The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Hannah writes, "Our family of four (daughters 21 and 18 years old) want a post-graduation trip. Is Belize in early June a good idea? Can we put together a trip for $5,000 including flights and a rental car? We are looking for smaller hotels or lodges, not big resorts. We want environmental and adventure activities."
I believe congratulations are in order, and there's no better way to celebrate an achievement like a graduation than with a tropical vacation. The work is done, and it's now time to play and relax. Belize is an ideal place to do just that. So, let's see what we can find to give your family a well-deserved getaway.
Though it's the rainy season, with a possibility of hurricanes (greatest threat usually in October), June is a good time to visit Belize for lower prices and fewer crowds. In fact, since it's low season, many places offer discounts for travel June through October. When figuring out the cost for a group, it's typically easier to break down your $5,000 budget on a per person basis, or $1,250 to spend for each of you.
Since I'm unsure about where you're coming from, I chose a popular airport (Dallas) that flies to Belize for benchmarking airfare (note to other readers: please include your departure city if you'd like help pricing a complete itinerary). I priced round-trip airfare from Dallas to Belize City in June starting at $582 per person (with taxes and fees), leaving us with $668 to spend on lodging and ground transportation.
Depending on where you want to stay, Belize offers accommodations to fit any price range. If you want to stick to a conservative budget, you can book rooms along the Toucan Trail, which offers more than 100 small hotels charging $60 or less per night. As an example, I was able to find a room at Pedro's Inn in Ambergris Caye starting at $50 per night. By following the Toucan Trial, you're pretty much guaranteed that you won't spend more than $60 per night.
Let's say you're hoping to stay five nights, meaning that lodging will cost you at the most $300 per room, or $150 per person. It's wise to read other traveler's reviews of hotel properties through our sister site, TripAdvisor, before booking to be sure you're getting what you paid for.
Renting a car will allow you a fair bit of freedom to explore at your own pace, and rental cars start at $50 per day, or about $281 (with taxes and fees), through Expedia for five days in June. You can pick up the car and drop it off at the airport.
This brings your grand total for a five-day vacation—including lodging and ground transportation— to $3,209, or $802 per person, leaving you with $1,791 to spend on entertainment and food.
And Belize is overflowing when it comes to activities, especially for those with an adventurous spirit. Here, you can choose from marine life excursions (such as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, and catamaran cruising) to rainforest treks (including jungle zip-lining, cave exploration, and river canoeing). The options are endless. Plus, there's plenty to do without being much of a daredevil, including listening to the waves lap at the beach from a comfortable chair.
You said you wanted to skip the all-inclusive resorts, but you also said you wanted adventure or environmental activities, so I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't mention Chaa Creek. The resort is different than any of its larger-than-life counterparts, because it is set on a 365-acre nature reserve in the Maya Mountains foothills, and offers a unique eco and adventure experience. You can choose from an array of vacation packages with an emphasis on different experiences, including bird watching, family, adventure, swimming and hiking, historic expeditions, chocolate, wedding, and eco-friendly.
The latter starts at $200 per night per person (without taxes and fees), but you can save an extra 15 percent for travel during specific dates in April, May, and June. The package includes a three-night stay in a luxury cottage, all meals, a guided tour of the organic Maya farm, hiking along the Ruta Maya Trail system, a guided tour of the Chaa Creek Natural History Center, a guided tour of the butterfly farm, a guided interpretive tour of the Rainforest Medicine Trail, an early morning bird walk, horseback riding, and canoeing along the Macal River. The total price for a three nights' stay ($510 with the 15 percent discount), meals, activities, and airfare, is $1,092 per person, or $4,368 for four (without resort taxes and fees). Granted this is for two fewer nights than the above price, and it doesn't include a car rental, so you would have to decide what is more important to you during your travels.
If you want to skip the added benefit of meals included in the overall price, you can book a room at the lodge starting at $135 per night for a double room (without taxes and fees) from May through December, which includes a full breakfast and on-site activities. This would cost $675 for five nights (without taxes and fees), bringing the grand total for flight, ground transportation, lodging, breakfast, and activities to $990 per person, or $3,959 for four (without lodging taxes and fees).
Or, for something a bit more rustic and affordable, you can opt to stay in a casita in the Macal River camp for $55 per night, or $275 for five nights (without taxes and fees), including breakfast, dinner, and on-site activities. This option would run you $927 per person, or $3,709 for four (without lodging taxes and fees).
This is only a few of the many ways to book your trip, but it proves that you can find several different ways to keep your vacation within budget. I hope you and your family have a wonderful time celebrating in the great outdoors.
As for my other readers: You know the drill. Have you been to Belize? Do you have any money-saving strategies or places to go? Share your tips below.
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