Often when I am working with family groups trying to decide on trips to South America I am asked something along the lines of: We are interested in Patagonia and Peru but can’t decide- what would be best for our kids and their grandparents? Do you have a trip that would work over the kids’ spring break?
Hands down I always recommend Peru. Besides the geographical factor that a trip to Peru can often be completed with one direct international flight (there are direct flights to Lima from Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York), the proximity of sights and in-country destinations are perfect for a 7-9 day adventure (the typical amount of time of a school vacation or break). Patagonia and even Argentina or Chile on their own take longer to get to and the distances needing to be covered are much further between in-country destinations.
For our shortest Peru itinerary, “Sacred Lands of the Inca” in seven days you will have experienced, the architecture and culture in Cusco, the serene beauty while hiking and biking in the Sacred Valley, and traced Hiram Bingham’s steps to the lost city of Machu Picchu. All of these sights are under two hours from one to the other by car (three hours via train from Machu Picchu back to Cusco), which makes it easy with limited time to feel like you have been able to do a lot and not be rushed, as downtime is always so important with family travel groups of varied ages. In Patagonia, our shortest itinerary is: “The Best of Patagonia” and drive times between sights are approximately 5 hours (Punta Areans to Torres del Paine and Torres del Paine to El Calafate). These drives across the wild and remote Patagonian steppe are gorgeous but are not always the best for younger travelers.
Activities offered in “The Sacred Lands of the Inca” itinerary are wide-ranging and, once again, can easily be molded to serve a varied age group. 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 to find that balance to satisfy both the highly active family members as well as those needing to take things a little lighter, while remaining together. “The Best of Patagonia” is a highly active itinerary with more demanding hikes and activities in more severe weather conditions; the winds in Patagonia, while absolutely awe-inspiring are also a battle for even the most seasoned hikers and kayakers. One of the main highlights of the “Best of Patagonia” is the Perito Moreno glacier mini-trekking, where we get to don crampons and walk on the glacier itself. This excursion in particular, can be difficult for families with younger travelers as the parks department and Argentine government have rigidly enforced laws about age restrictions for those wishing to do the mini-trekking: those under the age of 10 and over the age of 65 cannot do the mini-trekking without exception.
Finally, when choosing the right family adventure, accommodations are important- at night, after exhilarating excursions and learning about history and archeology, most families want to sit down or relax together and discuss the day. In Peru, there are far more family-centric accommodations than in Patagonia. For example, in the Sacred Valley, we will arrange a 6 person villa at the Greenhouse Villas and a family villa at Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel near the Machu Picchu ruins. These accommodation options are often more comfortable (and cheaper!) for families to spread out in than standard hotel rooms, which can be restrictive with occupancy limitations. In Patagonia, many of the higher-end lodges have discounted rates for teens and younger children and some lodges have family suites but, these are often quite pricey for a family, especially if the younger children cannot partake in the more strenuous activities and all-inclusive perks.
Ultimately, though Peru is always my first recommendation for families traveling to South America, I have heard the following statement: “We’ve been to Peru and have always been dreaming about Patagonia- what can we do?”. If this is the case, and everyone in the family is on board for at least one or two long drives, I recommend a custom Patagonia trip. This is best way to take into account the activity levels and interests of the whole family and plan accordingly. With a custom trip, we can also add more time in one place or solely focus on one area of Patagonia to eliminate some of the long travel times between destinations and deliver an enjoyable adventure for all ages.
I look forward to working with you and your family on your next family adventure!
Your friendly South America Program Director,
Got questions about travel to Peru and Patagonia? Ask away!