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 wildlife in its natural habitat that will make memories to last a lifetime.
So, whether you’re rapt by reptiles, blown away by birds and butterflies, wowed by whales, or mesmerised by mammals, we’ve collated 17 of what we think are the best family wildlife holidays and experiences in the world.
Our top family wildlife holidays & encounters
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 eggs or witnessing thousands and thousands of bats fly out of ‘Bat Cave’ each evening. For whatever reason, you’ll be blown away by Borneo. Take a look at our Borneo itineraries to see which one suits your family best and check out our Borneo with kids blog for more inspiration.
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, (the only African penguins in the world), as they hop along the beach on this family wildlife holiday to South Africa. Whilst almost comically clumsy on land, these creatures transform into agile and highly skilled swimmers underwater, something you’ll also see when snorkelling. They smell less underwater too! 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 Big Five. For the unfamiliar, that 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 in Kenya or the Serengeti in Tanzania. Check out Tanzania with kids and Kenya with Kids, to find out what else your family can enjoy on an East Africa holiday.
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. Take a look at all our African Safari and itineraries to see which you’d like to tick off first.
5. Encounter 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 them – although you may well smell them beforehand! These amazing creatures, the country’s official national animal, live on 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. To find out how to visit, check out our Active Bali & Komodo tour. Also, see our Bali with kids blog for other wildlife encounters.
6. Bump into a bear in Canada
Watching a grizzly bear lumber across the highway in front of you (from the safety of your car!) has to be one of the best activities to enjoy on a family holiday in Canada. Sightings are common on the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff in the Rockies. Or you can observe them on a walking safari from a specialist wildlife lodge (our favourite is Farewell Harbour Lodge nestled in the aptly named Great Bear Rainforest). For a really unique black bear experience, how about paddling a kayak along the west coast of Vancouver Island to see them foraging on the shores? Families will love our Western Canada for Families sample itinerary.
7. 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 boars 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. Take a look at our Nepal itineraries, here.
8. 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 holiday hotspot. Our Highlights of Namibia (3 weeks trip) includes the opportunity to encounter these amazing animals.
9. Search for sloths 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. Take a look at our three Costa Rica sample itineraries. For more inspiration check out our top ten activities in Costa Rica with kids.
10. Wash and feed elephants in Thailand
Want to get up close and personal with an Asian elephant? We’ve yet to meet a child or even a teenager who wasn’t thrilled by their very hands-on experience of learning how to look after an elephant. In Kanchanaburi 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 as part of our Highlights of Thailand trip. For more family-friendly activities, you can also check out our Thailand with kids blog.
11. Watch turtles lay their eggs in Oman
The coastal waters and beaches of Oman host not just one but five species of the turtle: the green turtle, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and Olive Ridley turtle. With such 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. There are several turtle hot spots throughout the country including Ras Al Jinz, a natural reserve for turtles. Oman is also a great place to see dolphins.
12. Swim 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, Belize is not over-run with tourists making it even more attractive for family wildlife holidays. Go now, before it is.
13. Take a tiger safari in Ranthambore, India
At one time in the not-too-distant past, tigers were close to extinction in India due to hunting. However, 50 years on from Project Tiger, a ground-breaking conservation project, the number of tigers in India has almost trebled. Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan is one of the best places to see them on our Wonders of Rajasthan sample itinerary. Taking either an open jeep for up to 6 people or a larger open vehicle seating 20, you’ll be driven through different areas of the park during a 3-hour window, either in the morning or early evening. Although you are highly likely to spot tigers, you’ll be amazed by how much other wildlife there is, from peacocks, storks, a proliferation of deer, small mammals like mongoose, and many others. Take a look at our India with Kids Top 10 to see what else you could be doing on a trip to India.
14. 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.
15. Go whale-watching in Monterey Bay, California
Located on the Big Sur coast of California, Monterey Bay is to sea mammals what the Serengeti is for The Big 5. The huge abundance of fascinating marine creatures here will wow every member of the family. Whilst Monterey Bay is best known for its proliferation of whales, you’ll also see dolphins leaping ahead of the bowlines, porpoises, pods of Orcas worrying California Sea Lions, leatherback turtles, sea otters eating shellfish whilst floating on their backs, or Elephant seals. Whale watching season is year-round, with, depending on when you travel, the opportunity to see humpback whales, grey whales, killer whales, and the massive blue whale, the largest mammal on earth. See our Classic California family holiday for more.
16. Get up close to sea lions in the Galapagos
The lack of large predators in the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador means that the wildlife is unaware of unexpected danger, and as a result humans can get incredibly close. Sea lions relax on the beach or even on town benches, gloriously unperturbed by visitors. According to our Galapagos specialist, Helene, there are so many stand-out experiences for families here, from hanging out with sea lions on the beach (and even swimming with them) to hiking with iguanas and encountering a Giant Tortoise. Take a look at her Top 10 Galapagos wildlife experiences to find out what else you could be doing on your family wildlife holiday.
17. Seek out 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 on our Brazil & Argentina or Highlights of Southern Brazil itineraries?
18. Come face to face with gorillas in Rwanda
Arguably THE ultimate family wildlife holiday experience, seeing mountain gorillas and chimps in their natural habitat is not just a privilege but an encounter you and your teenagers will never forget. Mountain gorillas cannot survive in captivity, so a gorilla trek in Central/East Africa is the only way to see these magnificent, endangered creatures. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas and is one of the most accessible places to see them. There are 12 habituated gorilla families in the national park and only 8 people can visit each gorilla family each day, which is controlled by a permit system. Intense international efforts mean that although still critical, the gorilla population is slowly returning, helped in no small part by tourist contributions and the income from trekking permits. Teens need to be over 15.
For wildlife-loving families, Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park is another must-see and is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. Go chimpanzee trekking and look for twelve other primate species as well, not to mention dozens of other animal species and birds. The exciting canopy walk suspended 70 metres above the forest floor, adds extra fun. Ask us for more information.
Advice on the best family wildlife holidays for your kids
For the best advice on family wildlife holidays do ring us for a chat or use 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!
Stubborn Mule Travel takes animal welfare very seriously. If you have concerns about any of the sanctuaries or wildlife reserves mentioned on our website, please do get in touch. Feedback from our customers and website visitors plays a vital part in keeping all our information as up-to-date as possible. Thank you for your help.
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].