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Often when I am working with families trying to decide on trips to South America, they are drawn to the active adventures and epic landscapes of Patagonia and Peru but can't decide which one will be best for their kids. If deciding what was the best for the kids wasn't enough many families are also traveling with grandparents for a multi-generational trip. With several different activity levels, interests, and the fact that most of the time these trips need to be squeezed into their children's breaks from school choosing between Patagonia and Peru can be a hard choice. To help you find the best adventure for your family I've chosen three major topics for families to consider when planning their next trip: logistics, activities, and accommodations.
A family trip to Peru can often be started with one direct international flight (direct flights to Lima are offered through several major US hubs) and then a quick 1.5-hour flight to Cusco. The city of Cusco is the base from which most of our adventures start.
Our shortest Peru itinerary is our Sacred Lands of the Inca wherein seven days you will experience lovely Colonial architecture, markets, and amazing food in Cusco, the serene beauty while hiking or biking in the Sacred Valley, and trace Hiram Bingham's steps to the lost city of Machu Picchu. All of these sights are around 1.5-2 hours from one another by private vehicle (and a cool 1.5-hour train ride to Machu Picchu), which makes it easy with limited vacation time to feel like you have experienced a lot and yet not feel rushed.
Patagonia takes a bit longer to get to and the places to be explored are much further apart from each other. There are direct flights from many US hubs to Santiago and Buenos Aires but then you have a fly to Punta Arenas, Chile or El Calafate, Argentina which are both about 3 hours.
Our shortest Patagonia itinerary is our Best of Patagonia which is 10 days and offers a great mix of adventure and nature. Travel to the massive landscapes of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks for hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The drive times are approximately 4.5-5 hours between the main itinerary locales - Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine and Torres del Paine to El Calafate. These drives across the wild and remote Patagonian steppe are gorgeous and well-worth it but are not always the best for younger travelers.
Peru is a great option for families looking for adventure with so many unique adventure opportunities. Our Sacred Lands of the Inca trip can easily be molded to serve a varied age group and offer a wide range of activities. These excursions, whether it be biking, hiking, stand-up paddling, zip-lining, or rafting, are structured so that they are active but only a few hours in length. This allows for the balance to satisfy both the highly active family members as well as those needing to take things a little lighter while remaining together as a family.
Even though Patagonia is more a remote option there is no lack of activities for all types of adventure travelers. Our Best of Patagonia is a highly active itinerary with more options for longer hikes and activities. Many of the lodges in Torres del Paine offer a menu of excursions so the family can choose how active they would like to be each day. These excursions can be full-day challenging hikes, half-day hikes focused on looking for wildlife, kayaking, rafting, biking, and horseback riding. Weather conditions can be a bit more erratic and the winds in Patagonia, while absolutely awe-inspiring can be a battle for even the most seasoned hikers and kayakers.
Throughout Peru we have many family-centric accommodations, for example, in the Sacred Valley, we can arrange a 5 person cozy casita at the Sol y Luna or a family villa at Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in the small pueblo of Aguas Calientes below the citadel of Machu Picchu. These accommodation options tend to be more comfortable (and less expensive overall) for families to spread out in than standard hotel rooms, which can be restrictive with occupancy limitations.
Many of the higher-end lodges have discounted rates for teens and younger children. The lodge I would recommend most for our family adventurers to Torres del Paine is Patagonia Camp, as they offer a 2-room family yurt with an outdoor jacuzzi. For those on a little bit more of a budget, EcoCamp offers loft-domes that can comfortably fit four. Here is a great review from a family adventure to Patagonia. Here is a great review from a family adventure to Patagonia.