Image: Cartagena, Colombia
Ricardo Maldonado  /  AP file
The Colombia Highlights package includes 11 nights' accommodations, a city tour, a boat ride, a wilderness excursion, two local flights, and some meals.
updated 7/9/2008 11:25:10 AM ET 2008-07-09T15:25:10

The Real Deal: Eleven nights' accommodations, a city tour, a boat ride, a wilderness excursion, two local flights, and a few meals, from $1,145 per person—plus taxes of $28.

When: Depart Saturdays, Sept. 27, Nov. 1, Dec. 6, 2008; Jan. 10, Feb. 14, March 21, April 25, May 30, July 4, Aug. 8, 2009.

The fine print: The starting rate of $1,145 includes a local cash payment of $250, due upon arrival in Bogotá. Included are hotel taxes, one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, local transportation by bus and taxi, two local flights, and services of a G.A.P Adventures leader throughout the trip. Departure tax is an additional $28 per person. Travelers must have travel insurance, which can be purchased through G.A.P; insurance cost varies depending on factors like age and medical condition. Based on double occupancy; no single supplement (solo travelers will be paired off with someone of the same sex.) As most meals are not included, G.A.P recommends that you allow $240 per person for additional food and beverages. Airfare is not included. The group size for this trip averages about 10 persons (15 max). When booking, refer to code SMCH. U.S. citizens must have a valid passport but do not need a visa to enter Colombia if staying less than 60 days. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.

Book by: No deadline; based on availability.

Contact: G.A.P Adventures, 800/708-7761,

Why it's a deal: The $1,145 rate breaks down to about $104 per person per day and covers accommodations, two local flights, transportation by bus and taxi, several guided excursions, and a few meals. Beyond the monetary value of the package, G.A.P makes all of the travel arrangements for you—and it provides an English-speaking group leader, who will help you easily get around in a country where English is not widely spoken, thus ensuring an enjoyable, safe, and hassle-free trip.

Trip details: The Colombia Highlights package includes 11 nights' accommodations; nine are at modest hotels along the way and two are spent in a hammock at Tayrona National Park. G.A.P works with a network of hotels and was unable to provide names of all the specific properties used for this itinerary as of press time.

The journey begins in Bogotá, Colombia's capital, where you'll spend the night at the 24-room Hotel Ambala in the center of the city. Since your stay in the capital is brief, there are no planned activities. You might visit a few of the main attractions on your own, perhaps the National Museum of Colombia, the government buildings and the cathedral at La Plaza Bolívar, or the Gold Museum.

After a good night's rest, take a one-hour flight to Cartagena, a colonial city on the Caribbean coast, which will be your home for the next three nights. An included four-hour guided tour covers the old town's historic walled section (ciudad amurallada) and several museums before proceeding through the new city to the port and beaches of Boca Grande.

During your free time, you may sightsee on your own or join an optional tour of the Palace of the Inquisition (COP $15,000 ($8.50) with an English guide) or the fortress Castillo de San Felipe (COP $11,000 ($6.25)). While there are many other excursions to choose from, the best way to get acquainted with Cartagena may be to drive to La Popa, atop the city's highest hill, where you can visit the whitewashed monastery, built in 1607, and enjoy panoramic views of the city—especially postcard-worthy at sunset (COP $6,000 ($3.50) per person).

From Cartagena, continue to Tolu, a charming seaside town and a favorite getaway for Colombian vacationers. During your two-night stay, you can relax on the beach, savor tasty local seafood, or dance the night away at one of several discotheques. This part of the trip also includes a full-day boat excursion to the San Bernardo Islands, perfect for snorkeling.

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Santa Marta is the next stop. Colombia's oldest city will be your home base for the next four nights—two of which you'll spend sleeping in a hammock at Tayrona National Park (protective mosquito nets will be provided). You'll go on nature hikes to explore the lush jungle vegetation and visit the pre-Hispanic village of Pueblito.

Depart Tolu and catch a one-hour flight back to Bogotá, spending the last night of the trip at Hotel Ambala before boarding your flight home.

Before you go, you can browse Colombia's official tourism Web site.

A word on safety: Check the State Department's information sheet on travel to Colombia and review the still existing, though somewhat relaxed, travel warning, which was updated in February:

"While security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and cities. The potential for violence by terrorists and other criminal elements exists in all parts of the country. ... Violence has decreased markedly in many urban destinations, including Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla, and Cartagena."

Getting there: Since the package doesn't cover airfare, here's an idea of what you might pay for a round-trip flight to Bogotá, departing on Sept. 27 and returning on Oct. 8, 2008: $254 from Miami (American), $527 from New York City (Copa Panama), $648 from Chicago (Mexicana), $657 from L.A. (Mexicana), and $724 from Houston (Continental). Prices are based on a recent search on Kayak.

Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.


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