Q. Brent J. and his wife from Washington are going to South America with their 5 and 7-year-olds, spending 10 days in the Galapagos with his sister, and looking for ideas for the rest of their stay.
Thanks for your request for itinerary assistance on your upcoming month in South America with your wife and two girls, ages 5 and 7. Since you will be based in Quito, Ecuador, and have already planned to spend a 10-day vacation there touring the Galapagos, we want to suggest some other Spanish-speaking countries (as your wife requested) that you might want to consider.
Peru with Kids
Our first choices would be Peru and Colombia. Peru is a fascinating country, with most visitors going to the so-called Sacred Valley of the Incas area near Cuzco and Macchu Picchu. We’ve talked to some travel experts who suggest that young kids can make the trip to Macchu Picchu, which is a accessible even to the elderly, but they advise that the very high altitude in Cuzco, at 3300m/10,800 feet, may be a problem for your children. This city is also known for its intense UV rays, so be sure to have strong sunblock on hand. Having said that, ask your pediatrician for their advice, and if you decide to go, keep in mind that many skiing families administer 1 aspirin per day for a week prior to ski vacations so that their kids adjust better to the altitude. There are other folk remedies you will hear, and many locally used ones, as Cuzco is a major tourist center in the country.
To get there from Cuzco, PeruRail provides passenger services on the 3 ft (0.91 m) gauge Ferrocarril Santa Ana to Aguas Calientes, delivering tourists for Machu Picchu in about 4 hours. These old narrow gauge trains are considered historic in the U.S. so the trip itself should be fun. It costs a bit more, but the Vistadome trains have all glass windows so you can see more of the journey. On some departures, there are also music and dance cultural shows put on during the journey, which should keep the kids busy.
If you’re concerned about alttiude, another option families prefer is to stay along the Urubamba River Valley (the Sacred Valley of the Inca) which is below the archeological site. There are lots of outdoor activities here and you can still catch the train up to Macchu Picchu, but from a different line.
There is also train service to Lake Titicaca over the La Raya pass (4,313 m or 14,150 feet), known as a special place to stop for the view over the Andean plateau. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world, and on the Bolivian side is the Isla Del Sol where you’ll find Inca ruins. On the lake’s Peruvian shore are the Las Islas Flotantes or floating islands, handmade from totora reeds and home to the Uros tribe. This is supposed to be a fascinating place to visit.
The official Peru Tourism site has a very good description for the route: “Arequipa – Colca – Puno – Cusco” which they estimate can be done in about 11 days. We suggest you add a few more days for downtime for the kids, but you can take a look at their suggestions and see what appeals to you.
By the way, you can fly directly to Cuzco, so research airfares once you’re settled in Quito. It is said that the overnight buses in both Ecuador and Peru have had safety issues, therefore only take them during the day.
One company that organizes group tours and also a private car/driver is Latour Latin America Tours. A typical itinerary for Peru, if you planned ahead, might be 1-2 nights in Lima where you can tour the colonial city; 2 nights in the Sacred Valley area and 2 nights in Cuzco. Once you’re there, there are vendors who can organize horseback riding or mountain biking if your older child was interested.
Colombia with Kids
Our other thought is Colombia, which I enjoyed with my family last summer. We spent 4 days in Bogota (here, too, you will need to get acclimated to the altitude) and there are fun sights in the city. The Gold Museum will occupy a day and you cannot miss the hilltop Monserrate Cathedral with its fantastic views. We stayed in Candelaria (see photo above), maybe not the safest neighborhood late at night, but it’s beautiful and architectually pure, and will be the most fun for you to walk around. Picture government palaces, good museums and many impressive buildings that the kids will enjoy seeing from the outside.
Our hostel was in Candelaria, too, in a great location. The Casa Platypus is the more “hotel” like part of this place, which also has backpacker dorms, and we had a very nice room with a nearby bathroom. Staff was great, very accommodating.
Through them, we learned of Villa de Leyva, a pretty rural town about 4-5 hours away by bus. It’s actually a very upscale weekend retreat for the Bogota elite, with many small hotels and private villas behind huge stone walls. We stayed at the Colombian Highlands Hostel, another mixed hotel/hostel with camping out back, some really cheap dorm rooms, and then simple private rooms that include breakfast in the very cheap rates. There are many good restaurants and galleries in Villa de Leyva (about a 1/2 mile walk but your kids should be really fit by then), as well as a fun market.
We spent a week in Villa de Leyva joining half-day trips, one for horseback riding, and a few hiking adventures. It’s a beautiful part of the country, safe and peaceful, and walking back and forth through local farms was a great way to meet the friendly Colombian people.
About 22 hours by bus from Bogota (flights are very expensive) and on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is the historic, beautiful city of Cartagena. Thsi UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fortified town with 17th century ramparts, cathedrals and cobblestone streets. There are many local guided tours of the historic mansions and monasteries, as well as a wonderful beach nearby. Note that it is a very popular and touristy area with accommodations in many price ranges. There are several national parks nearby to explore on daytrips, and some have rustic lodges within their boundaries — great if your kids are into wildlife.
We think this is a good start, let us know how your planning goes and if we can be of help. Then, please, do share your travel tales with the rest of the community.
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