Options for the single traveler

By Deanna Palić
This item appears on page 79 of the March 2008 issue.

by Deanna Palic

As travel companies look for new ways to expand business, they’re increasingly courting solo travelers. Roughly one in 10 leisure travelers hits the road alone, according to the most recent data from the Travel Industry Association. More travel companies, from specialty tour operators to individual resorts, are creating packages that cater to those customers. Here are two.

Singles Travel International (Boca Raton, FL; 877/765-6874, www.singlestravelintl.com) provides worry-free travel that meets the unique needs of solo travelers to a variety of Latin American destinations. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile highlight their programs.

Every group is accompanied by at least one Singles Travel International Director who is available 24/7 to provide assistance, create an inviting social environment and answer questions.

Although their trips are a terrific way to meet people, travelers may be as involved as they’d like in the tour activities, spending their time with the group or relaxing and exploring on their own.

The company guarantees solo travelers a roommate, when requested, providing the traveler signs up and pays in full by the final payment date for each program.

Intrepid Travel (Boulder, CO; 800/970-7299, www.intrepidtravel. com) specializes in small, 10-persons-per-trip, off-the-beaten-path tours. Intrepid offers singles-only trips to Central and South America.

Travelers willing to share a room do not have to pay the usual single supplement, the fee that nearly makes up the difference in price in what would have been charged for two travelers sharing a room.

Reasonably priced hotels

NH Hotels (888/726-0528, www. nh-hotels.com), a reasonably priced Spanish chain, has hotels conveniently located in the centers of key South American cities: Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordoba, São Paulo, Santiago and Montevideo.

Rates for double rooms are around $125. Montevideo’s is a bargain at $70.

Where a buck’s still worth a buck

Over the last five years, Argentina has been steadily recovering from its currency collapse in 2001. While the turnaround has yielded a bevy of new hotels and restaurants, the country is still surprisingly inexpensive for American visitors.

Hotel rooms often are half the price of their European counterparts, and steak dinners, even at high-end parrillas (steakhouses), rarely cost more than the equivalent of $25.

Argentina is one of the best travel bargains in the world, especially right now because the dollar hasn’t declined against the Argentinian peso. For several years the dollar has remained steady at about three Argentine pesos. Instead of going to Europe and spending $400 or $500 for an average hotel, ITN readers can opt for Argentina and stay at a nice hotel for around $150 to $200 a night in Buenos Aires.

Latin America Reservations Center has fashioned a 5-night package in Buenos Aires which includes round-trip airport transfers, hotel accommodations, a city tour, a full-day excursion to an estancia (working ranch), a Tigre Delta boat excursion and a dinner/tango show.

The following prices, indicated in U.S. dollars, are per person, based on double occupancy: Carlton Hotel (standard 4-star), $748; Pestana Buenos Aires (superior 4-star), $799; Hotel Emperador (standard 5-star), $953, and Alvear Palace Hotel (deluxe 5-star), $2,042.

Contact LARC (Dundee, FL; phone 800/327-3573, e-mail travel@ LARC1.com or latinamerica@ verizon.net or visit www.LARC1. com). LARC is an ITN advertiser.

Panama Canal expansion

On Sept. 3, 2007, some 30,000 people gathered to witness the groundbreaking of the $5 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. The expansion will double the waterway’s capacity by its expected completion in 2014.

Eighty percent of Panamanians voted in a national referendum in 2006 to expand the 51-mile canal. This marks the first major alteration in the canal’s nearly 100-year history.

Funded by higher tolls, the project includes building one new lane of traffic with a new set of locks that would enable longer and wider megaships to pass through.

Peru’s sacred city

Caral, approximately 120 miles from Lima, Peru, is now open as a destination for travelers. Discovered in 1994 but built more than 5,000 years ago, Caral is the oldest city in the Americas and one of the oldest in the world.

Although Machu Picchu has gained more attention as the most familiar symbol of the Inca empire, the Sacred City of Caral was formed 4,400 years prior to the rise of the Inca.

For details on excursions to Caral, contact LARC.

Environmentalists, take note

Viaventure (La Antigua, Guatemala; phone 011-502-7832-2509, ext. 114, e-mail becky.harris@ viaventure.com or visit www.via venture.com), a full-service tour operator based in La Antigua, Guatemala, has received Green Deal certification through the Rainforest Alliance’s certification program in Guatemala, reflecting its commitment to environmentally sensitive, sustainable tourism practices.

For example, both in its La Antigua office and on it tours, Viaventure has improved energy efficiency to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Among other actions, the company has purchased fuel-efficient vehicles, uses energy-efficient lightbulbs in the office and has created a recycling system for paper, plastic, glass and metals for their office and some of their suppliers.

The company also has redesigned its tours to reduce if not eliminate the “carbon footprint,” the measure that human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

In terms of protecting and respecting cultural resources, Viaventure has developed tours that support cultural diversity and protect the heritage of local communities. Tour guides are trained in educating visitors and ensuring that all tours are respectful of local communities, traditions and ways of life.

On its tours, Viaventure also strives to incorporate locally produced products and to hire and train staff and guides from local communities.