Checking-in To Latin America

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The Huancahuasi Lodge in Peru.
The Huancahuasi Lodge in Peru.

Where do you go to find out what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s new on the tourism scene among Latin American destinations? Many of us who focus on this region rely on TravelMart LatinAmerica (TMLA), an annual gathering of the top buyers and sellers of travel products and services in and to Central and South America, held this year in beautiful Salta, Argentina.

Here’s what we found: Latin America continues to move upmarket, with hotel development a boom industry, expanding and upscaling lodging infrastructures by leaps and bounds, especially in the luxury boutique hotels—found by the sea, in cosmopolitan capitals, close to vineyards, near World Heritage sites, in the rainforest.

According to TMLA delegate Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti Destinations, the hospitality offering in Latin America has changed dramatically, contributing in part to his company’s 20 percent increase in independent travel bookings. “For 2015, we have added 43 four-star superior and five-star hotels to our South and Central America brochure, reflecting the demand from American independent travelers who are spending as much for Latin American vacations as they are for Europe,” Dalgaard reports.

“And with the higher value for the dollar in Latin America, our travel agent clients are booking four- and five-star accommodations,
but basically paying the equivalent of three- and four-star hotel prices in Europe.”

Michelle Shelburne agrees that the comfort levels of accommodations in Latin America keep soaring to new heights, but the president of Ladatco Tours is particularly focused on the new luxury inventory of upscale wilderness-type lodges in scenically splendid settings, offering outstanding guest services and memorable guest activities. “By opening new hospitality horizons, these lodges are changing the landscape of vacation planning for the upmarket, active, adventurous traveler,” points out Shelburne. ”For example, Argentina’s Yacutinga Lodge, while not quite luxury, created a kind of ‘Jungle Book’ experience for travelers who want to expand the traditional visit to Iguazu Falls, and enjoy it a different way. Or take the Chilean Lake District where the opening of the Vira Vira Hacienda Hotel gives us a truly five-star lodging experience in a pristine area that will change the way we do the Lake District.”

Sellers’ booths on the TMLA floor were full of news to know about hospitality happenings:

  • In the province of Salta, Grace Hotels has just opened an elegant new boutique property in the Cafayate wine district. The 12-bedroom Grace Hotel & Spa Cafayate, plus 20 residential villas, two Grace Suites and a large pool area, share the 1,300-acre Estancia Cafayate with an 18-hole golf course, riding and polo stables, and surrounding vineyards.
  • Outside Pucon and along a convenient border crossing point with Argentina, the luxury 23-room and -suite Vira Vira Hacienda Hotel is a newcomer to Chile’s Lake District. At home in a native park on the shores of the Lucera River, the Hacienda prides itself on its farm-to-table cuisine and accents the “Elegance of Adventure” with activities such as horse trekking, hiking in national parks, skiing in winter, sailing on Lake Villarrica—all part of the all-inclusive stay.
  • Chile’s The Singular Patagonia hotel has a sister hotel, The Singular Santiago, in the capital’s cultural district, the fashionable neighborhood of Lastarria. The family-owned, luxury property has 62 guestrooms, a spa and fitness center, rooftop pool and bar, and a fine dining, French-style restaurant.
  • Chile has become an even more intoxicating getaway with the opening of Viña Vik, an 11,000-acre destination featuring a holistic winery and a hilltop hotel. It recently opened in the Cachapoal Valley, two hours from Santiago’s airport. The 22-suite resort has floor-to-ceiling windows and site-specific works from local artists in each of the suites, plus a spa whose treatments incorporate the vineyards’ own grapes. (Note: You’ll probably recognize the name from the two Vik retreats in San Ignacio, Uruguay.)
  • And speaking of Uruguay, there is new hotel action in Argentina’s little neighbor, an increasingly popular destination in its own right. The newest luxury hotel in Punta del Este—a.k.a. the South American Riviera—is the Grand Hotel with 119 modern and luxurious rooms and suites with upscale amenities, two pools, a fitness room and spa fitted out with a Roman bath and Scottish shower, two restaurants and a kids’ club.
  • In the Galapagos Islands, the 14-room Pikaia Lodge, a totally luxurious and eco-sustainable Small Luxury Hotels of the World property, is now open in the highlands, where the giant tortoises live on Santa Cruz Island. Guests enjoy grand views, and have access to the seagoing Pikaia I & II vessels for day excursions to neighboring islands.
  • Mountain Lodges of Peru has introduced a new hiking program along the Lares Trail to Machu Picchu and in the Urubamba Valley, a traditional Inca trail known for its cultural attractions. The two new lodges, with spacious guestrooms, hot showers, gourmet dining, jacuzzi and massage, recently opened in the town of Lamay and the rural community of Huancahuasi. Guests can enjoy day hikes designed for a variety of hiking abilities. A third lodge in the village of Patacancha will open in fall 2015.
  • In Panama City, the boutique buzz is all about the new American Trade Hotel in the Casco Viejo historic district. The property occupies a neo-classical, restored landmark building—previously a department store—and offers 50 rooms furnished with hardwood floors, stocked with Aesop amenities and showcasing vistas of the Old City and Panama Bay. Facilities include a rooftop pool and fitness center, and a gourmet restaurant.
  • Five-star resorts are bursting out all over along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the Guanacaste province. The latest to open is AMResorts’ Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica on El Jobo Beach. The all-inclusive resort embraces 447 luxury suites, a spa, six themed restaurants, a kids’ and teens’ club, and watersports such as snorkeling, surfing and sailing.

Archived related articles (available on archive):
Ah, the Spas, Latin America-Style (October 2014)