Experts unravel mysteries of rain forest itineraries

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NEW YORK--The call of the wild has become increasingly important in selling travel to South America, and the Amazon rain forest experience is key to understanding what ecotourism is all about.

For client satisfaction, travel agents would benefit by studying available programs closely, to match traveler expectations with the appropriate rain forest product.

Miami-based Ladatco Tours' president Michele Shelburne recently spent 10 days visiting both the Manu and Tambopata reserves in Peru.

She said that "above all, travel agents have to get the right clients in the right rain forest."

She pointed out that anyone who says "I want to go to the Amazon" should probably go to Iquitos in Peru or Manaus in Brazil, for they undoubtedly expect an Amazon River cruise.

However, for clients who ask first to see wildlife, Shelburne said she would choose "Manu for the adventurer and Tambopata for the softer adventurer."

Clients who are hard-core bird-watchers, as well as photography buffs, might have heard of Austin, Texas-based Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, or VENT, which has since 1994 offered at least one annual tour to Manu, with a five-day pre- or post-tour extension to Machu Picchu. VENT itineraries are escorted by leading birding authorities, and this year's program spent from July 30 to Aug. 17 in the Manu Reserve.

Another firm, International Expeditions, also is a major player in Amazonia.

The company, which is based in Helena, Ala., will soon launch its third expedition boat in the northern rain forest area, departing from Iquitos on the Amazon River, and will offer the southern Peru tours to Manu and its sister park, Tambopata, under its Independent Nature Travel program. "The Peruvian rain forest is for the independent traveler, one who wants the very personal experience with nature and the flexibility of touring with one's own sightseeing guide at one's own pace," said company spokesman Mason Fuller. To get the exceptional payoff of the wildlife experience, "you need to get remote," Fuller said, "and the InkaNatura programs in Manu [Peru] provide this."

Fuller added that although Manu is for the adventurer, "it is not hard-core nature travel but is rather easy to get to with quite nice accommodations."

At the same time, Fuller saluted Peru's Tambopata National Park, also in the southern area and accessed from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado airport, as having more spectacular scenery, a more developed tourist infrastructure and full of wonderful wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Agents can contact these operators:
Ladatco Tours
Phone: (800) 327-6162 or (305) 854-8422
Phone: (800) 328-VENT or (512) 328-5221
International Expeditions
Phone: (800) 633-4734 or (205) 428-1700

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