Don’t Plan a Latin American Trip Without These Tips

Activities, Magazine Features

Arranging a successful tour in South or Central America calls for paying special attention to the geography, climate and culture of the countries to be visited.

Booking group tours anywhere requires certain knowledge, care, capabilities and experience on your part.  However, tours to Latin American countries have some special requirements. Follow these tips for a successful Latin American program:

(l)  While events like the Olympics or the Brazilian Carnaval may sound appealing, stay away unless you’re trying to attract a young, hip group. You’ll find inflated prices, scarcity of accommodations (or worse, sometimes double bookings) and difficulty getting the best guides and coaches.

(2)  Pick your countries. You can’t do all of Latin America in one trip. You can probably do one country somewhat thoroughly or two or three superficially. Learn about the different countries, what they offer and the clientele most appropriate.  For example, active adventure travelers will find Costa Rica their heaven. On the other hand, the sophisticated traveler wanting theater and fine shops will be happier in Buenos Aires.

(3)  If many members of your potential group will be seniors or suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems, you may want to avoid the high altitudes. You’ll find that Brazil, Argentina and some of the Central American countries are better bets than Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia for those prone to altitude sickness.

(4) Remember seasons vary. During winter in the U.S., you’ll find the beaches of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay jammed. But in our summer it can be cold and rainy south of the border…the farther south you go the colder it gets. Close to the Equator it’s hot year round, but altitude is a major factor in the weather, not just latitude. For example, Quito, Ecuador at 9,350 feet high, is right on the Equator, but it can be freezing cold once the sun goes down at 6 p.m.

(5) Go with tour operators who have been around a while and have a history of tourism to the area.

(6)  Don’t sell something until everything is confirmed. Get your confirmations of all space, activities and prices in writing before you start promoting the trip.

(7) Alert your tour members that expected meal hours and menus will differ from those in the U.S. In large cities, dinner is usually not before 7 p.m. and often much later. In the countryside, lunch may be the big meal of the day, particularly Sunday lunch, which is often the big family get-together of the week.

(8) Be prepared for things to move a bit more slowly and more graciously. That’s part of the beauty of a trip to this region.

(9)  Also be prepared to remind your tour members that social manners are more important: shaking hands when being introduced, frequent use of please and thank you, saying goodbye formally when leaving, etc. Latin Americans may see us as very efficient but not very gracious, even outright rude.

(10) Analyze the market to which you’ll be appealing to be sure you’re picking the appropriate countries and areas. Many ancient Indian sites, such as Tikal in Guatemala, Uxmal in Mexico’s Yucatan or Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes, will require considerable walking/hiking over uneven terrain.

(11)  Try to include some festivities with music, dancing and folklore. For example, Brazil offers wonderful samba shows with extravagant costumes, and many local school groups or dance clubs are anxious to show off their country’s musical heritage.

(12) Allow sufficient time in your day-to-day schedule for browsing local markets and shopping for artisan works such as weavings, metalwork, embroideries and ethnic jewelry – often one-of-a-kind items not found in shops at home or only at terribly inflated prices.

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