The Real Deal: Fourteen nights' accommodations, local transportation, and guided tours, for $845 per person — plus a $30 departure tax.
When: Depart on Sept. 5, Nov. 14, Dec. 19, 2008.
The fine print: The starting rate of $845 includes a $200 cash payment, due on arrival. Hotel taxes, local transportation by bus and van, and the services of a G.A.P Adventures leader and local guides are included. A $30 departure tax per person is additional. Airport-hotel transfers are not provided, so expect to pay about 200 quetzales ($25) for the 45-60 minute cab ride from the airport in Guatemala City to the hotel in Antigua. Allow $300 per person to cover meals, as none are included. Based on double occupancy; no single supplement. (Solo travelers will share twin accommodations with someone of the same sex.) To enter El Salvador, U.S. citizens must present a valid passport and a one-entry tourist card, which can be purchased upon arrival in the country for $10. U.S. passport holders do not need a visa to enter Honduras or Guatemala. Average group size is 10. When booking, refer to trip code CGCH. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: G.A.P Adventures, 800/708-7761, gapadventures.com.
Why it's a deal: The $845 package price breaks down to about $60 per person per day, which covers accommodations, some guided sightseeing tours, a dance lesson, 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 takes the hassle out of your trip and can help you make the most of the cultural experience by providing insider advice on attractions and the best places to eat and to visit.
Trip details: The El Salvador and Guatemala Loop package includes 14 nights' accommodations divided between Antigua and Livingston in Guatemala; Juayúa, Suchitoto, and La Palma in El Salvador; and Copán and Tela in Honduras.
You'll meet your group at the Hotel Posada Los Bucaros in Antigua, Guatemala, your base for the first two nights. (Note that G.A.P does not provide the names of the other hotels along the route in advance because the booking arrangements can change.)
Aside from an included salsa lesson, you'll be free to explore Antigua at your own pace. Take in the Spanish colonial architecture as you stroll cobblestoned streets, make your way to Central Park, or go shopping for textiles, jade statues, and silver jewelry. Art lovers shouldn't leave Antigua without stopping by Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, which showcases colonial, pre-Colombian, and contemporary Latin American artwork.
You'll set out from Antigua on a five-hour ride through mountains and banana plantations—transferring along the way from a private van to a bus then to a chicken bus (so called because Guatemalans may bring live animals on board)—to the hillside town of Juayúa in El Salvador. You'll be treated to a tour of a typical coffee finca (farm). During your two-night stay, you'll be able to explore on your own or pay for optional activities like a hike to nearby waterfalls Chorros de la Calera (about $12-$15 per person for three hours) or a flight on a combat helicopter ($200 per person for a minimum of eight participants).
Then continue on a four-hour drive to Suchitoto on the banks of Lake Suchitlán. Optional tours include a boat ride to Cascada Los Tercios waterfalls ($15 per person), a city tour ($10 per person), or a hike around the lake at no additional cost.
Next on the agenda is a three-hour drive to La Palma, a folk-art center in El Salvador's mountainous north. You can stop by local art workshops or climb Cerro El Pital, the country's highest peak ($5 per person for the bus ride and admission).
You'll cross the border to Honduras, traveling a total of eight hours until you reach Copán, which boasts some of the most important Mayan ruins.
The next morning, take a five-hour bus ride to Tela, a beach town where you'll spend the next two nights. Here you can get acquainted with the local Afro-Caribbean Garifuna culture, soak up the rays at the beach, go kayaking or bird-watching, or take a boat trip to Jeannette Kawas National Park ($25 per person).
Leaving Tela, you'll cross the border to Guatemala, traveling about six hours on several buses until you arrive in Puerto Barrios. From here you'll take a one-hour boat ride to Livingston, where Rio Dulce meets the Gulf of Honduras. After two nights, a boat ride brings you back to Puerto Barrios, where you'll catch a bus to Guatemala City and transfer to a private van for a one-hour drive back to Antigua for an overnight stay at Posada Los Bucaros.
For more background information, visit the official tourism Web sites of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And for more one-of-a-kind experiences and trips to far-flung destinations, check the 40 Best Deals from our September issue, devoted to the best places you've never heard of.
Getting there: Here's an idea of what you'd pay for round-trip airfare to Guatemala City, departing on September 5 and returning on September 19: $184 from Miami (Taca), $436 from New York City (Taca), $463 from Chicago (Taca), $498 from L.A. (Spirit), $632 from Houston (multiple carriers), and $709 from Seattle (Copa). Prices are based on searches at press time through Kayak.