From Antarctica to Kenya, VIRTUOSO (www.virtuoso.com) experts pick the most surprising destinations for summer sojourns
Iceland‘s natural beauty is a huge draw for families as it allows for so many different activities. Adventurous families will enjoy horseback riding (don’t forget your selfie with an Icelandic pony!), mountain biking, hiking, spelunking, glacial trekking and other adrenaline-pumping activities. Others who are less active but still want to enjoy the natural environment can view the jaw-dropping waterfalls, the wonder of Strokkur geyser, and the continental divide, then relax in thermal spring pools. Depending on the season, you can even view the northern lights, as Iceland is one of the best places in the world for seeing this phenomenon.
Iceland also has very unique customs and rituals. Learning about the people and history of the island may not be a child’s first choice, but when the story is paired with Vikings, trolls, fairies, elves and dwarves, it is culture that comes to life and the kids will want to learn more!
With direct flights to Keflavik from Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, Iceland is also a great destination for ease of flying. So when you travel to Iceland, see if you can come up with the answer to this question after exploring the land a bit … what do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest?
2. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are trending with families for the opportunity to view the unique marine and terrestrial wildlife that evolved only here due to geographic isolation. Expedition cruising in particular is a great way to experience the Galapagos for families.
By seeing several islands in one trip, families can maximize their time experiencing nature without worrying about packing and unpacking multiple times or spending time and effort arranging transportation.
Expedition cruises also offer Zodiac excursions, which typically take guests ashore twice daily, as well as snorkel gear and wet suits. With landings on remote locations where wildlife thrives, guests enjoy some of the world’s most up-close animal encounters. Those could be colourful bird life including blue-footed boobies or red-billed tropicbirds, giant iguanas, or playful fur seals and sea lions.
Each island offers very different wildlife. Los Lobos is a family favourite: famed for its huge sea lion colony (the second largest in the world), these gregarious locals are fun to observe as they play on the shore. Families can even snorkel and swim with them for a magical experience as they cavort around you. Isla Santa Cruz is home to the Charles Darwin research station, and kids will love getting up close with friendly giant tortoises weighing as much as 400 pounds. Espanola Island is outstanding for birdwatching and is the only place to see the huge albatross in addition to whales, reef sharks and hammerheads. On San Cristobal Island, Cerro Brujo Beach offers white sand and great snorkelling and swimming with sea turtles and sea lions – occasionally even sting rays.
Antarctica is an untouched destination that offers stunning scenery, excellent wildlife, and a peacefulness that is hard to come by in this day and age. The destination is definitely evolving as it has been gaining more and more interest over the years, as shown by the number of new ships coming on line with luxury add-ons such as helicopters and submarines. It’s growing in popularity for two reasons: travelers are more adventurous and want to experience off-the-beaten-path destinations, and people want to check the last continent off their bucket lists.
Antarctica is a great destination for families with its diversity of activities that appeal to all ages – hiking, kayaking, Zodiac rides, camping (seasonal), even the Polar Plunge. Most of the ships are small, so traveling on one provides a great opportunity to spend time quality together. While any time is a good time to visit Antarctica, trips around the holiday season work particularly well. At that time of year, visitors can see the new penguin chicks and typically enjoy excellent whale viewings as well. For more outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities, I always recommend families include South Georgia in their itinerary. There visitors will see the majestic king penguins (with colonies numbering 200,000 birds and more), albatross, elephant seals and the grave of celebrated explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
One of the hottest destinations for family travel is the hidden gem of Croatia. This Adriatic beauty holds appeal for every age group, making it an ideal family destination. There is history, TV/movie buzz, the pristine Plitvice Lakes National Park, and let’s not forget the wonderful barefoot sailing opportunities.
The best family holidays are those that keep the whole family engaged and spending time together. One of my favourite suggestions for families is to partake in a small-group bike tour. Croatia has numerous bike tours aimed at families and ranging from introductory to moderate levels. Even more fun is selecting a bike tour where your accommodations for the week are actually on a sailing ship. You’ll have the opportunity to see the best of Croatia from land and sea!
