Latin America updates

By Deanna Palić

The ancestors of every plant and animal species in the Galápagos Islands, including these sea lions, arrived from somewhere else. Photos: Palic

by Deanna Palic

Brazilian carrier GOL takes over Varig

GOL, the leader of low-cost airlines in Brazil, recently took over Varig Brasilian Airlines for about $275 million in a cash-and-stock deal.

Gol said that Varig would continue as a separate brand and would keep its frequent-flyer program, offering 2-class service on long-haul routes. GOL plans to cut costs and introduce more efficient aircraft.

Along with other prosperous Latin American airlines, including LAN, Copa Airlines and TAM, GOL is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

UNESCO and Ecuador express concern for the Galápagos

There is growing concern about the potential for tourism to damage the fragile ecological balance in the Galápagos Islands. The islands are on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list, and UNESCO and Ecuador want to ensure that they are preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Among the precautionary steps being considered by the Ecuadorian government is suspending the issuance of new tourism and air operation permits.

The Charles Darwin Foundation, a nonprofit scientific research organization based in Ecuador, maintains strategic statistics. The foundation estimates that approximately 120,000 tourists visited the Galápagos last year, up from 40,000 in 1991. The

Machu Picchu site at risk

Calls are mounting for limiting the number of visitors to the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, an increasingly popular Peruvian tourist destination. As the number of annual visitors soars toward the one million mark — a more than tenfold increase since the early 1990s — some have suggested closing South America’s preeminent archaeological monument one or two days a week.

The ancient complex is listed as a World Heritage Site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization, whose offi cials have voiced concern that the structures may become destabilized. So far, no decision to limit access has been made.

The issue, however, is extremely sensitive in a nation where tourism is a booming business. The return of political stability to Peru, coupled with Machu Picchu’s hauntingly mystical aura, has generated a virtual stampede to the “lost city.”

Rhythms of South America

MSC Cruises puts the exciting rhythms and beautiful coastlines of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil at your fingertips with itineraries that combine history, culture and tradition with fun and entertainment. Three of MSC Cruises’ contemporary ships will sail along the magnificent east coast of South America in 2007-08.

MSC Sinfonia will depart from Buenos Aires, the dynamic capital of Argentina; MSC Armonia will sail from Rio de Janeiro, and MSC Opera will sail round-trip itineraries from Santos, Brazil.

Itineraries feature destinations such as the beaches of Santos, Arraial and Ilhéus; Vador de Bahia, and Punta del Este, known as “the Saint-Tropez of South America.” Along with the destinations come opportunities to experience the colorful lifestyles and traditions of these enchanting cities.

Prices range from $319 per person, double occupancy, for 3-night mini-cruises to $1,099 for 9-night sailings. Government fees and taxes are additional. Travel to Brazil requires a U.S. passport with a minimum validity of six months and a visa. Contact MSC Cruises (800/666-9333, www.msccruises.com).

Hotel news

Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, Peru, is in the process of converting the adjacent Nazarenas convent into a 32-room annex. Completion is expected this year, bringing the total number of guest rooms in the hotel to 138. Other improvements include the addition of a spa and a pool.

Despite its hefty rates, Hotel Monasterio (pictured) has been so successful that Orient Express Hotels is converting the adjacent Nazarenas convent into a 32-room annex.

Hotel Monasterio is the premier property in Cusco. Rates for a standard room start at $470 per night. Call 800/237-1236 or visit www.orient-expresshotels.com.

Hotel Maury, a comfortable 3-star hotel in Lima, Peru, has been refurbished. The hotel is located downtown, a short walk from the main plaza.

Judy Martin, president of Latin America Reservations Center, or LARC (800/327-3573, www.larc1.com), has just returned from Lima and reports that the hotel is a real find in its category. LARC has special rates: $47 single or $60 double, including breakfast and taxes.

Holiday Inn Express has opened a property in downtown Puerto Montt, Chile. The hotel is located over the shopping mall Paseo Costanera, which houses shops, restaurants, cinemas and a supermarket. It is in a prime location, only minutes from the main port (ships to Laguna San Rafael Glacier, Punta Arenas and Ushuaia).

Ocean-view room rates start at $115 and include a free buffet breakfast. Call 888/465-4329 or visit www.holidayinn.com.

• The SuperClubs family of all-inclusive resorts is most closely associated with the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. The company is now expanding its presence in Latin America. The opening of a 300-room resort in Panama next year will be its first property in Central America.

As part of its holdings in South America, SuperClubs has recently broken ground on a resort that will open in Búzios, Brazil, in 2009. Buzios is about 100 miles north of Rio de Janeiro.

In addition to these holdings, SuperClubs manages the Sonesta Sao Paulo and the Sonesta Brasilia. For information, call 877/467-8737 or visit www.superclubs.com.