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Travel in Latin America in 1920

    Travel has become easier as humans have found more efficient means of transportation, built better roads and road beds, and provided more luxurious lodgings and restaurants. These improvements have been steady if one looks at the traveling situation over a long period of time; they occur more quickly when a need seems urgent such as getting to a gold deposit. They occur more quickly in societies which have more money to spend. Equipment and roads are expensive and leaders calculate cost-benefit ratios even in illiterate societies. 

    By 1920, travel had become easier throughout the Americas when compared to a  century earlier. Progress was most notable in Canada and the United States but one must remember that most roads in the US were not very good and that the national system of numbering routes had not been devised. As was also true of Latin America, lodging in large cities tended to be better than that in small towns. In rural areas, lodging was problematical. Getting around in Latin America, on the whole, was more difficult that in the United States. 

    These difficulties of getting around in 1920 are shown in the two selections from a commercial travelers' guide to Latin America published in 1920. Mail is small but critical. The following mail timetable reveals that even Havana, Cuba and Nassau, Bahamas were four days away and Argentina and Chile were weeks away. Although there are differences between mail transit, on the one hand, and human travel, on the other, the mail transit times suggest how long it would take a person to go from New York to a place in Latin America.

    Humans had greater needs and the material on food, lodging, and travel within Latin America give us an insight into general living conditions as well as the challenges faced by the commercial traveler.  

Mail Time-Table.—The time shown the following table is that usually required for letters to be transmitted from New York to the places specified in Latin America, Mexico, and the West Indies.

Antigua, West Indies,  direct 


Maranhão, Brazil, direct


Antofagasta, Chile, direct


Martinique, West Indies, direct


Arica, Chile, via Panama 


Mayaguez, Porto Rico, direct


Bahía, Brazil, direct


Mazatlán, Mexico, via San Francisco 


Barbados, West Indies, direct


Mollendo, Peru, via Panama


Barranquilla, Colombia, direct


Montevideo, Uruguay, direct


Belize, British Honduras, via New Orleans


Nassau, Bahamas, direct


Buenos Aires, direct


Panama City, Panama, via Colón


Caldera, Chile, via Panama


Pará, Brazil, direct 


Callao, Peru, via Panama


Paita, Peru, via Panama


Cape Haitien, Haiti, direct


Pernambuco, Brazil, direct


Cartagena, Columbia, direct


Port au Prince, Haiti, direct


Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, via Trinidad


Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, via New Orleans


Colón, Panama, direct


Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, direct


Curaçao, West. Indies, direct


Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, direct     


Demerara, British Guiana, direct


Río de Janeiro, Brazil, direct 


Dominica, West Indies, direct


St. Kitts, West Indies, direct


Grenada, West Indies, direct


St. Lucia, West Indies, direct


Greytown, Nicaragua, via New Orleans 


St. Thomas, West Indies, direct


Guadeloupe, West Indies, direct                 


St. Vincent, West Indies, direct


Guatemala City, via New Orleans                


Samaná, Dominican Republic, direct    


Guayaquil,  Ecuador, via Panama               


Santo Domingo City, Dominican Republic, direct


Habana, Cuba, direct


San Juan, Puerto Rico. direct             


Iquique, Chile via Panama


Santa Marta, Colombia, direct


Jacmel, Haiti, direct


 Santiago, Chile, via Panama


Kingston, Jamaica, direct             

 Santos, Brazil, direct


La Guaira, Venezuela, direct

 Tampico, Mexico, by rail 

Livingston, Guatemala, via New Orleans     


Valparaíso, Chile, via Panama


 Maceio, Brazil, direct            


 Vera Cruz, Mexico, by rail


 Maracaibo, Venezuela, direct                 


 Vera Cruz, Mexico, by steamer


Source: Ernst B. Filsinger, Commercial Travelers' Guide to Latin America. Washington, DC: Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Department of Commerce, 1920. Miscellaneous Series No. 89, p. 23.



Hotels and Boarding Houses—The hotel accommodations in Latin America vary quite as widely as do those in the United States. In large cities, such as Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago,there are numerous hotels, ranging from the very expensive to the most insignificant. The traveler should not stint himself in the matter of his hotel. He should patronize only the best and most dignified, inasmuch, as he is judged largely by the character of his lodgings. In the larger cities there is usually a choice of hotels, and those which cater to traveling men and have the necessary accommodations in the matter of sample rooms, etc. should be chosen. In the larger places modern conveniences, including sanitary plumbing, baths, etc., are now quite common.

