An archipelago teems with curious creatures; a serpentine jungle river reveals a treehouse-style lodge; an ancient citadel precipitously perched atop a mountain is cloaked by morning mist; a wind-swept steppe mingles with toothy peaks and glaciers. It’s not a scene lifted from the pages of your child’s favorite storybook, it’s your next family vacation—in South America.
At Extraordinary Journeys, we spend a lot of time singing the high praises of bringing kids on safari in Africa, but South America deserves to share in the family-friendly limelight. Sure, the wildlife may be less familiar (condor, guanaco, and capybara), and you might not know the names of its Indigenous peoples (Quechua, Aymara, and Mapuche). Still, the continent rewards travelers in so many ways. Tropical in the north and glacial in the south, South America is a kaleidoscope of landscapes shaped by the formidable Andes Mountains. There’s much to learn and tangled histories to appreciate. Traveling through family-oriented cultures, your children will be welcomed and celebrated. Plus, the opportunities for adventuring in the great outdoors are bound only by ambition and ability.
As specialists (and parents), we know how rewarding it is to share the world with your kids. We also know traveling with children requires some extra planning and patience. At these nine family-friendly properties, young(er) guests are not only accommodated, but embraced.
The best properties for family vacations in South America
Galápagos Safari Camp
Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos, Ecuador
Sharing the unfamiliar and fearless wildlife of the Galápagos Islands with your children is a gift they won’t soon forget. Cruising the island chain is a popular way to experience the ocean-hugged destination, but for some parents, the thought of being boat-bound with rambunctious littles might make them seasick. Enter Galápagos Safari Camp, an intimate, nine-tent eco-escape set on 55 acres of forested highland, perfect for an Ecuador family vacation. Located on Santa Cruz Island—situated at the geographic heart of the archipelago—this land-based experience evokes the spirit of the family-friendly safaris we live in Africa, but with a Pacific twist. Family-owned and founded, Michael and Stephanie Mesdag are parents themselves, meaning their kid-centric programming isn’t just something they boast about, it’s mettle-tested. Whether taking a private wildlife tour on Santa Cruz or venturing out for a private/semi-private day cruise to an uninhabited neighboring island, fun and age-appropriate adventures led by kid-friendly guides are custom-tailored to suit your family’s schedule. Back at Camp, children can cool off in the plunge pool, jump on the giant trampoline, tinker in the playroom, or hop on a bike. During the school holiday season, classes are offered in the Kid’s Club so parents can enjoy afternoon excursions. Babysitting is also available. Tents aside, there is a three-bedroom Family Villa that’s perfect for multigenerational families or young children.
La Selva Amazon Ecolodge & Spa
Yasuní National Park, Ecuadorian Amazon
Imagine: a short plane ride whisks you deep into east Ecuador, at which point you board a motorized canoe for a two-hour ride up the snaking Napo River. You’ll arrive in Yasuní National Park—an unspoiled bioreserve boasting some of the highest per-square-foot biodiversity in the world. With vibrant and foreign flora and fauna, the jungle is a wonderful place for children to collect memories. Laying claim as ‘the most kid-friendly lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon,’ La Selva Amazon Ecolodge invites kids to participate in a Junior Naturalist Program. Besides all the fun (day and nighttime canoe safaris, jungle walks, Indigenous community visits, kayaking, ascending an observation tower), they’ll learn bird calls, paddle canoes, and forage. Each child receives an adventure kit, crayons, and a magnifying glass. Picky eaters can enjoy chef-adapted meals, and four ample Family Staterooms offer a comfortable three-bed configuration (a king and two doubles) to accommodate parents and littles. A living space, hammock, and hot tub make it an even more inviting, relaxing space. Children as young as three are welcome, so long as they’re up for the journey. When traveling with children six years and under, families will be booked with a private guide.
