LATIN AMERICA 2011 | PRACTICAL TRAVELER
Where the Bargains Are
Published: September 14, 2011
LOOKING for five-star service at three-star prices? Try Latin America for your next vacation. Whether it’s due to a good exchange rate (as in Argentina) or simply because a destination is just coming into its own (Colombia), travelers will find that they will often pay less for a boutique hotel experience and that meals are more reasonable, if not downright cheap, compared with Europe or theUnited States.
Below, places with the most bang for your buck.
WHY GO NOW? While the dollar fluctuates in Europe,Canada and parts of Asia, it continues to go a long way in Argentina, where attractions range from the wineries and estancias (or guest ranches) of Mendoza to the wide boulevards and vibrant night life of Buenos Aires.
Weekend rates at the luxurious InterContinental Nordelta Tigre-Buenos Aires in early December start at $165 a night, based on a recent online search. Similar rooms at the InterContinental in Madrid were listed at 132 euros (about $182 at $1.38 to the euro) and 298 euros ($410) at the InterContinental Paris-Le Grande. Lunch in a Buenos Aires outdoor cafe with an appetizer, main course and espresso can be had for the equivalent of roughly $10 (at about 4 Argentine pesos to the dollar), said Myer Henderson, marketing manager at Say Hueque Tours in Buenos Aires.
For a fuller view of the country, Say Hueque has an eight-day Glaciers, Falls & Tango package that visits Iguaçú Falls, Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, and Buenos Aires, starting at $969 a person.
NONSTOPS FROM Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami.
WHY GO NOW? Long a backpacker’s paradise, this English-speaking nation in Central America has a selection of upscale offerings that has grown significantly in the last decade. Yet you’ll still pay less for those luxury digs than what you would for comparable accommodations in many parts of the Caribbean.
For example, prices at Matachica, a boutique resort on Ambergris Caye, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar redesign and expansion, start at $195 a night for a 350-square-foot villa with a private patio and hammock. There are also plenty of budget options. The Maya Beach Hotel near Placencia, for example, has fall rates as low as $69 a night for a beachfront queen room. High season rates start at $99 a night.
Go before December 2012, the end of the 5,126-year era of the Maya Calendar, an event expected to lure crowds and raise prices.
WHAT YOU GET Tropical beaches; Amazon jungle; snowcapped Andes mountains.
WHY GO NOW? Having made great strides in safety, Colombia is back on many travelers’ wish lists. Last year, the number of visitors from the United States rose 10 percent, according to Proexport Colombia, the nation’s tourism promoter. Though the State Department continues to caution United States travelers of violence by narco-terrorist groups in some rural areas and big cities in its Travel Warning on Colombia, it also notes that security has “improved significantly” in recent years in tourist destinations like Cartagena and Bogotá.
International hotel chains have taken note. Next year, Colombia expects 42 hotels to open, adding 7,287 rooms to the country. Still, prices remain low, even at the high end. The JW Marriott Bogotá, which opened last year, was recently offering last-minute weekend rates from $209 on its Web site.
Oasis Collections, a boutique rental agency with design-oriented apartments in Latin America, has several affordable Colombia options including a three-bedroom on a private island in the Rosario Islands for $2,880 a week.
NONSTOPS FROM Atlanta, Houston, Miami
WHAT YOU GET Colonial cities; thatch-roof cabanas; rain forest zip lines.
WHY GO NOW? It’s affordable and fun. Lonely Planet put the country high on its list of Top Value Destinations for 2011, noting that the careful traveler can get by spending $15 a day, “and midrange comforts can be had for less than double that amount.”
For those beyond the backpacker budget, upscale eco-lodges and resorts continue to open. Aqua Wellness Resort, aquanicaragua.com, which opened in January on the Pacific Coast, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Managua, has four-night packages from $1,100, including breakfast and lunch or dinner, and a 15 percent discount on spa services.
Set on a private island in Lake Nicaragua, the Jicaro Ecolodge, jicarolodge.com, which opened last year with nine casitas, has a three-night Honeymoon Green Season Value package for two from $890 with taxes through Nov. 20, including a romantic dinner on the floating deck or a couples massage.
NONSTOPS FROM More than 10 United States cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami.
WHAT YOU GET Caribbean beaches, lush rain forests, night life, free medical insurance.
WHY GO NOW? The Panama Tourism Authority has created deals and other incentives, some rather unusual, to help reach its goal of attracting more than two million tourists this year.
For example, visitors can get free emergency medical insurance for up to 30 days. Pick up a brochure and insurance card at the tourist information booths in the immigration area at Tocumen International Airport for details.
And earlier this year, Copa Airlines, in partnership with the Panama Tourism Authority, began offering free stopovers in Panama, allowing passengers on their way to the 52 destinations the airline serves to visit two destinations for the price of one.
International hotel chains continue to open in Panama City. In July, Trump Ocean Club,TrumpPanamaHotel.com, made its debut in Panama with 369 rooms from $259 a night (with the Experience Panama package, which includes daily breakfast and a $50 hotel dining credit), five pools and plans for a casino, a spa and a beach club on nearby Isla Viveros. Next month, Starwood’s fifth hotel in Panama, the 611-room Westin Playa Bonita, is set to open just outside the capital.
To encourage travel beyond the capital, the tourism authority is running a campaign, “Discover your Interior,” promoting the volcanic landscape of El Valle de Anton in Coclé province, the rivers and mountains of Chiriquí province, and the Caribbean beaches ofBocas del Toro with special rates. For example, about 20 hotels in Bocas del Toro are offering two-night packages with round-trip airfare from Tocumen airport, breakfast and taxes from $240 a person.