The best new tours and hotels for Latin lovers in a continent of unbeatable variety.
With fast-improving standards of accomodation, restaurants and transport, Colombia is back on the map as one of South America’s most voguish destinations. Colonial houses restored as boutique hotels in the walled Caribbean town of Cartagena, plus hiking and horse-riding in the coffee-growing Zona Caffetera are highlights. The film adaptation of Gabriel García M?rquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera is likely to fuel Colombia fever.
Audley Travel (01869 276210, www.audleytravel.com). A two-week tailormade trip staying at boutique hotels in Cartagena, Bogot?, the Zona Caffetera and Villa de Leyva in the Andes costs from £3,250, including flights, B&B and all transport.
Buenos Aires in style
The chic Palermo barrio of Buenos Aires is becoming the style capital of South America, with its new wave of boutique hotels and restaurants run by creative young chefs. Jewellery, textiles and furniture shops are open 24 hours a day. The district is also the nightlife centre for trendsetting porteños and the international crowd.
Cazenove+loyd (020-7384 2332, www.cazloyd.com). A five-night stay, including five nights’ B&B at the new Costa Petit boutique hotel and British Airways flights, is £1,309 (or £3,109 flying Club World).
Peru – beyond Machu Picchu
Sensational though the Inca Trail is, you can find equally breathtaking and less busy trekking elsewhere in the Cusco region. While the masses are queueing along the trail to Machu Picchu, be among the few to hike the high-altitude Weavers Trail in the Lares Valley, visiting communities who weave and wear the traditional red Andean ponchos, and culminating in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Or hike through astonishing chasms to remote ruins on the Choquequirao Trail in the Cordillera Vilcabamba.
Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk). A 13-night group tour, with eight nights’ trekking and camping in the Cusco region, is from £1,359, including all meals when trekking, B&B elsewhere and all transport, except international flights. Tailormade itineraries also offered.
Explore the Galapagos
Stay at a family-run hotel in the port of Puerto Villamil on Isabela island for a different perspective on the Galapagos. Islanders act as guides to the wildlife and there are activities such as riding on the Volc?n Chico volcano, kayaking among flamingos and meeting giant tortoises.
Select Latin America (020-7407 1478, www.selectlatinamerica.co.uk) has a five-night stay in Puerto Villamil from £1,333, including flights from Quito, all meals and guided activities on Isabela. International flights extra.
Iguaçu Falls, Brazil
Far-flung corners of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all meet at a point where the island-splintered River Iguaçu tumbles 82m (260ft) over a basalt cleft, providing elemental high drama. To get up close and personal with the falls, the place to stay is the sumptuous, Portuguese colonial-style Hotel das Cataratas on the Brazilian side, recently taken over by Orient-Express. It is the only place to stay in the Iguaçu National Park and has rooms, restaurants and a pool overlooking the torrents.
South American Experience (0845 2773366, www.southamericanexperience.co.uk). A week’s stay, including five nights’ B&B in Rio at the Philippe Starck-designed Fasano Hotel, and two at the Hotel de Cataratas, costs from £2,138, including international and domestic flights.
A new luxury riverboat and the first of its kind, the M/V Aqua, will make her maiden voyage from Iquitos into the headwaters of the Peruvian Amazon next January. Three, four and seven-day journeys will continue year round. With only 12 suites, Aqua is small enough to sail into the winding river systems of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. Black cayman, giant river otters and pink river dolphins are among abundant wildlife.
Bales Worldwide (0845 0570600, www.balesworldwide.com). A 12-day trip, including all flights and transport, three nights’ B&B in Lima and seven nights aboard Aqua, is from £3,695.
Up and coming Nicaragua
Because of its turbulent history, the largest of the seven Central American countries receives only a fraction of the tourist numbers that go to neighbouring Costa Rica. Nicaragua also has mountainous rainforests tumbling down to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, surfing beaches, profuse wildlife and a hinterland of volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes and coffee plantations. There are also indigenous communities and colonial cities such as Granada. Now that peaceful times have returned, Nicaragua is the region’s up-and-coming destination.
Trips Worldwide (0117-311 4404, www.tripsworldwide.co.uk). A tailormade, ten-night tour costs £1,895, including flights, all transport and B&B, with three nights at Morgan’s Rock Eco-lodge.
Calving icebergs in Patagonia
This wild, raw region spans southern Argentina and Chile, and there is a hotel unrivalled in luxury and setting on either side of the border. At the Casa Los Sauces hotel at El Calafate in Argentina, a day’s glacier trekking is followed by a massage and a gourmet dinner. And at Explora in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park you can see icebergs calve into Lake Pehoe.
Steppes Latin America (01285 885333, www.steppeslatinamerica.co.uk). A nine-day trip, including flights to Buenos Aires and back from Santiago with a night’s B&B in each city, three nights each at El Calafate and Explora, including all meals and activities, costs £2,495.
All prices are per person based on two sharing, and are for sample dates over the coming six months.