An Inside Look at Latin America
By Miranda Plunkett
Since my first visit to South America 25 years ago, I have witnessed many changes. I stayed at Explora Patagonia which was back then southern Chile’s only ultra-modern lodge. Today, you can find amazing hotels from coast to coast, such as the retreats created by Vik, a hotel brand whose properties raise the bar in Chile and Uruguay. And cities that were certainly not on the tourist map ten years ago, like Colombia’s Medellin and La Paz in Bolivia, are both now sought after destinations.
To keep informed of all the changes, I asked my Latin America specialist, Lucy Slater, a few questions. Lucy is the co-founder of Antilophia Travel, a bespoke luxury tour operator. For the record, Antilophia is the genus name of a rare South American bird. Lucy has been arranging private travel to Latin America for over 20 years; her knowledge and experience are second to none.
Q. Where is your current favorite place for clients wanting somewhere special with excellent food and activities on the doorstep?
A. Hacienda Zuleta is really special. It’s a working farm tucked away in the Ecuadorian Andes and utterly charming. Zuleta, built in the 17th century, was owned by the former Ecuadorian President, Galo Plaza Lasso. It's now run by his charismatic grandson, Fernando, and most evenings you will be chatting with one of the family members by a log fire hearing all about the hacienda's fascinating history. Horseback riding on their beautiful breed of Zuleteño horses is the main activity. Endless trails in the Andes, through lush valleys and local villages also offer excellent hiking opportunities. The restaurant uses only farm-to-table produce, and the hacienda has its own cheese factory, where you can watch it all being made.
Q. Patagonia continues to be a popular destination. What sort of trip would you recommend for a couple?
A. There are some superb new lodges that have opened up just outside the Torres del Paine National Park. From them, you can get the best of both worlds, exploring the staggering Torres del Paine mountains and enjoying remote hikes in the private reserves where you are unlikely to see another soul. We can then arrange a private transfer across the border over the Andes to the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina.
Q. What was the most unusual trip you have organized?
A. I once arranged for some clients to actually participate in the world-famous Rio Carnival. I organized a samba lesson for them at the city’s top dance school. They also had the privilege of wearing dazzling handmade costumes as well as joining in the parade itself.
Q. Why should a client use a specialist like yourself over their regular travel agent, and would they pay a premium for your services?
A. With over 20 years of experience and frequent visits to this extraordinary continent, we’ve gathered an incredible directory of contacts. Our guides have become our friends and we pride ourselves on these relationships which make a trip even more insightful for our clients. As a tour operator, we don't charge a planning fee. Our fees come from the commission we receive from the hotels and lodges. When clients travel with us, they have the benefits of first hand knowledge and expertise in creating a trip of a lifetime and the reassurance of having someone to call 24 hours a day, without having to pay more.
Miranda runs a travel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com. She consults clients on all areas of travel from advising which travel specialist to use to outlining bespoke itineraries.