Creative Commons/Jedda Villa B
(REUTERS) - Here's a nice surprise: The dollar isn't quite the disaster it has been for the last few vacation seasons. Even Europe might be on sale for those holding greenbacks, as economic troubles in Greece and Spain have pushed down the value of the euro.
In May 2011, a dollar bought only 0.68 euros; today, it's at 0.78 and rising. So pack your money into a suitcase, and take it abroad this summer.
Here are five countries where the dollar is stretching especially well this year. Some are bargains, and there should be something to suit just about any vacation style.
San Juan del Sur (creative commons/postdemocracy)
For a beach vacation with a little more character and authenticity than your typical Caribbean all-inclusive, head to San Juan del Sur, a quaint beach town on the southwest coast known for its laid-back beaches, brightly colored buildings and sea turtle sanctuaries. The currency has crept down more than 4 percent in the last year to about 23 cordobas to the dollar, so staying here is an even better value than usual.
Where to stay: Rent a two- to three-bedroom house on the beach for $850 or so per week, based on listings on Homeaway.com and VRBO.com. A room at a boutique resort with yoga, pools, ocean views and a spa can be had for $180 per night.
What to eat: A seafood platter for two with lobster, squid, octopus, clams, shrimp and sides can be had for about $25, says a representative from the Nicaragua Tourist Board. Washing it down with a local beer will only set you back another $3 or so.
What to do: A surfboard rental and lesson will cost approximately $35, according to Ryan Croft. Go deep-sea fishing for about $16. If you're in relaxation mode, a one-hour massage in town costs about $40.
(creative commons/stuck in customs)
Americans have been flocking to sophisticated Buenos Aires for a few years now. But with the Argentine peso down 10 percent since last May, the values are even better.
Where to stay: Book a sleek room at a boutique hotel in the Palermo district, known for its cafés and nightlife, for no more than $200 per night. A room at 5-star hotel fit for Eva Perón can cost well under $500.
What to eat: Enjoy a parilla, which features cuts of Argentina's famous steak with side dishes, for $30 to $35 per person, including a bottle of red from Mendoza.
What to do: Admission to a tango club with a lesson starts at less than $10 (plus drinks). Do some shopping while you're in town. Bargain-hunters will find well-made men's leather belts for $35 and stylish women's leather tote bags starting at $135.
Blue Lagoon, outside of Reykjavik, Iceland (REUTERS)
Iceland will never be a bargain destination. But financial troubles and a falling currency (down 9 percent from last year to about 126 kroner to the dollar) have turned it from a pricey splurge to a remarkable value relative to the rest of Nordic Europe.
Where to stay: A room at one the best hotels in the center of Reykjavik will run $250 to $350, or less if you catch a sale, according to recent listings on Expedia.
What to eat: Indulge in an upscale sushi dinner (featuring local fish) or haute interpretations of indigenous ingredients like lamb for $20 to $30 an entrée. Alcohol is still pricey in restaurants, but a beer can be had for $5 to $7 in the many lively bars Reykjavik is known for. (Look for late-night happy hour specials.)
What to do: A day tour outside Reykjavik that includes a visit to Thingvellir national park and Gulfloss waterfall runs about $75. Spend the day lounging at the famous Blue Lagoon thermal baths for $45. For $65, you can get the use of a bathrobe, a drink and face mask at the Lagoon Bar.
Krakow, Poland (creative commons/barnyz)
The dollar has risen against the Polish zloty by more than 20 percent in the last year to 3.36 zloty to the dollar. You can visit a charming old-world city like Krakow and pay what could seem like wallet-friendly old-world prices.
Where to stay: Live like royalty in room at one of the city's top hotels for about $175, according to Expedia.
What to eat: Entrees top out at about $15 (a real splurge) at restaurants known for the homemade polish specialties such as roast venison with wild mushrooms. A local beer is less than $3.
What to do: See a portion of the splendidly preserved Wawel castle for $6. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art for $3; a guided tour is approximately $24.
5. LOMBOK, INDONESIA
Lombok, Indonesia (creative commons/jedda villa bali)
Bargains are getting harder to find in Bali since readers of Eat Pray Love began flocking to it. But they still abound in Lombok, a more laid-back island with great beaches and good sightseeing and shopping. And it's only a 25-minute flight from Bali.
Where to stay: Kick back at a 4-star resort on Senggigi beach for less than $100.
What to eat: Barbecued fish and satays at local market stalls will cost a few dollars. Look at about $25 per person for upscale drinks and dinner.
What to do: Hire a boat to take you to the Gili Islands for a day of snorkeling for about $10 per person (plus lunch). Hire a car and driver for a day of sightseeing for $45. Be sure to stop in the craft villages for handmade blankets, baskets and pottery far more unique than what you'll see at Pier 1 and at a small fraction of the cost.