If you’ve a family with teenagers (or those slightly older) and are looking for some holiday ideas in Latin America, read on as here’s some of the best suggestions. I’ll assume the parents want a little culture, the kids want some nightlife, and you all appreciate fantastic beaches, and maybe a little adventure tourism. Plus you want somewhere safe to let the kids do there own thing. Where’s the best places for families with teenagers to visit in Latin America? Before I start, I’d like to point out that I do know what I’m talking about here - I used to work for Journey Latin America, (the UK’s No.1 specialist tour operator to Latin America) and have booked many such family vacations for clients.
Central America has all the best family vacation destinations for teens in Latin America. This is partly because of the better developed tourism infrastructure, and smaller distances of travel that are required there. Racking my brain, I can’t think of many great options South of the isthmus of Panama that compare with the following vacation ideas.
1. Costa Rica
When I was 19, my family and I went to Costa Rica. My younger siblings regularly cite it as “the best family vacation we ever had” - and we’ve had quite a few privileged ones. Why is Costa Rica great for such a family vacation? For starters, it’s possibly the safest country in Latin America, plus the tourism infrastructure is better than in any other country. It’s also got a great combination of attractions - great beaches on the Pacific coast, as well as plenty to explore in the interior of the country in the form of rainforest and volcanic regions. Costa Rica a great adventure tourism destination - for rafting, zip-lining through the rainforest, wildlife watching, admiring volcanoes and the amazingly diverse landscape. All in all Costa Rica a winner for everyone. Just don’t bother spending any time in the capital city San Jose, where there’s very little to do or see.
2. Playa del Carmen & the Yucatan, Mexico
If the children are really keen on the nightlife, the parents want some cultural tours, and you all love beaches, Playa del Carmen could be for you. The beaches in this part of Mexico (the Maya Riviera) are exotically Caribbean, and there are plenty to explore along the coastline. Playa del Carmen is a great place to get a hire car and go exploring. Playa del Carmen itself is quite busy with a buzzing nightlife so the children should be happy, but there are plenty of upmarket resorts a little out of town where things are a little more peaceful if you prefer. From the cultural side of things, there’s some fascinating day trips possible, most notably to the amazing Mayan ruins at Chitzen Itza, Tulum and others all over the Yucatan Peninsula. Consider also spending a few nights in the lovely colonial town of Merida, or a few nights in a luxurious traditional hacienda in the Yucatan. The Yucatan is a great beach and culture destination - just make sure you steer clear of the tacky mega-resort town of Cancun.
You probably won’t have considered Belize for such a family vacation, but if you want to take my advice it’s a great option. Belize is possibly the best beach plus rainforest destination in Latin America - plus it’s got some fascinating ancient Mayan ruins. The simplest option is to choose San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as your beach destination - there’s lovely palm fringed beaches here, as well as a little nightlife and great scuba diving and snorkelling. Al Inland there’s amazing Mayan ruins at Lamanai and Caracol, as well as a range of excellent jungle ecolodges. Indeed, Latin America’s best rainforest ecolodges are found in Belize - there’s a variety to choose from ranging from the extremely remote to the vaguely remote. You might even consider hoping over the border into Guatemala to visit Tikal, which is in my opinion the most amazing set of ruins in Latin America. Just make sure you don’t bother spending any time in the principal city Belize city (to where your flights will be) - it’s unattractive, and fairly dodgy in parts.
4. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
So South America does get an entry in my list of best family vacation destinations with teenagers. This is the worlds best destination for wildlife watching. No-one can fail to be enthralled by the vast array of fearless wildlife found in the Galapagos Islands. Plus the beaches are lovely. Consider combining the Galapagos with a 3 or 4 night visit to Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, or a couple of nights in the colonial capital city Quito.
5. Any others?
If anyone came to me asking advice about the best destinations in Latin America for family holidays with teenagers, I’d only recommend to them one of the above options. Of course there are many alternatives, but these really are the best. If the kids are mature and culturally minded, a trip to Peru could be fascinating for all. Alternatively, you might also consider a trip to the Amazon rainforest combined with a beach holiday in North East Brazil. Or if you are particularly keen on outdoor activities, visiting Argentina’s (or Chile’s) Patagonia could be for you.