Bumping into the mother of my son’s friends, in the car park, I was casually asked by Mum’, “What are you up to over the holidays?” “We’re going to South America,” I replied, “first stop the Iguassu Falls then into the heart of Brazil to an area called the Pantanal”. The look I then received was priceless! I may as well have said I was taking the kids to the moon, polite pleasantries were quickly swapped and the mother bade us farewell as if it was the last time we’d be seen.
Being in the travel business, I tend to forget that South America seems so far away and exotic to so many, but what people don’t realise is that it’s only as far as the USA from Australia, closer than Europe and reachable by direct flights. Ok, I’ll grant it the exotic badge, after all there are sights and experiences that are really unbelievable but the infrastructure is so good that travelling around with the family was really easy, that said I am glad I organized everything before I arrived!
Though it is as close as the US, flying anywhere with a 3 and 6-year-old can be seen as a challenge, let alone on a 14 hour flight. If I were to give anyone advice on taking part in such a long journey I’d say pack a suitcase full of patience, its only one day of your journey, and arm yourself with everything modern technology has designed to soothe your little bored beasts and don’t hold back, just let them at it. The reality was, on our flight, the kids were far more entertained with that little bit of technology than any of the adults and I found my own boredom the main challenge as I kept asking myself, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ and thus that suitcase of patience was needed more for myself than the kids. If only I found 14 hours of watching the same show over and over again interesting.
It was a delight to finally touch down on the Argentinean side of the Iguassu Falls after transferring through Buenos Aires. The air was warm, the scenery was green and our driver and guide greeted us with huge welcoming smiles. We made sure we had transfers booked everywhere we went and an English speaking guide to introduce us to the area, it made getting around with the family practically stress-free.
After checking into our hotel, the Loi Suites, we jumped straight into the pool and started our holiday fun. Where we can, when travelling with the kids, we try to book a hotel with a pool, there is only so much sightseeing kids enjoy and it’s always great to have a haven to come back to, if there isn’t a pool option, a bath is the next best thing!
My other recommendation is that the room needs a balcony so you don’t have to go to bed when the little ones do and it’s also always good to have a hotel with restaurant or one nearby so you can order that cheese sandwich when the little ones are hungry, it takes time to set the body clock to a new time zone.
Food in South America is as good as it gets (providing you are not too remote) and you won’t have too many issues feeding your fussy eater. All pallets are catered for from ultra spice to bland, it is also a great place to introduce interesting new flavours to your children, if they are game.
Compared to my trips through Asia with the kids, it was a dream! Supermarkets are also filled with items you can buy at home (again, depending on just how remote you go).
Visiting the Iguassu falls properly takes a couple of days, as such and enormous body of water plunges into the canyon below. Starting on the Argentinean side is definitely my recommendation. Allow plenty of time especially if you have kids with you, you can hire prams at the entrance for the tiny ones if they don’t like walking. There are lots of walkways on this side, taking you right into the rain forest and unveiling the enormity of this spectacle, waterfall by waterfall until you are at the ‘Devils Throat’ or ‘Garganta del Diablo’ where an indescribable amount of water plunges 82 metres into the chasm below.
It’s intriguing discovering a place with your offspring, as the things they find interesting are almost polar opposite to what you do, I know that may sound like a naïve statement, all you need to do is look at your average week at home to find those polar opposites, but it is enhanced in a truly captivating manner when travelling. Sure they found the waterfalls amazing, and depending on how you ‘sell’ the excitement of the experience to them, they will get right into exploring the walkways and witness the falls get bigger and bigger the closer you get to the heart of the falls, but leave them to find their own excitement and they look at the little things. Coatis (South American Racoons) trying to steal their lunch, lizards that run along the rails, butterflies that land on your hand, the fish and turtles in the river below and toucans flying above, things you might spot but not spend as much time dwelling on, as you search for that perfect shot of the waterfalls, things that make such a place magical to a child and etches enchanting memories they will value forever.
