10 Amazing Family Vacations
Go big with an unforgettable family adventure.
If your family vacation usually involves a trip to an overcrowded theme park, or the same beach you visit every year, it’s time to shake things up. Choose one of these destinations for a fantastic family adventure.
Before you go, verify age limits for children’s activities, and remember: some sites may close unexpectedly, or have limited hours due to weather or other factors. If you’re a U.S. citizen, visit the U.S. Department of State website for information on required documentation, vaccinations, health and safety concerns, currency restrictions and more.
Sure, Iceland is cold, but there’s still plenty to do on a Winter Iceland Family Adventure. Kids age 12 and up can snorkel with you in the crystalline waters of the Silfra fissure, an opening between the North American and Eurasian continents. Explore the old harbor and famous Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, the capital city, and then venture into the largest man-made ice cave in the world, at Langjokull Glacier. The whole family can learn how the island’s natural phenomena were formed by volcanic and geothermal forces when you hike at scenic Skaftafell National Park.
Climb a sand dune to watch a fiery sunset on a Family Adventure in Southern Africa. And Botswana, in southern Africa. Tours leave from Windhoek, once a German colonial city and now the capital of Namibia. The land looks other-worldly, with its shimmering sand dunes and dried lakebeds, but this is a great place for kids (and adults) to learn about desert ecology and the region’s history. Guides lead interactive walks into the bush and explain the tracking skills and survival methods used by the San tribe, inhabitants of this area for over 30,000 years. You’ll pass hippos and elephants as you paddle canoes through the Okavango Delta, one of the best places in the country to spot animals and birds. The journey ends at Victoria Falls, known as the world’s largest waterfall, in Zimbabwe.
If your children have read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, they’ll expect India to be bursting with sights, sounds and colors, and they won’t be disappointed. Sample delicious curries, ride a train through rural villages, and photograph the iconic Taj Mahal (note: the main dome is being refurbished, starting in April 2017) on a Comfort Northern India Family Holiday. You can look—from a safe distance—for tigers in Ranthambore National Park, visit temples and smell spices and incense as you stroll through markets and bazaars. In the city of Jaipur, shop for textiles and pottery as camels, rickshaws and motorbikes go by.
You don’t have to travel overseas; try a Western USA Family Holiday. Hit the beach in San Diego to surf and swim. Then head to the Grand Canyon to watch the sun paint the canyon walls and hear rangers explain park geology. Drive on toward dazzling Las Vegas, and, if you dare, venture into Death Valley, the hottest, driest spot in the country, where you’ll find volcanic craters, mountain peaks and salt flats. Don’t miss the giant sequoias and granite cliffs at Yosemite National Park. End your trip by returning to San Francisco via Monterey, where you can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, go kayaking, or journey by boat to spot sea lions, otters and whales.
Thailand has it all: good food, friendly people and a fascinating culture. Start a Thailand Family Holiday in Bangkok, where you can ride through the city’s famous canals and see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In Kanchanaburi, stop for the night where two rivers converge (they were featured in the film, Bridge on the River Kwai). Head north to Chiang Mai to visit a temple (you may hear Buddhist monks chanting at the end of the day). Kids will like the Northern Thai Doll Museum, where over 400 handmade dolls represent Thai culture and dress. Later, tour one of the biggest aquariums in Southeast Asia, Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, and shop in Bangkok for everything from Jimmy Choo shoes to flower garlands and live crabs.
Soar through towering trees on a zip line, raft down a whitewater river, hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, and go camping on a Great Smoky Mountains Family Adventure. This park has an incredible variety of plant and animal life, so look for old-growth trees, salamanders, black bears (do not feed or approach them!), wild turkeys, and, for a short period each spring, fireflies that blink in unison. Take selfies at Cades Cove, a popular stop for visitors, where you’ll see historic homes and churches. Go in the spring to enjoy the butterflies and wildflowers, or in the fall, when the trees turn brilliant orange, gold and scarlet.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
The Whitewater rafting on Kicking Horse River, in Banff, is awesome. Choose from a variety of family packages; options include passes to Banff Hot Springs, a ride on a gondola for a 350-degree view of Sulphur Mountain and the Canadian Rockies; a canoe ride or a tour of a grizzly bear refuge. Packages can also include certified rafting guides and equipment. Kicking Horse, which flows from a glacial lake, is considered one of the most exciting whitewater runs in the Canadian Rockies, with a drop of about 50 feet about every 6/10 of a mile. You’ll enjoy stunning scenery as you journey down this Canadian Heritage River.
A family-friendly Costa Rica trip offers jungles filled with chattering birds, monkeys and other wildlife, black sand beaches, waterfalls, hot springs and much more. Let the kids look for endangered green macaws or snorkel and surf. Zip-lining and rafting experiences are also available, along with hiking through the canopy walkways in Montverde Cloud Forest. Drift down the canals at Tortuguero National Park, known as a nesting spot for green sea turtles, leatherbacks and Hawksbill turtles (you’ll need a guide to explore the beaches at night, when the females usually arrive to lay eggs).
Before you visit Peru, consult with your tour company and/or doctor about how to acclimate to its altitude, and what you should or should not do while you’re there, so you and your family won’t become sick. Some Peruvian cities are over 10,000 feet high.
Begin your Peru Family Adventure in the historical center of Lima, once a Spanish colony, and show the kids around the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History, where tools, textiles and other Incan artifacts date back to 1,000 B.C. Next, fly to Puerto Maldonado, known as the gateway to the Amazon. Guides will take you via motorized canoes into the jungle and explain the medicinal plants and wildlife you’ll see. Later, you can look for llamas and alpacas in a small village, and shop for hand-knitted items and locally-crafted ceramics. The “lost city” of Machu Picchu, with some 200 ancient homes and temples, is the highlight of the trip. Return via Cuzco, if the family wants to zip-line, mountain bike or hike.
A Family Zion & Bryce Hiking adventure begins in Bryce Canyon National Park, where you’ll hike to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Staircase is actually a set of plateaus that lead to Lower Calf Creek Falls, where a green oasis has formed around the falling water. This is a great place to see Native American pictographs and granaries and learn about their culture. As you hike on to Zion National Park, you’ll see “hoodoos,” bright red, orange and white spires, some of which are over 200 feet tall. Legend says they were formed when ancient people behaved badly, drawing down a curse that turned them into stones. Take a refreshing dip in the Virgin River, and hike The Narrows, a stretch along the river considered one of the best hikes in the country.