages on the Takou River (think luxury tree houses with outdoor soaking tubs) are cut in half during winter. 

A couple of things to remember: some lodges shut down from June through August because of a lack of demand, and New Zealanders take most of July off from school for winter break, so prices typically spike during that month, particularly at the ski resorts near Queenstown. 

Bonaire 

The Caribbean practically guarantees sun and balmy weather during winter months, but the summer can be more of a gamble, weather wise. We’re talking, of course, about hurricanes, which have been known to wreak havoc on the tropical islands from June through November. But you can’t deny the savings of an off-season Caribbean adventure. Flights are cheaper and hotels slash their nightly rates. Plus, you’ll have the beaches practically to yourself. The trick to traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season is to look at the southernmost islands, which lie below the “hurricane belt.” Specifically, you should be looking to Bonaire, which is the most adventurous of the “ABC Islands” (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). More than 20 percent of Bonaire’s land—and 100 percent of its water—is protected as national parkland, turning the small island into a playground of outdoor sports. It’s one of the best diving destinations in the Caribbean, has limestone cliffs for cragging, more than 200 caves for exploration, and ideal conditions for kite surfing. 

Getting to Bonaire is relatively easy. Delta flies direct from Atlanta, and United flies from Newark and Houston, or you can catch a plane from Aruba. United cuts their ticket prices for certain flights to Bonaire by 25 percent between May and August. Guide companies and hotels have discounted rates during the summer and fall because of low traffic, cutting prices by 30% in most cases. We found a seven night package at Eden Beach Resort that includes six days of unlimited shore diving and truck rental for $910 a person. 

South Africa 

Searching for elephants and lions in the bush of South Africa is probably on your life list. If it’s not, you should revise your life list. If you’re loaded, feel free to take that African safari anytime. The rest of us should aim for the sweet spot—May to September, which is winter in South Africa 

Let’s get something straight—there’s no such thing as a “cheap safari” in South Africa. And if there is, you probably don’t want to go with that company. But during June, July and August, when the weather is at its coldest and the tourists are few and far between, wilderness lodges drop their nightly rates by 40 percent and guide services offer safaris on the (relative) cheap. 

We found packages with the well-respected Kensington Tours that were cut by $900 per couple between the months of April and the end of September. And eight-day packages from Adventures in Africa drop $500 per person during their austral winter.   

Bonus: winter is also the dry season, so while it might be chilly at night, the animals will be gathering around the water sources more frequently, giving you a better shot at seeing the most prized animals. Also, since there’s less foliage on the trees and the grass is shorter, it’s easier to see those life-list beasts. 

Puerto Vallarta 

It’s safe to say nobody in the U.S. had heard of Puerto Vallarta before John Huston filmed The Night of the Iguana with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton near the Mexican beach town in the mid ‘60s. Today, the word about Puerto Vallarta’s charm is out. The city, which has a Mediterranean feel to it, sits in a rocky bay along the Pacific Coast of Baja, surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains. You have options that vary from strolling the city’s boardwalk and sipping tequila, to swimming through caves on the nearby Marietta Islands. And yeah, it’s a popular destination during peak season (winter), but June through August, the crowds dwindle and the prices drop significantly. Also, the city is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as of late. In 2015, five new high-end hotels opened their doors, and a recent agreement between the U.S. and Mexico has increased direct flights into the city.  

Our summer is Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season, and the area had a legitimate hurricane scare last summer. But hurricanes actually making landfall in Puerto Vallarta are rare, and it doesn’t rain all the time. Think of it more as the afternoon thunderstorms you’d experience during the summer in Colorado. 

Villa Premiere is a beachfront, boutique hotel at the entrance of Puerto Vallarta. In winter, you can expect to pay almost $400 a night for a room. But rates start around $195 in June, July and August. Even more impressive—Casa Kimberly is a new hotel carved out of the former vacation homes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. You can stay in the Elizabeth Taylor suite for $550 a night from June to October. In December and January, those rates jump to $1,125 a night, with a five-night minimum. 

Lake Tahoe

You know ski resorts are cheaper during the summer because, well, there’s no snow. But not all ski resorts are worthwhile summer destinations. Some of them feel like ghost towns with a couple of downhill mountain bike trails. But when the temperature rises and the snow melts, Tahoe transforms from a ski town to a veritable beach town thanks to the namesake 191 square mile lake. The mountain biking surrounding the lake is just as good as the skiing, the nightlife continues to thrive, and the paddling on the lake is some of the most scenic in the country. A new free bike park, free live music every night, and crazy good food and booze deals make summer the ideal time to hit Tahoe on the cheap. 

If you’re looking for the deepest discounts during summer, head to Tahoe during the week, when hotels drop their nightly rates by 25 percent to 40 percent. June and August typically render the best lodging deals. A king room at Heavenly’s Deerfield Lodge, which sits on the shore of Lake Tahoe, costs $135 midweek during summer, but runs for $240 and up midweek during winter. Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel has two-room suites at a $40 a night discount. Look for June and August getaway specials starting at $89 a night as well. And all summer guests to Lake Tahoe Resort get free access to the Round Hill Pines Beach.  

And lodging deals are just the beginning. Tahoe’s summer happy hour deals are ridiculous. Wear a Hawaiian shirt to Cold Water Brewery on Friday and you get any CW beer for $4. The popular Blue Angel Café has food and cocktail deals every night of the week throughout summer, ranging from $5 Moscow Mules to $2 chicken tacos. 

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