Just a year after fear of the Zika virus dominated coverage of the Olympics in Brazil and threatened to seriously derail travel to much of Latin America, Ker & Downey said demand for its custom luxury options across South America is back on track.
"I do think there still is an awareness of Zika. But it's not an alarmist approach anymore," said Elizabeth Frels, product manager for Ker & Downey, a luxury experiential travel company based in Katy, Texas. "People are really coming home to South America. We are seeing it grow and grow this year. And we think 2018 is going to be stellar."
From private yacht charters through the Caribbean islands off the Colombian coast to more culinary-based trips through Peru and expanded offerings in Patagonia, Frels said the company has been adding options in South America in response to the growing demand.
Among the hot spots, she said, are Colombia, Peru, Patagonia and the always-popular Argentina.
Despite its lingering but outdated reputation for drug trafficking, Frels said Colombia in general is growing as a luxury destination, with particular interest in the islands off Cartagena.
Among Ker & Downey's new offerings are a private yacht charter that can take a dozen guests for 10-day trips from one secret beach to another, where they can spend their days snorkeling, diving, paddle surfing and kayaking "in a place where no one else is doing that," Frels said.
In Argentina, the company has begun arranging private sailboat charters in Nahuel Huapi Lake, enabling travelers to explore northern Patagonia "with the utmost luxury and privacy." Even in high season, the company said, it is rare to see other vessels on the lake.
In the southern Patagonia region, Ker & Downey has added a puma tracking expedition with local guides who have special permission to track the elusive big cats on walking or driving safaris that include five-star, overnight accommodations.
In Peru, she said, culinary travel has started to outpace the demand for Inca-related travel in the country. Ker & Downey has added craft brewing tours as well as an art tour to the Callao district, where local artists have transformed formerly derelict spaces into shops, restaurants and galleries.
One new destination to watch, she said, is Uruguay.
"It's just a gem of a destination," she said, noting there has never been Zika there, and it has beautiful beaches and a great wine culture.
"We've really pushed it to be on the radar I would say Uruguay and Colombia are the ones to really keep your eye on."