The Real Deal: Seven nights' accommodations, some meals, local transportation, and sightseeing tours, for $1,145 per person—including taxes.
When: Aug. 17; Sept. 28; Oct. 12, 26; Nov. 9, 23; Dec. 7, 2008.
The fine print: The $1,145 rate breaks down to $995 paid in advance and a cash payment of $150 due on arrival to cover local services. Based on single or double occupancy. Use promotion code PSF. Local transportation by air-conditioned bus, tours, and hotel taxes are included. U.S. citizens will need a valid passport for travel; a visa is not required. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Intrepid Travel, 800/970-7299, intrepidtravel.com.
Why it's a deal: First, consider that this deal breaks down to about $163 per person per night, and that price includes most of your meals (four breakfasts, five lunches, and four dinners), transportation on the ground, and some sightseeing tours. You'll also benefit from the small group size and the expertise of a tour leader. And you'll spend part of the trip staying with a local family, which will give you an authentic glimpse of island life that would be tough to arrange on your own. Plus, Intrepid Travel takes care of booking the entire seven-night stay for you, and its relationships with the resorts allow the company to negotiate lower rates.
Trip details: The Fiji Explorer package is an authentic introduction to this Southern Pacific nation of more than 330 islands (about 100 are inhabited). The archipelago is known for its spectacular white-sand, palm-fringed beaches and tropical climate. You'll stick to the main island of Viti Levu and spend three nights in a hotel, two nights in a dormitory, and two nights at the home of a local family.
You'll need to arrange your own airfare to Nadi, a vibrant marketplace town where the trip begins and ends.
Airport transfers are not included. You can catch a cab to the Beachside Resort on Wailoaloa Beach Road in Nadi for about $10. If you e-mail the hotel ahead of time, you can arrange a complimentary one-way transfer instead (see Intrepid Travel's detailed Trip Notes for more information).
After you meet your fellow travelers at the resort (groups max out at 12 people), you'll be treated to a dinner with your trip leader. The Beachside Resort has air-conditioned rooms, Internet access, a swimming pool, and a cafe. You'll spend the night here before beginning your trek around the island.
The next day will be spent traveling by local bus (dress light—it might not be air-conditioned!). You'll pass through Sigatoka (about 90 minutes from Nadi), where you'll be able to visit the local market. This small town of 10,000 is the commercial center of the Coral Coast region, which has stretches of rain forest and sugarcane fields.
You'll continue on to Namatakula, a town with a proud tradition of producing sport legends (rugby is the beloved sport here). The head of the village will lead a sevu sevu ceremony during which locals will present kava, a local brew. You'll also experience traditional dancing and singing performances.
You'll stay two nights in a local home as the guests of Simon and Judith Batibasaga and their extended family. Travelers typically stay in double rooms and share shower and toilet facilities with the family. Three languages are commonly spoken in Fiji: Fijian, Fijian Hindi (more than 40 percent of the population is of Indian descent), and English (Fiji was a British colony for close to 100 years). As English is taught in schools, you can expect to chat easily with your hosts. You'll have the next day to roam free. Optional excursions include snorkeling or fishing trips (each costs about $10 per person). You'll also partake in a traditional lovo dinner, which is cooked in pots buried in the earth.
Then you'll take off for the 60-mile trip to Suva, the capital of Fiji and a harbor city on the southeast corner of Viti Levu. Here you'll get to experience Fiji's diverse ethnic groups: Fijian, Indian, Chinese, Tongan, Samoan, Rotuman, Solomon Islander, Micronesian, and European. You'll be taken on a city tour that includes the Fiji Museum and botanical gardens. You'll stay near the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, a tropical rain forest that has a few small waterfalls as well as beautiful vegetation and birds native to the area.
It's full circle back to Nadi (a trip that will take most of the day—the terrain can be rough), where you'll check back in to the Beachside Resort for the night. The next day, you'll go by boat to the Yasawa Islands, 20 small volcanic islands about 50 miles north of Nadi.
You'll spend two nights on the Yasawas, where you can relax and get into that "Fijian time" that might have allured you to the islands in the first place. You'll have plenty of time for swimming, snorkeling, and visiting the local fishing villages. And if it all looks a little familiar ... yes, this is the very same area where Brooke Shields cavorted in "Blue Lagoon". You'll stay at Wayalailai Resort in a communal bure (traditional thatched bungalow) with either six or 12 bed bunks, depending on the size of the group.
After all that paradise, hop back on the boat and head to Nadi, where you can catch a flight back to the States. Can't get enough? Additional nights in Nadi start at $74 per room per night.
Fiji is warm and humid year-round. The dry, cooler season lasts through October, so if you're booking a fall trip, expect temperatures to hover in the low 70s. Hurricane season is November to April; Intrepid Travel has a suggested list of travel insurance providers. Note that the local currency here is Fiji dollars (FJD), but credit cards are accepted in tourism areas.
Getting there: A recent Kayak search yielded these round-trip airfares to Nadi in mid-August: $1,204 from L.A. (Air Pacific), $1,522 from Seattle (United), $1,539 from Atlanta (US Airways), $1,578 from Chicago (United), $1,692 from New York City (Delta), and $1,696 from Boston (United).