We joined a Capybara family trip in Peru (which is a special trip catering just to families that goes to all the same places as our popular Jaguar tour, but is lighter on the trekking) and the Tapir tour in Ecuador. I will try to give you a sense of how it is to travel with a very young toddler.
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My daughter, Elina, was only a couple of weeks old when my wife, Olga, and I moved from Shanghai to New Zealand for my role as Operations Manager for ACTIVE SOUTH AMERICA. We had previously travelled all over the world and looked forward to sharing some adventures as a family. In 2010, we decided it was time to ‘field test’ a couple of our ACTIVE SOUTH AMERICA trips – ok, take a holiday – with Elina, who was then 18 months old.
1) Are my kids old enough for a hiking tour in South America?
This is a very common question amongst parents who enjoy travelling. Many of our clients have brought their children, and the kids usually react really well to the new environment.
As for the exact age, well, as with nearly everything relating to children, the answer is: it depends! It depends on the child, on the expectations of the parent, and on the type of adventure activities on the particular trip you’re considering. We don’t have a formal minimum age for our South America trips, but we recommend a minimum age of around 14 for all trips except the Capybara family trip. This is so your child will be able to take part in extensive trekking and the full range of activities on your adventure tour.
Many people seem to fear flying with children, but we found it was actually pretty easy. Small children tend to sleep a lot on the plane, and the upside is that you get your meals earlier than everyone else.
Ideally, try to find flights that leave in the evening. That way you and the kids can sleep for a great deal of the way. Stopovers are a matter of personal choice. Olga and I prefer to keep them short, because it’s much easier to look after your child on the plane than in an airport – but you can also use a long stopover to your advantage, because an energetic child can quickly tire him or herself out in a big airport, and they’ll be exhausted and ready to sleep again on the next flight.
Although in general we found flying with Elina to be pretty easy, my one caveat is that jet lag is more of an issue. Adults can drink coffee, do whatever to stay awake, and of course we know what’s going on. It’s probably fair to say that children are more affected by jetlag than adults. It can take a few days for your child to get into the new time zone. Anyway, North Americans flying down to South America will find this jet lag thing ‘a piece of cake’!.
3) Nappies / Diapers
We are very lucky because Elina was completely toilet-trained at the time, otherwise, you have to be careful with baby skin under the nappy in warm and humid weather, such as in the jungle (bring plenty of nappy rash ointment).
Meals are another point where parents tend to over worry. Actually, we pride ourselves in our ability to cater for any kind of diet on our Active tours. If we can keep a gluten-free vegan happy with meals prepared out in the New Zealand wilderness or while hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, for sure kids’ meals are easy to manage. Indeed, our trip leaders always have snacks with them, and they are even more careful when there are kids on the group. Elina has always eaten basically the same as us, so it was very easy with her. Restaurants in Peru are excellent. There is a wide range of choices and you can always stick with a bowl of rice when in doubt. Elina even tried and loved guinea pig meat!
We brought a backpack-style child carrier and found you can enjoy almost any kind of activity with a toddler on your side – or most precisely, on your back. The only activities that we wouldn’t recommend for young kids are:
– Multi-day hikes
If the weather is nice and you have plenty of time, you can have your toddler up and down from your backpack so that she can get a short walk from time to time to enjoy the trip and keep warm by moving. But that is very time consuming and not practical on a long group hike.
– Water activities
For rafting or kayaking, you really don’t want to have a toddler with you on the water. So, someone in the family has to be prepared to skip the activity and stay on land. Alternatively, depending on the age and confidence of the baby with other people, the baby can stay back with the crew, giving a chance for both parents to fully enjoy all the activities.
The Capybara family tour in Peru
The Capybara can easily cater for all ages – from one to ninety-nine! – and is perfect for a multi-generational adventure if the grandparents want to join too. The tour starts in Lima and on the second day you fly into the Amazon rainforest to a very nice lodge in Madre de Dios region, close to Puerto Maldonado. It is a short flight, and after a thirty-minute bus ride, you hop aboard a motorized canoe that kids will love! The activities in the rainforest on this trip are especially designed for the whole family. The weather is warm, you don’t get direct sunlight because of the forest canopy, so the conditions are ideal for your kids to enjoy.
After the jungle, we spend some days along the Sacred Valley, close to Cusco. This includes short walks and interesting visits to Ollantaytambo, salt mines and Aguas Calientes, from where we get into Machu Picchu. All very enjoyable to do with a wee one, but you have to make sure you protect them from the sun.
The last part of the trip takes in Lake Titicaca, where we do short hikes on the lake islands. This part of the trip is very interesting for kids, because we do a homestay with a local family, and they can interact with children from the hosting family and sometimes even attend a local party. That was Elina’s favorite part, and her mother’s favorite photography spot, with Elina playing with the local kids.
The Tapir tour in Ecuador
From Peru, we moved on to Ecuador to enjoy the Tapir trip. It has day walks in the Highlands, stays in nice family ‘haciendas’, and impressive day walks in the Ecuadorian jungle. Although this trip isn’t a specialized family tour, it was enjoyed by everyone, old and young alike.
What we found
Elina was so happy during and after these trips! We think it is important for young kids to be exposed to different environments and people. Otherwise, it can be very boring for them to stay at home doing the same routine. Basically the same philosophy goes for adults!
You don’t have to wait until your kids grow up to enjoy an active vacation together. One of the adults may have to skip some activities (we only skipped the water-based ones – kayaking and rafting) but you can get your well-deserved holiday and the kids will enjoy themselves, add real novelty to their routine, and expand their horizons from the very start of their lives.
Olga and I are expecting our second child this year, so we’ll soon find out what it’s like travelling with two young children!
Written by Pablo Perez