Part I: Why you should travel to exotic places with your children
The benefits of travelling with children have long since been recognised by experts, the impact such trips can have on their lives, both now and as they grow, up can be profound. With today’s generation more exposed to technology than ever, showing them a world beyond smartphones, social media and video games has never been so important.
Here are six of our top reasons to travel with your teenagers and show them a different part of the world:
1. Travelling can bring their learning to life, nowhere more so than in Latin America, where Mayan, Aztec, Inca and colonial heritage and history permeates everyday life in many countries. Wonderfully preserved ruins and lost cities can show your children first-hand the things they have read about in their textbooks and help inspire further curiosity.
2. Travelling offers a wealth of life skills that children will learn, without even knowing it. They will be encouraged to try new foods and activities, experience new cultures and to interact with and relate to vastly different people to them.
3. They’ll also learn to take more risks, have broader horizons and become more accepting, sociable and adaptable without even realising it. They’ll learn to not just tolerate other cultures, but to embrace them and will inevitably spark an interest in travel and new experiences that will serve them well in later life.
4. It will give them the chance to get closer to nature, discover new wildlife and better notice and appreciate the world around them back home. Colourful birds and powerful creatures will wow them, as will the tropical rainforests in which most reside.
5. Latin America is also a wonderful place for them to test-drive the Spanish that they have been learning back home - the friendly locals will be visibly delighted with just a few well-placed words and your children will get a boost of confidence in doing so.
6. Perhaps most importantly of all, it will give you the chance to go on an adventure together, share new experiences and create special family memories that will last a lifetime, for them as much as you.
To get the most out of your precious time together, it is crucial to employ the services of an experienced and expert tour operator who knows the region inside out, to help create the perfect itinerary for you and ensure everything goes to plan whilst you are travelling.
Family trips require special consideration, ensuring the perfect balance of discovery, activities and relaxation time, without too much disruption and changing of hotels. It is equally important to know the right local English-speaking guides to bring the places to life and keep your children informed, entertained and engaged at all times. As well as making sure Mum and Dad can have the trip that they want of course, amid the family-friendly activities.
Latin America offers a wonderful range of comfortable family-friendly lodges, hotels, boats and resorts to suit your budget and tastes, as well as many unique alternatives for something a bit special - you may wish to mark a special occasion or plan a surprise for your children.
Part II: The five best countries for family travel in Latin America
In part one of this article we gave six excellent reasons why travel is great for children to broaden their horizons and create memories that last a lifetime. Here, we now offer the five best places for family travel in Latin America. Each of these come with a carefully crafted Veloso Tours family itinerary for you to consider, though of course these can be personalised to create your dream Latin American family adventure.
Discover Inca heritage in Peru
With the launch of direct British Airways flights from London to Lima in May 2016, it has never been easier to visit one of the world’s most beloved travel destinations. Peru is a country steeped in Inca heritage and where natural beauty and wildlife abounds. Add to that the warmth of the people here and it makes a compelling case to be the place for your next family holiday.
A great way to start is to fire their imaginations at the iconic Machu Picchu. Here they will learn about the fascinating customs and astonishing feats and innovations of the Inca civilisation whilst exploring the world famous ancient ruins, hidden deep in verdant cloud forest. This is also a wonderful place to see friendly llamas, as they roam freely around the site, even stopping to pose for pictures. Nearby you can cycle or horse-ride in the Sacred Valley of the Incas or take tours to see more impressive archaeological sites and visit colourful traditional markets in which to buy souvenirs and observe everyday life.
Few places in the world conjure up thoughts of exploration and adventure as much as a journey into the Amazon, the world’s biggest rainforest. There are few better ways to experience it than on a cruise down the famous river. As well as appreciating the sights and sounds of the jungle, your family will meet local tribes to see what village life is like in one of the most remote places on earth, as well as looking out for the elusive jaguar lurking between the trees.
Elsewhere in Peru, those feeling energetic could tackle the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over a multiday trek (as one family did recently). Further south, is the magical Lake Titicaca, where you can take boat trips to explore traditional islands inhabited by remote communities in colourful dress and visit the surreal floating reed islands.
South of Lima, the Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and is undoubtedly the best spot to watch majestic soaring condors. You can also take to the skies yourself to fly over the ancient and mysterious Nazca Lines.
Take selfies with a sea-lion in the Galapagos Islands
There is no-where in the world where you can truly get closer to wildlife than in the volcanic Galapagos Islands, where tame and often bizarre creatures have grown indifferent (and often curious) to the presence of human visitors. Sail on an intimate, family-friendly yacht, built for up to 20 passengers and with all the amenities you will need on board, disembarking to make new friends with mind-boggling reptiles, colourful birds and giant tortoises. You don’t just have to be restricted to land either, the clear waters of the archipelago allow for superb snorkeling opportunities to see vibrant marine life and even the chance to swim with sea lions.
Ecuador’s capital Quito is a high altitude and dynamic city, with a UNESCO world heritage centre. Star attractions include the famous gold museum, its large city parks and interesting aviation and train museums. Our local guides can also show you around Quito’s best sites and hidden corners, whilst one of the undoubted highlights will be taking to the skies on the cable cars, affording a breathtaking vista of the sprawling city below.
Ecuador also boasts one of the most vibrant and colourful markets in Latin America. Otavalo is close to Quito and can easily be visited on an excursion, where you and your family can buy brightly coloured handicrafts, textiles, jewellery, garments and exotic fruits.
