Latin America updates

According to tour operators and tour wholesalers serving Latin America, there has been an increase in leisure travel to this area. The demand for alternative foreign destinations has whet the traveler’s appetite for soft adventure and indigenous cultures. The availability of upscale travel products in the sector of country inns, jungle lodges and expedition cruises has made the area more appealing to the less adventurous traveler.

The purpose of this column will be to keep our readers abreast of recent news from this corner of the world.


Most tour packages take you from Rio directly to Iguassu Falls. South Winds Travel & Tours has created an interesting twist. Their 7-day/6-night package includes a visit to the colonial town Parati (see Feb. ’04, pg. 97 & March ’04, pg. 103).

The “land only” price starts at $567 per person, based on double occupancy; the single supplement is an additional $160.

Details are available from Lucia at South Winds Travel & Tours, 8929 South Sepulveda Blvd., Ste. 206, Los Angeles, CA 90045; call 800/533-3423, e-mail or visit


• Evidence is proving that Santiago is investing strongly in civic improvement. Those nasty traffic snarls and noxious fumes have been thwarted by a 10-year, $800 million transportation and environmental overhaul, now in its final months.

The clean and easy-to-access metro system covers twice as many miles as it did three years ago, and landscaping has begun on newly created green belts and parks. Crumbling architectural treasures, such as the 19th-century downtown restaurant Confiteria Torres, are being refurbished.

Santiago’s greatest attraction remains its ideal location. Ski slopes are 31 miles to the east, the Pacific coast is 62 miles to the west and wineries are found in just about every direction.

• LAN Airlines, formerly LanChile, has initiated negotiations to acquire an airline in Argentina. The airline will use the name of LAN Argentina and be part of the growing LAN airline alliance, which now includes LAN Peru and LAN Ecuador.


• Latin America Reservations Center (LARC) is promoting wedding packages in the historical sanctuary of Machu Picchu. I cannot think of a more mystical setting for a wedding ceremony. The 7-day tour package also includes visits to Lima, Cusco, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Accommodations at the deluxe Orient Express hotels Miraflores Park Placa in Lima, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge and the Monasterio del Cusco are an added plus.

• Hot off the press is another new offering from LARC, a 5-day/4-night trek to Machu Picchu’s lost sister city, Chokequirao (Gold Cradle). The ruins are perched 5,940 feet above the Apurimac River.

The package departs from and ends in Cusco. Included are services of local official guides, camp staff, tents based on double occupancy and toilet tent with a biodegradable chemical toilet. Rates for both packages and official wedding requirements are available from LARC. Call LARC in Dundee, Florida, at 800/423-3114 or e-mail

Entrance fees to Machu Picchu have gone up $4 and now total $24. The round-trip bus fare from the train station to the ruins remains at $9.


Budget Travel magazine conducted an informal survey on the world’s best eco-lodges by asking top travel professionals for recommendations. Of the 10 most often mentioned, two are in Latin America.

Selva Verde Lodge in Costa Rica occupies a large expanse of rainforest in the country’s northeast, near Braulio Carrillo National Park. It is a 2-hour drive from San José via a decently paved highway. Rates start at $114, including meals. Call 800/451-7111 or visit

• Bolivia’s Chatatlan Ecolodge is deep within the 4.5-million acre Madidi National Park. After flying from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, you take a canoe for five hours on the Tuichi River.

Most of the nine thatch-roofed rooms, which sit on stilts, lack air-conditioning, but the mosquito nets are cinematic. Lodging, meals, boat transportation and activities cost $140 per person per night. Call 011-5913892 or visit


The city of Antigua has a new exclusive boutique hotel, Posada de los Leones (Lion’s Inn). The posada is located on the perimeter of the city and inside La Finca la Chacra, a beautiful coffee plantation with a spectacular view of the Volcan de Agua. Rates start at $165 per night, double.

View their website at, e-mail stay@lions or call the hotel at 502/7832 7371.


Retirees can find more for less in Panama. Tax breaks, lower prices and a laid-back lifestyle are drawing a growing community of Americans to Boquete, a coffee-growing town nestled in the mountains of western Panama. Americans are buying homes and starting new lives there. It is the latest hot spot in Central America, a region that over the last decade has attracted increasing numbers of U.S. retirees. Boquete has turned up on several “Best Places to Retire” lists on Internet sites.

Last year Panama granted 449 special retiree visas, nearly double that for 2003 according to the nation’s Immigration office. Under the terms of these visas, the Panamanian government exempts foreign retiree property tax or income tax as long as the retiree can prove an income of $500 minimum monthly. Newcomers can take in a car and up to $10,000 in belongings tax-free. Interest on deposits in Panama’s banks is also exempt from taxes.

Panama feels the special tax status is good for the country because retirees put more cash into the local economy.

Additional information for retirement status is available from any Panamanian consulate or embassy.