We like to highlight companies doing a superlative job in Latin America for upscale travelers. Sometimes you may not have heard of these companies because they’re “inbound” tour companies. You contact someone to book a Galapagos tour, for instance, and a company like Latin Trails is the one actually taking care of you on the ground the whole time. We hit up experienced tour planner Marcel Perkins, who is general manager of that company, for advice on traveling in South America.
How did Latin Trails get its start and where do you operate tours in South America?
Latin Trails started as an extension of a lifelong passion of traveling throughout Latin America. My first trip to Ecuador took place when I was less than a year old. Eventually my parents decided to move from New Jersey (USA) to Quito when I was 7. We kept our U.S. ties but Latin America turned out to be our playground. We traveled the entire continent several times and helped hundreds of visitors organize their trips, and sometimes we led them as well. I decided to give the business a formal turn in 2002 and Latin Trails started as an Ecuador based destination management company.
Today we offer custom trips throughout Ecuador and Peru for travelers who search for private services, customized itineraries, and a 24/7 concierge service for a worry-free trip. To compliment these services we operate two boutique yachts in the Galapagos Islands: The Galapagos Sea Star Journey and The Galapagos Seaman Journey. We also run trips on an Amazon riverboat out of Iquitos: The Cattleya for eight passengers. We’ll soon be adding another ship there, Spondias. In Ecuador we will be adding a luxury boutique hotel in Quito for 2017.
What mistakes do you see tourists make who come to South America? What do you wish they would do differently?
The biggest one is not taking enough time to plan their itinerary. There are so many advantages of getting help from a travel planner and booking in advance. We offer early bird discounts for advanced bookings. For example we are holding 2016 rates for 2017 bookings until the end of September.
I also notice travelers wanting to cram too many destinations into a trip in a short period of time. We get requests of Galapagos plus Machu Picchu within a seven-day time frame, for example. It could probably be done, but travelers would not enjoy either location fully. My advice would be to give each location enough time to enjoy it slowly and without a rush. Latin America lives at a slower pace and travelers should take advantage of this. To enjoy the Galapagos fully I would say no less than five days is needed on the cruise side, plus there’s transit time to the islands and back.
We have to address the big scare of the year: The Zika virus. What’s happening in the regions where you operate and how are you coping with all the fears from potential visitors?
Fortunately Ecuador is a country where the local health system is well prepared to handle this type of outbreak. The local community has taken strong action to keep the virus from spreading. In Ecuador there are less than 2000 cases, most of them in non-tourist areas and confined to rural coastal locations in the northern border with Colombia. The rest of the country, especially regions like the Andes and Amazon, are pretty much virus-free. The mosquito that transmits the disease cannot survive above 800 meters of altitude, therefore a large amount of the country is spared.
In terms of the Amazon basin, the area has not received enough visitors with the virus for it to spread. It is important to note that it spreads from one infected person to another by the means of the mosquito and it is virtually impossible for an infected mosquito to cross the Andes from the coast to the Amazon to transmit the virus. Therefore the only cases existing are related to visitors that have arrived infected. In those cases the local health organization has immediately given them treatment and put into quarantine in order to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and transmitting the virus to other people. A similar case has occurred in Peru where native cases are non-existent and the virus has been found mainly in visitors that already have arrived into the country infected.
As a further precaution our itineraries have been crafted to include areas that are mosquito safe, with no current possibilities of being infected.
Areas our travelers visit and are not infected by the Zika virus:
Andes of Ecuador: Otavalo, Quito, Cotopaxi, Riobamba, Cuenca, Loja
Galapagos Islands: The mosquito does not exist in Galapagos
Coastal Peru: Lima, Nazca
Andes of Peru: Huaraz, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno
As you can observe these are some of the most important tourist sites in both countries and are virtually Zika free.
Despite all we travelers can now do online directly, I know most of your business comes through travel agents and international tour companies. How has this changed over the years and what are your end customers like? What kind of travelers are taking your tours?
We have continued to be loyal with travel agents and tour operators from around the globe. Travelers are more and more loyal to their travel agents, mainly because they receive unparalleled value from a long relationship with a private travel designer.
(Continued – read the full Latin Trails interview here.)