If a group tour is not your style, Croatia is very safe to explore independently by car. Some highlights that will have both the parents and children mesmerized are a private Star Wars tour through the walled city of Dubrovnik, which was the filming location of Canto Bight in Star Wars: The Last Jedi; the birthplace of Marco Polo on the island of Korcula; and Zadar’s nature-powered Sun Salutation and Sea Organ. If your travels take you there in June and July, don’t miss Šibenik, as it turns into a city made especially for kids during the annual International Children’s Festival. As amazing and beautiful as the Dalmatian coast is, I highly encourage everyone to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not far from Zagreb, the capital city. Spend one or two nights close to the parks so that you can visit early in the morning when there are fewer crowds. The park is world-famous for its lakes, with their distinctive changing colours, and its scenic waterfalls.
Egypt boasts some of the most awe-inspiring ancient sights on the planet, and with so much to see and do, it is a perfect choice for families looking for their next adventure. Families can explore the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx by camel, enjoy sailing a felucca in the Nile, or sleep under the stars in Aswan. The country is relatively easy to access, offers modern tourism comforts and a high fascination factor, which is likely why Egypt is emerging as a more popular family destination.
Small group tours specifically designed for families take away a lot of the guesswork. Kids and parents can spend more time face to face with mummies or shopping for treasures at one of Cairo’s exotic bazaars when joining a well-planned tour. Travelers recently returning from Egypt say the gracious hospitality of the locals stood out the most. Whether partaking in a luxurious Nile river cruise, taking an exotic journey by train through the desert to the Valley of the Kings, or riding a horse-drawn carriage into Karnak, Egypt opens up families to new experiences and adventures that will become unforgettable memories.
Botswana is a magical family experience that is becoming more popular thanks to celebrity visitors such as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle bringing attention to the country through media coverage. It is also trending because of the outstanding animal viewing, which is awesome from the plains as well as from water. Visitors will see large concentrations of lions, antelope, zebra, buffalo, white and black rhino, wild dogs and huge elephant populations, just to name a few. Botswana’s incredible landscape and wildlife can be explored on a riding safari, walking and driving as well as in a canoe. Water safaris are a great way to get up close and personal with wildlife.
Through animal observation, children leave Botswana with great lessons about the circle of life, survival of the fittest and respect for these amazing creatures. Another lesson Botswana holds for them is gratitude. Many tours bring families to an orphanage, school or village to see what life is like for children in Botswana, which is a real eye-opener for young visitors.
Aside from wildlife experiences, Victoria Falls is nearby and a must-see for families going to Botswana. There are many wonderful camps and lodges, and some are much more family-friendly. An experienced travel advisor who’s visited the area will be an invaluable resource in planning a trip. Botswana is an especially great vacation for multiple generations to enjoy together, as family members bring home such vivid and special memories, making it an outstanding family experience.
India is a fascinating, unique destination that will delight and surprise families. Where else can you stay in a palace, enjoy wonderful food and experience incredible wildlife? India has it all for families – palm-fringed white sand beaches, canoe and houseboat adventures, tiger safaris, camel riding, mountain train journeys and a vibrant culture.
Worldly parents are looking for destinations that teach their children about history, life and different cultures. Exposing children to diversity creates open-minded adults who view themselves as global citizens. India is perfect for this: an exciting destination where nothing is familiar, including the sights, sounds, and even holy cows wandering the streets of Delhi.
When it comes to the best places to visit, Kerala is always at the top of the list. Sailing through the backwaters is relaxing for families and a great way to bond. A chance to see a majestic tiger in the wild is usually on most people’s India bucket list. It’s a profoundly emotional experience and a teaching opportunity for children that goes beyond what they would learn in school. A family photo in front of the Taj Mahal is a memory that will last forever. The forts and palaces of the Golden Triangle will enchant children as they wander the courtyards, stairs and hallways of these amazing structures.
