The highlights of Central America for those travelling with kids are Costa Rica and Mexico. Much of the rest of the region is well off the tourist radar, with most travellers put off by lack of familiarity and the memory of recent conflicts, although those with a thirst for adventure might like to investigate the other countries.
Belize offers lush jungles, snorkelling and diving and Mayan ruins, if very basic infrastructure. Guatemala is worth considering for its Mayan and Pipil ruins and beautiful mountains, volcanoes, jungles, lakes and beaches.
El Salvador is slowly opening up to tourism, with some visitors coming for the surfing and others to see remnants of the country’s turbulent recent past. Honduras is also changing apace, with a rapidly growing tourist industry around its white-sand beaches, snorkelling, wildlife and national parks. Nicaragua, still closely associated with a war that ended more than 15 years ago but now very safe, offers volcanoes, lakes, beaches and cloudforests, plus great coffee! Panama with its beaches, mountains and rainforests generally remains off-the-beaten-track backpacker territory and may suit those with curious teens.
Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador and the Galapagos are the must-sees of South America with kids. Colombia too is now generally safe to visit, after decades of civil unrest; its varied attractions range from Caribbean beaches, surfing and whale-watching to jungle walks and Amazon safaris, from archaeological ruins to skyscraper-studded modern cities.
Venezuela deserves more overseas visitors for its lush jungle, Andean peaks, gorgeous Caribbean coastline and islands and wildlife-rich wetlands – plus the world’s highest waterfall, the Angel Falls. Snorkelling, scuba-diving, kite-surfing, windsurfing and hiking are just some of the activities available there.
Guyana boasts incredible landscapes and a growing ecotourism and wildlife-viewing industry, but political instability and corruption make it an edgy choice. Untamed Suriname is difficult to get around, both for its thick forest cover and its confusing mix of languages (even Dutch speakers struggle). Wealthy French Guiana, an overseas region of France, offers unspoilt rainforest, fascinating colonial architecture and stunning wildlife but lacks the character of much of the rest of the region.
Landlocked Bolivia is South America’s poorest nation, but what it lacks in beaches and wealth it makes up for in natural wonders, from mountains to salt flats, from jungles to grasslands. Long thin Chile stretches from the world’s driest desert to vast glacial fields, with geysers, volcanoes, rivers, steppe, beaches, lakes and islands in-between. A good infrastructure makes it easy to navigate.
Paraguay is barely on the tourist radar, even for hardcore backpackers, but Uruguay is another up-and-coming destination with lovely beaches and compelling cities full of atmosphere and great restaurants. The Falkland Islands are a far-from-obvious choice but are of note for their amazing penguin, seals and albatross populations.