Alternative spring break destinations you should check out that are often overlooked

Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda and the Bahamas are all fine suggestions for spring break travel destinations – if your travel agent is a member of The Beach Boys.

But with popular places like these there’s a good chance travellers will be dealing with a list of issues like inflated hotel prices, overbooked flights and overcrowded beaches. Neither of those scenarios sounds like anyone’s idea of a great spring break.

READ MORE: 6 unique Airbnb listings around the world

Recently, travel website Kayak released a list of the 2017 spring break season hot spots Canadians are eyeing for their March break getaways. The list reveals the No. 1 most searched destinations online according to each province.

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(There wasn’t enough data for Canada’s three territories)

And while these destinations would make for a great travelling experience at any other time of the year, who really wants to fight for sand space?

But unlike years past when spring break was just for singles and college students, it’s mostly families who are looking to get away this time around.

“Most are travelling with their families ,” says travel expert Claire Newell. “They are most often looking for some sunshine, a place they can get to easily and somewhere that provides them good value for their money.”

Whether you’re travelling with your family or with friends, Newell has some suggestions for Canadians to consider this spring break. Using Kayak’s list, Newell serves up alternative destinations for each of the most popularly searched spots that offer similar experiences but are more budget-friendly and often overlooked.

People walking on Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia.

People walking on Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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1. Switch Auckland, New Zealand for Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Auckland’s percentage growth in online searches: 203 per cent

Why you should go to Vancouver Island: If adventure and the rugged outdoors are what you’re looking for, Newell suggests exploring what’s in your own backyard and visiting the west coast and Vancouver Island.

“B.C.’s west coast offers a lot and is very similar to Auckland,” says Newell. “Auckland is expensive to get to and is a really far flight, but with Canada’s 150th people are encouraged to enjoy our own country.”

With tall forests, beautiful beaches and breathtaking coastlines, there are plenty of trails for hiking and exploring to do.

Don’t forget the more extreme activities for the professionals adventurers out there, like ziplining, mountain biking and rock climbing.

For those wanting to take it easy, there are plenty of activities that may be more your speed as well, like golfing, cave exploring and visiting local ranches and heritage sites.

Sunbed and palm trees on a beach in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Sunbed and palm trees on a beach in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

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2. Switch San Juan, Puerto Rico for Jamaica, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands or St. Martin in the Leeward Islands

San Juan’s percentage growth in online searches: 149 per cent

Why you should go to Jamaica, St. Thomas and St. Martin: “I find San Juan is very similar to a lot of other Caribbean islands but it’s not serviced from Canada by a lot of the charter airlines,” Newells says. “But there are a number of other Caribbean destinations that are serviced by airlines like Air Transat, Sunwing and West Jet Vacations.”

Newell suggests trying destinations like Saint Martin, Saint Thomas and Jamaica, especially if you’re looking for affordability.

“They’re all mainly known for their beaches,” she says. “A lot of them have the all-inclusive options, which a lot of Canadians really love. They also have a range of accommodations outside of all-inclusive resorts like AirBnb options, high-end boutique hotels and mainstream American-owned hotels.”

According to the St. Martin’s tourism website, the island is well-known for its water-based tourism with activities like snorkeling and water sports.

The island of St. Thomas is only 32 square miles in size but has a lot to offer. There’s plenty to do like shopping, snorkeling, sightseeing and experiencing the nightlife, St. Thomas’ tourism website says.

Jamaica is known for a lot of things – among them its beaches, music and nightlife. But there’s also something for adventurers to do as well, like climbing Blue Mountain Peak, according to Lonely Planet.

The Cathedral of Granada in Granada, Nicaragua.

The Cathedral of Granada in Granada, Nicaragua.

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3. Switch San José, Costa Rica for Nicaragua

San José’s percentage growth in online searches: 112 per cent

Why you should go to Nicaragua: According to Newell, Costa Rica is a place known for its eco-tourism.