When travelling to India as a family, plan a relaxed, flexible itinerary as children need time to recoup, swim in the hotel pool, add their experiences to social media or chat with their friends on FaceTime. A private car and driver for excursions will not only save time but be more comfortable and convenient. Above all, learn, laugh and live your amazing family adventure together through India!
For Canadians, Cuba has long been a favourite destination for family vacations. It offers the Instagram-worthy, spectacular stretches of powdery white-sand beaches, and child-friendly swimmable turquoise-hued water that young parents are looking for. Beyond its beauty, its safety is one of the top drivers for travelers who are concerned about incidents in other popular spots.
With so many destinations within the country – Varadero, Cayo Coco, Holguin – flights from most Canadian cities are plentiful, which encourages repeat visits to different spots. Even with this abundance of choice, many travelers return to the same resort year after year because they create personal relationships with staff. They keep in touch and bring them gifts, and feel safe, cared for and valued as guests. The past few years have seen a spate of resort openings from both favorite brands and newly arrived upscale chains, which creates more choice and adds to the appeal of Cuba as a destination.
For families with older children, Cuba offers opportunities for authentic cultural experiences, and the option for a split stay in Havana and Varadero is becoming popular. The ability to experience the political and cultural history and be immersed in the current vibe of Havana coupled with a beach stay in Varadero, where families can also visit the old town and enjoy an evening of Latin music and true Cuban cuisine, is an emerging trend with families who want to see the “real” destination, get off the resort property and not compromise their safety.
Families today are looking for more from their vacation than lying on the beach at an all-inclusive resort. They want to be interactive: get involved with the destination and its people and learn about them and from them. Morocco is ideal for families because it is well-known, safe and offers so much color, culture and diversity in such a small area.
Morocco has plenty of active adventures to keep kids busy. They love riding mules up into North Africa’s highest mountains and learning about how the local Berber people live in the desert. They’ll experience how the Berbers cook food in tagines and how they make carpets and pottery. Children will love seeing how goats eat fruit by climbing trees, which also yield nuts that are made into pastes or oils. As well, families enjoy traversing the great Sahara desert by camel and sleeping in a traditional Berber tent among the dunes under the stars.
Because Morocco is such a diverse destination, families also love exploring the vibrant cities and relaxing on the expansive beaches. In Fez, they can roam the souks with their spice-infused alleyways. Kids will want a pair of leather slippers that come in virtually any color, as well as a fun Fez hat. Families can also discover the ancient city of Marrakech and experience the evening street entertainment on the Djemaa El Fna Square. The snake charmers, acrobats and dancers are a hit with youngsters. Then families can kick back on the coast at the ancient port of Essaouira and feast on freshly caught fish cooked in front of them in open-air restaurants along the beach. Life in Essaouira is slower-paced and is perfect for relaxing at the end of the trip with a stroll along the water. The old Medina is wonderful to walk around and not as busy as in Fez and Marrakech
When families travel to Africa, it’s life-changing. In particular, Kenya offers truly unique experiences for families, especially in terms of cultural and wildlife interactions. Put away the cell phones – Kenya is a lot more interesting!
The country offers incredible educational experiences for families, where they can help local people and discover their daily life and culture. On a tour by social enterprise ME to WE, travelers visit communities and meet women known as mamas, who make beaded Rafiki bracelets inspired by local tradition. Each bracelet is stamped with a code so you can track the mama who made yours. These creations are now sold around the world, helping empower mamas to put their kids through school. Speaking of schools, families can help build them. Or build a well. Or help a village with agricultural needs.
Kenya also offers families the opportunity to experience wildlife through safari game drives and visits to sanctuaries. At the Giraffe Sanctuary in Nairobi, kids learn about conservation through the story of the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. At the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, they’ll see how a Maasai tribe went from killing elephants to protecting them. Reteti is the first community-owned elephant orphanage in Africa and demonstrates the power of the people to preserve natural resources and create a sustainable economy.
Traveling in Kenya connects people in so many ways. I love introducing families to these experiences. It’s meaningful … it’s priceless.
For more unusual family escapes, head to www.virtuoso.com and have a Virtuoso travel professional curate your dream trip.