The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, seven nights' accommodations, guided sightseeing tours, and some meals, from $1,299 per person—plus taxes of about $300.
When: Through June 17, Aug. 16-Dec. 6, 2008.
Gateways: D.C., Miami; add $100 for L.A., New York City.
The fine print: Hotel taxes and service fees, airport-hotel transfers, breakfast daily, five lunches, and two dinners are part of the package. Also included are the services of an English-speaking guide, transfer by plane and boat between Panama City and the San Blas Islands, and visits with local Indian tribes. Airport taxes and fuel surcharges are roughly an additional $300 per person. Gratuities for guides and drivers are not included. You'll need to purchase a $5 tourist card upon arrival in Panama City. Based on double occupancy only. Read before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Escapes Unlimited, 800/243-7227, .
Why it's a deal: Consider that the $1,599 per person rate (including taxes and fees) breaks down to about $228 per day. For comparison's sake, consider that a recent Kayak search found that the lowest round-trip airfares to Panama City in early May were $340 from Miami (Lacsa) and $508 from D.C. (Delta). For an additional $1,091-$1,259, Escapes Unlimited's package covers round-trip airfare as well as transportation between Panama City and the San Blas Islands, some meals, sightseeing tours, and seven nights' accommodations—including transfers and all taxes.
Trip details: The begins with your flight to Panama City on Copa Airlines. Escapes Unlimited will take you to the 83-room Hotel Marbella, a simple but modern hotel located in the city's financial district, where you'll stay three nights.
You'll spend the first day with your English-speaking guide on a tour of the historic colonial city and the Panama Canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The colonial neighborhood, where you'll find the Presidential Palace, Independence Plaza, and the National Theater, reflects Spanish, French, and Italian architectural influences. You'll visit the Panama Canal Museum, and watch ships pass under the Bridge of the Americas and see how the canal works at the Miraflores Locks.
Next, it's off to the for a cable-car ride through the rainforest. This guided tour of the native flora and fauna culminates in a walk up an observation tower for views of the Panama Canal, the Chagres River, the Embera Indian village, and the town of Gamboa.
From Panama City, you'll catch a flight on either Aeroperlas or Air Panama to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of more than 300 islands governed by the Kuna Indians. A boat ride will bring you to the island of Narasgandup, your base for two nights. Get ready for some basic island living; the Hotel Narasgandup is a cluster of cabins with no electricity and communal bathrooms. Your visit will include opportunities to experience the traditional Kuna culture as well as free time to relax and explore the islands.
After returning to Panama City for another two nights at the Hotel Marbella, you'll have a day on your own to sightsee. The final day, you'll travel by bus to Chagres National Forest. A dugout canoe will take you up the Chagres River to the village of the Embera-Drua Indians. Enjoy a traditional lunch and a walking tour with a medicine man among a people renowned for their craftsmanship in woodcarving and basket weaving.
Want more time in Panama City? Extra nights at the Hotel Marbella cost $31 per person per night. Hotel upgrades start at $100 per person per night.