Touring Latin America: Calling All Explorers

In Latin America, family vacations are all about nature, culture and action.

Unlike the North America and Caribbean, Latin America will generally not be the first choice for families looking for a bevy of all-inclusive resorts with mini-clubs and kiddie programs. Rather, what travel agents will find is a handful of countries offering their clients involving and adventurous family experiences, with the accent on natural wonders, new cultures and lots of activities for all ages: kids 10 years and up seem to thrive.

Tour operators specializing in the region, expedition cruises, lodges and inns often have just the ticket for planning a restful—not stressful—family vacation so that everyone enjoys themselves and each other. There are many choices south of our border. Have a look at some we like.

in panama: two for the road Gamboa Resort, sitting in the heart of the lush rainforest in the Panama Canal Zone, has all the facilities of a luxury resort—from deluxe river-view rooms to suites and villas, as well as three restaurants, two bars, a pool and spa. Most important for family fun are the complimentary guest activities that include pool games, hiking, biking, kayaking on the Chagres River, and tai chi and yoga classes. Other excursions range from kayaking the Panama Canal, to birdwatching along the famous Pipeline Road. The resort offers a 3-night Family Safari package covering accommodations, breakfast, guided aerial tram tour and access to ecological exhibits, guide tour to Monkey Island and airport transfers. Until Dec. 16, the price is $1,270 for two adults and two children under 12 years of age; from Dec. 16 to April 15, the cost is $1,660.

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Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge in Bocas del Toro offers families a magic vacation formula in upscale and spacious accommodations, along with fresh and delicious meals included in the rates, plus a daily place in the boat or on the jungle trail for the broadest choice of excursions: kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, surfing, birding, visiting indigenous villages, observing turtle sites (in season), and exploring beautiful and pristine beaches in this grandly bio-diverse corner of Panama. Rates range from $1,115 pp dbl for three nights, up to $1,960 pp dbl for 7-night packages; children 15 and under in a cabana with two adults are half price, and children 15 and under sharing with one adult, receive a $400 discount. Costs include accommodations, meals, activities, gratuities and transfers to/from Panama City. The resort is glad to step up and make necessary reservations in the capital, and even arrange a tour of the Panama Canal.

for family fun: you better belize it Adventure Smith invites families—kids, parents, grandparents—to enjoy Belize on an active and educational 7-night Belize Family Adventure. Travelers will hike to ancient Mayan ruins, canoe through the pristine rainforest on the Macal River and snorkel along the world’s second largest barrier reef. The highlights when staying in the Maya Mountains are two nights at Chaa Creek Jungle Lodge, located in its own reserve with miles of well-maintained trails; a horseback ride to the Maya site of Xunantunich, and a canoe trip on the Macal River to meet and dine with a local family in Cristo Rey village.

During three nights at Robert’s Grove Resort, families will go snorkeling together, explore the reef system, perhaps venture out onto Monkey River or into the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve. The land cost of $2,383 pp dbl includes lodgings, all land, air and water transportation within Belize, all meals, excursions and guides; kids costs are $607 (ages 6-11) and $1,125 (ages 11-15).

Adventure Life invites families to enjoy a different take on Belize with its 8-day Belize Snorkeling & Caving Adventure. First stop is Glover Reef Atoll, one of only three coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere, where—during a 2-night stay—guests snorkel with the blue parrot fish, neon blowfish, 6-ft. eagle rays and harmless nurse sharks, combined with sea kayaking and wind surfing. Next come the Maya Mountains, where families will go river tubing through a cave, zipline through the forest canopy, rappel into a black hole, explore winding trails along Roaring River, and explore the Mayan underworld of the sacred Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. (Those wishing an alternative to this excursion visit Barton Creek Cave or enjoy other activities above ground.) The cost, $1,998 pp dbl includes 7-night accommodations (one night at hotel, four nights at lodge, and two nights camping); all meals, three days of private guide service and two days with locally hosted guides, gear rental and transfers.