If you are looking to extend your stay in Ecuador, you are spoilt for choice for epic landscapes and unforgettable experiences. Connecting the capital Quito and the beautiful city of Cuenca is the evocatively named Avenue of the Volcanoes, which is every bit as dramatic as it sounds. You can also ride the equally vividly named Devil’s Nose railway for a taste of Ecuador’s sophisticated train system. What's more, Ecuador is one of the best countries in which to access the Amazon rainforest, with an outstanding range of traditional boats and luxury lodges.
Make like a Mayan in sun-kissed Mexico
The Yucutan Peninsula is the perfect destination for a family holiday. With its magnificent beaches, huge water-parks, interesting colonial cities and some of the best Mayan ruins of the region, it offers the perfect blend of relaxation, exploration and downright good fun.
A visit to the world famous Mayan archaeological site at Chichen Itza is the best place to learn about this extraordinary ancient civilization and appreciate the ingenuity of its vast pyramids and complex architecture. The lesser visited site at Uxmal is the perfect complement to gain an alternative understanding and see a different style of buildings.
Playa del Carmen is the perfect base from which to explore the Riviera Maya. From here you can spend your time lounging on some of the world’s best beaches, snorkeling at Xen-ha eco-park (the world’s biggest natural aquarium), swimming with dolphins or taking a dip in the natural pools formed by cenotes or caverns. The magnificent clifftop ruins at Tulum can also be easily reached from here. If that’s not enough then there are boat trips, water-parks, nature reserves and Mayan cultural shows to be enjoyed.
No two trips to the Yucutan need be the same and for every famous ‘must-do’ is a hidden island, a charming hacienda, a peaceful town or underexplored archaeological site, for those looking to get off the beaten track. Our Balam tour is the perfect way to explore the backroads and hidden gems of the Yucutan.
Mexico is also home to the spectacular Day of the Dead festival, which takes place every year, starting on Halloween. Why not read our beginner's guide to the festivities and see if it is your kind of family adventure?
Get up close and personal with Christ in Brazil
Few countries can fire the imaginations of children (and adults) like Brazil does. It is a country of epic proportions, with iconic imagery sure to excite and astound. The outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer, looking down proudly over the jungle covered outcrops and world famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro, is an image etched in the minds of many after the recent World Cup and Olympic Games were held in one of the world’s great cities.
Brazil is perhaps the country most associated with the seemingly endless Amazon Rainforest and is accessed here by the historic town of Manaus. From here you are close to one of nature’s most extraordinary phenomenon; the Meeting of the Waters, where the mighty Amazon River is formed, creating a remarkable spectacle as the murky waters of the Rio Negro converges with the yellow hued Rio Solimoes. It is also a great place to spot playful pink river dolphins. Travelling deep into the heart of the jungle is an unforgettable adventure for all the family, bringing you into contact with local tribes, colourful birdlife and with nature on the biggest scale imaginable.
The coastal city of Salvador de Bahia is the best place to experience the unique Afro-Portuguese culture of Brazil. It is a city famed for its colourful houses, infectious music, exotic food and the acrobatic capoeira dance performances which spring up seemingly out of nowhere. From here you are spoilt for choice for somewhere to spend a few days soaking up the sun and unwinding on a picture-perfect Brazilian beach. Closest to Salvador are Morro de Sao Paulo and Praia do Forte, a sleepy fishing village with miles of white sandy beaches fringed by coconut palms. From here you can also snorkel in the crystal-clear water and visit the nearby Tamar turtle conservation project or 16th century Portuguese fortress.
Brazil offers a huge range of family-friendly coastal resort villages within easy reach of main cities. Upmarket Buzios can easily be combined with Rio, as can the former pirate hideout of Paraty, with its deserted beaches and excellent jungle hikes. The Pantanal is one of the best places in South America to observe wildlife, whilst the powerful Iguassu Falls are rightly considered to be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Get closer to nature in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has gained a reputation as being the wildlife and adventure capital of Central America, as well as being a compact, safe and verdant country. Throw in two magnificent coastlines, countless volcanoes and wonderful eco-lodges and you have an excellent all-round family destination.
Fortunately Costa Rica is also one of the world’s premiere coffee producers and you’ll need it to keep with up the kids as they cross its famous hanging bridges and zip-line, horse-ride, trek, climb and swim their way through your holiday. Costa Rica offers fun and exploration from the word go, starting as you peer down at the emerald lagoon in the crater of a giant volcano or take an aerial tram ride into a rainforest canopy.
The Arenal Volcano is the country’s most recognisable feature and the surrounding national park offers an array of scenic hikes with an expert guide, as well as the chance to take a dip in the nearby hot springs. The Monteverde cloud forest is the place to spot colourful birdlife and exotic wildlife, whilst a stay at Playa Esterillos is ideal to take a well-earned rest after your Costa Rican adventure.
Costa Rica is packed full of fantastic national parks offering amazing wildlife encounters. Two of the very best are Corcovado, home to sloths, toucans, colourful frogs, monkeys and much more and Tortuguero, where you and your family may be lucky enough to see baby Green Sea turtles taking their first steps towards the sea. Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast provides a great blend of idyllic beaches, abundant wildlife and interesting nature trails.
Feeling inspired to start planning a family adventure to Latin America? Why not get in touch today to discuss our range of specially-designed family holidays or share your own ideas for something more bespoke?