9 Affordable Shoulder Season Destinations Worth Planning a Trip Around

Escape large crowds – and high prices – in coveted destinations across the globe.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 9, 2016
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 9, 2016, at 3:23 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

9 Affordable Shoulder Season Destinations Worth Planning a Trip Around

Retired couple enjoying a mid-day drive in a pink convertible on a beautiful Autumn day.

Embrace the outdoors this fall at these destinations. (Getty Images)

Labor Day may have come and gone, but if you're dreaming of skipping town for a relaxing getaway, don't give up yet. With pleasant temperatures and lower rates, autumn is an ideal time to snap up stellar deals without battling throngs of tourists. "Less crowds are a big draw for travelers during the shoulder season. You can truly experience a place like a local when there are fewer travelers," explains Andrea Leich, National Geographic Travel's digital director. So, if you're longing to embrace harvest-season traditions, prices and thinner crowds, or jet-set to an exciting far-out locale, head to these off-season destinations this September, October and November – before the winter holiday rush.

The Catskills, New York

If you want a convenient weekend getaway, there's no need to hop on a long flight, Leich says. "The shoulder season is the best time to take road trips because it's a quick and easy way to explore new places," she says. "New Yorkers can drive about two hours to the Hudson Valley where there's a place called The Lake in the Sky, or Lake Mohonk, which is a dazzling wonder at the top of a mountain overlooking the Catskill Mountains," she says. And with a variety of affordable lodging choices, pulling off an inexpensive escape is a cinch. The Inn at Lake Joseph offers rates starting at $210 in October.

Mongolia

To experience vibrant fall foliage in a far-flung location, consider Mongolia. While the Gobi Desert experiences extreme conditions in winter and summer, autumn (from September to October) marks an ideal time to visit, Leich says. "Peak autumn colors display in the verdant forest in northern Mongolia," she adds. You can admire ornate temples in Ulaanbaatar or get off the grid at Three Camel Lodge, a rustic ger (or round tent) camp in the Gobi Desert. Best of all, while getting to Mongolia will cost you, reputable tour outfitters like G Adventures offer all-inclusive tours at a reasonable rate; an eight-day itinerary in September starts at $1,099.

Costa Rica

If you don't mind getting caught in the rain, Costa Rica offers plenty of allures in fall, after the height of the rainy season. You can explore the remote Tortuguero National Park for superior wildlife-watching opportunities, with toucans, white-faced monkeys and jaguars occupying the area, along with green and hawksbill turtles during prime nesting season, explains Bailey Johnson, Lonely Planet's Central America and the Caribbean destination editor. After you trek verdant park trails, you can enjoy thrilling outdoor pursuits such as kayaking or white-water rafting. Best of all, you can take advantage of reduced rates that outfitters like G Adventures offer with inexpensive packages; a 16-day October itinerary starts at $1,444.

Malta

The Mediterranean is a perennial favorite fall retreat thanks to low airfares, reduced room rates and thinner crowds. For a warm-weather escape, Leich highlights Malta as a hidden gem. "The water is turquoise blue, there are lush vineyards, it's only a few hours from Sicily on a ferry and the official languages are both Maltese and English," she says. Aside from its convenience factor (it's just an hour flight from Rome) and pleasant fall temperatures, Malta offers free and low-cost attractions, such as Calypso Cave and St. John's Co-Cathedral along with cost-effective accommodations. The Le Méridien St. Julians Hotel & Spa is offering nightly rates for 157 euros in October.

Oaxaca, Mexico

For the perfect blend of stunning scenery and colonial charm, Oaxaca is an ideal autumn getaway. Vibrant festivals take place in November, Leich says, highlighting Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Oaxaca. "Instead of going to the beaches, you can be part of something that exposes you to new spiritual beliefs and expands your world view," she says. And while September marks the peak of the rainy season, you can secure low-cost accommodations and delight in culinary specialties (like tortillas layered with black bean sauce) without heavy crowds. For a memorable stay, book a room at Quinta Real Oaxaca, which offers rates for less than $150 in September.

Canada

In Canada, there's no shortage of lively festivals, diverse cultural and natural attractions and leaf-peeping opportunities in destinations such as Quebec City and Montreal come fall. "Canada is always a good choice," Johnson says, highlighting that the scenery is incredible and you can score a bargain thanks to the favorable exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. Even better, fewer crowds afford empty flights and hotel rooms, translating to lower airfare and room prices. And if you're an outdoor sports enthusiast but you don't want to pay a pretty penny, Vancouver is another enticing choice thanks to its proximity to Whistler and its large skiing resort and affordable accommodation options through November.

Maui, Hawaii

While Maui attracts visitors year-round with its rare wildlife, captivating cultural traditions and striking beaches, in September and October you can revel in the Aloha State's natural allures without peak-season hotel rates. Though holidays are always popular, "fall is a great season where you might be able to find some bargains," says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com. You can expect idyllic temperatures hovering in the 80s, plus annual events like the Festivals of Aloha, which include live entertainment and traditional hula performances. Budget-friendly hotels, like the Residence Inn Maui Wailea currently offer nightly rates starting at $189 in October.

Curacao

Situated outside the hurricane belt, Curacao and its sister islands – Aruba and Bonaire – are ideal locales for fall travel, Johnson says. With a rich Dutch colonial heritage, picturesque coves and temperatures in the mid-80s, Curacao attracts those seeking sun and splendor. And while you may encounter light rain in the evening, hurricanes tend to dodge the area completely, making it an excellent choice for last-minute travelers, Johnson says. Currently, the Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa, a four-star property, is offering nightly rates for $100 in September.

New Zealand

Home to dramatic fjords and other geological wonders, along with rare species and postcard-worthy landscapes, New Zealand's North and South islands offer enticements all year long. But in autumn (spring in New Zealand), you'll also find pleasant temperatures and reduced airfare and lodging costs. In Auckland, you can't miss exploring attractions like the Sky Tower before taking in outdoor allures, such as Mount Eden, a dormant volcano, or the nearby Rangitoto Island. Travel booking site Kayak currently lists round-trip flights from New York City to Auckland Airport for $1,059 in September. Affordable accommodations are also easy to come by, with deal site goSeek.com currently listing nightly rates at four-star hotels for under $100 in September.

Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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