torres del paine

Last week I attended a conference called TravelMart Latin America, which was held in the beautiful city of Cartagena, Colombia. This is an annual meet-up of travel suppliers, tour companies, airlines, hotel companies, and destination tourism offices. It’s most for the buying and selling of travel services, the making of business alliances, but I attended as a journalist to see what’s new and different.

The most striking thing was that although there were some signs of trouble here and there, most of these destinations have done rather well during the recession. Travel to the Galapagos is down some and Costa Rica saw a bit of a drop from their primary U.S. market the past two years, but in general it was the middle mass market that took a hit, not the luxury end of things. The consensus now is that 2012 is shaping up as a great year and business has picked up across the board.

Hotel News

One sure sign this region has plenty of confidence is the number of new hotels going up. Follow this link for a rundown of new hotels in Latin America in all price ranges, but on the luxury side some high-profile openings are on the way. A Wald0rf-Astoria is opening in Panama City, with a new Hilton almost right next to it. This is following the Westin Playa Bonita that opened earlier this year. Starwood just announced a deal to open a W hotel there a few years down the line.

There hasn’t been much to talk about in Buenos Aires for a while, but that will change when the owners of Alvear Palace open the Alvear Art Hotel in 2013.

Next country over, in Chile, is where more of the action is these days. We recently reviewed the new Singular in Patagonia and are working on adding a review of Tierra Patagonia as well. (Sister hotel of the highly acclaimed Tierra Atacama.) We’ve also got a writer checking out new boutique hotel Lastaria in Santiago. After that we’ll be looking into a new boutique hotel in Valparaiso, Rufugio way out on Chiloe, and a few others in Patagonia.

Then there’s Peru, where an all-out building craze shows no signs up letting up. New chain hotels are coming to Lima and Mountain Lodges of Peru is opening a new place in Cusco, but we’re most excited about the opening of Hotel B in the hopping Barranco neighborhood early next year. Also, the long-promised renovation of Palacio del Inka hotel in Cusco is in motion now. It will be part of the Starwood Luxury Collection.

Most of the recent openings in Uruguay have been near the coast, but we’re excited to see a Sofitel Montevideo on the way in November.

Next month I’m off to Ecuador and will be reviewing two high-profile openings: Mashpi Lodge on a nature reserve and Casa Gangotena in Quito.

Evoca

I got to check out a few boutique hotels in Cartagena, Colombia that make up the Evoca group. The photo here is from hotel LM. Outside the old city though, chain hotels are doubling down: new ones are coming from Hyatt, Intercontinental, and others. W Bogota is under construction now in the capital.

Four new resorts and lodges are on the way in Belize, so we’ll be keeping an eye on them to see which ones are upscale enough for our readers.

I’ve also got to update some hotel reviews to show expansions from the likes of Tabacon in Costa Rica and Mansion del Angel in Ecuador, as well as changes like Casitas del Colca moving from Orient-Express to Sonesta.

New suite at Tabacon

Travel and Tours

Did you know you can visit Antarctica by air, avoiding the dreaded Drake Passage? There’s a company called Antarctica XXI that does an “air cruise” leaving from Punta Arenas and landing at the edge of the continent. Then you get on a ship and go from place to place.

Mountain Lodges of Peru is opening one of their lodges along the Lares Trek in the Sacred Valley. This will allow people to have a base from which to hike to villages or to combine it with camping—the way it’s done now.

Copa Air, which is now part of the Star Alliance, is continuing to add new routes from their hub in Panama City. New ones are Las Vegas, Liberia (Costa Rica), Recife (Brazil), and Iquitos (Peru).

Quito’s new airport is now scheduled to open in February, 2013. The most positive development there is that there’s going to be a park-n-ride kind of service where you can catch a shuttle bus from central Quito.

As for new and interesting tours, I liked a Guatemalan glamping tour from Viaventure where you dine with candlelight in the isolated Mayan ruins of Uaxactún and sleep there (in real beds) in the evening. I learned about an array of interesting trip in Uruguay run by the Lares Group and several companies are running 4X4 self-driving trips in Patagonia that are a nice cross between independent travel and an organized tour.

SA Luxury Expeditions is doing some neat things in Peru, from Lima tours that dine in historic homes in the center to a “Potato Passion” tour and a Lake Titicaca islands tour with a home stay.