Andean Highlands, Ecuador
Running through the country’s center like a sawtooth spine, the Ecuadorian Andes create a formidable presence. Within it, 10 snow-capped peaks stretch 16,000 feet toward the heavens within a 250-mile stretch, towering over a fertile valley, earning it the moniker’ the Avenue of Volcanoes.’ The valley floor is blanketed by a quilt of farmland, interrupted by valleys, lagoons, Indigenous villages, and colonial towns. We’ve yet to meet a kid who isn’t enchanted by volcanoes, which makes the Andean Highlands a glorious stopover for active families traveling between the Galápagos and the Ecuadorian Amazon. And there’s no warmer welcome for parents traveling to Ecuador with kids than checking into Hacienda Zuleta, a family-owned, colonial-era working farm formerly owned by an Ecuadorian president and his family. Savor meals at the antique dinner table where recipes are passed from one generation to the next, cooked with produce grown in the garden. Bonfires, carriage rides, horseback riding, treasure hunts, milking cows by hand, learning how to cast a leather lasso, and a squad of friendly farm dogs will keep your kids entertained at this hacienda-away-from-home. Infants are welcome, but programming is geared toward kids ages five through twelve.
Sol y Luna
Sacred Valley, Peru
To describe Sol y Luna as a Relais & Chateau–associated hotel nestled in Peru’s Sacred Valley is accurate but incomplete. For founders Marie Hélene and Franz Miribel, the education and welfare of Urubamba Valley children preceded the hotel. The school they founded, attended by some 160 kids—including their own two children—is financed by the profits generated by Sol y Luna, making it a wonderful opportunity to introduce young travelers to the ethos of ‘travel as a force for good’ while on a family trip to Peru. A classroom visit complements other family-friendly activities in the Sacred Valley, not limited to mountain biking, trail riding, ATVing, kayaking, SUP, and cultural highlights like weaving and pottery demonstrations, theater, and a horse show. Day trips to memorable ruins in Ollantaytambo, Pisac, or Moray bring Incan history to life, preparing kids for the ultimate showstopper: Machu Picchu. Sol y Luna’s 43 self-contained casitas of varying sizes offer families comfortable spaces to retreat to. With lofty ceilings, tubs, garden-hugged terraces, and decorated with Peruvian folk art, you’ll be forgiven if it feels less like a hotel and more like a home.
Torres Del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
Big adventure awaits active travelers in Patagonia, but that doesn’t mean the littles must sit the region out. Children as young as six are welcome at EcoCamp Patagonia, a sustainable geodesic hotel at the foot of the Torres del Paine mountain range. The property’s 33 geodesic dome suites are as memorable as they are cozy, graced with an obvious fun factor that kids will love. (The two-story Suite Dome Loft is especially well suited for families.) Swathed by rugged Patagonia wilderness and blessed with a view of the majestic Paine Towers, it’s an invitation to trade screen time for hiking, glimpses of guanaco and puma, or to get up close to a glacier. EcoCamp stays are all-inclusive and customized. Young children (ages six to nine) are encouraged to enjoy nature walks; adolescents 10 to 12 may participate in trekking adventures (like ‘The Short W Trek’) where parents are confident in their abilities and endurance, but note, a supplemental hired guide is required. Teens 13 and older are welcome to participate in all recreation opportunities.
Torres Del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
For a more refined, family-friendly option in Torres Del Paine, EJ experts love Explora. Located in the heart of the national park and situated on milky blue Lake Pehoé, the 49-room luxury lodge is framed by Salto Chico waterfall in the foreground with the famous granite massifs seated hinter. All ages are welcome at Explora, starting with infants strapped snug into their carriers for a hiking ride-along. There are more than three dozen bespoke explorations (that’s Explora lingo for ‘excursion’ or ‘tour’) which can be customized by guides depending on needs and abilities. Undoubtedly, the property’s stable of horses will be hard for pony-loving kids to ignore. Various easy-rated rides thread through iconic Patagonian landscapes, from steppe to pampas-blanketed plains. Six Exploradores suites measure 450 square feet, handily accommodating a crib or child’s bed. A jetted bathtub means the bedtime routine remains intact. Additional Explora properties in the rugged region include Patagonia National Park (Chile) and El Chaltén (Argentinean Patagonia). All trips include accommodations, transfers, guided explorations, meals, and beverages. In other words: turnkey travel to Chile with kids that means parents won’t have to stress over the banal details.
