It's next to impossible to generalize about a geographic area as large as Latin America, but tourists are continually drawn to the region for a few major reasons. While it's the value that might initially attract travelers, it's the quality of experience that brings them back. Countries with more established tourism infrastructure, such as Peru and Chile, continue to offer cultural authenticity, and emerging destinations such as Colombia and Nicaragua give early adopters a chance to have first bragging rights and blaze the trail for others.
Colombia, once known for generating headlines about drug trafficking and crime, is truly a diverse destination that's becoming more and more deserving of a second chance. Here's how Echavarria puts it:
"If you want to see the Pacific Ocean, go to Chile. If you want to see the Atlantic Ocean, go to Jamaica. If you want to see the Andes Mountains, go to Bolivia. If you want to see the plains of the Orinoco, go to Venezuela. If you want to know the jungles of the Amazon, go to Brazil. If you want to see pre-Columbian cultures, go to Mexico or Peru. But if you want to visit all this together … come to Colombia."
Popular tourist areas include Cartagena for sand and surf, the cosmopolitan capital city of Bogota, and the interior mountainous region known as the Coffee Triangle.
Statistically, safety is improving, while tourism has increased three-fold over the past several years. Between 2002 and 2008, the total number of homicides decreased by 44 percent, and kidnappings went down 85 percent. To help manage perception, the main tourism organization has been touting the slogan, "The only risk is wanting to stay." And, Colombia's renaissance was reported in a recent article in USA Today, and the New York Times named the country in "The 31 Places to Go in 2010."
With large indigenous populations and a strong sense of culture, many Latin American countries are also known for their offering "authentic" experiences, Peru in particular. In its annual Country Brand Index survey, tourism research firm FutureBrand recently named Peru as a top destination for authenticity and history.
New hotel construction in Peru tends to be mindful of local culture and the environment, and many hotels pay close attention to gastronomy and local food offerings. According to Elisabeth Hakim, UK & North American markets director of PromPeru, the Valley of Incas, only 50 minutes from the city of Cusco, has been shaping up to be a big area for tourist development. She noted several hotels—including properties from the Libertador chain, Casa Andina, and Sol & Luna—that strike a balance between luxurious amenities and indigenous elements regarding design and cuisine, and that offer opportunities for activities like nature tours and trekking.
In similar fashion, Sonesta Hotels strives to maintain cultural integrity in its properties, and puts together packages for its guests that include city tours and beyond. For example, the Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay, near Cusco and Machu Picchu, is set in a former 18th century monastery that has the feel of a village, complete with a chapel, gardens, and a handicraft market. Guests can also embark on a neighborhood tour featuring buildings by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.