Bespoke travel—it’s a many-splendored concept with many perspectives. Think truly customized upscale travel in which a journey is solely and meticulously designed to meet client needs and sensibilities, is focused on highly local and authentic experiences, and is fashioned out of luxury products and services to produce a unique trip. Today’s demand for bespoke travel creates top demand for destination expertise, creating a marketplace in which professional travel agents shine—
Dozens of hotels, inns and lodges in Latin America are, in one way or another, jumping on the bespoke bandwagon, and surely the new Grace Panama in Panama City is a poster child to the movement. The luxury boutique property, with 60 rooms including seven ultra-luxe suites, offers a series of Bespoke By Grace Experiences, adopted, according to Allison Kline, director of marketing-Americas, because “we want our guests to feel connected to our richly diverse destination and have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture with insider access and insights.”
Hotel guests may join the executive chef for an early morning visit to the Panama City Fish Market; learn about the history of rum, how it is made and how it tastes; hike through the Metropolitan Natural Park; or take a photography master class. And Bespoke by Grace also applies to in-room options spanning a choice of pillows, room fragrances, or champagne every evening.
The 31-guestroom, 3-story mansion hotel Casa Gangotena, from its base in Ecuador’s Old Town of Quito—the first city to be declared UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage site—is keeping a sharp eye on new options to enrich its portfolio of added-value guest activities. On offer are exclusive cultural adventures complimentary to guests on specific days every day of the week. For instance, Mondays are sweet, with chocolate tastings and a chance to learn the secrets and experience the delights of Ecuador’s famous product, while Thursdays treat guests to El Alabado After Hours, an hour-long immersion in this nearby museum that houses a state-of-the-art archaeological collection.
The new Hacienda AltaGracia in Costa Rica was the catalyst in inspiring Rico Tours’ president Leigh Ann Cloutier to design a luxurious and adventurous vacation package that showcases the little-known mountain area of Perez Zeledon and the lush Valley of San Isidro. “Our package,” says Cloutier “combines three nights at forest-bound Hacienda AltaGracia with four nights by the sea at Kura Design Villas to offer clients the best of two worlds on the Southern Pacific zone, whose latest appeal is now top luxury.” Cloutier describes some of AltaGracia’s assets: 50 hacienda-style casitas, which are “huge (starting at 1,173 sq. ft.), with king-size beds, fireplaces, panoramic terraces; the largest spa in Central America; its own airstrip and helipad; and seven dining options.” Additionally, she found a roster of memory-making adventures on land, at sea, and in the sky, as well as a world-class equestrian experience. It’s not far from the hacienda to the Kura Design Villas, perched on a mountain ridge with six spacious villas offering knockout views, epicurean feasts, an L-shaped infinity pool, a private beach, and couples massages in the Spa Sha. Guests experience the best in whale and dolphin watching, surfing, kayaking or guided hiking in Corcovado National Park. Priced from $3,010 pp dbl.
For Sandra Borello, president of Borello Tours & Travel, it was her stay at the stunning new retreat Viña Vik that provided the icing on the cake for the 15-night vacation package, Chile: Luxe & Lovely, she was curating to include all the best in Chile, south of Santiago. “Chile is now so well-suited for a single destination vacation for the upscale client who is ready for the ultimate Wine Country experience combined with Patagonia chic, which means staying in a new class of design-savvy resorts, lodges and camps that bring just enough luxury into the wild, and offer amazing experiences in the great outdoors.” Tour highlights include four nights in Puerto Natales at The Singular Patagonia property, which took 10 years to convert from a former cold storage and sheep-processing plant into a 57-room resort and spa. Sitting on 100 acres along the Fjord of Last Hope, it now features 57 rooms and suites, a world-class spa, a gourmet restaurant and more than 20 excursions including boating nearby glaciers, horseback riding at private ranches, and treks in the wilds of famed Torres del Paine. Travelers then move by ferry for a 2-night stay at the new and architecturally arresting 12-room Tierra Chiloe Hotel & Spa on Chiloe Island, known for its deep-rooted culture and traditions, grand scenery, fishing villages and UNESCO-awarded wooden churches. The hotel comes with its own boat for navigating the archipelago’s canals and fjords, one of many one-of-a-kind experiences. Next comes an activity-packed 3-night city stay in Santiago, followed by a 2-night stay the 22-suite Viña Vik, sited on 11,000 acres in the Cachapoal Valley; its infinity pool, just-opened Wine Spa, and variety of activities and special experiences are among the five-star amenities the hotel offers, in addition to just sipping fine wine. Priced from $7,883 pp dbl.
