Expert advice for family holidays

by on 24th November, 2016

Thinking about a family holiday to South America?

Such a vast continent with such a range of attractions, from snorkelling in the sea to high altitude treks, can make it hard to pick the right trip for you and your family.

Andean Trails’ owner Kathy Jarvis has spent over 20 years exploring South America, the last nine of which she has been accompanied by her son, Lewis.

Here, Kathy shares just some family holiday recommendations and top tips to inspire you to head to South America with your family.



Acclimatisation is crucial for a trek in Peru’s high Andes.

We recently organised for a family with young kids aged 6 and 8 to go on our Lares trek . We booked them an extra horse in case the kids got tired and needed a ride.

It worked well,  they could hop on to the horse when they felt in need of a rest. We organise this as a private departure, to give maximum flexibility.

A couple of years ago myself and my son Lewis went on the Moon Temple trek, to check out this new route to Machu Picchu. This was his first big trek and he loved it. We took an extra horse and he spent a lot of the time on horseback – he was 7 then – but he did it and it shows what is possible. I was delighted as this was my first long trek in several years and I was happy to get back into the mountains for a prolonged period. Lewis loved helping the horsemen gather in the horses each morning, and then he was delighted to be asked to hold onto the horses while they were loaded up with our kit. He was happy to wander along on horseback hour after hour, leaping off periodically to run down a pass, or chase some passing pigs.

Family Holiday Sierra Negra Volcan Chico Isabela Galapagos

Kathy and Lewis in Galapagos


We trekked the stunning Ausangate Lodges this year, with my son now 8. However I would say the whole trek is too high for young kids. It is spectacular and there is plenty of contact with local people and llamas. A good alternative to the full trek is a visit to the first, and lowest of the lodges with some day trips from there.

We did that shorter and lower option when Lewis was 5. You can go fishing & go on some short walks from the lodge – plus horses are available for trips, too. The kids don’t need to know how to ride, the local horses are gentle and are always led along.

Day walks around Cusco and in the Sacred Valley are perfect for active kids – just the right sort of length… just make sure kids are well acclimatised and well kitted out, plus it is worth remembering to carry plenty of water, snacks, sun block and a hat.

Further north, we have shorter treks in  the Cordillera Blanca also suitable for kids, with horse support available, particularly Quilcayhuanca. The walking days are not too long, there are always streams to play in and mountain sides to explore, plus plenty of wildlife. Kids will love the camping too.

In the north of Peru, Gocta is also a great area to visit with kids.

There are lots of day walks of good length, pre-Inca ruins to explore and waterfalls to bathe under  and it is warmer in the north as much lower altitudes. Our last visit there was with my 80 year old mum, my 5 year old son and some friends with a 12 year old.   Ideal for all the family.


Bolivia: acclimatisation crucial

Bolivia offers some fabulous experiences for kids. Our latest adventure took us to the high deserts around Sajama village. There are fabulous walks, open air hot springs, and there are plenty of local kids to play football with in the afternoons.

Again, as high altitudes are involved, you will need to make sure you and the kids are very well acclimatised.



As a family we have done some of the shorter walks in Torres del Paine in southern Chile. When Lewis was just 2 we visited with his grandparents and some other botanists.  Temperatures can be very cold with strong winds but there are no acclimatisation issues here.The high point for Lewis was undoubtedly chasing guanacos, and watching lizards pop in and out of their burrows. We shared refugio rooms of bunk beds with our small group of 6, and hired a van to keep some flexibility each day.

El Chalten, in southern Argentina,  is a great base for days walks in to the Fitzroy peaks. Little kids could be carried in a back pack and walks are not arduous so older kids could eaily do some walking. Horses are not allowed to go into the national park, but there are several estancias nearby that offer riding.

Other areas in Argentina we have visited as a family include Bariloche and San Martin, and in Chile the Lake District. I would say all thsoe areas are readily accessible for families and family friendly. Self-drive is a good option and we were able to visit many national parks and did a lot of walking using a backpack for Lewis.



Ecuador is also a fabulous country for families, its compact size meaning you can travel between very different areas and activities relatively quickly and easily.

Plus, there are the amazing  Galapagos Islands nearby.

Our Galapagos Family Holiday is open to anyone of any age as we can tailor make it. Of course the wildlife is astonishing for anyone, and kids love it. The snorkelling is fabulous and there are enough walks, beaches, and bike rides to keep all kids active, plus the opportunity to surf, and hang out with local kids. Choose a land based tour for flexibility, or a special family cruise if you prefer.

For older kids, from 12 and up,  the Galapagos Multi-Activity is perfect.

An active family adventure holiday across Ecuador’s top sites; hike and bike volcanoes, raft the Amazon and horse ride in the Andes.


Kids horse riding Cotopaxi Ecuador

Kids horse riding Cotopaxi Ecuador


Important notes:
  • If going into the high Andes, acclimatisation is crucial.
  • We recommend a private tour if trekking with kids.
  • Bring the right clothing
  • Bring the right boots
  • Active tours are best for kids that are fit and keen walkers / swimmers
  • Take your favourite snacks with you
  • Book a horse if the child is happy to ride – being tired can be an issue.

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