Latin Destinations = FAIL
ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND -- A friend and I recently purchased a vacation through Latin Destinations or Solar Tours (as it is called in S. America) to Peru. The website advertises that they have been customizing vacations since 1984, which may lead some consumers (including myself) to believe that they could be trusted and knew what they were doing. I was mistaken and this was evident before, during, and after my trip. I have been in contact with Latin Destinations (April Stiles and Mariana Elejalde) and have been very disappointed with their level of customer care. I've been waiting for over a month for them to contact the Peruvian tour company they used (Condor Travel) to get some answers... thus far, NOTHING... except for the occasional insult and mediocre excuse.
Latin Destinations's website is very misleading and almost borders on false advertising. For example, your itinerary shows the amount of "nights" you'll be staying in each city. However, a "night" could be as little as a few hours. When I brought this up to Mariana, she stated "...hotels are booked per night, regardless if you are staying one hour or a full night." Why would someone pay to stay in a hotel for an hour (or in my case 3 hours & 5 hours), when they could sit in the airport for free? We wasted $189.00 USD for these two "nights" in our hotels when we could have just waited at the airport.
The actual itinerary to Machu Picchu (our main reason for visiting Peru) was very poorly planned. We had less than an hour before the park closed to walk around on our own. The next day, we had nothing to do but wait in Aguas Calientes (a small, unmemorable town with nothing to do) for our departing 930 PM train. It would seem that a well-versed tour company like Condor Travel would have scheduled our trip to Machu Picchu on this day, when we had the entire day from open to close. Instead, they gave us the entire day to sit in the lobby of our hotel because there was nowhere to go in Aguas Calientes. My friend and I felt so ripped off by our initial visit to Machu Picchu, we paid for another bus and entrance ticket so we could actually get a chance to walk around for ourselves and see the sites that our guide missed. That was ANOTHER $177.00 USD that didn't have to be spent, had Condor Travel made more efficient use of our time. Which leads to the additional $45.00 USD we spent to leave Aguas Calientes on an earlier train so we could get an earlier start on our 4 hour journey to Cusco. I would also like to note that we paid to take an upgraded Vista Dome train to and from Aguas Calientes. Instead, Condor Travel booked us on the lower tier back packer train on our return.
The cherry on top of this entire mess, has to be the customer service provided by Latin Destinations and Solar Tours. Their excuse for not telling me the relevant details of my trip (ex: what time they would be picking me up from my hotel or that we had to repack our 11-days worth of belongings into an overnight backpack during our stay in Aguas Calientes) was that I didn't add in their transportation services from the airport to hotel (basically, I didn't buy the extras they offered) and that I'm not the right type of traveler for their services. As Mariana stated, "The first part of your trip (Machu Picchu) is more for independent travelers that like to accommodate their itinerary without having someone telling them what to do all the time. For I can see you like more the organized from beginning to end type of trip, without worrying about details like luggage, and times. We can definitely make it smoother for independent travelers but it’s a bit hard sometimes to find the balance between those 2 type of services that can please all our clients in their different levels of independence." So basically, I don't have the right level of independence to fit their tours.
I sent Latin Destinations an email with a list of the above complaints on July 4th (2010) and apparently they're still "working" on it. Whatever that means. If I never hear from them, I wouldn't be surprised.