The Real Deal: Nine nights' accommodations, sightseeing tours, a sailboat cruise, local transportation, and some meals, from $795 per person — including taxes.
When: Depart April 19, May 17, 31, June 14, 28, July 12, 26, Aug. 9, 23, Sept. 6, 20, Oct. 4, 18, Nov. 1, 15, 29, Dec. 13, 27, 2008.
The fine print: The $795 charge includes a local payment of $200 to be paid in cash upon arrival. One breakfast, two lunches, one dinner, taxes, transportation by public bus and ferry, three guided tours, a sunset sailing cruise (weather permitting), and the services of an English-speaking tour group leader are included. As most meals are not covered, allow roughly $200 per person for food and drink. In addition, G.A.P Adventures recommends bringing at least $200 for unexpected (and rare) emergencies. Travel insurance is mandatory; contact G.A.P Adventures for a quote. Based on shared accommodations; no single supplement. Airfare is not included. Average group size is eight participants; the maximum is 12. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability. Act fast if you're interested as this itinerary is very popular and travel dates often sell out.
Contact: G.A.P Adventures, 800/708-7761, gapadventures.com.
Why it's a deal: The $795 package price breaks down to about $88 per person per day, which covers accommodations, some meals, guided sightseeing tours, a sailing cruise (if weather allows), transportation, and the services of an English-speaking group leader. Booking accommodations independently would cost you more than the discounted group rates you get through G.A.P Adventures. Plus, the on-site representative will help take the hassle out of your trip and make the most of the cultural experience by providing insider advice regarding the coolest attractions and best places to eat, and he or she may even introduce you to locals.
Trip details: The Yucatan Panorama package features a total of nine nights' accommodations, split between Cancún, Mérida, Palenque, a nighttime bus ride to Tulúm, and Isla Mujeres. G.A.P Adventures works with a roster of locally owned hotels and, at press time, only some of the specific properties had been pinpointed.
You'll meet the group in Cancún, where you'll spend the first night at the 41-room Hotel Kin Mayab, a downtown property facing the central bus station and about 20-30 minutes from the airport. Note that airport-hotel transfers aren't included; you can add them through G.A.P for an additional $35 per person each way. Other transfer options include the ADO bus service, which costs $3.50 each way for a 30-minute ride and will drop you off within one block of the hotel, or a taxi for $40-$50 each way for one to two passengers. Click here for cab fare information.
Rest up well in Cancún, as you'll set out early the next morning by bus for Chichén Itzá to view the Mayan ruins, including El Castillo (the castle), which served as a temple to the god Kukulkan.
Then continue on to Mérida. Also called the White City, the capital of Yucatán State was founded in 1542 and is the gateway to the Mayan ruins of Uxmal. You'll be free to explore the many treasures the city has to offer on your own during your three nights in town. A few to check out: Plaza Mayor; Paseo de Montejo, lined with shops, restaurants, and 19th-century mansions; and the main shopping street, Calle 65. Or swing by the beach town of Progreso and spend a day lounging in the sun.
The next stop on the itinerary is the Mayan ruins of Palenque, which consist of over 200 structures. Treasures include the mummified remains of Lord Pakal, a 7th-century king, which were discovered in 1952. A tour of the Palenque ruins is included in the package. (You'll spend two nights in Palenque.)
Then you'll board an air-conditioned bus to Tulúm on the Caribbean coast. After a morning tour of the seaside ruins at Tulúm, take a bus and ferry to Isla Mujeres (Spanish for Island of Women), home to great beaches, restaurants and shops. The easiest way to explore the narrow island is with a scooter or golf cart. If the weather cooperates, you'll go on a relaxing sunset cruise. If not, you'll spend the day at the bird sanctuary Isla Contoy instead. A group dinner and salsa dancing are included on Isla Mujeres, and you'll stay two nights at the 16-room Hotel Bucanero.
On the day of your departure, you'll take a 30-minute ferry ride back to Cancún to make it in time for your flight home.
Trip extensions start from $35 per person per night for a double room and $65 for a single at Hotel Kin Mayab in Cancún before the tour; and from $25 per person per night for a double and $50 for a single at Hotel Bucanero on Isla Mujeres after the tour.
For more tips on what to do in the area, check the official Web site of the tourism board of Mexico. For the latest travel alerts, check the U.S. consular information sheet. Also keep an eye on G.A.P's specials page, which offers a 20 percent discount on a list of packages with departure dates within a few weeks. The list of specials changes each week.
Getting there: According to a recent search on Kayak, the lowest round-trip fares to Cancún for travel May 17 and 26 were: $319 from Miami (multiple carriers), $469 from Houston (Aeromexico), $488 from L.A. (multiple carriers), $501 from Chicago (multiple carriers), $573 from Seattle (multiple carriers), and $623 from New York (Delta).