However, there’s another destination close by that is similar but often gets overlooked: Nicaragua in Central America.

“There’s a lot to do, plenty of beaches and great eco-tourism,” Newell says. “It’s not quite as sophisticated and polished as Costa Rica but the scenery is so similar. You’re seeing the rugged terrains, the jungles, beaches… but your money goes twice as far in Nicaragua.”

This place especially appeals to millennials, Newell says, and is still undiscovered by many people.

Top spots to check out are the city of Granada, Little Corn Island and Isla de Ometepe – an island formed by two volcanic peaks – according to Lonely Planet.

vintage cars driving by the Great Theatre in Havana, Cuba.

vintage cars driving by the Great Theatre in Havana, Cuba.

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4. Switch Havana, Cuba for Havana, Cuba

Havana’s percentage growth in online searches: 816 per cent

Why you should go Havana: That’s right — you should still go, Newell says. Why? Because there really isn’t anything out there that compares to Havana, in Newell’s opinion.

“It’s No. 1 for many reasons,” says Newell. “Cuba has some of the best beaches in the world. It’s safe and pretty easy to get to in almost every major city across the country.”

However Newell asks that Canadians keep a few things in mind when it comes to Cuba.

“The one thing I would caution people about Cuba that it is still nowhere near the level of service and food options that you would expect in a nice resort in another hot spot,” Newell says. “Havana does the best with what they have, like with their food and spices. People often complain the food is bland and not quite as good. So just keep that in mind.”

Newell also suggests to make the trip before the U.S. opens the borders completely because by that time, the island may change forever to accommodate its influx of tourism.

View of downtown Montreal taken from Mount Royal at night.

View of downtown Montreal taken from Mount Royal at night.

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5. Switch Toronto, Ontario for Niagara Falls, Ontario or Montreal, Quebec

Toronto’s percentage growth in online searches: five per cent

Why you should go to Niagara Falls and Montreal: While Toronto is a great city with lots to offer, Newell suggests exploring the surrounding areas instead.

“If you’re on the east coast and you don’t want to get too far away from home then there are a lot of great places like Montreal or Niagara Falls if you’re thinking of staycations or short getaways,” Newell says. “Even if you’re coming in from the west coast, I’d still say you should explore the surrounding areas as well.”

Hiking the Bruce Trail, ziplining, treetop trekking and air adventure in Norfolk County; rock climbing, caving and bouldering in the Niagara region are just a few activities Ontariotravel.net suggests.

For Montreal, visit the Biodome, Mount Royal and the Montreal Museum of Fine arts during the day and then go out at night to enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife.

Beach with palm trees in the Florida Keys which a string of islands located south of Florida's mainland.

Beach with palm trees in the Florida Keys which a string of islands located south of Florida's mainland.

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6. Switch Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the Florida Keys or Daytona Beach, Florida

Fort Lauderdale’s percentage growth in online searches: 77 per cent

Why you should go to the Florida Keys or Daytona Beach: “In Florida, Fort Lauderdale and Miami and the two most expensive places to visit,” says Newell. “If you are looking for a beach then I can list you so many places around Florida like Daytona, Fort Myers, Pensacola, Clear Water, Florida Keys, the list goes on.”

There are also plenty of flights to Florida, especially to the east coast so there’s plenty of flexibility and choice, Newell says.

But make sure to do your homework before choosing your alternative spot. If you’re not into the party scene, then perhaps Daytona may not be the choice for you.

It doesn’t matter what beach town you decide to stay in, almost all of them have easy access to some of the nearby Disney and Universal theme parks, Newell says.

There’s also plenty to do for the nature and adventure enthusiasts like swimming with manatees in Fort Myers as well as plenty of hiking and biking trails, according to the Florida tourism website.

View of the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, overlooking the aqua blue water of the Caribbean Sea.

View of the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, overlooking the aqua blue water of the Caribbean Sea.

