The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, six nights' accommodations, fuel surcharges, transfers, local transportation, and most meals, from $1,199 per person — plus an estimated $126 in taxes.
When: Nov. 24-30, 2008; add $200 for Dec. 22-28. There is a waiting list for a $999 trip Oct. 27-Nov. 2.
Gateways: Miami. Note that Friendly Planet does not offer add-on rates for other gateway cities. Sample Kayak searches yielded round-trip fares of $252 for New York City to Miami (Continental), $415 for Chicago to Miami (United), and $488 for L.A. to Miami (Delta).
The fine print: Additional taxes and fees are $85 per person; an Ecuador departure tax, to be paid locally prior to departure at the end of the trip, is $41 per person. Comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended and costs $129 per person. Transfers, ground transportation, fuel surcharges, 18 meals, guided sightseeing tours, and entrance fees are included. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $225. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: April 30, 2008; afterwards, the price increases by $400 per person.
Contact: Friendly Planet, 800/555-5765, .
Why it's a deal: A recent Kayak search for flights from Miami to Quito, Ecuador, produced a $477 round-trip fare (Avianca Airlines). But if you buy the package, you'll be staying in a variety of superior and deluxe hotels with private baths, and 18 meals are included, not to mention English-speaking tour directors and guides, sightseeing tours and entrance fees, and ground transportation, all for $722 more per person. You'll also benefit from one-stop shopping.
Trip details: Over seven days, the package will take you to Quito, Otavalo, Baños, Cotopaxi, and the Amazon rain forest, all by air-conditioned coach, with a mix of guided tours and downtime for exploring on your own.
After arriving via LAN Ecuador in Quito, a capital city set high among snowcapped peaks and volcanoes, you'll take a tour of the Legislative Palace, the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco, and the Equatorial Monument. You'll spend the night in the 147-room Grand Mercure Alameda in downtown Quito.
Day two will take you to Otavalo, home to the Otavaleño Indian market, and to surrounding small towns famous for their leatherwork, weavings, and woodwork. Otavalo is known for its traditional music, and you can listen to performers on the streets. Lodging for the night is in Puerto Lago Country Inn on San Pablo Lake.
Days three and four will treat you to the Amazon. You'll travel along the Andes mountain range and then experience the Amazon River and Termas Papallacta Spa. Optional excursions (at no extra cost) include rafting, visiting a wildlife rescue center, and visiting a local Quichua family. Stay in the Casa del Suizo (which you'll get to by boat) on the Napo River.
You'll see the Rio Verde falls (nicknamed the Devil's Cauldron) on your way to Baños, named for the nearby hot springs and famous for melcocha, a taffy. Relax with views of sparkling waterfalls and beautiful landscapes before turning in at the Hacienda Leito Los Llanganates. The next day, spend time in Cotopaxi National Park (home to the highest active volcano in the world) before returning to Quito and catching a flight back to the U.S.
Want more time in this fascinating country? Friendly Planet has a late-return fee of $100 per person and will help you book flights within South America (on request).
Ecuador is on the equator, so the climate is humid and tropical. Higher in the mountains, temperatures are cooler and heavy rain is a common happenstance, but your visit will take place during the dry season.
Ecuador is a Spanish-speaking, developing country. It adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000, and both Ecuadoran and U.S. coins are used. Be on the lookout for pickpockets, especially when exploring the chaotic streets of Quito.
For more tips on what to do, visit the website of the country's official tourism site and see the U.S. State Department's travel fact sheet for the country. You can find the latest exchange rate, the weather forecast and the local time at BudgetTravel.com.