Latin lovers

Latin lovers

The region is booming, with new flights and touring product, discovers Joanna Booth

For Latin America, new British Airways flights have been like buses – it’s waited ages for one, and now three have come along at once.

Well, at once in airline terms. Last May, the flag carrier commenced its services from Gatwick to Lima, Peru, and San Jose, Costa Rica. And from January this year, Santiago became BA’s lengthiest flight destination, with a Dreamliner making the 14-hour 40-minute journey from Heathrow to the Chilean capital four times a week.

A diverse destination

A few direct flights are really all that had been missing to make the region’s tourism from the UK take off to a new level. Once they step off the aircraft, travellers want for nothing. This is the continent of the Amazon, the Andes and the Atacama Desert; of Easter Island and the Galapagos; of Iguaçu and Machu Picchu. Its cities don’t disappoint, with Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires heading the pack, and with festivals such as Day of the Dead and Carnival to celebrate, there’s always a party to join.

Touring is particularly popular with the growing awareness of multi-destination travel options in Central America

Tony Mason, chief executive of the Latin American Travel Association, says: “The diversity of landscapes, from the towering Andes to white sandy beaches, volcanoes and shimmering lakes, twinned with the variety of cultures and cuisines is ideal for the adventure traveller and a touring holiday will offer a truly rich and colourful experience.”

Significant growth The pent-up demand released by the flights is already evident. G Adventures’ Latin America sales have grown 23% over the past two years. Rainbow Tours sold twice as many Costa Rica trips in 2016 compared with 2015, and Cox & Kings reports that Costa Rica is up 25%, and Peru 20%.

The San Jose flight is also giving a hand to Costa Rica’s neighbours. Central America Tourism Agency general manager Carolina Briones says: “Touring in the region is particularly popular with the growing awareness of multi-destination travel options between Central American countries.

“This can be explained by the development of tourism infrastructure, such as new flight routes with Aeromexico, AirPanama, Volaris and Wingo, new hotels and new tourist routes that are facilitating travel between Central American countries.”

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Operators report that Peru numbers are up following the Lima launch, but unlike the Costa Rica route, this one has allowed UK visitors to concentrate on the country alone. Rainbow Tours has sold 30% more Peru-only trips since the flight launched. However, the operator says it expects the Santiago flight to not only boost numbers to Chile, but to create a flow of tourists using it as an open-jaw service in tandem with the Peruvian flight.

Chile was booming even before the flight launch, with UK visitor numbers up 11% in 2016. Colombia too saw a growth in British visitors, of over 17%. Journey Latin America attributes its improved performance not only to the direct daily Avianca flight from Heathrow, which started in 2014, but to the Foreign Office lifting travel restrictions on the destinations of Popayan and San Agustin in February 2016, and the beginnings of a peace agreement between the government and Farc leftist rebels.

A touring paradise

A number of factors combine to make Latin America particularly suited to a touring holiday. With such diversity and excitement on offer, it’s little wonder that few British travellers simply fly and flop. Distances travelled can be epic, and through relative wilderness or difficult terrain. Itineraries are invariably multi-centre and often complicated – crossing country boundaries, using multiple types of transport, including activities where permits are required, or guiding is necessary.

fAnd although the majority of tourist destinations are entirely safe, a few spots remain where the security of a group tour or the backup of an operator is welcome. This is also not a corner of the world where visitors from the UK can rely on everyone speaking fluent English, and few Brits are confident enough in their abilities in Spanish or Portuguese to organise everything easily on the ground.

Patagonia has been the hotspot for G Adventures with hiking itineraries and multisport options

New touring product is pouring into the market as a result. On The Go Tours has revealed four new Peru itineraries this year, and Saga one. Contiki has five new Latin America tours to offer this year, and Insight Vacations has increased its Luxury Gold range in the region with three extra options.

TrekAmerica has expanded into the south of the continent, and regional specialist Journey Latin America has added itineraries in less mainstream destinations, including Paraguay, Honduras and Guatemala.

Even more adventure

Latin America’s terrain renders it ripe for adventure on land and water, and there’s evidence that UK visitors are embracing these opportunities in increasing numbers.

Intrepid Travel has expanded its range of active tours in Costa Rica, with eight and 11-day options that include hiking, rafting, canyoning, snorkelling and kayaking. It has also introduced Cycle Central America, a 16-day pedal through Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

Patagonia has been the hotspot for G Adventures’ new active launches, with hiking itineraries plus multisport options that include trekking, biking, rafting and kayaking in Argentina.

A number of operators are upping the ante in Peru too. Tailor-made specialist Latin Routes has added a range of active day tours in the Sacred Valley, including quad-biking, horse riding, cycling and even stand-up paddleboarding. Rainbow Tours has a new Peru holiday including the high, wild and remote Ausangate Trek.

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KE Adventure Travel has a new nine-day Inca Active Machu Picchu Multisport group tour, plus a two-week active cultural adventure in Colombia. The latter also sees two new tours from Exodus, with both Cycling Colombia and Trekking Colombia now bookable.

It’s not merely on land, with new ships and itineraries added by adventure cruising lines. Celebrity has two new Galapagos ships this year, the 48-passenger Xperience and the 16-passenger, charter-only Xploration.

Hurtigruten is adding a new vessel sailing in the region – the hybrid Roald Amundsen, which will combine the fjords of Chile and the Falkland Islands with Antarctica. Fram will sail expedition cruises in Central America’s Caribbean Sea, landing at ports on the coast and islands of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Honduras and Belize.

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