With its diverse landscape and culture Latin America is an ideal place to explore for families. There are loads of destinations which are baby and toddler friendly and kids will love the incredible sights such as the Aztec and Mayan ruins, Machu Picchu in Peru, the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and the incredible beaches in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina to name but a few. The most popular destinations (and the safest) for parents travelling with children aged 4 and under are Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile.
Planning well is the key to an amazing vacation with kids in this region. Some parts of South America are underdeveloped and are not advisable for visiting with infants and younger children. Altitude is also a factor; if you are visiting Ecuador’s national parks or Peru, the high altitude may cause difficulties for babies and toddlers. Visit your GP in advance of booking to ask about vaccinations and health issues. The NHS’ Fit for Travel website and the World Health Organisation’s website has a lot of up to date information on general health considerations in Latin America.
When to Go
Latin America is a huge region and the temperature and weather varies considerably from place to place. Much of South America lies in the southern hemisphere and it’s summer months are during November, December and January. The best time to visit Mexico for families is from late November until April. June to October, is the rainy season in Mexico, but the amount of rain varies from place to place. In the heart of the country you can expect a heavy but short downpours almost every afternoon during this time but in the north, hardly any rain falls. Along the beaches, September to mid-October is hurricane season – you’ll usually get wet weather, choppy seas and mosquitoes, if not a full-on tropical storm.
When travelling by car with a baby or toddler you will need to use a car seat. Some taxi operators will be able to accommodate you with a car sear however, you might consider bringing your own if you or unsure. On buses you might also consider using a car seat or safety harness to ensure your child’s safety.
If you will be travelling around the region there are some excellent airlines offering budget flights. For long distances, flying is the best option with infants and toddlers as buses and trains (where available) are slow and can sometimes be irregular.
Train routes in Mexico are limited and there are no cross-country train services in South America, and with the exception of Argentina and Chile, domestic networks are quite limited, such as a railway in Bolivia, from Oruro to Villazón, passing through Uyuni, Tupiza and some other places, and a railway in Brazil, linking regional capitals Belo Horizonte and Vitória. There are a number of very scenic “tourist trains” though, including the 445 km Quito-Guayaquil route in Ecuador.
Buses are the main form of land transport for much of the continent but for longer distances you’re often better off flying as distances can be vast and bus travel is not comfortable for more than a couple of hours with a baby or toddler as boredom sets in quite quickly. If your child is very young, they may sleep on the bus.
Feeding your Child – Baby and Toddler Essentials
Tap water should not be used for feeding babies and young kids in many countries in Latin America. Prepare formula with boiled bottled water only and make sure your child eats fruit that can be peeled by you and has not been washed in tap water. Exercise caution when buying food or beverages from street vendors. The quality of water along some beaches in or near Acapulco or other large coastal communities may be unsafe for swimming because of pollution. Swimming in contaminated water may cause diarrhoea and/or other illnesses so make sure to check in advance and if you are unsure be extra vigilant and ensure that your child does not ingest water while swimming.
You will probably not be able to find the brand of powdered formula that your child is used to in Mexico so it is best to bring the formula with you from home. Baby food in jars is available in most supermarkets in Mexico; the most popular brand being Gerber. You might also opt to bring food for your child.
If your infant is over a year, then they will be able to eat food at your resort or hotel, provided you are staying somewhere that is of good quality. If they are less than a year and still eat mainly pureed foods, then it would be advisable to bring food with you from home.
Huggies nappies are available in Chile and Argentina and you will also be able to find other disposable brands throughout the region.
You should bring a fold away travel high chair with you if your child is able to sit up on their own as you may not be able to find a high chair outside of the resorts in Mexico or South America. Most restaurants will not have changing facilities either so a travel changing mat is useful.
Be prepared with plenty of anti-diarrhoeals, rehydration sachets and a good first-aid kit. While eating in local markets stick to cleaner mid-range restaurants when feeding to babies and toddlers.
Family Health & Wellbeing in Latin America
Excellent health facilities are available in Mexico City, but training and availability of emergency responders may be below US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and European standards. Care in more remote areas in Mexico and South America can be limited. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures (In many countries doctors expect payment in cash). In recent years, some U.S. citizens have complained that certain health-care facilities in beach resorts in Mexico have taken advantage of them by overcharging or providing unnecessary medical care.
The Hep A vaccination may be required as it is spread through contaminated food products. Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouths so ask your GP about this at least 8 weeks prior to travel and preferably before booking. Make sure to visit your GP prior to booking if possible to discuss the possible medical issues that might arise for babies and toddlers visiting Latin America. See our section on Insect Protection where children too young to take anti-malarial medication.
Breastfeeding mothers should not take the vaccine – and you should definitely think twice about giving the vaccine to a toddler under two. Consult your doctor for advice before you go. In the end, your best way to avoid yellow fever is by sticking to higher elevations and straying away from deep jungle areas.
