Say the words "spring break," and raucous parties, crowded beaches, and legions of scantily clad coeds come to mind. The boozy annual blowout is practically a rite of passage for the college crowd. For travelers hoping to steer clear of the frenzied partying, here are some destinations to avoid from mid-March through early April -- and some alternatives to consider instead.
Like Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a coastal town on the Yucatan Peninsula. This more subdued destination offers snorkeling, diving, golf, and the Rio Secreto, an underground river and collection of caves where visitors can swim. For some inexpensive fun, travel blog The Barefoot Nomad suggests the Sunday flea market on Calle 54.
Another location that appears on multiple spring break popularity lists, San Juan certainly has much to offer as a travel destination. But a legal drinking age of 18, a variety of bars and clubs, and lots of rum are the main attractions for hordes of spring breakers. And, of course, there are also many appealing beaches. Another reason to stay away this year: The island is still struggling to recover from the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017.
Though not far from Puerto Rico, this tiny island largely escaped the wrath of Hurricane Maria. One of the more overlooked Caribbean destinations, French-speaking Martinique offers an escape from the crowds with rugged terrain to explore, sandy beaches, top-notch cuisine, and plenty of champagne and rum (aka rhum) to sip. Hikers will want to trek up the volcanic mountain of Mount Pelee, while beachgoers will want to check out the black sand of Anse Noire and the white sand of Anse Dufour.
Emerald water, 34 miles of white sand, and plenty of sunshine are some of South Padre Island's attractions. Come March and April, this community of about 3,000 people turns into spring break central. A local travel-industry website proclaims that South Padre Island "officially becomes Spring Break Island" once a year and is "dedicated to the experience that never sleeps, stops, or slows down." Say no more.
There is far more to Padre Island than just the resort town of South Padre. Few travelers realize that this 113-mile-long island (the world's longest barrier island) is also home to the beautiful Padre Island National Seashore, with 70 miles of pristine coastline, dunes, and prairies. For the budget-conscious, there's year-round camping at the park starting at $5 a night.
Nassau offers college students all the key ingredients for a textbook spring break: affordable packages, nightclubs, booze cruises, miles of beaches, and plenty of sunshine. StudentCity, a website aimed at the college crowd, describes Nassau as "the only destination that offers both a wild spring break party atmosphere and a relaxing paradise." The question is, which are you looking for?
Like the Bahamas, this is a tropical destination where the official language is English. The country's charms range from stunning beaches and waterfalls to tropical rainforests and limestone caves. Popular pastimes include zip lining, cave tubing, and scuba diving at the Belize Barrier Reef. For budget activities, consider hiking in the jungle or biking through the town of San Pedro (bike rentals are about $9 a day).
Is it any surprise that a place known as Sin City is popular with the college spring break crowd? With affordable hotel options and an abundance of airfare deals to the city, Las Vegas is practically a no-brainer for party-seeking coeds. But if massive crowds are not your thing, steer clear. In March alone, the city typically attracts about 3.6 million visitors with its casinos, nightlife, and free things to do.
Between the hot springs, spas, boutiques, art galleries, and abundant hiking opportunities, what's not to enjoy about Palm Springs? While this desert destination is known as playground for the rich and famous, there are also plenty of free and inexpensive entertainment options, such as VillageFest, an old-fashioned street fair featuring musicians, food, and art every Thursday.
Aside from celebrity-designed golf courses and a beachfront boardwalk, Myrtle Beach is known for offering a classic spring break experience (which, for the college crowd, means alcohol, parties, and beaches). Coed, a site that bills itself as the leading authority on this topic, included the destination in its 2016 roundup of trashiest spring break destinations.
Another city with plenty of affordable fun, Charleston receives rave reviews from travelers. It oozes sophisticated charm thanks to antebellum homes, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages. (Don't miss the elegant French Quarter and Battery district.) The free Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is highly recommended. If beaches are a must for a spring break getaway, Charleston has those, too. Just a few minutes from the city is Sullivan's Island, known for its pristine sand.
This is another place on Coed's list of trashy spring break destinations. Lake Havasu has plenty of appeal outside of March and April. Visitors are attracted by the endless sunshine, boating, off-roading, hiking, and fishing. But come spring break, Lake Havasu becomes one of the top destinations for the college crowd -- some of whom, according to Coed, go completely topless or sport nipple tassels.
If a beach isn't mandatory, Bryce Canyon National Park may be an ideal alternative in the Southwest. The canyon features stunning and unusual red rock formations and endless hiking, camping, and stargazing. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, there are also free ranger programs. The backdrop for all this activity is as peaceful as it gets, thanks to a lack of bars, nightlife, and bikini contests.
With countless spring break packages available, three beaches, and ample nightlife, Montego Bay is another popular destination for students in search of a good time. MoBay's spring break scene has been described as a mélange of loud parties, poor behavior, and overcrowded beaches.
On Mexico's Pacific coast, Puerto Escondido is situated along a scenic bay. Perhaps the key descriptors here are "small" and "laid back." In other words, there's not quite enough to attract a college party crowd but plenty for those in search of a relaxing getaway. Hotels are plentiful, and families can head to Playa Principal for beach fun and boats for hire, if fishing is on the agenda.
Miami's many charms have been showcased time and again in TV shows and movies. ("Miami Vice," anyone?) Come spring break, however, the city is filled with hordes of college students bent on partying all day and all night. And then there are the sky-high spring break hotel prices, which give even students packing four into a hotel room pause when contemplating the destination.
Yes, Ventura County is on the opposite coast from Miami, but if a flight is required for a spring break getaway, does it matter whether you're headed east or west? The communities of Oxnard and Ventura offer uncrowded beaches with free parking, nice boardwalks, and a variety of activities for kids. One highlight worth noting: the pirate ship at Ventura's Marina Beach Park, which is free.
Perhaps it's worth clarifying here that by including a destination on its list of "trashiest" spring break haunts, Coed is not saying college-age partiers shouldn't go. Quite the opposite. Locations like Daytona are "cheap, excessive, loud and rowdy" in all the right ways -- for the right crowd.
America's oldest populated city, St. Augustine is a tourist favorite for its beauty and charm. It also markets itself as a family-friendly spring break destination. Vilano Beach is popular among locals and recommended by Clem Bason, CEO of the travel site GoSeek, for seashell collecting. Visiting the ancient Spanish fort Castillo de San Marcos costs $10 for adults and is free for kids 15 and under, and the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is $14 for adults and $7 for kids.
There's no beach in New Orleans, but that doesn't deter legions of college kids in search of a good time. New Orleans has long been one of the country's foremost party cities. With bars selling cheap drinks and a lenient open-container law, it's clear why the city has that reputation. But if a charming or romantic visit to the French Quarter is your aim, consider scheduling for the summer or fall.
While New Orleans is known for its jazz heritage, this Southern city offers music lovers a look at the epicenter of country music. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, which has been launching careers since 1925 when it began as a humble radio show. At night, it's easy to find dozens of cafes and venues with live country music for a small cover charge.