8 Adventurous Vacations the Whole Family Will Love

From tracking elephants in South Africa to visiting ancient Mayan temples in Belize, here are some of the most action-packed trips for families who want to get out and explore the world together.
By: Clayton Maxwell

Photo By: John & Lisa Merrill

Photo By: Roger de la Harpe

Photo By: Stevens Fremont

Photo By: Danita Delimont

Photo By: Christian Wheatley

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Photo By: Stephen Simpson

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Raft the Grand Canyon

It is the epic American adventure – rafting 277 miles over eight days through the towering red walls of the Grand Canyon, navigating rapids by day and sleeping under the stars at night. The Grand Canyon Expeditions Company makes this bucket-list experience possible for the whole family thanks to their well-planned, safe and ruggedly fun river trips. The family will eat well, sleep comfortably and yet still get the thrill of buckling down for some bumpy white waters (life jackets required at all times, of course!) By spending eight days on the river you get to know this magical land like the 19th century explorers did – see eagles soar above as you float through canyons that tell the story of the Earth’s geological past. While this respected river company is flexible, they recommend the trip for children eight and older.

Family Safari in South Africa

You will never forget the first time you hear a lion roar on the African plains. Or see giraffes run freely. Or watch a leopard stalk its prey. These are experiences that stay with you, and thanks to the super kid-friendly Madikwe-Lelapa Lodge in South Africa, the entire family can have them together. The lodge is located in a malaria-free zone on the edge of the Kalahari, so parents can rest easy bringing the kids along. While many safari lodges are reluctant to take young children, all ages are happily welcome at Madikwe (although, for safety purposes, children under the age of two have to sit out the game drives). With special play spaces and animal activities for the kids and fine dining for the grown-ups, everyone will be wildly entertained here.

Ride Wild in Texas

No place for the idle, Texas Horseback Adventures gives your family a taste of the real cowboy life. Sleep in a comfy bed roll in a canvas tent on an expansive, privately-owned ranch in the West Texas desert and wake up to wide open spaces where horses ramble freely. Gourmet chef, expert guide, and head cowgirl Missy Cantrell will serve up a cowboy breakfast prepared over an open fire, after which you will help her saddle up and ride. And this is no slow-moving trail ride, but rather a real horse lover’s journey on which you may trot for miles, sometimes up rocky mountains to jaw-dropping views over the ridges of Mexico. Cantrell, however, is skilled at catering the ride to all levels and schedules, from a one-day ride to a week. If your kids can’t get enough of horses and like to help out and get dirty, this is the adventure for them.

Go Eco in Belize

Ride horses to ancient Mayan temples, discover archeological pottery shards amid the stalagmites on a caving trip, or canoe down the serene Macal River at the Black Rock Lodge in Belize. The Black Rock is a totally off-the-grid riverside eco lodge nestled in the rainforest, so the kids learn not only about the rainforest and how to take care of it but also about resource conservation in general. No TVs or internet connection means that everyone gets to unplug together. Who needs their gadgets anyway when you can see three types of toucans before breakfast? It’s best to travel to Belize in the cooler months – late April through September can get pretty steamy.

Sail the British Virgin Islands

Tired of the regular beach vacation? Take it to the high seas. Whether you are an able sailor or prefer to hire a skipper, a boating trip around the British Virgin Islands is a great adventure – even if you have yet to learn how to hoist a sail. The gentle winds around the British Virgin Islands make it a particularly safe place to launch your first family sailing trip; and because the islands are clustered together, you are never too far from land. Rent your ocean vessel from an international boating company like the Moorings; they will teach you what you need to know, provide you with a crew if desired and suggest itineraries for sailing from island to island. “It’s like a floating RV,” says one mom who took her four-year-old and six-year-old sailing. “The kids help out with things like dropping anchor, and we would all swim into the beaches together, exploring different islands every day.”

Get Unplugged in Jamaica

Rather than opt for the mega-resort vacation in Jamaica, try a bolder off-the-grid adventure by renting a house in the jungles of the northern coast near Ocho Rios. In spacious rentals like the Cabarita Lookout, for example, there is sparse internet service, so everyone can trade in their screen time for hiking under waterfalls at Dunn’s River Falls, jumping off of cliffs (small ones!) into clear pools at Blue Hole or hunting seashells on a remote black sand beach. And because a driver and cook often come with the rental property, parents can really relax – without the crowds or expense often found at the all-inclusive hotels. If you and your kiddos want to venture back into the land of tourist attractions, swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove is a nautical adventure that the kids will love.

Surf Camp in San Diego

When you learn to surf with your kids, that means you will also laugh, wipe out, and feel the buzz of riding your first wave together – and nothing beats that. But to make the first family surf experience a good one, go with a pro who is both encouraging and safe. “The big V variable is the ocean,” says Pat Weber, the San Diego-based surf coach who has run the San Diego Surfing Academy for twenty years. “Understanding the waves is the hardest part of the sport.” That knowledge is a big part of the education you’ll get with Coach Pat, who knows how to introduce surfing safety, etiquette and technique to all ages in a positive way that you’ll never forget. The friendly school customizes the surf camp experience to each child’s swimming level, athletic ability and focus. Stay at one of their partner properties – some located steps from the beach – for a personalized surf adventure in the right hands.

Rent a Riad in Marrakech

Step into the otherworldly delights of Marrakech, Morocco, where the locals are renown for doting upon the little ones. Walk with your children through the cultural phenomenon that is the Plaza Jemaa el Fna to see the snake charmers, hear the Arabic and Berber storytellers entertaining the crowds (even if you miss the plotline, it is still fun to witness) and sample the tagines and couscous at the food stalls that come out at dusk. Stay in a family-friendly riad, like Les Trois Mages, decked out with mosaic tiles, cushioned alcoves and ample gardens – many riads, or traditional Moroccan homes, are an affordable option for large families. Take a donkey ride, visit a traditional souk and mosque and enjoy the beautifully haunting cry of the muezzin call to prayer. North Africa will not fail to capture the imagination, no matter what age.

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