Lonely Planet’s Best Animal Adventures for Families

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.

"1 panda trio sichuan china 2011" by chensiyuan - chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.
1 panda trio sichuan china 2011” by chensiyuan – chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

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.

Yellowstone National Park

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.

Goats in Trees, Essaouira, Morocco

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!

Photo by: Efetur
Photo by: Efetur

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.

Photo by: CNN
Photo by: CNN

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.

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

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.

Photo by: Walkabout Wildlife Park
Photo by: Walkabout Wildlife Park

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.

Photo by: International Primate Rescue sanctuary
Photo by: International Primate Rescue sanctuary

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.

Photo by: Abercrombie & Kent
Photo by: Abercrombie & Kent

Lonely Planet’s 10 Cool New Openings

The ever popular publisher of travel guidebooks has come out with their annual ‘Best of Travel’ guide which lists the best of the best for the next year of travel in all sorts of categories from best budget travel to best family travel experiences. If you’ve been planning ahead for next year’s vacations here is the list of the hottest new attractions set to open in 2016 to get your imagination running wild. This year’s list has something for everyone from Disney fans to football fanatics, outdoor explorers and adventurous foodies, no one will be disappointed and everyone will be scrambling to find their passport after one read through this list.

10. Shanghai Disney Resort, China

In Spring of 2916, Disney is set to open its newest resort and the first of its kind in mainland China. The park will include 6 themed areas placed around the largest constructed Enchanted Castle of any Disney park. In the center of the park, ‘The Garden of the Twelve Friends’ will depict the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac represented by Disney characters. There will also be a Disneytown entertainment district (perhaps similar to America’s Downtown Disney) located outside of the new Magic Kingdom which will feature restaurants, shopping, entertainment and two Disney hotel accommodations.

Photo by: Shanghai Disney Resort
Photo by: Shanghai Disney Resort

9. Mamma Mia! The Party, Stockholm, Sweden

Diehard ABBA fans will want to take note of this next opening in Stockholm next year; the city’s Gröna Lund amusement park will see the opening of a brand new Mamma Mia!–themed restaurant in January of 2016. The brains behind this new disco-dining experience is none other than ABBA’s own Björn Ulvaeus, the former Swedish music star also co-composed the famed Mamma Mia! musical so naturally he has some involvement here as well. Lonely Planet reports that diners will enter a Greek-style Taverna where diners will tuck into Greek specialties while the story unfolds around them.

Photo by: ABBA Fanatic
Photo by: ABBA Fanatic

8. Monnaie de Paris, France

For those who haven’t been to the city, the Monnaie de Paris is the Paris mint, and in mid-2016 it will see the completion of its ‘MetaLmorphoses’ project -a huge transformation of the mint’s 1.2-hectare site on the Seine. So far the transformation has already seen art exhibitions in the mint’s neoclassical building in 2014 and the opening of famous Michelin accredited chef Guy Savoy’s flagship restaurant in 2015. The fun will continue in 2016 with the unveiling of the mint’s previously unseen collections. In addition, there will be metalwork and foundry tours, Guy Savoy’s MetaLcafé brasserie and much more to see and do.

Photo by: Soundscapes Blog
Photo by: Soundscapes Blog

7. FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich, Switzerland

Ask any football fan if they would make a trip if there were a world football museum and chances are they would probably say yes. Well in spring of 2016, just such an attraction will be opening its doors in Zurich, Switzerland. The FIFA World Football Museum will be a 3,500 square meter facility located in the heart of the city and dedicated to the most widely played sport in the world. The museum will take visitors through the history of the game with a timeline and include a hall of fame, a cinema and a giant football pinball machine.

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

6. Bourdain Market, New York City, USA

Famous culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain first announced his plans to open a food market in New York back in January 2014 and foodies have been listening for any little detail about the project ever since. While many details are still unknown (and likely will be until its opening) we do know that the theme will be crazy, loud and slightly obnoxious and it’s all set to open in early 2016. The 100,000 square foot space at Pier 57 will feature producers and carefully selected food vendors from around the world as well as a hawker-style food hall, rooftop beer garden, farmers market and oyster bar.

