Best family adventure holidays
By Mark Frary, Editor of 101 Family Holidays
There’s never been a better time to take your kids on a family adventure. The world has become an enormous adventure playground where children can sample tamed-down versions of all the things that got their parents whooping it up as backpackers 10 or 20 years earlier.
Several tour operators now have dedicated family adventure programmes, which not only offer a bewildering range of destinations and experiences, but also peace of mind for parents, thanks to their expert knowledge, rigorous safety standards and highly experienced guides.
Whether you fancy taking your tribe trekking in the Atlas Mountains, horse riding in the Canadian Rockies, snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands or Komodo dragon spotting in Indonesia, you’ll find that a family adventure holiday is not only exciting, but also hugely educational. Your children will interact with other cultures and learn first hand about efforts to save endangered wildlife. They’ll expand their palettes as well as their minds – and they will probably pick up a new skill or two, whether it’s how to speak a few words of the local lingo, make fire with the Maasai or haggle in a Turkish bazaar.
Read on for more than 20 great ideas for a family adventure. All of these organised trips have been specially created with families in mind. The itineraries are intrinsically child-friendly and if you book on a group trip you can be confident of travelling with like-minded families. The children in the group usually bond quickly and find new playmates to share adventures with, while your guide will ensure that activities, mealtimes and other aspects of your holiday are tailored to their ages.
Some operators offer family adventures targeted to specific age categories. Find out more about the teen adventures from The Family Adventure Company – they not only allow teenagers to travel without younger kids cramping their style, but also feature challenging activities. The Teens on the Trail trip, for example, includes trekking, mountain biking and white-water rafting in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Family adventures in Europe
Don’t worry if your idea of adventure doesn’t extend to a long-haul flight with children. There are plenty of family adventures to be had in Europe.
One of the most exciting adventure destinations in Europe is Iceland (a 3.5-hour flight from London). More ‘back of beyond’ than ‘back to the beach’, the Land of Ice and Fire is Europe’s ultimate adventure playground, where you can go whale watching one day and ride snowmobiles across an ice cap the next. It’s ideal for self-drive – making it particularly appealing to independent-minded families – and it can also be visited year-round. Regent Holidays has a range of fly-drive options. Go in winter and you can also see the incredible Northern Lights.
Another adventure hotspot way up north, Lapland boasts 24-hour daylight during mid-summer – happy days for kids who like fishing, kayaking, hiking and getting away with later bedtimes. But it’s during winter when the northern reaches of Sweden and Finland really raise the adventure stakes. Activities like husky sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and northern lights hunting can be bundled into a weeklong adventure. If you have younger children, consider combining a Lapland adventure break with a pilgrimage to visit Santa.
You don’t have to go the remote fringes of Europe, though, to find adventure. Nip across to France and you could spend a week of the summer holidays hiking, biking and glacier skiing in the Alps. Peak Retreats features some 35 adventure-packed resorts, ranging from lakeside Annecy to lofty Tignes.
How about a themed adventure in Europe? Inntravel has a great range of walking family adventures, plus some wonderful self-guided family cycling holidays – its most popular destinations are Mallorca and Catalonia where you’ll explore quiet back roads, discover secret beaches and stay at charming country hotels with pools.
You could cast off in the Mediterranean by joining a flotilla sailing holiday. No experience is required but if you want to learn the ropes first, I recommend this Stay and Sail Holiday which has a week of tuition and practice then a second week at sea.
And, of course, don’t forget you can also have an adventure without doing very much at all. Exploring the beautiful coastline of Turkey, Greece or Croatia on a traditional sailing gulet, occasionally venturing ashore to visit an archaeological site or flopping overboard to snorkel in a hidden cove, is perfect for families in search of a relaxed week or two on a sailing holiday laced with a sense of discovery.
Family adventures in Africa
If you want a family trip that’s big on adventure, but only feel like dipping a toe outside the ‘comfort zone’ of Europe, then Morocco is an excellent choice. Cross the Straits of Gibraltar and you will find yourself transported into a world of exotic new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. The souks of Marrakech may well leave you reeling, but Morocco has plenty of other less frantic highlights – from family-friendly trekking in the Atlas Mountains to surfing on the Atlantic coast. This family favourite combines all three.
Families Worldwide, meanwhile, offers mule-supported treks in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco for families with intrepid tots as young as two. Older kids love this Vesuvius & Pompeii tour based in Sorrento for ages 5 to 15.
For sheer diversity of adventures, South Africa is hard to beat for families. It offers everything from malaria-free safaris to superb self-drive routes linking breathtaking coastlines and vast swathes of wilderness. You can bookend your adventure with a few days in Cape Town where activities include riding the Cableway up Table Mountain, touring the Cape of Good Hope and joining a boat trip to Robben Island. A few days on safari in one of the Cape’s Big Five game reserves combines well with the Garden Route where you can paddle a canoe through the watery maze of Wilderness National Park, walk with elephants at Knysna, go dolphin watching at Plettenberg Bay and hike the wave-gnawed coast at Tsitsikamma.
Rainbow Tours offers a 13-night self-drive tour of Cape Town and the Garden Route, combined with a safari in Amakhala Game Reserve.
