6 Unexpected Kid-friendly Destinations That Offer Plenty of Adventure, History, and Culture
Editor's Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket-list adventure. Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
In our household, we have been talking about where we would travel right now if we could — and we are dreaming big. Actually, we are dreaming bigger and better. If this year has shown us anything, it is that the travel we share as a family should be to destinations that not only need tourism dollars, but also where locals want tourists and will put those dollars toward conserving land, landmarks, culture, and wildlife for future generations.
We know that the impacts of climate change and population growth mean there are places in the world that will be different, if not lost, when our children become adults, so my partner and I decided that there are destinations they need to visit now — as they are and should be experienced.
Among the many lessons this year has provided, we fully understand that travel is a privilege, and it can be taken away at the drop of a hat, as can the spectacular gifts the world has given us — elephants, coral reefs, ancient forests, art, and architecture. Travel — regenerative, conscientious, and intentional trips — has the power to change us all.
So, yes, we are dreaming big for the future. And if pandemic restrictions, vaccines, political stability, and dreams allow, we will make it to one of the following destinations soon.
Uganda: Observe Chimpanzees
When it comes to getting up close with primates, no one has a better track record of sustainability and impactful conservation projects than Volcanoes Safaris. At Kyambura Gorge Lodge in western Uganda, families have the opportunity to stay in deluxe bandas with private sitting rooms and terraces. Safari at the adjacent Queen Elizabeth National Park to witness its famous tree-climbing lions, and for kids 15 and older, take part in a thrilling chimpanzee trek in the Kyambura Gorge (they will see and hear many hippos, too). After an afternoon in the lodge's newly upgraded pool, participate in a local activity with Volcanoes Safaris' Kyambura Gorge Eco-tourism Project, a series of community and conservation programs designed to safeguard the delicate Kyambura Gorge.
Patagonia, Chile: Hike Torres del Paine National Park
The best places in the world are often the hardest to reach. Getting to Chilean Patagonia can be a haul, but kids can do hard things and travel long distances. It teaches them patience, and that all good things take time. Hiking Torres del Paine in Patagonia is long and difficult, but it's an achievable trek they will never forget. Stay at Tierra Patagonia, a gorgeous wind-inspired lodge whose career guides are experienced, engaging, and fun. Packed with a lunch, head off early in the morning for the full-day hike. There are many places to stop along the way to observe wildlife like foxes and pumas, as well as international backpackers. At the top, plan on spending an hour or two in the natural amphitheater beneath the soaring towers and by the edge of its sparkling blue-green lake, leaving everyone with a sense of accomplishment and awe in the wonders of nature.
Listen to Travel + Leisure's "Let's Go Together" podcast for more inspiring stories and adventures celebrating inclusivity in travel!
Egypt: Visit Valley of the Kings
Ideally, we want to engage our children in culture, history, and current events in all of our travel experiences, and Egypt checks every box. Just crossing the street in Cairo is an exciting experience for families. Intrepid Travel works with local guides to create seamless and safe itineraries, including visits to the Great Pyramids, train travel to Aswan, and trips to Luxor and the Valley of Kings. Being up close to the color and vibrancy of the ornate subterranean tombs at the Valley of the Kings, and actually seeing the mummy of King Tut, makes real the history of civilization children learn in school, as well as inspires them to keep exploring for years to come.
Japan: Hike the Nakasendo Trail
Host to this year's Summer Olympics, the beauty of Japan will be on full display in 2021. Hiking the Nakasendo Trail, an ancient trading route that connects Kyoto to Tokyo, and staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan along the way, has been on my personal travel list for decades. Now that my sons are seasoned hikers, we can go as a family. InsideJapan Tours can organize private travel for families with a desire to experience Japan on foot, or families can join small group itineraries that include activities such as cycling through rural villages, taking a masterclass in manga drawing, or learning taiko drumming.
Fiji: Snorkel the Great Astrolabe Reef
The first time I dove into the waters of the Great Astrolabe Reef, I couldn't believe my eyes. Bright corals in pink, red, purple, and blue resembled an underwater wildflower garden. I resolved then and there to return with my children, so they could see with their own eyes how a healthy coral reef should look and appreciate its place in the ocean ecosystem. To experience this natural wonder, stay at Kokomo Private Island resort, where the diving team led by on-island marine biologist Cliona O'Flaherty can guide families at Great Astrolabe Reef and introduce them to its Coral Restoration Project, which grows and restores the resorts house reef. If the timing is right, manta rays may be migrating past the island, and kids can swim along with these beautiful, gentle giants and help advance the Kokomo Manta Conservation Project, which tags, identifies, and offers an Adopt a Manta program in collaboration with the Manta Trust Fiji.
Ecuador: Experience the Galápagos Islands
One of my favorite trips of all time was to Ecuador with my then-10-year-old son. From visiting underappreciated Quito and exploring local markets, to working with the team from Me to We at schools in the Amazon, we helped build schools, counted macaws overhead, learned about water conservation and cacao production, ate roasted grubs (that tasted like bacon), and laughed well past sunset. We fell in love with easy-to-access Ecuador and have plans to return with the rest of our family — this time adding to our custom Audley Travel itinerary the historic city of Cuenca and perhaps the Galápagos Islands, with a focus on minimal impact to this delicate and biologically diverse environment. If the timing is not right, we will wait to observe and help preserve this singular "living laboratory of evolution."