If you are stepping onto a plane bound for Latin America or the Caribbean, chances are you are headed to Peru, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico. According to the Mastercard 2014 Global Destination Cities Index, which ranks destinations according to the number of international overnight visitors, Lima, Peru tops the list of Latin American air travel destinations and is the only Latin American or Caribbean destination to have made the global top 20 for 2014.
Despite economic woes and increasing costs, air travel continues to buck trends and grow at a steady pace. According to IATA, global passenger traffic will more than double to 7.3 billion by 2034. Nearshore Americas looks at the top five air travel destinations in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
The Global Destination Cities Index ranks Lima first among Latin American destinations and 20th worldwide with 5.11 million international visitors in 2014. Despite cracking the global top 20 list, Lima lags behind its international counterparts in terms of international visitor spend, netting just $1.8 billion in 2014; the top-ranked global destination, London, saw $19.3 billion in visitor spend last year.
Lima’s Jorge Chavez International airport, which in 2012 received more than 6.5 million arrivals, has won numerous awards and is currently ranked 35th best airport in the world – above San Francisco, New York JFK and London Gatwick – according to SkyTrax World Airport Awards. It was the best regional South American airport in 2014, but has been ousted out of the top five for 2015.
According to The Air Database, J Chavez airport serves 67 destinations in 16 countries on three continents. The top five feeder cities for Lima in 2014 were Santiago, Miami, Buenos Aires, Bogota and Mexico City.
Why choose Lima? Often overlooked as a destination in itself, Lima is sometimes seen as a hub for regional travel and a pit stop on the way to more exciting destinations like Machu Picchu, but the capital of Peru has a great deal to offer from adventure sports like paragliding to some of the finest food in the world. Peru was named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for 2014, having also won in 2012 and 2013, and where better to sample the cuisine than in the heart of the capital?
Mexico City, Mexico
With almost half the number of international visitors (2.57 million) of Lima, Mexico City has some catching up to do even if it is ranked second in Latin American and Caribbean destinations in the Global Destination Cities Index. According to the Index, the top five feeder cities for Mexico City in 2014 were New York, Miami, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Benito Juarez International Airport serves 85 destinations in 17 countries and welcomed about 31.5 million passengers in 2013, according to the Air Database.
A new $9.2 billion international airport near Mexico City is planned and construction is due to begin this year with projected completion by 2019. The new airport is being touted as one of the most sustainable airports in the world and the largest in Latin America. Initial passenger capacity will be approximately 50 million.
Why choose Mexico City? Culture, shopping, cuisine, Mexico City has it all. Home to one of the best restaurants in the world, Mexico City’s culinary scene should please even the most discerning of foodies. Pujol, ranked 20th in the world in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, serves up chef Enrique Olvera’s unique brand of Mexican reinvention in stylish surrounds. Other top tier international restaurants in Mexico City include Biko and Quintonil, ranked eighth and 10th best restaurants in Latin America respectively.
Mexico City is also the site of the St Regis Mexico City hotel, which was named Mexico’s best hotel in 2012 and has been nominated for a variety of travel awards.
São Paulo, Brazil
Hot on Mexico City’s heels with 2.51 million international overnight visitors is São Paulo. It edged out both Lima and Mexico City to claim second place in highest visitor spend in 2014 with $2.3 billion. The leading feeder countries are Argentina, USA, Chile, and Germany.
São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport is huge, with 26 active airlines calling it home and 92 destinations in 25 countries on offer. The most populous city in Brazil also has two other airports, Congonhas, which is ranked fourth in Latin American airports, and Campo de Marte.
Why São Paulo? If you have to ask why, then you don’t know São Paulo at all. From the beaches, which are in easy reach, to the more than 100 museums and cultural events like antique fairs and baroque art exhibitions, São Paulo is an ideal tourist destination.
While it may not rival Rio in size or fame, São Paulo carnival offers a taste of Brazilian culture, complete with a celebration of the Samba. Other exciting events include the International Film Festival, the Gay Pride Parade, which claims to be the largest of its kind on the planet, and São Paulo Fashion Week. Like Lima and Mexico City, it also boasts award-winning restaurants like third-ranked D.O.M. and Maní.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The least well-known of the top five, but with the highest visitor spend of all the Latin American countries at $2.4 billion in 2014, Punta Cana welcomed some 2.2 million international overnight visitors in 2014, according to the Global Destination Cities Index.
Punta Cana International Airport, the second largest airport in the Caribbean, claimed seeing over five million international arrivals in 2013, and averaging about 400 incoming flights per week.
Why choose Punta Cana? The snorkeling, sailing and other marine activities make Punta Cana an ideal destination for those who love the sand and surf. For the landlubber there are nature experiences such as outback safaris and Monkey Land. A number of good quality golf courses, such as the Jack Niklaus signature Punta Espada Golf Course, are also available.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Last but not least, with 2.1 million international overnight visitors and an annual visitor spend of $2.2 billion in 2014, is Buenos Aires. With the third best airport in Latin America, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, and another airport, Ministro Pistarini International Airport, located 22km outside of the city, Buenos Aires is a significant hub for travel into and out of Argentina.
As a whole, Argentina is benefitting from increasing foreign tourism, including from nearby Chile and Brazil, with Buenos Aires being a favorite destination.
Why choose Buenos Aires? Perhaps best known as the home of Evita – visit the presidential palace, Casa Rosada when you are there – Buenos Aires has a host of options for the tourist, from the seedy telos’(love hotels that rent by the hour) to more cultural pursuits like exploring the history of the Tango master Carlos Gardel at Museo Casa Carlos Gardel. Music and fashion are also on display and Buenos Aires boasts restaurant number nine on the best restaurants in Latin America list in the form of Tegui.
San Jose, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota, Montevideo and Quito were ranked six to ten on the top Latin American destinations list respectively.
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This is very surprising. So surprising that I went to the original report, and indeed, Lima is the airport that received the highest number of foreign visitors per year (followed by #2 Mexico City, and #3 Sao Paulo). I suppose the key word is “foreign”, so I suppose the % of foreign travelers arriving to Lima’s airport is incredibly high, because the Mexico City and Sao Paulo airport are much bigger, but perhaps the traffic is mostly Mexican and Brazilian travelers. I would have thought that airports like Rio de Janeiro or Cancun receive more international travelers than Lima, but apparently not. You learn something new every day, I guess.