Erin Cadigan / Shutterstock.com
Erin Cadigan / Shutterstock.com

5. Surf Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia National Park in Wales is known for it’s vast natural beauty and spectacular scenery. While this piece of natural paradise is perfect for hikers and those with an appreciation for the great outdoors, there are an increasing number of adventure sports enthusiasts heading to Snowdonia for the man-made adrenaline attractions like Europe’s longest zip line and an underground trampolining center. In 2016 the park will see another new attraction to entice visitors, in the form of a 300 meter long artificial surf lagoon. The £12 million project is said to use rainwater to produce a consistent barreling 2 meter wave every minute, and is the first of its kind in the world.

Photo by: Surf Snowdonia
Photo by: Surf Snowdonia

4. National Gallery Singapore

Lonely Planet says that while Singapore is host to several world-class museums, if you only have time for one in 2016 make it the National Gallery. Located in the city’s former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, the gallery not only offers Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to today, but the venue itself offers history and its own story. Visit the restored colonial courtrooms and council chambers but make sure you also check out the beautiful rooftop garden which offers spectacular views of Marina Bay.

Photo by: National Gallery Singapore
Photo by: National Gallery Singapore

3. BASK, Gili Meno, Indonesia

BASK is a brand-new luxury villa-resort development on the island of Gili Meno near Bali. The development which is set to open in 2016 has a very recognizable celebrity endorsement on its side; David Hasselhoff, aka The Hoff, is the face of BASK and is said to be looking at having his own vacation villa in the complex. The development is located on a private white sand beach and will feature a world class restaurant, beach club, luxury spa and even its own underwater sculpture park for diving enthusiasts.

Photo by: BASK
Photo by: BASK

2. Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Abu Dhabi arts scene is about to get a new star in 2016; the Louvre Abu Dhabi was first planned to be completed in 2012, but flash forward another 4 years and we will finally see this €100 million dollar project completed. The building itself is a sight to behold as the domed structure seems to almost be floating on the water as it sits on Saadiyat Island. The museum will have a permanent collection of art throughout the ages including Chinese Buddhist carvings and Italian oil paintings while works from famed artists like Van Gogh, Monet and da Vinci will be on loan from France.

Photo by: Louvre Abu Dhabi
Photo by: Louvre Abu Dhabi

1. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC, USA

The number one opening in 2016 is an exciting first for America; the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC for short) will become the first national museum in America to focus exclusively on the lives, history and culture of African Americans. The 10-storey space Smithsonian Institution museum will open in Washington DC in 2016 and will boast artifacts from around the country that represent the history of African Americans. Everything from Harriet Tubman’s 1876 hymn book, to a Jim Crow-era segregated railcar, to banners and photographs from notable human rights demonstrations will be on display.

Photo by: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR
Photo by: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR

Lonely Planet’s 10 Most Accessible Vacation Destinations

The world’s population is rapidly aging and this is having an impact on global business and tourism as companies are slowly starting to realize that accessibility is not just an issue that must be addressed for those with a disability. It’s a real issue that many grey nomads are putting some extra thought into before booking their next vacation. Lonely Planet agrees that with an aging baby boomer population that isn’t willing to slow down when it comes to travel, accessibility is becoming paramount. With this in mind they’ve put together this list of the most accessible vacation destinations for 2016:

10. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Snowbirds love to head south in the winter, and mexico is a popular winter destination for many including those over the age of 65. Playa del Carmen is only an hour away from Cancun airport but it’s a far cry from the lively Spring Break destination city. Accessible hotels are available and the beach is also easy to navigate with the help of special beach wheelchairs and even special equipment to help you snorkel, even if you can’t swim.

wheelchair accessible beach

9. Barcelona, Spain

The tourism agencies of Spain and especially the Catalonia region have been pushing the importance of accessible tourism for quite some time now. As a result, 80 per cent of metro stations and 100 per cent of public buses are wheelchair accessible. And unlike many old historic cities, the old town of Barcelona is cobblestone free reducing the risks of trip and falls and making it easier for those with walkers and wheelchairs.

