Born out of the idea of bringing people together, 20 years ago SouthAmerica.travel was born as Universal Understanding. The mission was educational travel for students and adults, academics as well as people in the agricultural industry curious to find out why and how South American grain farmers have become so competitive on the international markets. Additionally, South Americans would travel north to both North America and Europe, complemented with language training.
Authenticity as Company Philosophy
The aim has never been to target the luxury that only the top ½ percent can afford, nor providing the extreme adventure of rock climbing in the Andes nor survival camping in the Amazon.
Rather than simply booking our clients a table at the best restaurants in South America, we take them to a local market, where they can witness all sorts of colorful Peruvian potatoes and sample incredible Sacred Valley corn, for example – where they can see the amazing ingredients which make up the locals’ diet. And then to invite them to a cooking class to learn how to prepare these delicious South American dishes. Our goal has always been to provide our guests with the most authentic experience.
On a cruise through the Amazon, the experience is the main focus. With the smaller, more intimate boats one feels the quietness of the forest, which suddenly can awaken with a cacophony of sounds. To see the sunrise over the river, Tucanos flying over it.
However, we are also proud of our educational roots! To make people understand why and what they see, instead of merely showing them around. Our concentration is solely on this part of the world, where we’ve built our expertise, where we can concentrate all the training of our staff hands-on. We aim to be the Experts who help you plan the best itinerary of South America for your interests!
But 1999 was a tricky time to start, and soon thereafter came 9/11: it was clear that we would need to concentrate on one aspect of the business, and the decision became clear. Following 9/11, the US and Europe were perceived by South Americans as unsafe destinations, therefore what remained was travel down to South America.
The year of 1999 saw the founding of the offices in Stuttgart, Germany and a US presence near Seattle, and the company soon had its trusted travel partners in Brazil and other South American countries.
Soon one thing was understood, however: Feet on the ground were needed to provide the best service! Expertise – local experts were needed! The idea was not simply to “show people around.” Did you know that most animals in South America are not found in the Amazon? Or that Brazil features a second distinctive rainforest that can be explored by train, or that Machu Picchu actually is perhaps the most scenic but historically not the most significant citadel in Peru? Our aim was to bring people to understand what they witness.
Why for example the independence of Brazil from Portugal happened without a shot, whereas it took years of wars to gain independence from Spain for the rest of South America. Why so much in South America resembles Europe. Why Lima was the de facto capital of the Asian Islands of the Philippines. How South America south of Panama could be so different from Central and North America north of Panama. We needed our own perspective with our own offices!
South American Expansion
Having our own offices on the ground also gives us the chance to always be first when a hidden gem becomes logistically available: as soon as the light of day hits the gem, we are first to see it.
The first South American office was Rio de Janeiro, established in 2001. More than just practical: it was the dream of the founders- located in Copacabana and strategically close to the main highlights and best accommodations. Everything in tourism in Brazil in one way or the other begins in Rio. Soon the word spread, and other tour operators were turning to our operations office in Rio as well. They had understood that we were aiming for a higher, more educated experience.
In 2005, the Argentina office came next, followed immediately by Peru’s. Same philosophy, same aim, same standards.
Throughout its twenty-plus-year history, SouthAmerica.travel has remained faithful to the spirit of our central idea present since day 1: spreading a “universal understanding” of people, culture, and ideas.
Covid – And the Rebirth of Travel to South America
The human toll inflicted worldwide by the Covid pandemic, whether in health, economic activity, and freedom to travel did not spare anyone or any place – and South America was no exception. The travel industry worldwide was put on indefinite hold – with no obvious end in sight during the first years.
Additionally, the governments of many South American countries, Brazil and Argentina included, passed laws forcing companies to bear the burden of keeping all employees fully employed, with no employee reductions allowed, and with no government financial support of any kind. With years of little to no revenue, and continuing enforced elevated operating costs, travel companies were forced toward insolvency, and many did not survive.
Following eighteen months working to resettle over 90% of clients with high quality local ground operators across South America, the golden era of SouthAmerica.travel as an interlinked multi-faceted travel source ended.
The website remains an invaluable resource for hundreds of thousands of travelers throughout the world, and SouthAmerica.travel has transformed into a portal for discovering the wonders of South America.
Powered by seven regional travel partners, the name SouthAmerica.travel remains the go-to place to research, learn and plan travel to South America. Through interaction with the travel portal, travelers fascinated by the continent can be connected to a highly experienced, trusted network of operators who operate in the original spirit of SouthAmerica.travel – to make the dream of travel a reality.