Changes in Hotels.—The special attention of travelers is drawn to the fact that hotel accommodations are constantly subject to change. Not only is there in many places a periodical variation in price due to tourist seasons and similar causes, but the proprietors of hotels frequently change the character of their accommodations, with consequent effect on the prices. In many instances rates are advanced, but, as experienced travelers know, there is often a deterioration in the quality of service, food, etc. It is deemed necessary to point out this fact, because hotels which one year may be among the leading ones in a community are sometimes discontinued or at a later period are found in an entirely different, class. Under each city has been given a list of hotels which are of most However, it will sometimes happen that a hotel not specified will prove even more desirable for the traveler's convenience and comfort. This can be ascertained by  personal investigation after arrival and by consultation with fellow travelers.

Hotels in Small Towns.—The accommodations in the smaller places, and even in communities of some commercial importance, are frequently poor. The traveler who can not adjust himself to certain shortcomings in the matter of accommodations, food, and service had best remain at home. Hotels in small towns are seldom equipped with sample rooms, and it may be necessary to make arrangements to display samples in some vacant room or building not well adapted to the purpose. Hotels of this category are usually lacking in modern conveniences.

Boarding Houses or Pensions.—Travelers who find it necessary to spend a considerable time in one place frequently take quarters in a "pension" or boarding house. When this is done a sample room is maintained in the central or business district. The cost under this system is not so great, and for one not familiar with the language the country, there is the added advantage of acquiring the tongue from the natives. Quarters in a "pension" or boarding house can usually be obtained by watching the advertisements in the principal newspapers, or by inserting an advertisement therein, or by inquiring of friends. The American consul, if one is available, can usually  advise.

Special Hint.—When necessary to "make" small towns travelers are advised to obtain from friends in the large centers letters of introduction to acquaintances in the smaller places, with whom they  may stop while transacting their business. This is by far the  safest method and insures a maximum of comfort and cleanliness  unobtainable otherwise. Sometimes, when properly introduced under such circumstances, the host refuses to accept any pay for the accommodations.

 Tambos.—These are very small primitive inns. They are found   in the settlements or villages through which a traveler passes in making trips by "carretera" or " camino de herradura." They are sometimes the only means of obtaining shelter overnight. The food frequently is both limited and of poor quality If the traveler anticipates having to stop at a tambo, it is necessary for him to have his own hammock, a few pieces of bed linen, mosquito netting, etc. Canned food should also be included in the baggage in order that there may be some degree of satisfaction at meal time.  

 "Mesones."—These are taverns of an inferior kind. They usually afford lodging for the traveler and quarters for his animals.   They should be avoided if possible. 

"Fondas."—These are similar to the "mesones," but of a still poorer quality. They are not for American travelers. 

General Construction of Hotels.—Although modern hotel buildings are being erected in many of the cities of Latin America, the  great majority of such places are still old fashioned. They are  usually built around "patios," or open court. Frequently the only light which enters is through a door or window opening on the court. In many latitudes, where mosquitoes are prevalent the, the traveler should insure his comfort by insisting upon a good mosquito netting. Failing to obtain the right kind at the hotel's expense,  travelers. he should carry his own. In fact, experienced travelers often do this.  

Baths.—In the smaller cities, and frequently in the larger ones, are frequently in the larger ones, the hotels are not equipped with modern plumbing, hot water, or  bathrooms. Under such conditions it is necessary to patronize bath  establishments, which are often operated in connection with barber shops. They are reasonable in cost and the service is usually good, while cleanliness generally prevails.

Toilet Conveniences.—These are often very primitive. In this matterextreme care should be taken to guard against infection, and travelers are warned to take all precautions.

Meals in Latin America.—Generally speaking, the hotels in Latin America are operated on the American plan; that is, meals are included in the cost of accommodations.

Morning Coffee.—This, with bread and butter, is usually served in one's room and brought to me door by a servant. If specially requested, milk may be obtained in place of hot water (for the coffee). Fruit may often be had if asked for. Eggs are not usually served, and when obtainable, an extra charge is made. The heavy breakfast, as served in the United States, is not known in Latin America, even North Americans  falling into the habit of the Latin American.

Almuerzo.—-This is served from 11 to 1 or 2 o'clock. It is a rather heavy luncheon, taking the place of breakfast. It usually includes a salad, a "dulce," or sweet, and often cheese.

Comida.—This meal—dinner—is served in the evening, generally from 6 to 9. In most of the Latin-American countries people usually dine very late.

General Remarks.—As a rule, there is not much to complain about in connection with the meals to be had in the fair-sized towns; it is only in the very small places that conditions are bad.

Furnishings of Hotels.—In the smaller places, and sometimes even in the larger ones, the bedding is not the best. It is always advisable to carry several changes of bed linen, sheets, and blankets. A few towels will also come in handy. An air pillow likewise is often appreciated.

Seeking a Hotel.—If the traveler is in doubt as to the hotel best suited to his purposes, he will find it advantageous either to engage a coach or taxicab, or, in the smaller places, walk around the "plaza" until he has made the necessary inspection. This is advisable, because, once having taken up quarters and having baggage brought to the hotel, it is both inconvenient and expensive to make the transfer. A "cargador," usually found in great numbers around the stations, can carry the hand luggage, while the heavy baggage is left at the depot until quarters have been engaged. 

