National Congress building, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Anthony Cassidy  /  Corbis
Argentina is a relative bargain and Buenos Aires is the best substitute for a visit to a European city.
By Tim Leffel Travel columnist
updated 9/3/2008 4:10:58 PM ET 2008-09-03T20:10:58

From Germany to Australia and Brazil to Canada, the once-mighty greenback has been in a downward spiral for years.

Fortunately, there are still safe havens out there — countries where our currency and the host country’s currency move in lockstep. In two cases, our dollars are the actual currency, so you don’t even have to visit an exchange booth. Here are five destinations where your costs should be stable no matter when you arrive.

Panama
Panama has been using the U.S. dollar as its own for more than 100 years. As I noted in this longer article about travel in Panama, prices are lower here than in neighboring Costa Rica, but many of the reasons for visiting are similar. If you’re a birdwatcher, a wildlife buff, an adventure traveler, or someone who loves to sail and go island hopping, Panama will keep you occupied for weeks.

Ecuador
Ecuador also uses the dollar as its own currency. The land best known as the home of the Galapagos Islands has a lot more to offer, with the Andes Mountains, thick rainforest jungle, and some bargain-priced beach resorts. Ecuador gets its name from the equator passing through, but much of it is not all that hot because of altitude: this is the one spot where you can find snow on the equator-on Volcán Cayambe at nearly 19,000 feet. The historic center of capital city Quito has gotten a major makeover in the past few years and is also worth a visit.

Belize
The exchange rate with Belize never budges much beyond a range of 1.97 to 2.05. In other words, it’s 2 Belize dollars for every 1 American dollar, give or take a couple pennies. You don’t have to take a time machine to get a lot for your dollars here, whether you want to scuba dive, snorkel, sail, lie on a beach, or explore the jungle interior.

Caribbean and Atlantic Islands
As many cruise ship passengers have learned, there are several Caribbean islands and clusters of islands that peg their currency to the greenback. Barbados’ currency trades at a stable 2 to 1 with the dollar, while in the Bahamas or Bermuda you can use their dollars or your own—the value is the same. The exchange rate is stable in Turks & Caicos and the British Virgin Islands, and of course the U.S. dollar is the principal currency in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This doesn’t mean you’ll find bargains galore in all these locations, but you can feel secure that prices won’t suddenly rise because of an exchange rate change.

Argentina
This is an example that may not stand the test of time, but since 2003 the Argentine currency has moved in a narrow range of around 3 pesos to 1 U.S. dollar. Before the massive economic crisis that hit the country at the beginning of the decade, it was 1 to 1 and it’s certainly possible things will change again in the future. For now though, even though inflation is high and prices aren’t as low as they were a few years ago, Argentina is a relative bargain and Buenos Aires is the best substitute for a visit to a European city.

All of the above destinations are in this hemisphere, places where you can frequently find reasonable flight or package deals and you won’t have to worry about jet lag. If you want to go further, Hong Kong, Guam, Saipan, Jordan, and Dubai all have currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Of course, it’s important to look at the full range of actual costs for what you are planning to do. Belize is less expensive than most islands in the Caribbean, while Panama and Ecuador are true bargains when it comes to food and transportation. Rises in fuel and grain prices are driving up costs everywhere around the world though, wherever you are heading, so always assume prices you’ve read about will probably be higher when you arrive.

But if you’re going to an inexpensive place that’s already a good deal, such as these and other greenback deals around the world, it’s much easier to budget and live large without breaking the bank.

If you live in Europe and have been getting paid in euros, forget all of this advice and go anywhere: your currency is at the top of the heap right now. Take advantage of it! As we Americans have painfully found, good times don’t last forever.

Tim Leffel is author of the books "Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune" and "The World's Cheapest Destinations". He also edits the award-winning narrative Web 'zine Perceptive Travel.

Photos: Tango time

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  1. The heart of the city

    The Obelisk is a modern monument placed at the heart of Buenos Aires. It was built in May 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first founding of the city. (Dennis Degnan / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passion dance

    Two tango dancers perform in Calle Caminito, a street in La Boca district of Buenos Aires famous for this passionate dance. (Sergio Pitamitz / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Color block

    Colorful buildings are hard to miss on Caminito Street in Buenos Aires. (Sergio Pitamitz / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A place in the sun

    Sun-seekers crowd a beach in Mar del Planta - Argentina's premier seaside resort on the southern coast of Buenos Aires Province. (Yann Arthus-bertrand / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A walk on the water

    The 335-foot-long suspension pedestrian bridge, Puente de la Mujer (Bridge of the Woman) was donated by Alberto L. Gonzales and his family to this city of Buenos Aires. Designed by Santiago Calatrava , it is the architect's only work in South America. (Michael Lewis / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Amazing acoustics

    The Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It has 2,367 seats and standing room for 1,000. (Hubert Stadler / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Capital beauty

    Finished in 1906, the National Congress Building in Buenos Aires is four stories high and has two pavilions, one on each side. (Anthony Cassidy / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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