A Q&A with James Goller, Viaventure Director (and Dad)
Viaventure is headed by three co-directors, all of whom have kids and all of whom are experts in family travel. They’ve traipsed through jungles, along beaches, and over volcanoes with children, diapers, and vital stuffed animals in tow and know the value and challenges of taking family trips. To learn more about what it’s like to travel through Central America accompanied by the whole clan, we reached out to Viaventure co-director James Goller, whose four-year-old daughter has a very well-stamped passport. Here’s what he had to share:
1. What makes Central America a great family destination?
It’s the kind of friendly, welcoming place where local women stop you and your family on the street to pinch the cheeks of your baby. The culture here is very family oriented, and you’ll find people go out of their way to make you feel at home. The region is also great for families because of the variety of experiences that it offers. You’ll find the usual activities like swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and biking, as well as plenty of fun, educational opportunities. Kids will go back to school with tales about how they inner-tubed through caves, climbed ancient Maya temples that were “lost in the jungle,” swam with dolphins, ordered pancakes in Spanish, and learned how to make chocolate.
2. Where is your family go-to spot in Central America?
El Paredón, on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. It’s a tiny fishing village, with just a couple small beach hotels and miles of empty black-sand beaches. I go there every free weekend I have with my family to surf, play in the pool, pick coconuts off the tree, build sand castles, nap in hammocks, eat fresh seafood, and disconnect from the world.
3. Have you learned anything surprising by traveling through Central America with family?
I find myself continually surprised by how welcome my four-year-old daughter is everywhere we go. And not just with the locals. Other travelers we meet are always eager to get some playing time in with her, too.
4. Is there a “type” of family that you think would most enjoy Central America?
I think it’s best suited for families that travel together easily, are open to trying new things, and enjoy learning about new cultures and cuisines that may be very different from what’s at home. It’s probably not the best place for families who want an all-inclusive resort vacation.
5. What is one of the biggest myths that people have about traveling in Central America?
I think the biggest myth or misperception is that you’re going to get robbed, kidnapped, or fall victim to some kind of crime if you visit. When polled, some people think there’s as high as a fifty percent chance of being mugged. The reality is far different. The fact is that millions of tourists visit every year and very few of them ever experience any kind of incident. This isn’t to say there aren’t risks. Like anywhere in the world (including major cities in the United States and Europe), Central America has areas that are safe and areas that are best avoided. The most important thing is to stay informed and to use common sense when traveling. Do that and (to steal a line from a recent tourism campaign in South America) “the only risk is that you won’t want to leave!”
6. What has traveling through Central America with family taught you?
Don’t try to pack in too much. Kids can get really tired on full-day outings, and activities like visiting Maya ruins, traipsing through the jungle, and climbing temples are more tiresome than you think. Try to book half-day tours whenever possible and stay at properties with swimming pools where you can all relax and unwind.
7. Aside from relying on a travel company like Viaventure to plan a trip, do you have any suggestions on how families can best create a Central America travel itinerary?
While the best overall resource for travel planning is definitely the Internet, I find tips from friends, family, and even strangers online to be very helpful. Learning from others’ experiences is a great way to tailor your trip. Browse web forums to get ideas from other travelers who have already been to a destination you’re considering. Also, be sure to check out reviews on TripAdvisor to make sure that hotels are family friendly and well located.
8. What three items do you always pack when you’re traveling with family in Central America?
A swimsuit, sandals, and sunscreen.
9. Do you have any tips for getting everyone in the family involved and excited about an upcoming trip?
Use the Internet to research the local culture and to prepare kids for the types of experiences they’ll have. Make some kind of Central American meal at home with recipes you find online to get kids excited about the new and different foods they’ll encounter. This way, they won’t be disappointed when they realize food abroad doesn’t always taste like food at home.
10. Could you share a favorite family travel moment from one of your trips to Central America?
Picking a coconut out of a tree, cracking it open over a volcanic rock, and sharing the fresh water with my four-year-old daughter at the beach.