Looking to spice your family vacation up? Perhaps you are sick of white sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts of over-the-top kid based destinations. If you are after adventure, animals and something out of the ordinary, Lonely Planet has just named its Best Animal Adventures for Families for 2016. So what are you waiting for? Pack those bags, get those passports out and discover these once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
9. Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, Chengdu, China
Giant Panda’s are not only a Chinese national treasure but are loved around the world by many, and with fewer than 2,000 of them left they are an endangered species. This non-profit research and breeding facility for these animals was founded in 1987 with just 6 pandas that were rescued from the wild. It has recreated the natural habitat for the pandas to have the best environment possible for rearing and breeding. Visitors here will walk along the paths observing the giant pandas of all ages, resting, eating, drinking and playing with one another. Visit early in the morning to see the baby pandas playing about. Experts are on hand to speak to visitors about the pandas, and how you can best protect them. Note that this experience should be for slightly older kids as there is a policy on being quiet within the base.
8. Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A
Over three million guests visit Yellowstone National Park each year and as the world’s oldest National Park, it has plenty to offer families in search of an animal adventure. It has the world-famous reputation of easy-to-spot wildlife and whether you are looking for bears, moose, mountain goats, elks, eagles or beavers, they can all be found here. One of the best ways for families to spot wildlife is to head deep into the park, camping and staying off the beaten path. There are numerous tour operators that run specialty family tour throughout the park where rangers help kids track, catch and band songbirds, take float trips down the Snake River- a popular spot for bears, moose and beavers, or horseback through the park. Self-guided or guided, this park is a family fun adventure not to be missed.
7. Goats in Trees, Essaouira, Morocco
The best part about Morocco, other than the goats in the trees, is the fact that this country LOVES children. Expect to find locals who pat your little one’s heads as they walk by, family-friendly hotels with playground and playrooms and plenty of stretches of beach to discover. Back to the goats in the trees though. It is an extraordinary sight to see goats, high up in the trees, munching on argan nuts. Indeed, though these goats absolutely love the nuts that grow on the Argania tree and are known to swarm the trees all at once, making this one roadside stop worth making.
6. Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional, Costa Rica
This 248-acre coastal refuge was created in 1992 to protect the arribadas, or mass nesting of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. This phenomenon occurs from July to November, peaking from August to October and these turtles nest in large groups that can number in the thousands. You will have to keep your kids up late for this activity but it is well worth it, trust us. You can spend the rest of your days exploring the incredible country of Costa Rica and all that it offers including even more turtles, crocodiles, butterflies, birds and more. There is no shortage of wildlife or incredible activities to do here!
5. Bat Flights, Carlsbad Caverns, U.S.A
Every evening in the summer, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, visitors are treated to a spectacle of bats leaving their home in search of dinner. If your kids have any fascination with bats, this is absolutely the place to take them. The bat flight program starts with a talk from a park ranger in an outdoor amphitheater where visitors sit to take in the dazzling display of hundreds of thousands of bat as they begin to pour out of the cave. They fly in a spiral pattern, sort of like a bat tornado and the acoustics are so good you can hear their wings as they whoosh by. Not only will this blow your kids minds, but yours as well. Check the website for certain nights when you can stay after the bat flight and learn about the nighttime sky.
4. Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
It is Uganda’s most visited national park and attracts visitors of all ages from all over the world with its enormous display of wildlife. Count on seeing hippopotamus, elephants, African leopards, Congo lions, chimpanzees and more. Housing over 95 species of mammal and 500 species of birds, you won’t ever hear your kids mutter the words “I’m bored”. This national park is also famous for its tree-climbing lions whose males actually sport a black mane. Within the park expect to see volcanic cones and deep craters, crater lakes, wetlands, forests and more. With lodges located within the park, along with the Kazinga Channel, it is easy to spend a week exploring this incredible habitat.
3. Walkabout Wildlife Park, New South Wales, Australia
A visit to this wildlife park where native Australian animals roam free is a spectacle whether you visit during the day or at night. Some of the animals you will see during the day include koalas, dingoes, flying foxes, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos, lizards and dragons. The favorite part of the day though comes when the sun sets and the nocturnal animals come out such as the boobook owls, tawny frogmouths, bilbies, bandicoots, sugar gliders and more. Roaming free around the park visitors can expect to see emus, wallaroos, kangaroos, wallabies and snakes. Families can experience the nocturnal animals during either a nocturnal tour or a ranger-led wild sleep over, in either an eco-cottage or under the stars at the campsite.
2. Monkey Rescue, Pretoria, South Africa
Do something meaningful as a family during your next vacation and volunteer at the primate sanctuary in South Africa. Caring for more than 120 primates that have been rescued from labs, zoos and people; this organization is dedicated to caring for these monkeys that cannot go back into the wild. Volunteers will help with food preparation, making monkey beds, providing enrichment and more. And don’t worry, there is special “monkey time” carved out which will allow you to spend time with the primates and get to know them. Note that this experience is only for families with older children.
1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
It just may be the ultimate wildlife adventure, for anyone of any age. Discovering the Galapagos Islands with kids means creating one of the most intimate wildlife encounters, and requires a lot of planning. Family friendly cruises are the recommended way to do this trip with kids, as they offer a ton of amenities on board and create special learning opportunities for young ones. Swim with friendly sea lions, snorkel with turtles, observe giant wild tortoises and learn about the incredible ecology of this magical place. Do note that some tour operators require children to be a minimum age and it’s best to do your research before booking this incredible vacation.