I spent the past couple days at the annual Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas, rubbing shoulders with hundreds of travel agents and about as many industry exhibitors. Naturally I was there to find out what was new and interesting in travel to Latin America and I didn’t have to try very hard. Latin America was the belle of the ball. Many tour company execs that cover the whole world are seeing the best growth in Latin America—for some it’s their only area of growth in this recession.
Plus tour companies seem to be coming around to the idea that this part of the world has not been tapped out and overcrowded like many other parts of the world. Countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico kept popping up as ones where visitors are only scratching the surface of what’s available to see and do. You can still find true adventure away from the crowds without trying very hard. And of course you get far more for your money than in most other regions.
There was a presentation on Peru that surprised even me on the depth of attractions in one of my favorite countries. Most people probably wouldn’t guess it has the oldest city in the Americas—Caral—which goes back 5,000 years. Kim MacQuarrie,author of The Last Days of the Incas, says they’re finding new archeological sites almost every month. With three distinct regions (desert coast, high Andes, and Amazon jungle), Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, and enough Inca sites to keep you busy for weeks, this is a country that really lives up to the overused cliche “something for everyone.”
I was also thrilled to see the Mexico tourism presenter plus Signature Travel Network Executive VP Ignacio Maza both talk up the Yucatan interior around Merida, Uxmal, and Palenque. Mr. Maza’s best quote: “Getting off a cruise ship and taking a bus to Chichen Itza and back is like hopping off a ship at Coney Island, having a hot dog, then saying you’ve been to New York City.”
He also gave a rundown of other “new frontiers in Latin America” and I dare say the guy probably knows the region better than anyone, including me. Some of his other favorites are the highlands of Ecuador, Cartagena in Colombia, Ushuaia in Argentina, the Colca Canyon of Peru, the Atacama region of Chile, and Salvador/Bahia in Brazil.
In a panel that included the heads of Tauck and Abercrombie & Kent, time and again it came up that people are looking for unique experiences, deeper experiences, and a real sense of place. For all that, it’s hard to beat the countries of Latin America. As Maza said, this is “a region of superlatives,” a place that is for the curious traveler, not those who just dress to impress.
But here’s an interesting tidbit I picked up: 2 million visit Peru each year and 200,000 of them are luxury travelers, spend $500 or more a day.