Lake District, Chile
Between the Mars-like Atacama Desert in the north, the vibrant capital of Santiago, and the wind-swept steppes and the massifs of Patagonia to the south, Chile’s Lake District is sometimes relegated as a gateway to ‘somewhere else’. Blessed with glassy glacial lakes that reflect snow-capped volcanoes and ancient araucaria (‘monkey puzzle’) trees exuding ancestral energy, we argue it’s a destination unto itself, especially when checking into Vira Vira. The boutique luxury lodge is located on a working farm fringed by national park forest and boasts hot tubs, outdoor barbeques (in summer), and an on-site cheese factory—all crowd-pleasing features for kids. Vira Vira welcomes guests six and older, but teenagers will really embrace this natural playground. Follow trails through national parks and native forests that look upon the active Villarrica Volcano, learn to fish in pristine lakes, float down rivers, go white water rafting or pick up a paddle and go canoeing. On a Mapuche community visit, you’ll meet Indigenous locals and learn about their traditions and natural medicine, sample ancestral recipes, and play cheuca, a game similar to field hockey. Otherwise, eco-conscious teens ages 14 to 18 (and their parent(s)) are invited to participate in an expert-guided WILDchild Eco-Guide Challenge. As a small group on a set departure date, the challenge spans four nights/five days, where you’ll enjoy active adventures like rafting, rock climbing, and horseback riding, in addition to workshops, lessons (photography, cooking, birding), and a handful of friendly competitions.
Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort
Wine and kids aren’t a typical pairing, but parents hoping to sample Mendoza‘s world-famous vines shouldn’t write the experience out of their family trip to Argentina. Families with kids 10 and older are welcome at Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort, an architecturally stunning property hugged by 790 acres of vineyard at the foothills of the Andes. Kids will be entertained by the games room or outdoor pool and on excursions that include trail riding, hiking, biking, archery, tennis, and cooking lessons. (When visiting during the spell of a full moon, some activities are offered after dark.) Sumptuous picnics mean meals can be enjoyed at leisure throughout the ambling property or come together to sample an al fresco asado (BBQ) lunch at a shaded long table among the vines. There are seven well-equipped and connectable rooms and a handful of suites, each with sweeping Andean views. For added privacy, the two-bedroom villa offers 1,615 square feet of lagoon-adjacent living space for a real feeling of ‘home’ where families can be at ease.
Charming Luxury Lodge
Seated on pretty-as-a-postcard Nahuel Huapi Lake and entirely ensconced by a national park of the same name, Barlioche is a perfectly situated adventure base for can’t-sit-still-littles visiting on an Argentina family vacation. When snow blankets the surrounding mountains, the town—with architectural nods to Switzerland—transforms into a winter wonderland. Parents will love the apartment-size suites of Charming Luxury Lodge equipped with a steam shower, dry sauna, and jetted tub—amenities everyone will appreciate after a day on the slopes of nearby Cerro Catedral. On-property, an outdoor heated pool with unobstructed lake views persuades guests to spend a little more time luxuriating in the crisp alpine air. In summer, easily amble to the nearby lakeshore beach for an afternoon of lazy lounging or kayaking and SUP. There’s no shortage of adventure in the region, from river rafting to hiking to horseback riding, which the staff is all too happy to help arrange.
Where’s the best place to travel in South America with kids?
The answer to this question is as unique as your family. Our experts will want to know, have you ever been to South America? How old are your children? What are your shared and individual interests? Machu Picchu is an enduring highlight that brings many South America first-timers to the continent. From the Sacred Valley to the Amazon, Peru offers more than enough to substantiate an entire visit—but a well-connected flight network also means it is easy to combine with another country. Wildlife enthusiasts will love the creatures who call the Galápagos Islands and Amazon home. Active families are drawn to the Andes Mountains, with wonderful options in Ecuador’s cloud forest or along the Avenue of Volcanoes, Peru’s Andes, and in Patagonia, an awe-inspiring region spanning both Chile and Argentina. Chile, with its valleys and volcanoes begging to be hiked or experienced on horseback and rivers and lakes waiting to be paddled, rings out like a siren to families with teens. Whichever place you’re wanting to share with your kids, EJ experts can help guide you to the most family-friendly properties, arranging the most accommodating suites, guides, and seamless transfers so that you all enjoy a South America vacation.
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