The Brazilian side of the falls offers yet another vantage point of this magnificent landmark! There are great opportunities to get close to the base of a waterfall and if the time of year is right get completely wet, which the kids loved! We also explored the nearby rainforest a little more and to the kids’ delight, more coatis!
After two days at the falls, we were all feeling it a bit, jetlag was still with us through our stay at Iguassu, while it didn’t really affect Mr 6 y/o, Mr 3 y/o was up and at it at 3 am every day! Our method to combat this was to keep his day naps short and keep it quiet from 3 till 6, eventually, he sorted himself out and as such so could we. That suitcase of patience got a work out between these small hours. We were looking forward to a long break in the Pantanal where we had booked another hotel with a pool and excess time so that the ‘batteries’ could be fully recharged. Another tip for travelling with kids is to take it s.l.o.w if the ‘travel for dummies’ book says stay 2 days, stay 3 with kids, allow a nothing day here and there.
I was giddy with excitement about hitting the Pantanal, I couldn’t wait for the kids to see the fascinating wildlife in the heart of the largest wetland in the world, nestled right on the edge of the Amazon, here the foliage is less dense and the chances of spotting exotic species is incredibly high. To see their faces light up at the sight of a capybara, caiman and more toucans, to name a few, surely this would be too much? It was a long journey to get to Cuiaba due to flight delays and a further 2 and a half hours inland from there to make our way to our refuge, Pousada Rio Mutum we checked into our comfortable room and hit the pool, that afternoon our guide would take us all out on a wildlife spotting mission it was sure to be a highlight of our lives?
We joined up with another couple and off we went, capybara, tick, caiman, tick, toucan, tick, howler monkey tick, giant otter tick, it was all very exciting to begin with, a bird here a bird there, hundreds of species of birds everywhere, and then I heard, ‘Mum IM BORED’ come from the mouth of my 6 year old, not more than half an hour into our Pantanal extravaganza! I could hardly believe my ears! I started to boil! Don’t you know where you are? Don’t you understand what you are seeing? DON’T YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? I wanted to scream, but in actual fact, he had no real idea, sure getting here took a long time but what did that really mean? And in Max’s defense, we had slowed our wildlife safari to a practical standstill as we spotted the smallest of bird species and talked about their mating habits, not exactly the most appropriate thing to discuss with a 3 and 6 year old I have to admit. It occurred to me then that sitting the kids on a canoe listening to our expert guide sprout out the facts was not going to work, it was actually quite boring, a little like watching a documentary with stunning scenery but the dullest of voiceovers and whoops… I fell asleep!
I then realised we needed to bring the understanding of adventure into our journey for the kids to better grasp where they actually were, as kids of travelling parents, a long journey is no big deal and with faultless operation that got us there, though tiring it was far from arduous or memorable. Yet they needed to realise this was, after all, the heart of South America, not a zoo!
And so we changed tactic, we talked frequently of where we were in the world, how far we had come and how far away from home we were, we came up with a list of animals and birds in the area and let the boys do the spotting and to consequently ask questions, rather than just have facts sprouted at them. We came up with little prizes for spotting caiman, capybara and giant otters, a competition to recognise the most bird species. We told stories about the explorers of the area and how exciting it was to be there, how it is only in this part of the world that they could see such unique animals and how truly lucky they were. And it worked! Soon the boys were experts at spotting Anhingas, Cocoi heron, great egrets and black skimmers. They took absolute delight in spotting tamarins, capybara families, caiman and giant otters. And to top the whole experience off they were beside themselves when catching piranhas, even better was feeding them to caiman, at a safe distance I might add! It made me giggle thinking about the reaction Kindy Mum would have had if I’d added “….and then I’m going to let Max catch piranha and feed them to the local alligators!” All in a days travel in South America and one of the many truly exotic experiences one can have in this part of the world.
The boys still don’t understand what a mating habit is, though it would have been the best place to discuss the birds and bees, being out in pure nature and all, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but by the end they even found bird watching fun and to this day talk with fervour about all the experiences. Max declares regularly now how he wants to live in the Pantanal, great sucess….I think.. maybe we’ll be going back for a visit or two?
Written by Meg Hall
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