Like South Africa, Namibia is largely malaria-free, has direct flights from Europe, good infrastructure and loads to do for all ages. Although distances can be large, a self-drive road trip makes a great family adventure. You can even drive yourself on safari in Etosha National Park. Natural World Safaris offers a 12-day tailor-made Highlights of Namibia safari combining Etosha with the desert wilderness of Damaraland and a visit to the AfriCat Foundation.
Another family safari specialist, Aardvark Safaris can tailor-make child-friendly adventures throughout southern and East Africa, including family horse-riding holidays ranging from gentle hacks (suitable for complete novices) to weeklong riding safaris.
Although you need to take precautions against malaria, Kenya and Tanzania make excellent family adventure destinations. That’s largely down to the irresistible bush and beach combo on offer in both countries – spend a few days on safari in iconic reserves like the Masai Mara or Serengeti, then head to the Indian Ocean coast for snorkelling, diving and other watersports.
Exsus has an 11-night off-the-beaten-track Safari and Beach Holiday in Tanzania, with three nights at the family-friendly Impala Camp in Selous Game Reserve, followed by a week on the tropical coast at Tides Lodge.
Another great destinations for families is Madagascar where kids can track lemurs at night, go whale-watching and explore the world’s only authentic pirate cemetery. Check out this lemur tracking safari. Best time to visit is June to December.
Family adventures in Asia
With its crowded cities, chaotic transport systems, feisty cuisine and encounters with abject poverty, Asia can send even the most hardened traveller reeling. So why even consider taking your children there?
There’s no denying that Asia is a master of the cultural body blow, but it also has modern, sophisticated cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore; there are fabulous tropical island resorts in Thailand and Malaysia, and everywhere you go you’ll usually experience a spontaneous warmth and affection from locals – particularly if you’re travelling with children.
Ultimately, though, Asia makes a wonderful family adventure destination for one simple reason: your kids will never forget it. Whether it’s trying to outstare a terracotta warrior in China or meeting the smouldering gaze of a tigress in India; from trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas and riding elephants in Thailand to exploring caves in Borneo and riding a ferry beneath Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, Asia makes big impressions on little travellers.
Everything about India holds children rapt – from its rugged hill forts and romantic palaces to its manic street life and Jungle Book wildlife. The Family Adventure Company offers two contrasting tours. Suitable for families with children aged five and over, the 11-day Tiger Trails & Taj Mahal adventure takes in the highlights of northern India, including Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Japiur and Ranthambore National Park, where you may be lucky enough to glimpse a tiger. Gentler paced, the two-week Spicelands and Elephants trip roams southern India and includes a visit to Cochin, the hill station of Munnar, a chance to see wild elephants in Periyar National Park and some time relaxing on a houseboat in the Kerala Backwaters.
Japan is a mind-bogglingly exciting destination from its futuristic cityscapes to Samurai castles and geisha girls. Explore the hip districts of Tokyo, discover manga art and anime cartoons, ride the bullet train and eat strange food at hidden high-rise cafes. Take your pick of these family holidays in Japan.
Like many countries in Asia, Vietnam has that winning family-friendly combination of adventure and beaches. The journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh by road is not only a classic adventure, but you can stop en route to enjoy Hoi An’s coast and sandwich the easy-going journey with a boat trip on Halong Bay in the north and a visit to the floating markets of the Mekong Delta in the south. There are also wildlife encounters to be had at the turtle and primate conservation centres at Cuc Phuong or Cat Tien National Park where you can stay in luxury safari tents. Selective Asia can tailor-make family adventures in Vietnam, providing an experienced guide as well as a private driver and vehicle.
Indonesia is another incredibly diverse destination in Asia for an adventure holiday – and Exsus has some amazing itineraries specially designed with families in mind. Its 14-night Sumatra Wildlife and Bali Beaches trip takes you on an unforgettable journey through the jungles of Sumatra, meeting local tribespeople and searching for orang-utans. You stay in a comfortable jungle lodge before heading off to Bali for four nights at the ultra-luxurious Orient-Express Jimbaran Puri.
Upping adrenaline levels, the two-week Invigorating Indonesia itinerary includes a range of jungle jollies, from elephant-back riding and white-water rafting to volcano trekking. For the ultimate sailing adventure, step aboard the Tiger Blue – a 34m-long crewed yacht with berths for just 12 guests – for a voyage to the Spice Islands or an encounter with real-life dragons in Komodo National Park.
In Borneo you can combine wildlife, rainforest, tribal culture, hiking and beaches. You can enjoy a homestay in a tribal longhouse, explore the subterranean caves of Mulu National Park and see orang-utans. Check out this selection of family itineraries.
Family adventures in North America
North America’s national parks are just the place for embarking on a family adventure – from paddling a canoe in Banff to riding a mule into the Grand Canyon.
In the United States, parks like Yosemite, Acadia and Zion not only offer access to landscapes with ‘wow’ factor, but they also provide outstanding interpretation for children – whether it’s a ranger-led walk or the highly acclaimed Junior Ranger Program. The Western Discovery tour from The Family Adventure Company packs Yosemite, Monument Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon into a 15-day adventure with 11 nights under canvas – a real Wild West adventure suitable for children age eight and over.
