Sway to the rhythm with Katie McGonagle’s round-up of the best parties in South America

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Whether it’s sexy samba rhythms at Rio Carnival or the colourful Incan ritual of Inti Raymi, those Latin American lovelies really know how to party.

There’s no better way to experience Latin culture at its best than by taking part in these fun festivals, either cheering from the sidelines or getting stuck in and partying with the locals.

Not only will your clients come away with memories to last a lifetime – and envy-inducing holiday snaps too – but they’ll also get a genuine insight into the region’s unique traditions.

Get up to speed with the best festivals and how to book them, plus commission-boosting ideas to extend the itinerary, with our guide to these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.


Where is it? Rio de Janeiro

When is it? February 8-12, 2013, and February 28-March 4, 2014

Perfect for: Partying until dawn

What is it? Rio Carnival is called ‘the greatest show on earth’ with good reason. The Sambadrome is ablaze with colour as revellers compete for the most elaborate costumes, music and dance moves, then the party spills on to the streets as spectators join the fun at parties and carnival balls.

Several operators offer dedicated carnival packages to watch or even take part in the parade – though be aware most 2013 itineraries have very limited availability now – including Journey Latin America, Tucan Travel and Dragoman, whose standard packages start at £1,550 for 2014.

After four days of non-stop partying, suggest a beach extension – Búzios and Ilha Grande are both within easy reach – or a visit to Iguaçu Falls.

Book it: Intrepid Travel’s basic package starts at £1,040 for 2014, excluding flights. Limited places are left on 2013 superior-level tours, starting at £2,390 for seven days’ land-only, including a behind-the-scenes look at carnival preparations, city tour and four-star accommodation.

0800 781 1660


Where is it? Easter Island

When is it? January 29- February 9, 2013

Perfect for: Fun and games

What is it? Tapati Rapa Nui is a relatively new festival that recalls the island’s Polynesian heritage. The heart of the celebration is the crowning of the new Easter Island Queen at the closing parade, but there are dozens of other contests and parties involving the whole island.

Teams compete in everything from singing, dancing and fishing to carving Moai statues, making seashell necklaces and racing downhill on banana tree sleds. The island has direct flights to Santiago and Lima, making it easy to add to a Chile or Peru trip.

Book it: Rainbow Tours’ Chile Express includes Santiago, the Atacama Desert and Patagonia from £3,145, with a three-night extension to Easter Island from £795, including flights, transfers, accommodation and most meals.

020 7666 1260

Festival Fever


Where is it? Antigua, Guatemala

When is it? March 24-30, 2013

Perfect for: Authentic religious celebration

What is it? Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is rooted in the influences of Spanish missionaries. It starts on Palm Sunday with religious processions through the town; on Good Friday, the streets are covered with a vibrant patchwork of carpets, ‘alfombras’ of coloured sand, flowers and pine needles, for the re enactment of Christ’s journey to the cross.

Revellers return to the streets on Easter Sunday, when fireworks and jubilant parades turn the city into a giant celebration. No visit to Guatemala would be complete without seeing its spectacular Mayan ruins, but nature lovers will also enjoy Pacaya volcano or Lake Atitlan.

Book it: G Adventures’ Easter in Guatemala itinerary, rated ‘comfort level’, includes the parade, building an elaborate street carpet and visiting Chichicastenago market. It is priced from £709 for a 10-day trip departing March 23, excluding flights.

0844 272 2040


Where is it? Cusco, Peru

When is it? June 24, 2013

Perfect for: Ancient Incan traditions

What is it? Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, began as an Incan ceremony in honour of sun god Inti. Celebrations start a week beforehand with street fairs, dancing and music ahead of the ceremony itself on June 24.

The ritual begins at Qorikancha Square, built over the ancient Temple of the Sun, before a procession to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán in the hills above Cusco. Locals re-enact ancient rituals including a ceremonial dance around the fire at sunset, before returning to Cusco. Clients with extra time could add a trip to Lake Titicaca or a few days in the Spanish colonial city of Arequipa.

Book it: Cox & Kings’ Train to Machu Picchu group tour has a June 14 departure including an extra day in Cusco for the festival, making it a 16-day itinerary, from £3,302 with flights and accommodation.

0845 867 4233


Where is it? Oaxaca, Mexico

When is it? November 1-2, 2013

Perfect for: Unique cultural insight

What is it? The intriguingly named festival commemorates friends and family who have died, the equivalent of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day elsewhere. Visitors can marvel at intricate altars made of flowers, see sugar skulls and skeletal figures in the markets, and sample specially-shaped breads known as pan de muerto.

Explore product executive Jude Berry says: “Witnessing a festival that can be tracked back as far as the indigenous people of Mesoamerica is an unforgettable experience. Although many of the festivities take place at night in the local cemeteries, the parades that take place in the afternoon are a spectacle not to be missed.”

Book it: Explore’s 15-day Contrasts of Mexico has a Day of the Dead itinerary pro-visionally due to depart on October 28, taking in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. Estimated prices start at £1,995 including flights, accommodation and transport.

0844 499 0901