Maybe you’re wanting to have an extra-special, push-the-boat-out, once-in-a-lifetime family travel experience. Perhaps you believe in the idiom, ‘life is short’, so want to sample the very best the world has to offer in terms of experiences with your kids. Or maybe, living the high life is your raison d’etre, at home and abroad?
Whatever your M.O. we’ve scoured the planet for the crème de la crème of family travel experiences to bring you the ultimate in luxe. Whilst we couldn’t possibly include everything on offer around the globe, here’s our best of the best from exclusive accommodation and private retreats to experiences with the wow-factor; for toddlers, kids, pre-teens and teens.
Welcome to luxury family holidays: The ‘A list’ 2020. Enjoy!
Whilst Bali and other islands have all this and more, consider the ultimate luxury offering on a private cruise around the Komodo Islands. Depending on the time of year, visit a whole host of exclusive beaches, private islands and more. Our favourite? A visit to Komodo Island where you can, at a safe distance, encounter the eponymous dragons for yourselves, stopping by small islands and beaches only accessible by boat for an exclusive swim and picnic. Luxury doesn’t get better than this.
2. Where? Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s star hasn’t so much risen as catapulted itself to the top of the popularity stakes in recent years. It’s now Stubborn Mule’s most popular destination and very deservedly so. Sandwiched between Panama (below) and Nicaragua (above) in Central America, there’s two stunning coastlines (one Pacific, one Caribbean) along the length of the country as well as a tropical, volcanic interior literally bursting with wildlife.
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If the above description hasn’t tempted you, then maybe the luxury family holiday experiences on offer will? Our favourites include staying in a stunning rainforest lodge in the Corcovado Peninsula, a resort so remote that you have to fly in and fly out to access it. It’s not the only luxury accommodation experience up our sleeve, though. Pacuare Lodge, a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, is another favourite for families looking for a splurge.
Pacuare is an eco-hotel with only 20 suites, also boasts an enviable – and remote – location, accessed by white water rafting along the eponymous river (so teens and upwards only).
If the coast is more your thing (and it is one of the country’s biggest draws), then we also recommend hiring a private catamaran off the Pacific coast which will enable a private view of frolicking dolphins, colourful fish and more, long after the other tourist boats have departed.
3. Where? Kenya
The African safari will always be at the high end of the family holiday budget, and in Kenya it can seem as if the sky really might be the limit. It’s here, in perhaps the ultimate Big 5 wildlife safari destination, that exclusivity is at its well established best.
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There’s wildlife viewing and then there’s exclusive wildlife viewing. In Kenya the private conservancies that adjoin the main national parks allow for intimate and personal wildlife encounters, allowing much more flexibility in terms of what you can see and do during your visit.
There’s a range of bespoke experiences on offer, from night drives to bush walks but one of our favourite luxury activities is a private bush dinner or breakfast, where a small team sets up your dining table in a private spot-with-a-view and where your children can play or snooze under supervision. Think: crisp white linen, sensational food and the world’s most amazing wildlife – just for you.
Jet setters will also welcome the many private airstrips throughout the country which minimise travel times over vast distances or, if you prefer a slightly gentler pace, then what about a champagne breakfast on board a hot air balloon as it soars over the Masai Mara. Cheers!
4. Where? The Galapagos Islands
One of the world’s ultimate wildlife destinations, offering unforgettable up-close-and-personal wildlife experiences for the whole family, both on land and at sea.
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A visit to the Galapagos Islands doesn’t come cheap. No surprise, then, that upmarket offerings are in good supply, both in terms of cruise boats and luxury resorts. One of the best places to stay, Finch Bay, is a secluded eco-hotel and the only beachfront retreat in all of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. In fact it’s so exclusive it joins the elite club of being amongst National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World portfolio. Surrounded by a protected national park, expect animal encounters of the feathered and scaly kind as standard.
Another upmarket accommodation experience of note is the Galapagos Safari Camp, a small and exclusive retreat comprising just nine safari-style tents, including a family suite, lodge and pool which borders 55 hectares of land roamed by giant wild tortoise. Spend your days exploring the islands (inhabited and uninhabited) by private boat then retire at night in luxury.
5. Where? Sri Lanka
High end (in fact any end) tourism to Sri Lanka took a huge knock last year for obvious reasons, sadly missing out on its much touted potential as being the hottest destination of the year by nearly every operator and travel supplement. The good news is that until confidence is fully restored (it’s coming back quickly, judging by our bookings) there’s bargains to be had even at the ultra luxe level.
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Sri Lanka does gorgeous, gasp-inducing boutique hotels like nowhere else, which is just one of the reasons for its stratospheric appeal amongst the luxury family traveller. Most recently, there’s been a swathe of new additions in Sri Lanka’s inland hill country in particular; think tea-plantation stays and colonial-type hotels – private plunge pools a speciality.
In Gal Oya National Park, one of the least visited, you can overnight in an exclusive wildlife lodge, which means you get first – and last dibs – on intimate wildlife encounters to boot.
