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What’s New and Noteworthy in Central and South America

August 3, 2015 By: Joe Pike

Plaza de la Fortuna in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. // Photo by Daniel Korzeniewski/Shutterstock
Plaza de la Fortuna in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. // Photo by Daniel Korzeniewski/Shutterstock

Nearly one in five travelers say they are interested in visiting South America during the next two years, and one in seven are considering Central America. So says MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, which also reports that Millennials show the greatest interest in these two regions (22 and 19 percent, respectively), with Xers not far behind (18 and 14 percent). South and Central America are also more likely to be on the radar of more affluent clients, according to the Portrait, which indicates a respective 22 percent and 18 percent interest among those with annual household incomes of $250,000 or more. The percentages dip to 18/15 for those making $125,000-$249,999, and just a shade lower, 17/14, for the $50,000-$124,999 set.

So the mantra for selling travel south of Mexico would seem to be “think young, think upscale” — but don’t rule any client out. The nations of Central and South America have so much to offer in the way of culture, natural wonders and top-flight accommodations that they are surely on the bucket list of travelers across all demographic spectrums. Here is just a sampling of the experiences that await them and new lodging options that should especially pique the interest of anyone visiting select destinations for the second and third time.

Ancient Mayan ruins are among Belize’s many attractions. // Photo courtesy of CTO – Demian Solano, Belize Tourist Board
Ancient Mayan ruins are among Belize’s many attractions. // Photo courtesy of CTO – Demian Solano, Belize Tourist Board

Ecotourism and Culinary Adventures

In the northwest of Ecuador’s Metropolitan District, about an hour from Quito, Yunguilla is a destination in the middle of the cloud forest and close to the Pululahua Reserve. About 300 people live in Yunguilla, which decided 20 years ago to change their way of life from a community dedicated to cutting trees to make charcoal, to one that preserves the environment. Currently, 52 families take part in the project by opening their homes and offering tourists an opportunity for cultural immersion. These spacious, comfortable wood-and-tile houses have hot water and a kitchen; all rooms are open and shared.

The community also offers ecotourism opportunities such as hiking through native forests, colunco trails (pre-Inca roads that look like carved deep furrows in the soil); bird watching and participation in micro-projects related to the preparation of dairy products, jams and handicrafts. All funds generated by tourism visits go into a common bank for distribution among project participants. For details, visit

For culinary travelers, JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, Peru, a former 16th-century convent turned luxury hotel, is offering meet-and-greets with local purveyors, hosted by Chef Rely Alencastre. His culinary point of view has influenced a series of personalized experiences offered by the hotel in Peru that allows guests to learn about and thoroughly savor Peruvian cuisine. These include a five-course interactive cooking lesson that begins with a tour of the local Mercado San Pedro. That’s where Alencastre sources 100 percent of the hotel’s fruit, vegetables and dairy products from local purveyors. 

Agents should note that these are curated experiences that are available upon request, but need to be booked in advance. The tour includes stops at the vendor stands Alencastre visits daily, and each allows guests to sample ingredients such as chirimoya, lucuma, queso andino (Andean cheese) and quinoa.

Also for foodies, Cox & Kings’ new six-night “Uruguay’s Culture & Traditions” (seven days/six nights) spotlights the country’s epicurean heritage with private wine and cheese tastings, a market tour with a local chef and a cooking class at Bouza Winery. The operator’s other Latin American offerings include two family-oriented programs with an ecological twist: “Ecuador: The Galapagos & The Andes” includes a stay at the historic Hacienda Zuleta, which is owned by the country’s former president, while “Belize: Wildlife & Ruins” offers four nights at the Turneffe Flats resort, including diving and snorkeling excursions to the Blue Hole, and three nights in the Cayo District for caving and tubing excursions as well as a full day to explore the ruins of Tikal.

