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Cheep places to visit! Cheap places to visit! Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama


NEW YORK - If there's an economic slowdown in your life, but you're not ready to cut back on vacation time just yet, there are places to go and things to see that give cheer and relaxation without breaking the bank.

From Money magazine, consider these seven destinations where the greenback is worth a lot more than the paper it's printed on.

- Argentina. Why spend thousands in France when you can find the same vibe here? Buenos Aires (a.k.a. the Paris of South America) has embarked on a dramatic turnaround since the 2001 collapse of the Argentine peso - but the place is still amazingly cheap. Chic hotel rooms, nights out dancing and fabulous food and wine cost half what they do across the Atlantic. A huge thick-cut steak dinner is rarely more than $25.

- Bali. With the dollar holding steady against the Indonesian rupiah over the past year, Bali has become one of the best island values in Asia. Luxury bungalows nestled in lush hillsides can be had for $100 to $200 a night. Half-hour massages typically cost less than $15.

- Costa Rica. Incredibly, Americans now have about a third more buying power in this natural wonderland than they did five years ago - a dollar equals around 500 Costa Rican colones today vs. 360 then.

- Mexico. With the peso/dollar exchange rate steady over the past couple of years, Mexico remains a prime bargain destination. The hottest area now is arguably Mexico City, booming with new museums, a historical architectural revival and a vibrant music and arts scene. Entry to the city's huge Museum of Modern Art, where you can see works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, costs just $2.

- Morocco. Though the Moroccan dirham has strengthened a bit against the dollar in the past year, in the ancient cities of Casablanca, Fez and Marrakech many cafe meals still cost less than $5. Classic budget hotels in atmospheric narrow streets, such as the Hotel El Muniria in Tangier, where Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac stayed, cost around $30 a night. Plenty of luxury hotels are available too.

- Panama. This small country boasts mountains, rain forests, 1,500 miles of coast (your pick of the Caribbean or Pacific) and, of course, the magnificent canal, where you can gawk at supertankers being raised and lowered through the locks. Forget exchange rates: Panama's currency, the balboa, is pegged at parity with the U.S. dollar, and the dollar itself is accepted virtually everywhere.

- Vietnam. There's never been a better time to visit one of Asia's most fascinating countries, with pristine beaches and unique crafts. The dollar goes further against the Vietnamese dong than it did three years ago. You may have enough left to splurge on a five-star hotel, such as the new Park Hyatt ($290 a night vs. up to $675 for a comparable room in Chicago).

(c) 2008, Inc.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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