In high-altitude areas like Mexico City, Peru and parts of Ecuador altitude sickness may occur which can be quite dangerous for babies and toddlers. Most people need a short adjustment period as long as several days. Symptoms of reaction to high altitude include a lack of energy, shortness of breath, occasional dizziness, headache, and insomnia. Those with heart problems should consult their doctor before traveling. Air pollution in Mexico City and Guadalajara is severe, especially from December to May, and combined with high altitude could affect travellers with underlying respiratory problems.
When eating out, the best way to avoid most illnesses is to avoid getting bitten in the first place (use long sleeves and a natural bug balm and a mosquito net). Chikungunya and Dengue are mosquito-borne illnesses that are becoming more frequent in tropical and equatorial climates around the world. Symptoms can include fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, and muscle or bone pain. Rabies, Malaria and Yellow fever can be a risk as well on the continent, check with a travel clinic or your doctor before heading out to see if you’ll be in a high-risk area.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions for Mexico and South America on the CDC’s website and the NHS’s Fit for Travel Website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travellers, including detailed country-specific health information.
While in Mexico and South America, you may encounter different road conditions than you are used to. Public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis and city buses, often do not comply with traffic regulations, including observing speed limits and stopping at red lights. If you will be travelling by road, you should bring your car seat or a travel booster seat with you from home.
Best Places to Visit for Families in Latin America
If you are travelling to Mexico, the most popular family holiday resorts include; Cancun, Mazatlan, Isla Mujeres, Puerto Vallarta and Tulum. These beach resorts have hotels suitable for babies and toddlers, stunning beaches and restaurants that serve up some fantastic family favorites. There are plenty of resorts with baby clubs and kids clubs also. Besides the beaches, there are some incredible offerings for those travelling to Mexico such as the food and the country’s abundance of historical sights. Pre-Colombian civilisations made their mark with the vast pyramids of Teotihuacán, stunning temples of Chichén Itzá and countless other archaeological wonders. The Spanish heritage has also been well preserved, with charming towns built around shady plazas and whitewashed churches; San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo are treasures of the central Colonial Heartland. If you are travelling here with a baby or toddler, make sure your little one does not ingest the water and if you are visiting the temples, then bring a sling or baby carrier with you.
Brazil is the largest country in South America, and much of the country is tropical and south of the equator. Brazil is a fantastic mix of the big, the bold and the beautiful, perennially one of the world’s favourite destinations. It offers the jungles of the Amazon, stunning beaches on the Atlantic including Copacabana beach and the world famous Carnival. Rio de Janeiro is the country’s capital which is a thriving city filled with colour and culture. Iguaçu Falls are an unforgettable natural spectacle featuring hundreds of waterfalls, which cascade from the tropical rainforest as blue morpho butterflies flit through the spray. Another great option in Brazil is browsing the backstreets of colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Parity, which are lined with architectural monuments and chic boutique hotels. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, but traveling around Brazil with kids, you’ll find a unique mixture of South American, Indian, African and European people. The food is delicious but the water here is not safe to drink so use bottled water only.
Argentina is the second largest country in South America and has all the diversity that it suggests. Traveling with your kids in Argentina, you can relax on warm ocean beaches, stay on a ranch, hike in the Andes, visit one of the wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls (on the border with Brazil), walk among the penguins, or watch glacier ice chunks fall into the water in Patagonia. The country is known for its fantastic beef and the Argentinian Tango, two must tries on a trip here. There are some excellent accommodation options here and you will be able to find budget, midrange and luxury accommodation to suit you and a baby or toddler.
Chile is located on the Western Coast of South America on the Pacific Ocean. It is a long and narrow country, famous for its wine. The country is diverse and you can ski in summer or sunbathe at Christmas, watch condors soaring on the currents, eat German pastries, and explore Tierra del Fuego. Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago located in the South of the country with dramatic landscape of snowy mountains, glaciers and wind-sculpted trees. Its main island, Isla Grande, is home to the Argentine resort town of Ushuaia. Sometimes called “the End of the World,” Ushuaia is a gateway to the region and Antarctica to the south.
Ecuador, a country on the equator, has quite a varied landscape, from the volcanic islands and sparkling turquoise waters of the Galapagos Islands, to snow covered volcanoes in the Andes, rain forests and tropical rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Travel through the Galapagos is a definite “must see,” favourite with adults and kids however, the amount of visitors each year is restricted so book well in advance if you are planning a trip.
Uruguay is another great option and is safe and progressive. This is a peaceful, laidback destination nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Considering its size the country boasts an astonishing variety of diversions. Its windswept Atlantic coastline features dunes, lagoons, and plenty of beach resorts suitable for little ones. Visit the chic Punta del Este or the sleepy fishing villages dotted along the coast or take wildlife excursions to see penguins, sea lions and whales. The interior of the country offers much for visitors also and you can travel up the Rio de la Plata and discover charming colonial towns, thermal springs and working haciendas, which offer an authentic taste of traditional gaucho life. Montevideo is the country’s capital and is a buzzing metropolis with stunning architecture, promenades which are perfect for a stroll and sandy beaches. It’s also home to the world’s longest carnival, a six-week street party.
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