Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Tue November 15 2016

Avanti Sees Latin American Rebound from Zika Scare

Tour Operator Avanti Destinations David Cogswell November 15, 2016

Avanti Sees Latin American Rebound from Zika Scare

PHOTO: Iquazu Falls (photo by David Cogswell)

Tis the season to book winter vacations in Latin America and Avanti Destinations is gearing up with 55 new offerings to freshen up its menu for custom made packages in Latin America.

For Avanti it is time to rebound from a slump in Latin American tourism.

“It’s been a tough year in Latin America overall, with Zika and what have you,” said Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti. “The idea of this disease being rampant everywhere unfortunately has tempered a lot of travelers.”

As with most scares, the fears don’t correlate with the actual situation.

“I was in Brazil just after the Olympics, toward the end of the Paralympics,” said Dalgaard. “It was the winter season, and there were very few outbreaks. But things don’t make too much sense. Across the Amazon and up north, Colombia is booming for us, and yet they do have quite a high incidence of Zika. So I don’t know, but I think Latin America will start coming back, both Central and South America.”

Dalgaard was impressed by new infrastructural developments in Brazil. Since the impeachment last summer of Dilma Rouseff, Brazil’s first female president, the business community, which held back on investment while it was trying to push Rouseff out of office, started pouring money back into Brazil.

“I was very impressed with what I was seeing and hearing in Brazil,” said Dalgaard, after visiting Brazil for the first time in two years. “It was very interesting that the business community was holding back lot of investment in Brazil when Rouseff was in office, and they didn’t want to put this money back in the economy. But now with the impeachment, a flood of money came back into the country.”  

One of the most interesting new developments Dalgaard saw trip was the major waterfront renovation in Rio de Janeiro’s downtown business district. The centerpiece of the renovation at Porto Maravilha is the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

“The plans for that area are to resurrect the warehouses like they are doing in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires,” said Dalgaard. “I was very impressed with that. The infrastructure is changing and the Cariocas themselves in Rio are thinking positively. I came back pretty high on things turning around on Brazil.”

Avanti is also growing its product selections in Argentina.

“Before attending the Travel Mart Latin America at Iguazu Falls on the Brazil-Argentina border, Leigh Young, one of our top Latin America experts explored the Argentinean side, the Argentinean version of the Brazilian Pantanal, called the Iberá Wetlands,” said Dalgaard. As a result, Avanti is offering a package to visit the Iberá Wetlands.

“So now people can do Argentina from Patagonia to Iguazu, and then take in the quasi-tropical wildlife area,” said Dalgaard. “This new wetlands area in the northern part of Argentina south of Iguazu makes a very good combination of our most popular areas of Argentina. And it also adds the potential for some ecotourism with lots of different flora and fauna.”

Changes in Brazil’s visa requirements for Americans could open the door to more combinations of Brazil with Argentina.

“Brazil lifted the visa restriction for U.S. travelers for the Olympics,” said Dalgaard. “They are talking of doing it again. We have a lot of travelers who only go to Argentina only because there’s no trouble getting a visa there. And getting a visa for Brazil can be cumbersome, especially if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area that has a consulate.”

Avanti a new program called the Spirit of the Glaciers that includes a passage on a 42-passenger ship among the glaciers on Lago Argentina in Patagonia out of Calafate, in the southwest part of the Santa Cruz Province.

‎Combinations of Argentina and Chile are also doing well, according to Dalgaard. “Crossing between Argentina and Chile is very popular, both from Calafate to Puerto Natales, or on a cruise from Ushuaia to Puerto Varas.”

The opening of new direct air service from Santiago, Chile, to Puerto Natales, Argentina, creates new opportunities for travelers in Latin America.  

“Why is that important?” said Dalgaard. “Normally the traveler if wanted to go to Torres del Paine, the famous mountain range in northern Patagonia, we’d have to fly to Puntarenas and then do a four-hour land transfer up to Puerto Natales, and then go on from there. Now there’s new, seasonal, direct air service from Santiago to Puerto Natales that really opens up the Torres del Paine area and many ecolodges there. That is important because Americans have less time to travel and they tend to be forced into 10 or 14 days. When you start doing backhauls and losing a full day in transit that affects their ability to maximize their time in a place. So this kind of infrastructure development is critical.”

In Ecuador Avanti is offering new train journeys.

“We had some of our people in the last year or two on a train from Quito to Guayaquil,” said Dalgaard. “They are historic trains. Train Ecuador, a new government-funded program. For people with limited time it does give them a glimpse of the highlands and the lowlands

before going on their Galapagos cruise. That’s a very new addition to our program, and a good one, certainly for train buffs. It’s very exciting.”

Avanti offers modular independent travel components in packages of a few nights each that can be combined in whatever way suits the wishes of the clients.

Here is a quick glimpse of some samples of Avanti’s new offerings for the 2017 travel season.

Argentina: Spirit of the Glaciers – a three-day/two-night cruise on a first-class 42-passenger ship on Lake Argentina among glaciers, mountains, forests and the grasslands of Los Glacieres National Park.

Argentina: Esteros del Iberá Wetlands – four days/three nights in a four-star hotel in the wetlands nature area, with its floating islands, 300 bird species, hundreds of butterfly species, as well as howler monkeys, caimans and marsh deer.

Peru: The Flavors of Peru – eight days/seven nights of food-oriented tours in Lima, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco, including tours of private taverns and bars, private gastronomy tours, a private cooking class, a Pisco Sour lesson, market tours and an agricultural community visit.

Colombia: Isla Múcura –Two hours by boat from Cartagena into Punta Faro, a resort in the National Natural Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo, with kayaking, snorkeling and diving among coral reefs.

Belize: Ruins and Reef – Seven days and six nights divided between the beach at Ambergris Caye and the ruins at Lamanai, an archeological site occupied by the Mayans for three millennia, reachable by boat excursion through a jungle filled with caimans and monkeys.

Costa Rica: Rio Perdido – three days/two nights at a secluded thermal spa resort, with opportunities for rappelling down the sides of canyons, hiking, mountain biking, white water tubing and volcanic mud treatments.

Nicaragua:  Volunteer in Paradise – five days/four nights at Morgan’s Rock Eco-Lodge including a day helping at a local farm or school.

Ecuador: Tren Crucero – four days and three nights traveling between Quito and Guayaquil onboard historic trains carrying 50 passengers each, with visits to indigenous communities and markets. Designed as a pre- or post-Galapagos cruise.