Plaza Barcelona, Spain

8. Galápagos and Amazonia, Ecuador

After watching these nature-centric destinations on programs like Planet Earth, they may not seem like an option for those with mobility issues, however they’re a lot closer in reach thanks to Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic who was the vice president of Ecuador from 2006-2013. Moreno’s work is responsible for the inroads in accessibility in this largely inaccessible continent.

blue footed booby

7. Sicily, Italy

When one thinks of Italy, images of cobblestone streets and elevated countryside usually come to mind -not exactly the picture of accessibility. But Lonely Planet says Sicily is breaking new ground on this front and is home to a tactile museum and Europe’s only sensorial botanic garden. Two Guinness world records have also been set here by people with disabilities; the first paraplegic to dive to 59m and first blind woman to dive to 41m.

Sicily, Italy Cathedral of Palermo

6. Manchester, England

Although Manchester is indeed an old city, much of the central business district was rebuilt in the late 1900s. The result is a city with wide, smooth pavements and many shopfronts, bars and restaurants that are completely step free. Perfect for those with reduced mobility. The city’s public transit is also wheelchair friendly and offers service to just about anywhere you’d want to get to in the city.

Manchester street sign

5. Melbourne, Australia

The city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia has been called the ‘best in the world’ for a lot of things, but it can now add ‘most accessible’ to that list as well. The city’s highly accessible public transit has received global praise and the compact central city core helps earn the city’s status as one of the most accessible cities in the world. Lonely Planet even has a guidebook dedicated to the subject titled ‘Accessible Melbourne.’

Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com
Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com

4. Ljubljana, Slovenia

The capital city of Slovenia is relatively flat, a fact that many aging travelers will appreciate. It’s also equipped with highly accessible public transit which features audio and video stop announcements on buses (because there’s nothing worse than missing your stop!) The main attraction of the city is the 16th century Ljubljana Castle, and while you wouldn’t expect anything built in the 16th century to be accessible, the castle is actually wheelchair accessible.

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

3. Singapore

Singapore is arguably the most accessible city in Asia and one of the most overall accessible in the whole world. You’ll find stepless access to most buildings and an endless supply of curb cuts to make sure there are no barriers for those in wheelchairs.  The city’s mass rail transit (MRT) and buses are also designed for the visually and motor impaired, making this city one were there are essentially no limitations.

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

2. San Diego, USA

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary) most of the United States is very accessible, but Lonely Planet picked San Diego, California as a standout in its class. The city is easy to get around with a fairly flat grid system and public transit is easy with a fully accessible tram system. The most notable feature is the miles long beachfront promenade which offers beach wheelchairs to those who need them.

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com
Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com

1. Vienna, Austria

Like Manchester but perhaps even richer in history, Vienna is a historic city that’s been refurbished to meet modern day demands. Unlike many old European cities, its cobblestones have been removed as have many curbs and central shops, cafes and restaurants are wheelchair friendly. One of the city’s most notable attractions, the Schloss Schönbrunn is fully accessible making it a must-see for everyone, no matter your age.

Schloss Schönbrunn Vienna

Lonely Planet’s 10 Best Value Destinations

It’s that time of year again, when world renowned guidebook publisher and travel advocate Lonely Planet publishes their predictions and recommendations for the coming year of travel in what’s know as the “Best in Travel 2016” The entire guidebook is filled with top 10 lists with varying themes from Best Animal Adventures to Most Accessible Destinations. In this article however, we will take a look at Best Value. Lonely Planet knows that no matter how deep your pockets are, every traveler loves a deal, and for some, traveling on a strict budget isn’t just a lifestyle; it’s an art form. So without further delay, let’s take a look at the 10 best value destinations for 2016:

10. Western Australia

Typically Australia has been a place that for many, seemed out of reach if not for its geographic location than for its high costs due to a strong Australia dollar. But recently, the AUD has taken a dive, especially in comparison to the US dollar, while that means many Australians might be forced to limit their overseas travel plans, it also means that for many North Americans, a trip to Australia is cheaper than its ever been. Western Australia in particular offers better value than other parts of the country but with all the Australian culture and scenery one could want.

the pinnacles western australia

9. Timor-Leste

Not straying too far from the number #10 destination, the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste occupies half of the island of Timor north of Australia in the Timor sea. This beautiful, lesser-known country is surrounded by coral reefs teaming with marine life of all shapes and sizes. Lonely Planet suggests venturing outside of the country’s capital of Dili and all its pricey international hotels and checking out the bargain beach shacks that can be found on the islands pristine beaches. If you’re not afraid to blaze your own trail and mix with the locals, Timor-Leste might be just the deal you were looking for.

