Ask your child what their favourite experience was during any given adventure holiday and we’d wager – if we were the betting sort – that it included wildlife.
Whether you and your children are avid Attenborough fans or animal amateurs there’s just something so awe-inspiring about encountering nature in its natural habitat that will make memories to last a life time.
So, whether you’re rapt by reptiles, blown away by birds and butterflies, wowed by whales or mesmerised by mammals, we’ve collated what we think are the best family wildlife holidays in the world.
1. Fall in love with orangutans in Borneo
You go on Borneo family holidays for one thing and one thing only: the animals (although the beaches are pretty special too!) The main draw is, of course, the orangutans, ‘old men of the forest’. You can come up close and personal with them at the Sepilok rehabilitation centre, a fabulous place where orphans are cared for and returned to the wild. There are many other fascinating encounters on this family wildlife holiday, too, though, like watching from a respectable distance as turtles lay their egg or witnessing thousands and thousands of bats fly out of ‘Bat Cave’ each evening. For whatever reason, you’ll be blown away by Borneo.
2. Hang out with penguins at Boulders Beach near Cape Town
We’ll warn you now, they smell, but that’s also an indication of just how close your encounters are with the penguins as they hop along the beach on this family wildlife holiday. Whilst almost comically clumsy on land, these creatures transform into agile and highly skilled swimmers under water, something you’ll also see when snorkelling. They smell less underwater, too. Best place to see them? We love Boulders Beach, Cape Town. Penguins also roam free over Nelson Mandela’s former place of captivity, Robben Island. See them on our Classic Cape and Garden Route tour.
3. See the ‘Big 5’ in Kenya and Tanzania
The quintessential – or perhaps the original – family wildlife holiday, no African safari would be complete without the opportunity to see the ‘The Big-Five’. For the uninitiated, that term means lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. Originally a term that applied to the five biggest African mammals that were hardest to hunt on foot, but now reclaimed by travellers wanting just to see them in the flesh. Whilst you can spot these in various African national parks, arguably the greatest numbers can be found in the Masai Mara Kenya or the Serengeti in Tanzania.
4. Spot the ‘Little 5’ in Africa
Lesser known – and much harder to spot – than their larger counterparts, but still an iconic list for any family wildlife holiday, spotting the ‘Little 5’ throughout Africa’s national parks is another must-see checklist for mini-beasts. The ‘Little 5’ are: elephant shrew (particularly common in South Africa but seldom seen (there’s a gauntlet if ever we’ve seen one); buffalo weaver, amongst the easiest in the list to find and observe; leopard tortoise; antlion (an insect) and; rhino beetle.
5. See komodo dragons in Indonesia
Here be dragons! Tell your children they’re going to come up close (well, not too close) to a real-life dragon and we assure you you’ll have their attention. There are two main places in the Indonesian archipelago where you can spot – although you may well smell them beforehand – these amazing creatures, the country’s official national animal: Komodo and Rinca. For more information about Komodo Dragons, cannibalism, goat swallowing and other charming habits, we found this fascinating: 11 facts about Komodo Dragons.
6. Come face to face with gorillas in Uganda
Arguably THE ultimate family wildlife holiday experience, seeing gorillas and chimps in their natural habitat in Uganda is not just a privilege but an encounter you and your children will never forget. As mountain gorillas can’t survive in captivity, trekking through the thick forests of Uganda’s national parks is the only way to see these endangered creatures and is now where over half the world’s mountain gorillas live. Whilst in 1981, conservationists estimated there were only 254 primates left, intense international efforts mean that although still critical, their population is returning, helped in no small part by tourist contributions and trekking permits.
7. Be wowed by desert elephants in Namibia
As the only place in the whole continent where tourists can see desert elephants (Mali being off-limits to travellers), Namibia is the place to go to encounter these amazing creatures. Whilst not a separate species, these incredible animals have adapted specifically to their arid environment, such as having thinner bodies and wider feet. The rugged landscape of Damaraland is also home to another rare animal, the black rhino, making it even more of a family wildlife holidays hotspot.
8. Look after pandas in China
No matter what age your children are, they can’t fail to be wowed by the sight of Giant Pandas in China. Whilst most people interested in family wildlife holidays head to the research centre just outside of Chengdu to see these rare creatures in the flesh, older children and teenagers interested in conservation will thrill at the chance to spend the day as a volunteer at the Dujiangyan Panda Centre. Before you know it, they’ll be cleaning out the panda enclosures and collecting panda poo for inspection. See our example China itineraries for more.