During the Christmas and Easter holidays, tourists flock to see these whales and dolphins breaching on tourist boats, packed with 50 or 60 tourists. Hire a private catamaran, though, and you’ll enjoy a private whale and dolphin encounter before and after everyone else has gone home, maybe enjoying a sumptuous lunch or going paddle boarding, too?
The rock fortress of Sigiriya is another SL must-do, so why not splash out to gain a unique perspective, either at dawn or sunset, from the vantage of a hot-air balloon.
6. Where? Namibia
Its landscape has a wild, raw beauty, with the world’s highest sand dunes and a fascinating coastline, yet Namibia also boasts some fabulous safari options, too. If it’s good enough for Harry and Meghan’s honeymoon….
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Launched last year, the Hoanib Valley Camp on the north west Skeleton Coast is so remote you have to fly in and fly out again. It’s here, deep in the desert between two small mountains, that you’ll sleep under the stars in a large, luxury family tent with elephants for company.
Other luxury highlights include taking a hot air balloon over the Sossusvlei sand dunes – much less hard work than climbing the world’s largest dunes yet equally awe-inspiring – or perhaps a stay at Little Kulala, a secluded oasis situated along the dry Auab riverbed which gives you your own, exclusive access to the 37,000 hectare estate of the Kulala Wilderness reserve.
7. Where? Morocco
The most exotic place you can get to, in less than four hours from the UK
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Oh, how we LOVE Morocco! From wandering the souqs of Marrakech, enjoying the cooling sea breezes at the pirate hideout of Essaouira, absorbing the romance of Casablanca, hiking in the Atlas Mountains to watching the sun set over the desert. What’s not to love? No wonder, then, that the likes of Richard Branson have chosen to open some of the most luxurious retreats you’ll encounter. In the Atlas Mountains, you can swim in the outdoor pool of Kasbah Tamadot, an exotic and opulent walled retreat, surrounded by soaring peaks, perhaps stopping to soak your toes in rose-petal scattered ponds as you return inside.
Elsewhere, there are some ridiculously upmarket desert camps where you’ll be amazed how you can feel so cosseted in what was until a few years ago, virgin desert. We love Terre des Etoiles for its pool and tented covered dining area where you eat and drink by candlelight. After dinner gather around the open fire, admiring the stars which, with zero light pollution, are a sight to behold, before retiring to your luxury family tent.
Despite being neighbours, the culture, landscape and history of both countries are remarkably different. For the luxury family holiday, one where money is no object, it makes sense to visit and experience both.
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Vietnam does high-end hotels well, having been in the tourist spotlight for decades. New direct flights, though, have further boosted tourist numbers and with them, a wave of new additions. Our pick would be Amanoi, a luxury resort perched on a clifftop, backed by pristine jungle and overlooking Vinh Hy Bay, to which you have private access. It’s the stuff of dreams, and a magnet for those seeking wellness breaks, thanks to its gorgeous spa.
As far as experiences go, taking a private sea plane flight over Halong Bay or hiring a private junk to sail it are pretty much unmissable.
In Cambodia, the Shinta Mani Hotels take some beating, but our favourite is the ‘Wild’, a private nature sanctuary in the Cardamom mountains, ‘a radical new concept for a luxury camp experience’ but, be warned, only for teens and above.
In Siem Reap, Sala Lodges offer a unique experience with 11 traditional Khmer houses which have been transported from around the country to form a luxury and characterful village, just 8 miles from Angkor. If you’re wanting some high-end R&R at the end of your stay, then the Six Senses resort on Krabey Island is a must, your very own exclusive tropical paradise.
9. Where? Nepal
Having firmly recovered from the 2016 earthquake, Nepal is welcoming back luxury family holiday visitors with open arms. Given that this Himalayan Kingdom is arguably the most stunning on the planet, landscape wise, who cares that its high-end offering may not be as uber-luxe as others?
The Luxe List:
It’s the mountainous nature of Nepal which mean that super high-end accommodation is not just a challenge, but probably impossible. No matter. What is on offer is characterful and charming, like Ker and Downey Lodges (and just LOOK at that view!). Nestled amongst the Annapurna range, the staff will do everything to make your stay comfy, including bringing you down jackets and hot water bottles. Dwarika’s Hotel, meanwhile, in Kathmandu Valley, recreates the art and architecture of a 15th century heritage palace, whilst offering every modern convenience – and a spa. The craftsmanship is every bit as phenomenal as the surrounds. As for experiences, well, Everest is THE must, as is a private helicopter to view it from.
Dwarika’s Hotel, meanwhile, in Kathmandu recreates the art and architecture of a 15th century, heritage palace, whilst offering every modern convenience – and a spa. The craftsmanship is every bit as phenomenal as the surrounds.
As for experiences, well, Everest is THE must, as is a private helicopter to view it from.
10. Where? Oman
Luxury and Oman go hand in hand, just one reason why this desert nation’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years.
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How to choose? That’s the dilemma which faces travellers with generous travel budgets, but we’ve whittled down our ultimates for your perusal. On the edge of a cliff in the Jebel Akhtar mountains you’ll find the Al Jabal Al Akhdar Anantara Resort, unsurprisingly included in Giles Conran and Monica Galetti’s ‘Amazing Hotels’ programme TV programme. A room with a private pool makes a stay even more comfortable.
