The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, seven nights' accommodations, transportation within Belize, and guided tours, from $1,690 per person — plus taxes of $267.
When: April 1-June 30, Aug. 16-Dec. 8, 2008; add $100 through March 31, July 1-Aug. 15; $250 for Dec. 9-31.
Gateways: Miami; add $140 for Dallas, Houston; $200 for Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia; $280 for Chicago, San Juan (Puerto Rico); $300 for L.A., San Francisco; $350 for Seattle; additional cities available.
The fine print: Hotel taxes and service charges of about 20 percent, round-trip flights between Belize City and Ambergris Cay, airport-hotel transfers, all other ground transportation, and the services of English-speaking tour guides are included. As noted above, airport taxes and fuel surcharges are an additional $267 (including a $35 departure tax to be paid in cash by passengers when leaving Belize). Departures are Thursdays only; add $60 to fly any other day of the week. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $431. Travel insurance can be purchased through Tara Tours for $129 per person. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Tara Tours, 800/327-0080, taratours.com.
Why it's a deal: For comparison purposes, if you booked the trip independently, you'd pay at least $653 for round-trip airfare between Miami and Belize City in late April (US Airways), according to a recent search on SideStep. Then factor in the round-trip flights between Belize City and San Pedro, Ambergris Cay, which come to $140-$180 (Maya Island Air or Tropic Air). For an additional $1,037, or about $148 per day, Tara Tours provides all those flights as well as seven nights' accommodations, including hotel taxes, ground transportation, sightseeing, and the services of an English-speaking tour guide — plus the time-saving factor of arranging all the logistics in one step.
Trip details: The Belizean Express package includes round-trip airfare to Belize City on an American Airlines carrier. You'll spend the first four nights at the 75-room Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza hotel, located in Bella Vista, a quiet residential area on the northern outskirts of Belize City, about three miles from downtown. Rooms are air-conditioned, have a private bath and cable TV, and face the courtyard.
The morning after you arrive you'll set out for Altun Ha in the village of Rockstone Pond, about 30 miles north of Belize City. A guide will talk and walk you through pyramids, temples, and residential structures from the Mayan Classic Period. Afterward, you'll visit the 18-square-mile Community Baboon Sanctuary, created on the banks of the Belize River to preserve the habitat and population of black howler monkeys.
The following day brings visits to Creole settlements as you travel west, crossing the Mopan River by ferry to reach the ruins of Xunantunich. This site consists of six plazas surrounded by about 25 temples and palaces, including the impressive 130-foot-high pyramid, El Castillo.
You'll conclude the day trip with a visit to the small Belize Zoo.
Then comes a free day back in Belize City — explore at your own pace, or join an optional tour to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala ($420 per person for the airfare and guided tour). A 25-minute Tropic Air flight will bring you to San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Cay for the second portion of the trip.
The U-shaped SunBreeze Hotel in San Pedro, just south of city center, will be your home for the next three nights. In addition to its 42 air-conditioned rooms, the SunBreeze features a restaurant, a bar, a pool, a massage studio, and an art gallery.
You have two full days to check out Ambergris Cay, so do as the locals do and hop on a golf cart, the primary mode of transportation. Sightseeing in San Pedro and snorkeling in the 176-mile-long barrier reef, the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere, are just two of the many ways to fill your time.
On day eight, you'll board a flight back to Belize City to catch your connecting flight home.
Not ready to head home? Additional nights are $74 per person for a double room ($148 for a single; $52 for a triple) at the Biltmore in Belize City and $79 per person at the SunBreeze hotel in Ambergris Cay. Hotel upgrades to the Radisson in Belize City and Journey's End or Ramon's Village Resort in Ambergris Cay start from $180 per person.
If you're just looking to unwind, Tara Tours offers a less expensive package for seven nights in Ambergris Cay, starting from $970 per person (single supplement is $522), valid for the same travel dates.