Harry speaks to Yolo Journal about how he got into the travel industry and some of his favourite client journeys. You can follow Yolanda Edwards’ adventures @yolandaedwards, or pick up a copy of @yolojournal, available at all good newsagents.
Tell us about you/ your company… what you do, what you specialize in…
Hello! My company is called Plan South America and we’ve been organising private travel to Latin America and Antarctica since 2006.
I fell in love with Havana when I was 19 and determined to find my way back to Latin America. After university in the UK, I moved immediately to Buenos Aires to work for Time Out and the Buenos Aires Herald. It was a wild time, as Argentina bounced back to life from its 2001 economic meltdown. Over nine years, I explored every corner of that city, and walked, rode and drove across huge tracts of South America. In 2017, I bought a car in southern Chile and drove with a friend to La Guajira, Colombia, the northernmost point of the continent.
I started my working life as a fixer and city concierge in Buenos Aires, and gradually expanded coverage across Argentina and, later, into the rest of South and Central America. Deep knowledge, personal contacts and first-hand experience have been at the heart of our business from the beginning. Over the past 15 years, we have dealt with briefs, both of earthy simplicity and eye-watering complexity and extravagance. We lay no claim on any other part of the world, but when it comes to Latin America, our contacts and experience are unmatched.
What’s the entry level to talk to you? (a trip cost minimum, an hourly consulting fee, a membership fee, or is your fee a part of the overall package?)
We’re always happy to speak to anybody about Latin America free of cost. As soon as we start work on a proposal, we charge a $500 per person planning fee, which contributes towards the trip total. Huge time and effort go into building and delivering each journey, so it’s important we cost our time and expertise accordingly. Our journeys start at around $1000 per person per day.
What is your expertise sweet spot?
We’re strong throughout Latin America, but if I had to pinpoint where we really shine, I’d say Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These are the countries where we have spent months or years on the ground, rather than weeks exploring, and can open doors that really make an experience.
We specialise in high end adventure, and cover everything from remote road trips, riding holidays, safaris, sporting journeys, corporate incentives, family sabbaticals and art travel. Good food and drink are central to every trip. So long as it’s in our specialist region, we can always add some magic.
A trip you’ve done that you feel represents you and your philosophy the best…
Maybe a family sabbatical. A couple of years ago we had a fantastic brief for a family wanting to go to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. They travelled slowly over 3 months, staying at local farms, little boutique hotels, coastal hideaways, occasionally splashing out on world-class lodges. There was plenty of budget when required, but the brief was to stick lowkey and local. For the kids, we arranged classes in cooking, astrology, foraging and botany, as well as surf school and Spanish lessons. They were wide-eyed from start to finish. The whole family were experienced riders and got very immersed in the gaucho way of life and criollo culture. The parents had high expectations on quiet style and comfort, and a strong aversion to anything remotely contrived. They wanted only the realest, most visceral experiences. It was a hugely satisfying brief because that’s exactly what we stand for.
And the most ‘over-the-top’ trip you’ve planned?
During the Olympics in Brazil, we organised a 3-month grand tour. The first month was spent in Brazil, with a Bond villain-style villa on the coast, helicopters on demand, tennis coaches, tutors for the kids, security, private chefs and full access to all the games. They then went on to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador, and took private charters down the Amazon and in the Galapagos. The trip took a year to plan and included some 60 guests, all coming and going over the course of the 3 months. Such briefs are intensely demanding, but so utterly rewarding when, at journey’s end, all expectations have been transcended.
How safe is it to travel in Latin America at the moment?
The local situation is improving, but there have been plenty of false starts, as in the rest of the world. Countries such as Belize, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Nicaragua are leading the way. Infection rates are on the wane and vaccination roll outs are proving highly successful. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru are a little behind, but we see that changing by October/November when spring arrives to the southern hemisphere and a greater proportion of the population have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, at home, quarantines are being relaxed for those who are fully vaccinated, so we’re very much heading in the right direction. Our US clients have been booking and travelling for a couple of months now. Those in the UK and beyond are starting to book for the end of the year and first half of 2022.
Demand for privacy is high. We’re seeing requests for private islands, luxury camps and remote haciendas, where there is enough to see and do without having to jump on multiple flights. That’s good news for the slow and sustainable travel movements, but it will be interesting to see how long it lasts!
Where do you think might be the next big travel story in Latin America?
If its politics remain stable, Nicaragua would be a firm favourite. It has huge charm, stunning colonial architecture, some excellent places to stay, rainforest, volcanoes, beautiful beaches, private islands, surfing, riding, cowboy country – and barely a tourist in sight.
I also discovered some sensational new properties in Costa Rica in January. One is probably the most exceptional estate in the country, with four of its own beaches, a tennis court, a polo field, a landing strip and four exquisitely designed two-bedroom villas. The other is a private working hacienda, with some of the best horseback riding and wildlife viewing opportunities in the country. Both properties are fully staffed, available for private rent and offer, in my mind, the most outstanding experiences available in Costa Rica.
How, as a company, do you encourage your clients to be better travelers?
We have always championed the road less travelled. That isn’t to say we don’t offer experiences to Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls, but we try to steer guests to lesser-known sites which require a little more effort to reach, but receive far fewer annual visitors. This reduces the erosive effects of mass tourism and distributes the economic benefits more evenly.
As standard, we offset the carbon from every trip we design. We do so through the World Land Trust, which counts Sir David Attenborough amongst its patrons: “The money that is given to the World Land Trust, in my estimation, has more effect on the wild world than almost anything I can think of”.
We encourage clients to devote some time – even an afternoon – to volunteering for local community or conservation-led projects, whether teaching in a local school, tagging hammerhead sharks or planting trees in the Atlantic Forest. We support three Latin America based charities each year.
When shopping whilst away, or back at home, try to support businesses that benefit local artisan communities, such as the Colombia Collective (Colombia), Luna Zorro (Guatemala) or Caravan Collective (Mexico).
If you’re interested in learning how to travel more responsibly, get in touch and we’ll help show you the way! We all still have a lot to learn.