Guatemala-based Viaventure is well known in Central America for such bespoke experiences as renting a ruin in colonial Antigua or at a Mayan site in Guatemala, Honduras or Belize for a wedding ceremony or an anniversary celebration. However, David Farrington, marketing coordinator, points out, “travel by private air charter is always a winner in flexibility and luxury arrangements: private helicopter for a day visit to the almost-inaccessible ruins of El Mirador, with private guide and lunch in Guatemala; a helicopter charter for an airborne tour over the volcanoes in Nicaragua; or diving the Blue Hole in Belize by air and sea—traveling the long stretch out not by boat, but by helicopter.” He also notes that flying over the rainforests and the Caribbean Sea offers unique flightseeing experiences.
Jump 180 degrees to the other side of the question, “why fly?” and you meet the answer that for absolute comfort and convenience, plus special access and invitation-only events, the penultimate in custom travel is a private jet journey, a product which since 1989 has been in the “luxury tailor-made travel” portfolio of Abercrombie & Kent.
New for next year will be the 23-day Cuba & South America by Private Jet odyssey, visiting six countries. A&K founder Geoffrey Kent will join the participants in Cuba for people-to-people cultural exchange experiences, ranging from a private Buena Vista Social Club-style concert to a chance to talk—and possibly play—baseball with a local team. The itinerary moves on to Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia with a street fair arranged exclusively for A&K guests, while in Peru, it’s dinner in the Convent of San Francisco and travel to Machu Picchu in a private luxury train car. There’s also a traditional feast on Easter Island with local dignitaries and a stay at a working estancia in Patagonia, while in Buenos Aires, guests enjoy a private performance at the Colon Opera House. They then fly on to visit Iguazu Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides; track jaguar in the Pantanal; and top off the trip with a stay in Rio at the Belmond Copacabana Palace, visiting a traditional samba school and savoring a spectacular Carnival feast and folklore. Priced at $99,500 pp dbl, next year’s departure from Miami is Sept. 6.
Planning an Uber-Luxe Vacation
Longtime specialists in “Pampered Adventures” to Latin America, Ladatco Tours received this e-mail on Feb. 2, 2014: “We are an affiliate of Virtuoso and an independent concierge company…one of our VIP clients is interested in planning a tour in Brazil and any close-by countries they can visit after the World Cup. They want a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a party of seven to eight. They will be traveling with their own plane.”
Cut to July 2014, when this group of nine family and friends took off to visit four countries on the following itinerary: 4-night Zenith Yacht charter on the Amazon; four nights in Brazil’s Pantanal with exclusive use of and private everything at the Cordilheira Lodge; two nights on Lake Titicaca at the Inca Utama Hotel & Spa; four nights in Peru’s Inca World, with deluxe accommodations for Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu; one night in Lima at the Belmond Miraflores Park, with a 29-dish tasting menu at Astrid & Gaston; three nights touring Quito and the highlands from the Plaza Grande; and four nights in the Galapagos Islands at the luxury Pikaia Lodge, which has its own yacht for inter-island day cruises.
Of course, the numbers help tell the story of such a booking (take note, travel advisors): 754 e-mails exchanged between April 2 and Sept. 12, and the hard-copy itinerary ran 50 pages. The cost of this 24-day “Exclusive Experiences” vacation? $260,000.
Abercrombie & Kent: abercrombiekent.com or abercrombiekent.com/agentservices
Borello Travel: borellotravel.com
Casa Gangotena: casagangotena.com
Grace Panama: gracehotels.com
Ladatco Tours: ladatco.com
Rico Tours: ricotours.com
Viaventure: viaventure.com or viaventure.com/training (agent login)