Or perhaps we could we tempt you to spend a couple of nights in Wahiba Sands, in a luxury Bedouin-style tent, where you’ll enjoy a night under the desert stars with tea-lights to guide you?
And what about the Six Senses Zighy Bay resort, complete with private infinity pool and views over the azure blue waters of the Omani Gulf? As for experiences, hiring a private catamaran to sail the coast off the Daymaniyat Islands, perhaps stopping overnight at an island camp or enjoying a beach BBQ is the stuff of dreams.
11. Where? Brazil
Live la vida loca in Latin America’s swishest country. Olé!
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As Latin America’s largest country, there’s no shortage of luxe, whether that’s taking a helicopter ride over the Iguazu Falls or a private yacht from a luxury villa. Given its size, we’d recommend chartering a private jet or other light aircraft to get from A to B, Amazon to Brasilia.
When looking for a luxury pillow to rest your head at night, we adore Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, located deep in the Amazon. Alternatively, across Brazil all of the Fasano hotels are stunning, but it’s the Rio outlet, with its infinity pool melting seamlessly into the horizon of Ipanema beach, which is our favourite.
Another hot spot we couldn’t fail to mention is Fernando De Noronha, the largest island in a volcanic archipelago about 350 kilometres off Brazil’s northeast coast. Offering some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling in the world, you’ll see sea turtles, rays, dolphins and reef sharks who are lucky enough to live in the warm, clear waters of this protected national marine park.
12. Where? Belize
Just take a look at the image on our Belize destination page. Any questions?
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Rainforest, ancient ruins and some of the best snorkelling on the planet make Belize a byword for paradise. Easily accessible and very much navigable by private plane, there’s not much that can be more appealing than whiling away the hours with your own private island stay (staff included).
We thoroughly recommend taking a private snorkelling trip off the coast of Placencia, where you’ll be escorted to the best sites by your captain and guide. Check out Turtle Inn, located on the tip of a narrow 26-mile long sandy peninsula.
Want to head inland? There’s a stunningly luxurious rainforest lodge we know where you can take a sunset horse-ride to a waterfall in time for sunset drinks. Ask us about it!
13. Where? Borneo
A nature lover’s paradise, this stunning island is packed with ancient rainforest and remote river systems which host a profusion of species, most famously, the orangutan. But that’s not all…
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You would have to have been hiding under a rock not to be aware that the very thing that makes Borneo such a must-visit destination is under threat by illegal logging: it’s rainforest. As long-time advocates of conservation, for animals and their habitat, nowhere is the virgin rainforest more pristine than in the Danum Valley, a conservation area of 438 square kilometres and home to some of the world’s oldest and least explored dipterocarp forest. Here, surrounded by dense jungle as far as the eye can see, you can enjoy wooden villas each with a private plunge pool, knowing you’ll be completely undisturbed. If you prefer your R&R beachside, then you won’t be disappointed.
Again, tucked away on a hidden bay in an island paradise just off the coast of Borneo, your family can experience a slice of heaven, Bunga Raya, an exclusive resort with private family villas. Go paddle boarding, scuba diving or snorkelling, explore the jungle or (every child’s favourite) go ziplining through the forest canopy.
14. Where? Egypt
There’s so much more to Egypt than just the Pyramids! Explore ancient sites and bring history alive for your children, all in the lap of luxury.
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Whilst it’s the country’s ancient history that draws in the crowds, it’s the high-end experiences on offer which make it a hit with the luxury family traveller. No trip is complete without seeing the Pyramids, and nowhere more luxurious than the Marriott Mena House Hotel, recently named by Time Magazine as one of its greatest 100 places. Who are we to argue? Offering unrivalled views of these ancient monuments, you’ll be entranced from your poolside lounger, cocktail in hand.
Head further south, to Aswan and you’ll stay amongst the colonial splendour of The Old Cataract Hotel, just as Agatha Christie did whilst writing ‘Death on the Nile’. A little further north, Luxor’s Winter Palace is so sumptuous, visiting nearby Valley of the Kings, Karnak or Luxor temples could pose a struggle! It’s here where you can also hop aboard The Sudan, a wonderful wooden colonial style boat and the oldest on the Nile, again, an experience which helped inspire Agatha Christie.
Whilst the traditional felucca sailboats can be a little rudimentary, take a voyage into the past on board a Dahabiya, a much more stylish way to travel down the Nile. If ending your Egypt trip with some R&R, we can arrange a seafood lunch on board a private boat on the Red Sea coast, to stop off at your whim and leisure.
Luxury family holidays to Asia, Latin America, Africa and Arabia
Still haven’t seen what you’re looking for? As all our luxury family holidays are tailor-made, we can create the perfect itinerary to suit every interest, whatever your chosen destination. Simply get in touch by phone (01728 752751) or our website contact form . We look forward to hearing from you!
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
Masthead photo courtesy of Francis Coppola’s Turtle Inn, Belize