2019 Travelzoo Best Bets: Here's Where Canadians Should Travel Next
This time of year, many publications compile lists of the hottest place to visit in 2019 -- but for Canadians, the destinations on traditional must-see lists can feel impractical or out of reach. After all, we have a weak dollar to consider, and far fewer flight options than our neighbours to the south.
That's why Travelzoo took a different approach. We started by canvassing our Deal Experts in Canada, who have visited a collective 432 different countries. Our shortlist went to a panel of six Travelzoo specialists, who met up multiple times over three weeks to evaluate and debate each destination against a stringent set of six criteria.
We considered transportation routes, vacancy rates, world events, availability of deals and more to develop the 2019 Travelzoo Best Bets list: a forecast of the top six destinations that offer the best experience for the best value to Canadians.
Whether you’re interested in an exotic trip-of-a-lifetime or a quick holiday close to home, these are the destinations that should be on your radar.
In 2018, athletes, commentators and sports fans flooded into Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the Winter Olympics. Viewers around the world were treated to images of the Gangwon Region’s mountainside temples, hot springs, wellness resorts and ski hills. The crowds and cameras are long gone, though – and therein lies the opportunity. For value-minded tourists, the best time to visit any Olympic host city is after the Games are done, and that’s certainly true for this area of South Korea.
In 2019, travelling is easier than ever thanks to new infrastructure put in place for the games. A brand-new train from Seoul, the country’s capital, covers the 90 miles out to the Pyeongchang area’s resorts in about two hours. And now that the crowds have dissipated, those new 4- and 5-star hotels that were built before the Olympics have plenty of rooms going cheap, with prices as low as $70 per night. For even more adventure, combine your Korean trip with a visit to another Asian country; tours including Japan and Korea represent great value.
The exchange rate is also favourable right now, with South Korea’s currency, the won, trading at a nine-month low versus the Canadian dollar.
Canadians don’t have to go to Iceland to chase the northern lights; they’re visible 300 days a year above the skies of northern Manitoba. The world-famous scenery – and its status as the province to see polar bears – have been drawing nature-lovers for years, but they’re far from the only reasons Manitoba made our Best Bets list. Winnipeg’s culinary scene has never been better (look no further than the RAW:almond frozen river fine-dining festival attended by world-famous chefs each winter). Downtown Winnipeg is being reborn thanks to projects like True North Square, a major public plaza which has a 56-jet water feature in summer and a skating rink in winter.
Manitoba’s value proposition is strong now, too. At least four major hotels (including a Residence Inn by Marriott and a Hyatt House) will open in Winnipeg in 2019, and all those extra rooms could bring down prices in Manitoba’s capital. It's much cheaper to fly to Winnipeg than it was, thanks to new low-cost airlines. Swoop has direct flights from Edmonton and Hamilton, plus seasonal flights to Abbotsford. Flair Air flies to the same airports, plus Vancouver and Toronto. In some cases, flying from a small airport can cost less than $50 each way.
No longer a poor Soviet bloc country, Romania has experienced significant economic growth and modernization in recent years. The capital, Bucharest, is on the cusp of explosive tourism growth with emerging culture-rich neighbourhoods, historical sights, an underground art scene and trendy cafes and restaurants.
There’s great value to be had in Romania too, at least until the rest of the world catches on. Luxury hotels can go for $100-120 per night, even during high season in Bucharest. And the Romanian leu has been trading at historical lows with the euro, making this one of the most economical countries to visit in Europe.
Getting there used to be a matter of connecting flights and high costs, but Air Canada will offer new direct flights from multiple departure cities to Bucharest in late 2018. Still not sold? Bundle a trip to Romania with visits to Poland or Hungary for an Eastern European tour.
In the past few years, this destination has gone from adventurous to mainstream. Canadians who once would have looked to Mexico or the Caribbean for their sun holidays are increasingly drawn to Colombia's intriguing culture, reasonable flight times and appealing exchange rate. Another bonus: the combination of beach resorts and must-see cities like colonial Cartagena, which Fodor's called “the Caribbean destination that looks like a Disney movie.”
The country is finally shaking the negative image that plagued it in the '90s and '00s – a fact reflected in the expansion of luxury offerings. In June 2018, the new Hotel Las Ilas in Cartagena became part of the exclusive club of Leading Hotels of the World. Bigger growth is coming soon – Hilton has announced plans for three new hotels, and in 2020, you'll be able to visit Cartagena aboard the Ritz-Carlton's first-ever cruise ships – so now is the time to score deals before the next boom.
The capital city, Bogota, has the best airport in South America (according to Skytrax), and it’s well serviced from Canada (albeit with few direct flights). Air Canada also flies to Cartagena on the country's Caribbean coast. Domestic flights within Colombia are cheap, too; you can fly between Bogota and Medellin or Cartagena for as little as $50 each way with Avianca or LATAM.
It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and the local community has banded together for the last year to rebuild. Now, we can do our part by bringing our tourist dollars to Puerto Rico. Of course, altruism isn’t the only draw. Puerto Rico has exceptional beaches (with more surf and body-surfing options than a lot of Caribbean destinations), waterfalls, rainforests and famously friendly people. There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world and three of them are in Puerto Rico. (Mosquito Bay on Isla de Vieques is the brightest and most consistent version of this phenomenon in the world.) A rich cultural and historical heritage makes this destination suitable even for non-beach lovers.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with U.S. currency, but your dollar will go further in Puerto Rico, at least for now. With recovery still a work in progress, beachfront hotels, resorts and B&Bs have lowered prices to bring in more tourists. Insurance payouts mean that older hotels will, in many cases, be newly renovated since the hurricane. (The Caribe Hilton, for example, is undergoing a $100 million renovation before it reopens at the end of 2018.) Plus, the larger tourism industry is making an effort to help out Puerto Rico, which can translate to more affordable flights, packages and cruises.
Need another incentive to go? Lin-Manuel Miranda is reprising his role as Alexander Hamilton in January at the University of Puerto Rico to raise money for hurricane relief efforts, making Puerto Rico one of the only places to see “Hamilton” without a multi-year wait list!
Canadians have never needed much convincing to go to Ireland, but for those who do need a nudge, here’s why it’s on our list for 2019. Travelzoo has seen an increase in affordable tour offerings that take in all of Ireland: southern highlights like Dublin and Galway as well as the rugged countryside and castles of Northern Ireland. Both self-driving trips and fully escorted trips represent terrific value, especially in the winter months. With the arrival of discount airlines, flights from Canada are newly affordable too -- especially if you’re willing to stop over at a hub in, say, Reykjavik (with WOW air) or Amsterdam (with KLM).
Northern Ireland is particularly appealing in 2019 (not least because the British pound has been depressed by Brexit). The capital, Belfast, has seen the number of hotel rooms increase by 47% in 2018, and another four hotels are expected to open in 2019. (Remember: More rooms typically lead to lower rates, especially in the low season.) The niche traveller will find a lot to love here, like the Titanic Hotel Belfast (a luxury hotel with shipbuilding focus) and the soon-to-open George Best Hotel (named for the famed Belfast soccer star, with a sporting theme). "Game of Thrones" tourism is an even bigger draw. Much of the beloved series was filmed in Northern Ireland, and with "Game of Thrones" ending, HBO is turning the filming sites into tourist attractions. Adding Belfast to your trip is easy; the city is a two-hour drive from Dublin and a cheap flight from London on discount lines like Flybe. (For deals, check out Travelzoo's offerings in Ireland.)
Eager to visit any of these destinations? Find terrific flight deals at Travelzoo.com