Timor-Leste

8. Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast

While the west side of Costa Rica has been sufficiently explored by tourists, expats and Americans looking for their next vacation home, the east side of the country is still left mostly to the locals. Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has plenty to offer in comparison to the well known towns of the east but with a much less touristy vibe, which also translates to better deals as well. The town of Tortuguero is famous for nesting sea turtles and the reefs of Manzanillo make for an excellent dive spot, but one of the biggest draws is the famous Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary located south of Limón.

Sloth Costa Rica

7. Québec City, Canada

If a trip to Europe has been on your wish list but you lack the time and funds to make this a reality, Lonely Planet suggests North Americans head to Québec City. No, it’s definitely not Europe but they suggest it has enough of a foreign francophone vibe and old world charm to make you feel like you’re a long way from home. The city’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with the cobblestone streets, historic buildings and little French bistros, you might just get that taste of Europe for less than you thought.

Chateau Québec City, Canada

6. Galicia, Spain

Being a well visited country by many tourists, you wouldn’t think Spain would have a lot of deals left to be had, but head to the country’s northwest region of Galicia and you’ll find rocky coastline and villages relatively unexplored by tourists. Lonely Planet says that the value of this region comes not only from being a place relatively unexplored by tourists but also from the quality of meat, cheese and seafood that can be found in the many tapas bars throughout the Galicia region. They also suggest booking self-catering accommodations to save money even further.

Redes Galicia, Spain

5. Bosnia and Hercegovina

It is no secret that Europe has a bit of a reputation with travelers as being a pricey place to explore. While that is definitely true of the more major cities like Rome, Venice, London and Paris, it’s the lesser known cities and countries that offer the best value.  Hence, the #5 entry on this list: Bosnia and Hercegovina. These Balkan peninsula countries encompass all the major values you look for in budget travel including inexpensive accommodations and cheap eats and its historic cities of Sarajevo and Mostar offer the kind of history and charm you’d expect to pay a price for.

Mostar Bosnia and Hercegovina

4. New Mexico

Even with travel to America looking rather expensive to everyone except those who live there, Lonely Planet stresses the value that can still be found in the state of New Mexico. Cheap eats, affordable accommodations and free activities and attractions abound in this outdoor lovers paradise. With dry sunny conditions almost guaranteed, there are few better states where you can cram in as much time in the great outdoors (an activity that’s essentially free of charge.) Take a Breaking Bad tour in Albuquerque, hike the Apline forest or explore a free wild hot spring. The possibilities for value are endless in this state.

Bisti Badlands New Mexico

3. East Africa

Thanks to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many tourists are sufficiently scared of the continent as a whole, and thus bookings for 2016 are on the low side. You can probably guess that means good deals are readily available for travel to the continents safer half; East Africa. Lonely Planet advises that the cities of London, Paris and Madrid are hundreds of miles closer to the outbreak region geographically than East Africa’s prime tourist spots are, and reminds travelers just how large a continent this is. So if you’ve ever felt compelled to have an African animal encounter, or explore Africa’s spectacular scenery, the time to head to places like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is now.

Blue Nile Falls Ethopia Africa

2. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam

Backpackers have known for years that Vietnam is a budget travelers best friend and a recent study by priceoftravel.com confirms the fact placing Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi third and second in a list of the cheapest destinations in Asia. Lonely Planet says that in both cities, $20 USD or less per day will get you food, lodging and sights but the guidebook publishers say at that rate you’ll be living like a local (which we say isn’t a bad thing!) But if you want an experience that’s a sight step up, your authentic Vietnamese experience still won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com
Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com

1. Estonia

Lonely Planet says this year’s #1 best value destination will almost seem like the promised land compared to other popular European destinations. That’s because your Euros go a little farther in Estonia, a Northern European country where Nordic meets old-world Eastern European. If you’ve been getting around Europe by sleeping in hostel dorm rooms, you’ll be happy to know that upgrading to a hotel room of your own will seem quite affordable here, as will the food, drinks and nightlife. It’s not like there’s nothing to see either; the preserved Old Town in the capital of Tallinn has history and museums galore while the enchanting forests of Lahemaa National Park will amaze any traveler.

Lahemaa National Park Estonia