9. Search for sloth in Costa Rica
Is this the cutest animal in the world? We at Stubborn Mule have a huge soft spot for these creatures which can be seen all over Costa Rica, from climbing along telephone wires to seeing mother sloths sheltering their babies from the rain in the forest. We can also arrange a visit to a dedicated sloth sanctuary, with tours and informative videos, although we stress that you are unable to handle a sloth during the visits. If you’re similarly soft on sloths, make this your first port of call on your family wildlife holiday.
10. Track rhino on foot in Nepal
The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is best known for (no spoilers) its mountains but for those who want a bit of R&R after trekking, or prefer not trekking at all, then exploring Chitwan National Park is THE wildlife encounter to have. Boasting 68 different species of mammals including tigers, deer, monkeys, elephants, leopards, sloth bears, wild boar and hyenas, and 544 different species of birdlife (67 species of butterfly if you’re counting…), the ultimate experience is tracking rhino by foot. The one horned Indian rhino is the park’s most famous inhabitant and better still, you have a good chance of spotting one whilst visiting.
11. Watch turtles lay eggs in Oman
The coastal waters and beaches of Oman host not just one but five species of turtle: the green turtle, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback and Oliver Ridley turtle. With such a rich diversity, Oman is one of the best places in the world to watch turtles lay eggs or see these gorgeous hatchlings waddle their way back to the sea. In Oman, the peak time for the turtles’ migration is between late May and August of every year but they can be seen fairly reliably from September to early April. Approximately 20,000 turtles come to some of Oman’s beaches, especially the eastern ones, to lay 50,000 to 60,000 eggs. There’s several turtle ‘hot-spots throughout the country including Ras Al Jinz, a natural reserve for turtles and is considered one of the largest nesting sites near the Indian Ocean, Ras Al Hadd and one of Muscat’s most famous resorts, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah.
12. Swimming with sharks in Belize
Let’s just say that again. SWIMMING WITH SHARKS!!! When it comes to bragging rights, anyone who says they’ve swum with sharks WINS EVERY TIME. Sounds dangerous, we know, but Shark Ray Alley, located just off the coast of Belize’s biggest island, Ambergris Caye, is fast becoming one of the world’s top dive and snorkelling sites due to the number of (docile) nurse sharks and rays which gather in huge numbers there. So far, it’s not over-run with tourists making it an even more attractive family wildlife holiday destination. Go now, before it is.
13. Explore the Amazon in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil
It’s the world’s largest rainforest, the most biodiverse region on the planet and hosts the biggest (by volume) river in the world: no wonder the Amazon is one of the most popular family wildlife holiday destinations. Whether you choose to take an adventure in Peru, Ecuador or Brazil, you and your kids may encounter a roll call of the wildlife ‘who’s who’: river dolphins, capybara, giant armadillo, giant river otter, jaguar, ocelot, puma, tapir, squirrel monkey, hyacinth macaw, hoatzin, toucan, anaconda, caiman and SO much more.
14. Wash and feed elephants in Thailand
Want to get up close and personal to an Asian elephant? We’ve yet to meet a child or even a teenager who didn’t thrill during their very hands-on experience of learning how to look after an elephant. In Chiang Mai in Thailand we can recommend a very responsibly run elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre. No spectators here, instead, you’ll help at feeding time and will then head to the river where you help the mahouts (elephant carers) bathe the elephants. Prepare to be squirted on this fabulous wildlife family holiday experience.
15. Search for jaguar in the Pantanal in Brazil
The Pantanal is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, a vast area of wetlands and river delta that spans Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Its annual flow and flux of river water creates a unique eco-system where birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals flourish and whilst you can spot capuchin and howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, tapirs and reptiles including the anaconda and caiman, its rarest creature is the jaguar. Whether choosing to take a horse safari, a canoe trip or even hike through the area, will you and your family be lucky enough to see one?
16. Swim with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
According to our Galapagos specialist, Helene, swimming with sea lions was her children’s stand out experience whilst visiting the islands off the coast of Ecuador. And there were a lot of stand out experiences (hiking with iguanas included…). “They’re so inquisitive, playful and not at all shy,” she says. Take a look at her Top 10 Galapagos wildlife experiences to find out what else you could be doing on your family wildlife holiday.
Advice on the best family wildlife holiday for your kids
For the best advice on family wildlife holidays do ring us for a chat or email via our online form. And if your kids have a favourite that we haven’t included, let us know and we’ll add this to our list and make sure your budding naturalist gets a credit!
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’m always interested to hear about your travels so do email me with your feedback and experiences about family wildlife holidays at [email protected].