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ON A BUDGET

Even in high season, flee to the tropics for a relaxing price

January 05, 2003|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

Inmany regions of the United States, February is the cruelest month. It is then that Americans flee to Mexico and the Caribbean, where hotels and air fares are priced at their highest rates of the year.

Central and South America are also easy to reach and still reasonably priced in February. Here are some accessible and sunny destinations.

Offshore islands of Honduras: Its banana industry largely destroyed by a recent hurricane and its coffee revenues devastated by worldwide low prices, Honduras is turning to tourism and is actively promoting its inexpensive dive trips from offshore Roatan.

Capricorn Leisure flies you to these extraordinarily clear waters and puts you up at the hillside Half Moon Bay Cabins on Roatan, perfect for nondivers as well. Throughout February, flights depart midweek from American Airlines-served cities, at air-and-land prices of $938 from L.A. or San Francisco for a seven-night trip. Added nights are $32; the supplement for singles is $193. Contact Capricorn Leisure Travel, (800) 426-6544, www.capricorn.net.

Argentina: With no solution yet for the country's economic crisis, the price of an air-and-land package to Buenos Aires is $650 for six nights in February at the centrally located Waldorf Hotel, near the shopping and restaurants of the Galerias Pacifico. The price includes a three-hour tour of the city, a shopping discount booklet and round-trip air from Los Angeles. Additional nights are $17; single supplement is $100. The tour operator is Analie Tours, (800) 811-6027 or (305) 383-0449, www.analietours.com.

Peru: Also from Analie, low-cost trips to Peru offer a one-week immersion in the culture of the Incas. You'll spend two nights in Lima at the Mariel Hotel in the Miraflores district, then fly to the ancient capital of Cuzco for four nights at the Hotel Emperador in the historic district. After touring Cuzco's ruins, you're taken on a full-day tour of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Andes. The package price is $959 from the West Coast. Additional nights are Lima, $22; Cuzco, $25; Machu Picchu, $35. Single supplement: $130.

Brazil: February is the peak of Rio's summer high season, but the poor state of the Brazilian economy and currency makes it a good buy this year.

Marnella Tours, (866) 993-0033, www.marnellatours.com, is offering a price of $858 from Los Angeles or San Francisco for an air-and-land package to Rio. In February you'll pay that to fly midweek on American Airlines, checking in for seven nights at the Trocadero Othon Hotel overlooking Copacabana Beach. Daily breakfast and a half-day Corcovado tour are included. There's a blackout during Carnival season, Feb. 27 to March 6.

Guatemala: You stay in two locations: four nights in Guatemala City at the Biltmore Hotel and one night in the market town of Chichicastenango at the Villa Grande Hotel overlooking the town. There are escorted sightseeing tours to the colonial town of Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the lakeside village of Panajachel, besides a tour of Guatemala City.

Grupo Taca and connecting carriers transport you, and tour operator Sunny Land Tours, (800) 783-7839, www.guatemalahotdeals.com, supplies you with land arrangements, for a total of $749 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Additional nights are $35; single supplement is $150.

Costa Rica: The hottest destination in Central America is easy to reach and reasonable. You spend your first and last nights in the inland capital city of San Jose and five nights at the oceanfront Best Western Jaco Beach Resort, a Pacific Coast base for sportfishing, rafting and other water sports as well as a trip to nearby Manuel Antonio National Park. Your Travel Service, (888) 877-9131, www.yourtravelservice.com, paves the way, flying you from Los Angeles for $769. Additional nights are $25; single supplement is $235.

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