Or how about this 11-night America’s West road trip with Carrier which follows the iconic Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles via Yosemite National Park.
Also ideal for cowboys (and girls), Audley Travel can arrange a family holiday in Canada at the Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in the heart of British Columbia’s Cariboo region. Activities range from hiking and horse riding to 4WD safaris through forests and desert canyons. Kids will also love fishing for trout in the mountain lakes, trying their hand at gold panning and even falcon training. In the summer holidays, the ranch runs a Family Ranch package with even more child-friendly activities like lassoing, horseshoe throwing, guided nature walks and movie nights.
The Ultimate Travel Company offers some enticing adventures in Canada. Just a seven-hour flight from the UK, Toronto is the starting point for their 16-day self-drive holiday in Ontario and Québec. You can get up close and personal with Niagara Falls, spot moose and black bears in Algonquin Provincial Park and embark on a whale-watching trip in the St Lawrence estuary.
Family adventures in South and Central America
Latin America is ripe for adventure – the opportunities are almost endless. Saddle up for some gentle horse riding from a hacienda in Argentina or Ecuador; experience the jungles of Costa Rica from the comfort of an ecolodge, or snorkel with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands straight from the deck of your expedition cruise ship. Kids can delve into the ruins of ancient civilizations and experience the vibrant cultures of the Andes and Amazon. For something more challenging, join a trek or mountain biking trip in Patagonia or the Sacred Valley of Peru; go sea kayaking in Baja California or plan a full-blown Amazon adventure, staying in a jungle lodge and exploring the rainforest on foot and by dugout canoe.
Brazil is vast – and it’s not all jungle. The coastline has some idyllic beaches, plus there’s the water wonderland of the wildlife-rich Pantanal and the mesmerizing cataracts of Iguacu Falls. Dehouche focuses on the Costa Verde and Pantanal in its family itinerary. After a few days at the coast (enjoying activities like jungle treks, boat trips and sea kayaking), you fly to the Pantanal for a stay at a working cattle ranch – an exciting base for safaris into the wetlands by jeep, horseback and boat. As well as spotting caiman, capybara and the elusive jaguar, kids can go piranha fishing or try some cattle herding.
Costa Rica has not only established itself as one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations, but it is also developing a reputation for superb family adventures. It’s relatively compact, but squeezes in a fabulous range of environments – from volcanoes and cloud forests to mangroves swamps and tropical beaches. There’s a good range of high quality accommodation to choose from, plus an adrenaline-charged cocktail of adventure activities. One day you could be flying through the rainforest canopy on a zipwire or plunging through rapids on an inflatable raft; the next you could be horse riding, canoeing, mountain biking or searching for nesting sea turtles. Families Worldwide offers two adventure holidays in Costa Rica – the 13-day Rainforest and Volcanoes itinerary and the 10-day Active Costa Rica. Tailor-made options are also available.
You couldn’t dream up a cast of creatures with more child appeal – from marine iguanas that snort salt water from their nostrils and prancing blue-footed boobies to supercharged sea lions and frigate birds with bright red party-balloon throat pouches. In the Galapagos Islands it’s all right there at your feet. Journey Latin America has put together the perfect family adventure to this incredible destination. Its eight-day Galapagos on Land and by Sea itinerary combines a four-day cruise on the MV Santa Cruz (which has triple cabins) with time at the Hotel Finch Bay – a smart ecolodge with a large swimming pool and activities programme featuring mountain biking, sea kayaking and guided hikes. The trip combines well with time on the Ecuadorian mainland – perhaps spending a few nights at a hacienda in the Andes or hummingbird spotting from a cloudforest lodge.
If your children have always wondered what Paddington Bear’s home was like, Peru should be a real eye-opener for them. Latin America specialists Dehouche can customize a holiday to suit your family’s interests – whether you’re keen to take on the challenge of a guided trek to Machu Picchu, visit the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca, watch condors soaring through the rugged maw of the Colca Canyon or ride bikes through the Sacred Valley.
Family adventures in Australia and New Zealand
It’s a long way to go, but an adventure Down Under not only promises non-stop action, but also comes with the reassurance that everything is supremely family-friendly, easy-going and affordable. A motorhome holiday around Australia or New Zealand is a great excuse for an adventure for families with young children, while older kids and teens will relish the challenge of camping in the Outback, tackling one of New Zealand’s long-distance hiking trails or learning to snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans can search for Bilbo and Frodo in the mountains of South Island; wildlife enthusiasts can swim with dolphins and go crocodile spotting, while culture buffs can pick up nuggets of Aboriginal and Maori lore.
Bridge & Wickers has some great ideas for family adventures in Australia and New Zealand. The 14-day Classic Australia itinerary combines Sydney, Uluru and Hamilton Island, while the 21-day New Zealand Grand Tour Self-drive takes in highlights like the Coromandel Peninsula, Malborough Sound, Kaikoura, Queenstown and Doubtful Sound. Both can be tailor-made to include accommodation, activities and pace of travel to suit your family.
Last updated: 8 December 2016