Jesse Chehak

These destination specialists are the go-to experts for planning a vacation in the Americas.

August 10, 2017

The A-List is Travel + Leisure's annual selection of the world's best travel agents and destination specialists, as chosen by the editors. Rely on these industry experts to plan the perfect trip to Mexico, or to Central or South America. For more about our methodology and how to apply, read How We Choose the Travel Agents for T+L’s A-List.

Argentina, Chile & Uruguay

Maita Barrenechea

Not only does Barrenechea organize travel for top execs and celebrities visiting South America, she has actually played a role in building the travel infrastructure throughout her region of expertise. She’s convinced Argentine ranchers, many of whom were suffering financially, to convert estancias into plush guesthouses, and she’s advised hoteliers throughout Uruguay on how to upgrade their properties and tour offerings for a higher-end clientele.

Best for: culture buffs, adventurers, luxury seekers

Extras: Along with securing hotel-room upgrades and late checkouts, Barrenechea often surprises clients with personalized gifts such as an Argentinean perfume or a belt buckle engraved with their initials.

Minimum daily spend: $300

54-11-4314-3390; maita@mai10.com.ar; mai10.com.ar


Argentina and Chile

Jordan Harvey

Since 2009, Harvey has built his boutique firm into a company that works with more than 500 clients a year. His mission is to connect travelers craving local experiences with artists, chefs, architects, and photographers.

Best for: culture buffs, adventurers, luxury seekers

Extras: When Argentina’s Lago Moreno became overrun with crowds, Harvey created a kayaking and picnic adventure on nearby Lago Mascardi, a pristine lake that’s tourist-free, even in high season. He can also arrange an Argentine asado cooking experience with Lucas Mallmann, nephew of famed chef Francis Mallmann, on his family farm.

Other expertise: Ecuador and the Galápagos, Peru

Minimum daily spend: $300

612-616-8747 ext 101; jordan@knowmadadventures.com; knowmadadventures.com


Brazil

Martin Frankenberg

What distinguishes this São Paulo–based specialist and his travel company, Matueté, from the competition? In addition to having a reputation for being able to secure VIP tickets to events like Rio’s Carnival, Frankenberg operates his own yachts on the Amazon and enjoys exclusive access to waterfront and jungle villas.

Best for: luxury seekers, adventurers, families

Extras: Frankenberg and his team vet every single property they work with at least once a year. Clients also have access to an English-speaking doctor.

Minimum daily spend: $800

55-11-3071-4515; martin@matuete.com; matuete.com


Paul Irvine

As the luxury travel market continues to expand in Brazil, Irvine is especially excited about tapping interest in urban neighborhoods off the usual tourist trails (Rio’s Botafogo, for example). He also specializes in undiscovered coastal regions like Ceará, which welcomes a new airport this year.

Best for: foodies, multigenerational families, culture buffs

Extras: Recently, Irvine had a private villa in Rio custom-decorated according to his client’s wishes.

Other expertise: Argentina

Minimum daily spend: $800

800-690-6899; paul.irvine@dehouche.com; dehouche.com


Central and South America

Emmanuel Burgio

Before creating his travel company, Blue Parallel, Burgio worked in finance, and he has an intimate understanding of the needs and demands of time-constrained travelers. His bespoke adventures have included guided biking tours of Buenos Aires’s Palermo neighborhood and meetings with Easter Island’s Rapa Nui communities.

Best for: culture buffs, adventurers, luxury seekers

Extras: Burgio likes to include village stops on itineraries to give travelers a glimpse of rural South American life. En route to Cuzco, for example, one of his clients visited the ancient town of Piñimpampa to see families making tiles according to generations-old practices.

Other expertise: The Mediterranean

Minimum daily spend: $1,000

301-263-6670; emmanuel@blueparallel.com; blueparallel.com

Barkley Hickox

Hickox inspects dozens of hotels in any given location so she can best pair properties with her clients. She also has an eye for special experiences, from tours of up-and-coming contemporary art galleries in Mexico City to hikes in Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park and stays in vineyard lodges in Argentina.

Best for: culture buffs, luxury seekers, couples/honeymooners

Extras: As so much of Latin American culture revolves around family, Hickox often includes experiences like a barbecue with a gaucho clan or a cooking class in the home of a local.

Other expertise: France

Minimum daily spend: $1,500

646-455-3101; barkley.hickox@localforeigner.com; localforeigner.com

Beth Jenkins

It’s easy to see why Jenkins has such a devoted following of repeat customers. She’s a strong advocate, negotiating great rates at hotels and visiting destinations with specific clients in mind. In her early 30s herself, she’s also a pro at working with adventure-minded millennial travelers.