Tipping.—The custom of tipping is universal in Latin American countries. As a rule, except perhaps in the very largest and most expensive hotels in the greatest cities, the tips are smaller than in the United States. Tipping is a custom which the traveler can not afford to ignore. It will help him materially in getting along. On the other hand, there is no excuse for extravagance, and only a bad precedent is set by those Americans who are careless with or too liberal in their fees. 


Railroad and. Steamship Service.—Travelers should expect no uniformity in the character of transportation service in Latin America as regards either railroad or steamship lines. The quality of the service varies from the very highest to the most inferior. In certain countries, such as Argentina and. Brazil, some of the railroad lines are conducted with the same skill and intelligence as in the United Stats, and the comfort of the traveler, in regard to sleeping accommodations, restaurant cars, etc., is an that can possibly be asked. On the other hand, there are many short lines which may run trains only on certain days of the week, and upon which traveling is extremely uncomfortable. 

The same differences characterize the steamship service, which play such a prominent part in in transportation in many Latin American Republics. The traveler is urged to acquaint himself  with the varying qualities of the lines, especially when there are competitive conditions and a choice is possible. A personal inspection of steamers and the cabins thereon, even at the loss of some time before passage is engaged, will be found a wise precaution. 

Conditions Affecting Transportation.—When using animal transportation in Latin America. It is on roads which are designated either "carreteras" or "caminos de herradura."

Carretera.—The carretera is preferable to the camino de herradura, being suitable for at least a cart drawn by oxen, sometimes being fairly adapted to the use of the mules, and in rare cases for automobiles. Carreteras have several degrees of perfection, ranging from a bad mud road to a fairly decent macadamized road as we know it in the United States. During the rainy season they are often impassable 

Caminos de Herradura.—The camino de herradura is, roughly speaking, a bridle path or trail. It is usually very narrow, and traversable by mules, burros, alpacas, llamas, or native horses. These trails are used by pack trains, but are unsuitable for oxcarts, which can be used only on carreteras.

Damage to Baggage.—The caminos de herradura are so close to the mountain side that trunks are damaged. Special sizes are needed to make them adaptable to mule back.

Hiring Mules and Horses.—In all the Latin American Republics, to a greater or lesser degree, it is necessary 'to use mules, donkeys, burros, and horses for transportation. The traveler should be very careful in making arrangements, and it is advisable to attend to this matter in person. The horses or mules which are offered should be inspected. Although a choice is not always possible, experienced traveler find that by insisting upon the best animal they are often able to obtain '"bestias" which have more endurance than others belonging to the same owner. The "staying" power of an animal is important, particularly on hard trips in the mountains where the roads are bad and where an accident may cause serious delay. 

Cost.—This depends entirely on the length of trip, conditions, etc. When a pack train is engaged an attendant is usually famished. his pay being- included in the charge for the animals. The traveler is expected to pay the "keep" of the attendant and to feed him en route. Besides this, on long trips the feed for the animals is for the account of the traveler. By consulting with merchants as to the proper price, there is no reason to be overcharged. 

Tips to Muleteers.—Experienced travelers do not take it amiss if the attendant desires to borrow some small change. This is generally considered the perquisite of the attendant and should be granted cheerfully; its repayment should not be expected. As a rule, the "peons," "mozos,'' or " cholos" who look after the animals are 

patient, good-natured fellows, from whom more can be had by kind treatment than otherwise. Generally speaking, the muleteers or guides are thoroughly reliable and know the trails and passes perfectly. 

Note on Hiring Animals.—In hiring mules it is always well to examine the backs ofall animals submitted. This is particularly important if a long, hard trip is contemplated. It is much better to hire extra mules than to overload animals. This applies equally to horses, donkeys, and burros. 

Bullock and Ox Carts.—If the roads are fairly good, it is cheaper to obtain oxcarts, if possible. The oxcarts can be sent on ahead and the traveler need not devote his time or energy to worrying about his baggage. A team of oxen drawing a cart on a fairly good road can cover about 3 kilometers per hour.

Capacity of Horses.—The capacity of a good average horse is 25 to 45 miles per day on fairly good roads. This. of course, applies to animals that are in good condition. 

axi and Coach Hire.—Drivers of such vehicles do not differ in character anywhere in the world. Although municipalities generally establish rates, it is advisable to inquire the cost of the trip when engaging either a taxi or a coach.

Boats to Shore.—It is a safe rule everywhere, before going ashore, to strike a bargain with the boatmen. If it is necessary to return to the ship, a rate for the round trip should be made. If this is not done, overcharges are likely,

Source: Ernst B. Filsinger, Commercial Travelers' Guide to Latin America. Washington, DC: Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Department of Commerce, 1920. Miscellaneous Series No. 89, pp. 54-58