Turneffe Island Resort offers diving programs too, as well as fishing, spa and wedding packages. Arriving guests can also opt for a combination transfer and flightseeing excursion from Belize International Airport via Astrum Helicopter Tours.

Peru’s new Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba offers archeological excursions, guided mountain walks and more. // Photo courtesy of Inkaterra
Peru’s new Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba offers archeological excursions, guided mountain walks and more. // Photo courtesy of Inkaterra

Hotel Openings and Upgrades

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) opened the Holiday Inn Express Cartagena Bocagrande in April. The new-build hotel is the second IHG property in the city of Cartagena and its 12th in Colombia. The Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros hotel is currently open, and the InterContinental Cartagena de Indias hotel will open later this year. Bocagrande, considered by some as the most modern area of Cartagena, is home to numerous leisure attractions, such as shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. The hotel is also near the city’s most famous tourist attractions, which include the Old City, The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Rosario Islands and Cerro de La Popa. Spanning 14 floors, the property is an IHG Green Engage hotel. 

Also in April, Hilton Worldwide opened the eco-friendly Hilton Barra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — the company’s first hotel in this destination. Set on Avenida Abelardo Bueno in the heart of the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, Hilton Barra is aiming to be the first choice of fans visiting the city for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, being only a five-minute ride to the Olympic Park, 30 minutes from Rio de Janeiro Galeao International Airport and five minutes from Jacarepagua Airport in Barra da Tijuca. It’s also convenient to some of Barra’s best beaches, shopping centers and entertainment areas.

In Peru’s Sacred Valley, one hour north of Cusco, the new colonial-style Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba is well located for discovering some of the country’s finest Inca sites. Designed with local materials, the hotel has 24 boutique casitas, and rooms come with all the expected contemporary creature comforts, including Wi-Fi. The junior suites and suites are equipped with fireplaces and panoramic terraces. Activities run the gamut from horseback riding and bird watching to archeological excursions to guided mountain walks to learning about medicinal plants and astronomy. The dining room uses organic ingredients harvested from the hotel’s onsite gardens.

In addition to traditional resort amenities such as a pool, spa and three restaurants, Costa Rica’s new five-star Croc’s Casino Resort has a unique attraction — a pair of resident crocodiles named Paco and Lola. Guests can view these caimans in their specially built, eco-friendly habitat.

Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo recently underwent a multimillion-dollar property enhancement as it celebrated its 10th anniversary. The renovation married design with the property’s two exclusive beaches, jungle and panoramic ocean views. Emblematic of that change is the water-hued seating that offers a place for relaxation, overlooking a handcrafted Tico mosaic that is prominent on the main wall.

Nearby, new luxury retail boutique Delrio sells handcrafted Costa Rican handbags, as well as exclusive offerings. Also nearby is the spa, which introduced an updated salon. The resort’s renovation also re-imagined restaurant and lounge concepts. The renovation included three new additions to the resort’s culinary landscape: Cena Sociale Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar, Sol y Sombra Latin Kitchen and Seafood Grill, and Tico’s Lounge, with menus conceptualized by Executive Chef Mario Alcocer

The newest accolades bestowed on perennial award-winner Chabil Mar include 2015 Travelers’ Choice awards in the Small Hotels, Romance and Best Service categories not only for Belize, but all of Central America as well. The boutique resort has 19 villas and a honeymoon suite.

Future Accommodations

AMResorts will introduce Dreams Buenaventura Panama in 2016 as it continues to focus on growing its presence in Central America and the Caribbean. Set in an exclusive community of luxury villas and high-end resorts, minutes away from Rio Hato International Airport, the new 450-suite resort property will offer views of gardens, lagoons, a white-sand beach and the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Design par-72 championship golf course. Dreams Buenaventura Panama will be managed under AMResorts’ Dreams Resorts & Spas luxury family-friendly resort brand.

