Inside Travel: Journey Latin America - still pioneering after all these years
Saturday 13 February 2010
Thirty years ago, Chris Parrott co-founded the travel specialist Journey Latin America. At the time, the region was in turmoil, from Mexico and Guatemala to Argentina and Chile. Today Latin America is largely calm, peaceful and accessible (except, temporarily, Machu Picchu in Peru). But there is still plenty of virgin territory. In September, Chris will lead a prospecting trip to the territory that Evelyn Waugh described as "gobs of Empire": the Guianas. He tells Simon Calder about the trip.
CP: We'll start in Caracas, Venezuela. We'll go down towards the Angel Falls (you have to fly there, unfortunately, because there's no road to get in) and continue by road down to the Brazilian border, into Brazil, and track north towards the Guyana border. They've just finished a bridge there, which opened last September. We'll stop in three or four different places in Guyana, which I've already done the recce for – places like Rock View, Surama, the Atta Rainforest Camp, and end up in [the capital] Georgetown eventually.
SC: Georgetown is the same size as Crawley – only hotter, and with a Test cricket ground – but it's also the crime capital of South America. So why would anybody want to go on holiday there?
CP: Because it's interesting. It's particularly good from a wildlife point of view. If you are a zoologist, or a botanist, then it's astonishing what you can see there. They've probably spent the last 15 to 20 years training guides to be expert ornithologists and that's where their strength lies. And people get looked after in Georgetown with kindness. They'll be taken round the interesting markets, so that they don't get waylaid.
We'll have a bit of relaxation in Georgetown. We'll then continue, more or less following the coast for the rest of the trip. First of all we go to the Surinam border, which we have to cross by ferry, and then into Surinam [Dutch Guiana], where we'll spend three days in Paramaribo. And then finally to the Guyane [French Guiana] border, and another ferry crossing.
Everybody's heard of Devil's Island, but it's almost inaccessible. But the Iles du Salut, which are the penal colony islands, now have a hotel. Some of the prisoners' quarters have been turned into hotel rooms and there's an excellent little museum. Guyane is also where the European Space Project – the Ariane project – is based.
And eventually we'll end up in the capital, Cayenne.
SC: A very expensive trip, I would imagine?
CP: It's not a king's ransom: just under £3,000, including flights.
SC: This is a part of the world that hardly anybody goes to, so why on earth are you?
CP: The pioneering aspect of it is important to us. We've never really run trips there before. We've actually got one tour leader who speaks all five languages [English for Guyana, Spanish for Venezuela, Portuguese for Brazil, Dutch for Surinam and French for Guyane]. It's not that easy to run escorted group trips there – the infrastructure really hasn't been up to it and there's quite a lot of chopping and changing. Guyana is really quite a complicated country to travel round – you simply can't turn up somewhere and hope for the best.
SC: You told me 15 years ago than only one in 100 trips by British travellers was to Latin America. Today, are you optimistic that more people will come to appreciate the region, or have we hit some kind of equilibrium?
CP: I think more and more people will go. Latin America has a huge amount to offer, from glaciers to rainforest and astonishing waterfalls to deserts. There's archaeology, textiles, music, birdwatching ... and they've got beaches as well. But it's a long way to go just for a beach.
Journey Latin America's 20-day 'Trail-blazing Through the Guyanas' trip departs on 18 September, priced £2,998. For more information call 020-8747 8315, or see journeylatinamerica.co.uk
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