With its diverse cultures, dramatic scenery and exotic wildlife, South America is an ideal place to create a memorable family vacation. This vast region — which spans more than 6,800 square miles and ranges from sunny Caribbean beaches to glacier-lined waterways — has lots of excitement for kids of all ages. Parents and grandparents will find lots to love, too.
#1 Buenos Aires
Learning to tango in Buenos Aires: This evocative Argentinean music and dance, which originated in the late 19th century, has emerged as one of the nation’s most iconic cultural traditions. And children can be unexpectedly good at mastering the intricate steps
Living the Gaucho life in Argentina: Kids can enjoy the exciting rural lifestyle of Argentina’s legendary cowboys, the gauchos, as they spend a day on an authentic estancia (ranch), learning from the experts about horsemanship and other activities.
Cycling through Chile’s Colchagua Valley: This scenic region, which lies conveniently close to the capital city of Santiago, is known for its excellent wines as well as its diverse outdoor activities. As parents savor the local varietals, kids can enjoy guided, easy hikes and cycling excursions, as well as horseback riding.
#4 Atacama Desert
Floating above the Atacama Desert in a hot-air balloon: Chile’s otherworldly Atacama Desert is even more picturesque from the sky, and older kids will be wowed as they take off for a sunrise balloon ride.
Exploring volcanoes in Ecuador: This compact South American nation is home to breathtaking geography that will surely make a lasting impression on young explorers. Families can visit the world’s highest volcano, Cotopaxi, as well as Quilotoa Crater Lake, a lagoon at the top of the Quilotoa volcano.
Walking and swimming with Galapagos Islands wildlife: It’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t get excited about animals at some point in their life. And there’s no better place to encourage that enthusiasm than the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorean archipelago where children can get unbelievably close to wildlife including giant tortoises, seals, blue-footed boobies and iguanas, to name a few.
#7 Machu Picchu
Wandering the ruins of Machu Picchu: This 15th-century Inca site may seem exotic and far removed from modern life, but the quick flight from Lima to historic Cusco, and luxurious train ride to the ruins, make it a comfortable trip for families. Kids will be amazed at what they see upon arrival, and will likely make good use of their cell phone cameras trying to capture Machu Picchu’s majesty.
Talking with Incan descendants on the floating islands of Uros: Interacting with locals is an enriching experience for children of all ages, and the spectacular scenery of these floating islands — which just happen to be Lake Titicaca’s top attraction — provides an unforgettable backdrop.
#9 El Cajas National Park
Spotting rare animals at Ecuador’s El Cajas National Park: Another great spot for animal lovers, this 70,000-acre refuge is a rewarding place for kids to test their skills at spotting wildlife including llamas, spectacled bears, pumas and birds like Andean condors, toucans and hummingbirds.
#10 Easter Island
Investigating the mysteries of Easter Island. The exact meaning and origin of the Moai, 900 monumental statues that dot Easter Island, may never be fully known. But kids will have a great time learning possible explanations during guided Easter Island tours.