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ON A BUDGET

The price is right for Latin America

June 01, 2003|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

TRAVEL companies are announcing a sharp increase in Americans vacationing in Latin America. Air traffic is up by 15% from last year, travel agencies say bookings to Belize are up by 33% and to Costa Rica by almost as much, and the travel trade press reports major hotel construction throughout the region.

While some of the trend might have resulted from travelers' recent reluctance to visit Europe and Asia, much of it has been created by the new willingness of tour operators to slash their rates to Latin America to achieve a mass market. We've written before about the bargains many South American specialists are offering to Argentina and Brazil. Here are several popular programs to other Latin American countries:

* Panama: Visit the city and beach of Panama for seven days for $980 on a program offered by Tico Travel, (800) 493-8426, www.ticotravel.com. The trip, available in June and July, includes airfare from LAX; four nights in Panama City at the Coral Suites, accessible to the canal; and three nights at Isla Grande at the Bananas Village Resort.

* Peru: A week that includes two nights in Lima, three nights in Cuzco and one night in Machu Picchu is $995, including airfare from LAX. The last of these stops, Machu Picchu, is an archaeological wonder perched high in the Andes.With this package from Analie Tours, (800) 811-6027, www.analietours.com, you will have a guide to help you explore the ruins. Travelers stay at Machu Picchu's Presidente Hotel, in Lima at the Mariel Hotel and in Cuzco at the Plaza de Armas Hotel. Included are breakfasts throughout and lunch on the tour of the ruins.

* Costa Rica: Acknowledged to be the calmest and most stable of the Central American nations, Costa Rica has done well in luring North Americans to its shores, rain forests and tranquil villages. A package from Your Travel Service, (888) 877-9131, www.yourtravelservice.com, includes midweek flights, five nights on the Pacific coast's Jaco Beach, plus first and last nights in the capital, San Jose, to ease travel connections.

The package is $799 from Los Angeles. Arrangements are valid June through September (add $50 from July 8 to Aug. 8), with lodging at Best Western properties and including daily breakfast and all transportation within Costa Rica.

* Belize: Visit this English-speaking Central American nation in June or July on American Airlines on a seven-night package that includes lodging at the Anchorage Hotel on the beach of the offshore island of Caye Caulker, a relaxed, laid-back place where everyone walks around barefoot.

The cost is $908 from Los Angeles or San Francisco, from Capricorn Leisure, (800) 426-6544.

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