Ground has just been broken on a big addition to Nayara Springs, set to open January 2016 on the fringes of The Arenal Volcano Natural Park, one of the youngest and still active volcanoes in this hemisphere. The addition will include 24 new rainforest villas, each with a private pool and a new yoga pavilion. For dining, Jaak Toomsalu, an Estonian celebrity chef, will introduce a new restaurant and culinary concept. There will also be a rainforest walking trail.

The Arenal area is a premier adventure destination in Costa Rica with soaring canopies, hanging bridges, waterfalls and caves, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, whitewater rafting, fishing, ziplining, and nature safaris. There are daily flights to both San Jose Alajuela and Liberia Airports. From either airport, it is about a two-and-a-half hour drive. Nayara can arrange transportation with a private chauffeur service in a comfortable air-conditioned van anytime or anywhere within Costa Rica.

Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a well-known environmentalist who supports various eco-minded non-profits, is reportedly diving into the hospitality game with the announcement of a new green resort in Belize. Slated to open in 2018, the resort will occupy Blackadore Caye, a 104-acre island he purchased a decade ago, and is expected to include a manatee conservation area and artificial reefs to both nurture fish and serve as architectural support for the 68 guest villas.

River Cruise News

Pandaw recently announced that it will be offering new itineraries in 2016, with departures from South America aboard the 18-guest Amazon Dream. The new 14-night sailings will explore lesser-visited locations of the Amazon River, departing from Santarem, Brazil. 

Beginning in January, Avalon Waterways’ 44-guest Amazon Discovery will visit Lima, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco and Iquitos on its 11-day “From the Incan Empire to the Peruvian Amazon” itinerary. Cruises will run through March 2017. 

Lindblad-National Geographic is offering the 10-day “Upper Amazon” journey aboard the 28-guest Delfin II now through all of next year and G Adventures’ nine-day “Amazon Riverboat Adventure” on the 30-guest Amatista runs through November 2016.

During December, kids 17 and under traveling with an adult sail free in Patagonia with Australis. They’ll cruise the Patagonian fjords, ply the Beagle Channel and marvel at the peaks and glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park. There are eight departure dates; bookings must be made by October 31. 

Getting There: New Flights and Services

Southwest Airlines is set to launch direct flights to Belize and Costa Rica from Houston’s Hobby Airport, beginning October 15. In March, Southwest inaugurated nonstop service between San Jose, Costa Rica, and Baltimore / Washington on a once-daily basis.

American Airlines is preparing to start service again between New York (JFK) and Caracas, Venezuela, beginning December 17. The carrier also plans to launch Dallas/Fort Worth-Quito service later this year.

In late June, United Airlines and Azul Brazilian Airlines announced a new strategic partnership in which United will acquire a roughly 5 percent stake in Azul, Brazil’s third-largest airline. This move paves the way for the carriers to cooperate on a range of customer benefits, including code sharing of flights (subject to government approval), expanded flight choices and connection opportunities on routes between the U.S. and Brazil, in addition to other points in North and South America, and joint loyalty program participation. 

Avianca inaugurated nonstop flights between Bogota, Colombia, and Los Angeles in early July. Operating four times a week, it allows clients to connect in a faster and more efficient way to more than 20 destinations in the U.S. and Canada as well as several overseas gateways. The carrier also currently offers nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York, Orlando and Washington D.C. from its hubs in Bogota and allows travelers to connect to Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Washington D.C. through San Salvador.

LAN Peru, an affiliate of LATAM Airlines Group, began offering daily nonstop flights between Lima, Peru, and Orlando International Airport in late June. The airline expects to transport more than 80,000 passengers each year between Orlando and South America (including Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay) via its Lima hub, with a connection time of under one hour and 40 minutes. Orlando is LAN Peru’s fourth gateway in the U.S., joining New York, Miami and Los Angeles. 

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | August 3, 2015
The mantra for selling travel south of Mexico would seem to be “think young, think upscale” — but don’t rule any client out. Find out how to cash in on travel to this booming area.