Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Winter Travel Deals: The Grand Canyon and Mexico

November 13, 2009, 8:58 am
Entering the busiest travel weeks of the season, it may come as a surprise that there are a lot of great deals to be found, especially in the few-week period between the peaks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The vast majority of national park visits occur between May and October, so a visit during the slower season will give you a chance to have the park all to yourself.

The Grand Canyon is easily accessible from Salt Lake City, UT, Phoenix, AZ, Las Vegas, NV and Flagstaff, AZ. Horizon Air now offers inexpensive non-stop service to Los Angeles on the company’s quiet, fuel efficient Q400. Horizon is offering a discount of 30 percent on future travel when you fly two roundtrip flights (or four local segments) between now and January 4, 2010. You’ll score a 20 percent roundtrip discount when you fly once (or two local segments) during that period. The discounted travel must take place between January 20 and March 12, 2010, and is good for flights between Flagstaff or Prescott and almost any destination Horizon or Alaska Airlines serves.

The savings continue once you get to the park. At the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, rates drop precipitously compared to peak summer-season rates. Visit Xanterra at grandcanyonlodges.com and choose the Winter Value Rate at Maswik Lodge ($82 per night plus tax at Maswik South, and $105 per night plus tax at Maswik North). The Winter Value Rate is available from November 29, 2009 through March 4, 2010, excluding December 19, 2009, through January 2, 2010, and February 12 through February 14, 2010. The rates are valid for single or double occupancy. The cost for each additional person in the room is $9. Children ages 16 and under stay at no extra charge. Lodge and room type are subject to availability and seasonal closures.

While the winter weather at the Canyon can be harsh, there are plenty of blue bird days to explore the canyon. Temperatures can be 50 degrees less than sweltering summer highs of 106, making the hike into the inner canyon tolerable. Even though it’s cooler in the winter, it’s still extremely arid. The Bright Angel trail begins near Kolb Studio west of the Bright Angel Lodge in the Village and follows switchbacks through the several rock layers to the Indian Garden Campground and Inner Gorge. A detour on the Plateau Point Trail presents a dramatic overlook of the gorge. Near the Colorado River, the River Trail connects the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. The trail, which was improved in 1891 to provide access to mining claims, descends all the way to the river and Phantom Ranch (via the River Trail and North Kaibab Trail). Water is also available on the Bright Angel Trail at the One-and-a-Half-Mile and Three-Mile Resthouses and again at Indian Garden (4.6 miles from the rim). The entire 19-mile round-trip hike descends 4,400 feet and takes most visitors two days. For an excellent day hike, go as far as Indian Garden (4.5 miles from the rim, 6.5 hours round trip). Remember to dress in layers, wear sturdy, comfortable boots and use trekking poles.

If you are already craving longer days and warmer temps, think about heading south the border. Tulum, Mexico, about 1.5 hours south of Cancun offers incredible value during the shoulder season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With non-stop service to more than 20 destinations in the United States (service provided by all major carriers (Delta, Continental, USAirways, United, American, Aeromexico, Mexicana), discount carriers (Frontier, JetBlue, AirTran) and Mexican flagcarriers you can quickly and easily get here from virtually any city in the country.  A recent search many ticket and route options for less than $200 roundtrip (taxes and security fees add approximately another $100). While Tulum known for its white sandy beaches and Mayan temples, it is also birdwatcher’s paradise.

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, located 80 miles south of Cancun, is a 1.3 million acre preserve comprised of tropical forests, savannas, mangroves, lagoons, coral reefs and canals. Home to hundreds of species of birds and land and marine animals, the reserve is best visited on a biologist-escorted day trip. The biosphere serves as a model for sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems and the revenue generated through tours, fishing, accommodations and various on-site activities is used to fund conservation and education programs within the reserve.

The center operates using ecologically responsible technologies, including systems for wetland waste management, rainwater collection, and solar and wind energy generation. The non-profit Amigos de Sian Ka'an (Friends of Sian Ka'an) offers day-long trips that combine hikes, boat rides, and tours of a Mayan ruin through a variety of habitats that comprise the Reserve. More than 345 species reside here, including many endemic species. Caribbean Flamingos, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Roseate Spoonbill, Olive-throated Parakeet, Yellow-lored Parrot, Keel-billed Toucan and many other neotropical and tropical species.

Sian Ka’an is also home to all five of the wild cats found in the peninsula: Margay, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, Jaguar, and the Puma. Other mammals include Tapir, Tamandua, Manatee and Dolphins. Not only that, but Sian Ka'an is also home to 42 species of amphibians and reptiles, including American Crocodiles Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback sea turtles.

Sian Ka’an is also a sportsman paradise. Home to more than 52 species fish, anglers from around the world come here to try their luck for the bonefish, tarpon, permit, jack, and barracuda that flourish in the internationally protected waters of the reserve. Although the primary fishing season is March through August, abundant schools of all species patrol these waters year-round.

Start planning today before word spreads about this hot spot and don’t fear H1N1—based on data provided by the Ministry of Health there haven’t been any reported cases of swine influenza in the tourist destinations in Quintana Roo (the state that includes Cancun, Tulum, Playa Carmen and the Mayan Riviera). Rates for hotels on the beach start at $75 per night (double occupancy) and the dollar still goes quite far in Mexico. For more information, visit hotelstulum.com.