What could be more exciting for a kid to see than puffing volcanoes, crackling glaciers, dense rainforests and blinding white salt flats?
Chile is a geological wonderland, home to the world’s driest desert and clearest skies, as well as Earth’s tallest mountains beyond the Himalaya. At its heart are vibrant cities with world-class museums and sprawling parks that are as fun for the kids as they are their minders. With some patience – and a bit of basic Spanish – this thin South American nation can be the perfect setting for a family adventure. Here’s what you need to know about family travel in Chile.
Is Chile good for kids?
Chile may not be well-known as a kid-friendly destination, but like many Latin American countries, the society here is centered around strong family bonds. Multigenerational trips are common among domestic tourists, with grandparents traveling alongside their kids and grandkids. As such, families visiting from abroad will be more than welcome and find many restaurants and lodging options catering to their needs.
In general, parents with kids – as well as pregnant mothers – will find priority seating on public transportation. Young people also instinctively give up their seats for those pregnant or traveling with children. Nearly every park or plaza in Chile has a playground, and many restaurants will have special menus for the little ones. If traveling in summertime (January and February), or over the winter school break (July) you’ll find special fairs, regional events and museum exhibits all geared toward vacationing school children.
The one major challenge in Chile is that few establishments – beyond large or internationally-owned hotels – have English-speaking staff or English-language information. Yet, many families use this as an opportunity to expose the kids to a second language.
Where is the best place in Chile for kids?
In Chile, it may be better to stay on-the-beaten path if traveling as a family since the nation’s major destinations are also the very places best equipped for children. Home to a third of all Chileans, Santiago is brimming with kid-friendly attractions like nowhere else. Yet, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, in Patagonia, San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern desert, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) out in the remote Pacific are all world-class (and wildly diverse) destinations where families are well received, too. Less known abroad – but extremely popular among Chilean families – is the Lakes District, filled with hot springs, thick forests and fairy-tale lodgings.
Best things to do in Chile with babies and toddlers
Head to a fairy-tale wonderland in the Chilean rainforest
Envision a hotel shaped like a Christmas tree sitting on the far end of a wooden boardwalk from another hotel shaped like a pinecone. Such are the whimsical visions one can enjoy on a visit to Huilo Huilo, a private 1000-sq-km (386-sq-mile) biological reserve nestled beneath the volcanoes of Chile’s southerly Lakes District.
All of the facilities at this woodsy complex are imbued with a kind of fairy-tale magic, from the elfin creatures featured on park signage to the surreal architecture visible throughout. By day, you can follow easy trails to thundering waterfalls or enjoy immersive art activities with local craftspeople. By night, parents can wind down at the onsite craft brewery.
Ride to the top of Santiago’s sprawling metropolitan park
A ride to the top of Santiago’s Parque Metropolitano is a classic Santiago experience, offering sweeping views of both the capital and the Andes Mountains looming behind it. To reach the summit, choose from either a creaking 100-year-old funicular or a shiny new cable car – both of which are real toddler-pleasers. Once there, be sure to try a mote con huesillo – the classic Chilean treat of peach juice with husked wheat berries. Wandering back down the hill on foot you’ll pass several innovative playgrounds (including the excellent Plaza de Juegos Gabriela Mistral), summertime swimming pools, shaded picnic zones and a small zoo.
Best things to do in Chile with kids
Try and solve the mysteries of Rapa Nui
Few islands on Earth are blessed with as many myths and mysteries as Rapa Nui (Easter Island), home to nearly 900 monolithic human heads known as moai. Most of these improbable statues lie in archaeological sites just steps from the island’s two main roads, meaning there are no long hikes (unless you climb one of the dormant volcanoes – a relatively easy half-day trip that active kids might enjoy). At night, families can practice Rapa Nui body painting or attend one of the many Polynesian dance shows.
Discover Santiago’s many children’s museums
Santiago has a large collection of children’s museums that few international visitors seem aware of. Young aspiring artists should check out Museo Artequin, a hands-on art museum located in a striking cast iron structure used as Chile’s pavilion in the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. For more interactive fun, head to the Museo Interactivo Las Condes, which stages highly audiovisual children’s exhibits that change every few months, or Museo Interactivo Mirador, a wildly entertaining and educational science museum. Centro Cultural La Moneda, located beneath the presidential palace, is another great choice for families with one of its seven gallery spaces dedicated to educational programming. Keep in mind that, while highly visual, most museums only have Spanish-language signs.
Take the kids on a ski trip in the Andes
If you enjoy taking ski vacations with the family back home, why not do the same in the austral winter in Chile? Some resort hotels – including Hotel Termas Chillan at the Nevados de Chillan ski center – have free daycare for small children and kids club activities in the afternoons – all included in the nightly rate. Meanwhile, most ski resorts have at least one English-speaking instructor who can offer daily lessons.
Go wild at Fantasilandia
Though it may not be as sprawling or innovative as theme parks in Asia, the Middle East or the US, Fantasilandia is certainly much more affordable and well-worth the trip for any kid obsessed with roller coasters and gut-twisting amusements. With 40 distinct attractions – including a dozen tear-inducing carnival rides – you can easily spend an entire day here. Plus, it’s right in the heart of Santiago, making it a simple addition to any trip.
Best things to do in Chile with tweens and teenagers
Take a hike in Patagonia
Most visitors associate Parque Nacional Torres del Paine – Chile’s most iconic national park – with its famed 5-day W Trek, which skirts calving glaciers, turquoise lagoons and towering granite spires. Yet, there are also plenty of half-day and full-day hikes for the whole family (including some along the W Trek itself). Though remote, nowhere else in Chilean Patagonia has quite as much infrastructure for tourism as here, making it a great fit for outdoorsy families.
Explore the world’s driest nonpolar desert
Do you know any teenagers who might like to jump down giant sand dunes and float in serene salt lakes before aiming telescopes at the world’s clearest skies? If so, then San Pedro de Atacama may be the perfect destination. This quaint Andean resort town lies in the world’s driest nonpolar desert and has a week’s worth of attractions right at its doorstep, including a lunar-like “Moon Valley” with epic sunsets, cliffs painted in ancient petroglyphs and gurgling geysers spurting from Earth’s loftiest geothermal complex. A visit here can be both highly educational and accessibly adventurous.
Planning tips for traveling in Chile with kids
Chile is known, more than anything else, for its stunning nature, so most families plan at least one outdoor adventure on their itinerary. Glamping is quite popular here and can provide the perfect combo of comfort, affordability and connection to nature. In cities, meanwhile, many attractions are free for young kids or, if not, will have a children’s price alongside the adult one. You may also find that many large hotels or resorts have free babysitting or included kids’ activities (though they’re usually only in Spanish).
While most travel around Chile by car, bus or plane, a new high-speed train service (the fastest in South America) will speed up trips through the Central Valley between Santiago and Chillán when complete in late 2023, making it an exciting option for young and old rail buffs alike. Look out for additional train services in the coming years, part of the country’s major investment in rail travel.