Best for: culture buffs, adventurers, luxury seekers

Extras: Jenkins is often able to open doors that are closed to most, like securing tables at sought-after restaurants.

Other expertise: Honeymoons

Minimum daily spend: $500

703-762-5048; beth@mccabeworld.com; mccabeworld.com

Gisela Polo

Passionate about environmentally conscious tourism, Polo focuses on sustainable travel by organizing trips tailored to showcasing the continent’s best eco-lodges, little-known nature reserves, and leading sustainable farms, as well as visits to artisan communities.

Best for: culture buffs, multigenerational families

Extras: Polo travels back to her native Peru a few times a year, so she’s especially well-versed in the country’s popular cities and best-kept secrets.

Other expertise: Argentina

Minimum daily spend: $850 per couple

772-287-7995, ext. 2212; gisela@bigfive.com; bigfive.com


Chile

Brian Pearson

When it comes to outdoor adventures in Chile, there’s little that Pearson—who is based in Santiago and Hadley, Massachusetts—hasn’t experienced. He works best with clients who want a live-in-their-shoes experience—even if that means more rustic accommodations at times.

Best for: adventurers, sporting types

Extras: On arrival in Santiago, clients are met by an Upscape Travel representative at the airport, and a bottle of wine is waiting for them at their hotel. For a client looking to combine adventure and luxury, Pearson might plan a tour of the Chilean Lake District and northern Patagonia that involves sailing, horseback riding, and private vineyard visits.

Other expertise: Argentina and Uruguay

Minimum daily spend: $500

802-904-6798; brian@upscapetravel.com; upscapetravel.com


Colombia

Marc Beale

Having spent the past six years traveling every inch of his adopted country, Beale has uncovered Colombian travel secrets that few other outfitters have tapped. His portfolio includes family-owned inns in coffee country and in the lesser-known Tatacoa Desert.

Best for: adventurers, foodies, families

Extras: Beale specializes in smart, engaging itineraries such as a Gabriel García Márquez–themed trip with stops in the writer’s birth town of Aracataca, the untamed Tayrona National Park, and Cartagena, where travelers might enjoy a private recital of vallenato music.

Minimum daily spend: $300

646-736-7582; marc@amakuna.com; amakuna.com


Mexico

Zachary Rabinor

The Puerto Vallarta–based founder of Journey Mexico worked his way up the industry ladder—he’s been a tour leader, driver, guide, and logistician—which gives him an inside perspective on the planning process. He collaborates with the country’s best hotels on everything from wellness-focused Tulum getaways to culture-filled stays in San Miguel de Allende. His coordinators personally check in with clients at least three times per trip.

Best for: culture buffs, foodies, adventurers

Extras: Rabinor can arrange special excursions like a helicopter trip to Tequila La Fortaleza in Jalisco, a distillery owned by a fifth-generation tequilero, where clients sample spirits over lunch while mariachis play in the background.

Other expertise: Central America

Minimum daily spend: $800

800-513-1587; zach@journeymexico.com; journeymexico.com


Peru

Thomas Robinson

Quarterly trips to Peru mean Robinson stays abreast of the country’s exciting food scene, expanding hospitality options (private villas are a specialty of his), and new adventure experiences such as the Sacred Valley hiking trails.

Best for: culture buffs, luxury seekers, families

Extras: Robinson is deeply interested in Incan history, and he’s particularly adept at creating trips that include lesser-known sites such as Vilcabamba, the last Incan stronghold.

Other expertise: Colombia

Minimum daily spend: $450

800-690-6899; thomas.robinson@dehouche.com; dehouche.com


Galápagos and Ecuador

Brian Morgan

Call upon Morgan to set up your Galápagos trip—whether an island-hopping cruise or a science-focused expedition—as well as other Darwin-themed holidays on Ecuador’s mainland, including kayaking and hiking excursions and culinary adventures organized around fishing and coffee-plantation visits.

Best for: culture buffs, adventurers, families

Extras: Unlike most travel advisors, Morgan is happy to field requests for backpack-style value trips as well as ultra-luxury adventures.

Other expertise: Peru, Central and South America

Minimum daily spend: $500

406-541-2677; gogalapagos@adventure-life.com


South American Food and Wine

Liz Caskey

A cookbook author and trained sommelier based in Santiago, Chile, Caskey is an ace at arranging exceptional culinary travel in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador. Recent trips for clients have included stays in an old hacienda in Chile’s wine-rich Colchagua Valley and a surfing and wine-tasting itinerary along the Chilean coast near Pichilemu.

Best for: foodies, luxury seekers, families

Extras: When Caskey’s clients are traveling in Santiago, she often takes them out for a special lunch and a personal culinary tour of the city.

Minimum daily spend: $550

904-687-0340; liz@lizcaskey.com; lizcaskey.com

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