There are many places to which I aspire to travel with my children, but the list of Latin American countries we want to visit is a long one. In great part because of my Latino heritage and what it means to be able to explore these cultures with my family, but also because of the beautiful diversity of Latin America. Even Spanish is different from country to country, and the food changes from region to region.

In Guatemala, you have the Mayan culture, colorful and ancient, so deeply rooted in everything from food to social and religious practices.

The same for Mexico, where festivities like Día de Los Muertos celebrate life, family, and the strong connection Mexicans have to their ancestral roots.

But at the top of my list is a visit to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where my family comes from. So much our homelife is influenced by my Dominican heritage; it seems silly that my family and I haven’t gone there together yet.

Many people often ask me if it’s safe to travel to the Dominican Republic with kids. I not only think it’s a fabulous idea, but I also encourage families to venture off the resorts for further exploration.

Viewfinder Tip: The hotel staff and even airport-shuttle driver are great resources for the best local finds and eateries, so make sure to chat them up!

There are destinations such as Punta Cana, located on the eastern side of the island. Though this destination isn’t really known for its off-resort activities, their catalog of all-inclusive resorts is impressive, catering to every type of traveler. 

I would start my family vacation in Santo Domingo, the island’s capital. Visitors can explore the Zona Colonial, or Colonial City, for some insight into the country’s history and Spaniard influence. It is here where you can visit the first cathedral of the Americas, Catedral Santa María la Menor, as well as other historic sites. 

A drive along the Malecon, the city’s oceanfront, brings together the older parts of the Colonial City with the more modern areas, such as the nightclubs, restaurants, and casinos. Though it’s not really a place I would want to hang out at night with my kids (because of the crowds and the party scene that gathers there), during the day, it makes for a nice scenic drive across town.

I would also advise that you take a car rental or a commuter flight out of the city to other fabulous destinations such as La Romana, home to the world-renowned Casa de Campo Resort and the artist community of Altos de Chavon.

Other favorite areas to explore and that you can easily drive to are beach town Las Terrenas and the community of Samaná, the peninsula located in the northeastern part of the island.

Las Terrenas is a small community only an hour and a half from the city, but with the feel of a million miles away. The diverse community of expats and locals here is welcoming to visitors. You can choose from home rentals or larger resorts, though I encourage exploration and mingling with the residents. 

Samaná was once a sleepy fisherman’s town and has slowly become a popular tourist destination. Some of the most fun activities are off-resort and in places such as Los Haitises National Park and the Salto de Limón waterfalls.

If you want to venture farther north, then I highly recommend visiting Puerto Plata. Less hectic and (I dare say) a bit more attractive than the capital city, Puerto Plata offers tons of activities for families to enjoy, some of the island’s most beautiful beaches, and lots of resorts to choose from.

Some highlights in Puerto Plata include taking a gondola ride up 2,656 feet to the peak of Mount Isabel de Torres. Some of the best beaches include Playa Cofresi, a small intimate option, especially when compared to the more popular Playa Dorada, noted for its coral reef and golf courses. 

If you can’t make it to the Dominican Republic, another fabulous family-friendly destination is Costa Rica. My family and I traveled across the country a few years ago and my boys still talk about that trip. Though the country is often marketed as a solo backpacker’s paradise, there’s nothing an adventurous family couldn’t do. 

Some of the fun we took on was hiking through rainforests to bathe in waterfalls near a town called Sarapiquí. We also really had a blast zip-lining through the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, boat riding past the Arenal Volcano, and bird-watching near Puerto Jimenez, just to name a few.

Make sure to mingle with the locals and indulge in a plate full of casado, a typical Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, meat, and fried plantains.

Figuring out how to get there is as important as planning what to do. A great option to travel to Santo Domingo or any other Latin American destination with the family is Avianca, rated the Best Airline and the Best in Customer Service in 2015, and for the sixth time. With over 5,000 flights made available during the holiday season to select destinations, the chances of having to deal with crowded, overbooked flights with kids in tow are decreased. And what better way to travel than with an airline that has been awarded and recognized for its leadership in excellence in travel to destinations across Latin America?

If I were you, I would start packing my bags. All you have to stress about is whether you have enough sunscreen and where to go next! 

What Latin American destination is on your bucket list?