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7. Switch Cancun, Mexico for other cities along the Mayan Riviera

Cancun’s percentage growth in online searches: 92 per cent

Why you should go along the Mayan Riviera: If you want the white sand beaches and the Caribbean-blue water then Cancun is a place for you – but so is the rest of the Mayan Riviera stretch, Newell says.

“For anyone who is looking for that area don’t just target Cancun because you’ll often find you’ll get better deals down ,” she says. “There’s so much choice in the number of hotels, resorts, all-inclusive resorts, beach front and off beach front. It really is a beautiful part of the world to go to.”

The Mayan Riviera also offers plenty to do off the beach. According to Mexico’s tourism website, you can explore the ancient city of Coba – which is hidden among a dense rain forest – as well as go shopping, golf and take part in the local nightlife.

If you’re looking to really get away from the party scene though, Newell suggests also looking for resorts that are on the west coast of Mexico, like in Ixtapa and Huatulco. They’re both inexpensive and are almost guaranteed to have perfect weather.

The famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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8. Switch Los Angeles, California for Las Vegas, Nevada

Los Angeles’ percentage growth in online searches: 80 per cent

Why you should go to Las Vegas: Sure Las Vegas is best known for its casinos, but the city has grown to be so much more than that.

“If you’re looking for a cool city stay with lots of entertainment and maybe some sporting events and great restaurants and shopping, an alternative is Las Vegas,” Newell says. “It’s easy to get to, there are always charter flights going there, there are so many accommodation choices and the packages for three or four nights are super cheap.”

Despite what parents believe, Las Vegas can actually be a great place for spring break with the family.

“There’s a lot to do in Vegas with kids,” she says. “The M&M factory, there’s an aquarium, all of the shows – like the water show at the Bellagio – and you can go see the tigers in the Mirage and there’s an amusement park inside Circus Circus. Don’t rule it out.”

Vegas also offers plenty to do outside of the strip. Taking a helicopter tour around the city or to the Grand Canyon, visiting the Neon Museum (a graveyard of old world-famous signs) and the Hoover Dam are just some suggestions.

A sunset sets over a south Maui beach in Hawaii.

A sunset sets over a south Maui beach in Hawaii.

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9. Switch Maui, Hawaii for Maui, Hawaii

Percentage growth in online searches: 233 per cent

Why you should go to Maui: Why you should go to Maui: Some places are just worth visiting no matter what, like Maui for example, Newell says.

“There’s no place quite like it and it’s really beautiful,” she says. “It’s growing but it’s still very expensive, especially over peak times. Compared to other islands though, Maui is quite sleepy and nothing really happens past 9 p.m.”

Maui is considered both a romantic hot spot for couples and is often a first choice for honeymooners, Newell says. However, families get a lot out of the experience as well.

“I don’t think there is anything nicer than watching your kids playing on the beach,” she says.

Newell recommends people take advantage of the various water activities, especially the whale-watching and snorkeling.

A resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico beside Finesterra Rock.

A resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico beside Finesterra Rock.

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10. Switch Honolulu, Hawaii for Los Cabos, Mexico

Honolulu’s percentage growth in online searches: 144 per cent

Why you should go to Los Cabos: What people don’t often realize with Honolulu is that although it does have great beaches, it is also a large city, Newell says.

“If you’re looking for a resort destination, Honolulu is not going to be the best bang for your buck and there are no all-inclusive options there,” she says.

Newell says that if travellers are looking for beachfront resorts they should stick to the Mexican coast and Caribbean destinations.

As for affordability, your Canadian dollar will go a lot further than it would in the U.S. at the moment.

“The first place that comes to mind is Los Cabos in Mexico,” Newell says. “You can stay in Cabo San Lucas, which is the bigger and more populated area. The other side is San José del Cabo where it’s a little quieter. It’s a beautiful little town that is known for its artists.”

Graphics by Ben Simpson

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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