The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, an intercity flight, six nights' accommodations, and two sightseeing tours, from $699 per person—plus taxes of at least $250.
When: Aug. 17-Dec. 6, 2008.
Gateways: Miami; add $130 for Orlando; $200 for New York City, D.C.; $230 for L.A.; additional gateways are available.
The fine print: Breakfast daily, an intercity flight, round-trip airport-hotel transfers, two half-day sightseeing tours, and hotel taxes are included. Airport taxes and fuel surcharges are at least $250 per person. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $175. U.S. citizen must have a valid passport but do not need a visa for Costa Rica; travelers must purchase a $5 tourist card upon arrival in Panama. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Escapes Unlimited, 800/243-7227, escapesltd.com.
Why it's a deal: According to a recent search on Kayak, the lowest multicity round-trip fare (Miami to San José and Panama City to Miami) in mid-September starts at $335 on American, including taxes. For an additional $614, including taxes, Escapes Unlimited covers airfare as well as six nights' accommodations, breakfast daily, hotel taxes, the flight between San José and Panama City, transfers, and two sightseeing tours.
Trip details: The Costa Rica and Panama package includes round-trip airfare on a Copa/Continental Airlines carrier and six nights' accommodations divided between San José and Panama City. You can choose whether you'd prefer to arrive in San José and depart from Panama City or vice versa.
While in Costa Rica's capital, San José, you'll stay for three nights at Hotel Aranjuez, a popular budget hotel located just outside of downtown on a quite street in the Barrio Amón neighborhood. The simple 35 rooms are spread out in five houses surrounded by lush gardens. You'll also find a bar, several lounge areas, laundry service, and wireless Internet access.
Attractions within walking distance include the Calderon Guardia Museum, the National Museum, the Marco Fidel Tristán Jade Museum, and the Contemporary Art and Design Museum, as well as National Park, Avenida España Park, the National Theater, and Plaza de la Cultura.
The package includes a half-day tour of the Poás Volcano. Located within Poás Volcano National Park, the volcano rises to an altitude of 8,884 feet (1.7 miles) above sea level, and its crater is about a mile wide. You'll also get to check out the two crater lakes near the summit—one filled with molten sulfur and engulfed by steam, the other with cold clear water.
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After exploring San José, take a short flight (about an hour and a half) on a Copa carrier to Panama City. You'll stay three nights at the 83-room Hotel Marbella, a simple but modern hotel in the city's financial district.
A guided half-day tour of the Panama Canal's Miraflores Locks lets you watch as vessels pass through a channel nearly a mile long toward the two-stepped locks at Miraflores, where they are lowered to sea level before entering the Pacific.
Otherwise, you'll be on your own to explore Panama City as you like. You could visit the Presidential Palace, Independence Plaza, and the National Theater in the historic part of town—a colonial neighborhood that reflects Spanish, French, and Italian architectural influences.
Not ready to head home? Additional nights are $25 per person based on double occupancy at the Hotel Aranjuez in San José or the Hotel Marbella in Panama City.
Or, you can choose from these optional extension packages: from $170 per person for a one-night excursion to San Blas Island/Kuna Indian Community; from $250 per person for a two-night trip to Contadora Island Beach; and from $290 per person for a four-night visit to the Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio Beach.
Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.