Once they have kids, some parents figure they have to hang up their adventure-travel backpacks and stick to Disney trips. Those parents are wrong. If you want to keep your traveling ambitions modest when you travel with your kids, that’s one thing. But if you crave more far-flung locations or out-there experiences, here are 4 family-friendly locales that may surprise you.
1. Kerala, India:
Travels to India tend to bring out hyperbole. Travelers see things of incomparable beauty and majesty — cheek-and-jowl with grinding poverty. Trips may be complicated, or slow, or beset with bewildering issues travelers may not experience in other countries, so parents may count India out when considering family-trip destinations.
But Kerala offers the Indian experience at an intensity that works for families, even those with small children. Since the trip over is jet-lag-inducing, start with a relaxing few days in a beachy Kerala town, like Varkala, Kovalam, or Kochi. Once everyone’s rested, you can begin the quintessential Kerala experience, exploring its backwaters. Take a small canoe into micro-waterways to see the way everyday Keralans live, or rent a houseboat with a crew to cruise bigger waterways and see Kerala’s cities.
Other adventures: Elephant- and tiger-spotting in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary; trek the tea plantations of Munnar with a local guide who can arrange tastings; tour a spice or rubber tree plantation in Kumily; rent a rickshaw to get around town.
Africa may be another country that parents automatically discount, due to distance, expense, and hassle. But Senegal (officially the Republic of Senegal), on Africa’s west coast, has a lot to offer adventurous families. For one thing, it’s closer than any of the “safari” areas of Africa — a direct flight from New York to Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, is about 8 hours. Compare that to the New York to Tanzania flight time — at least 15 hours if you’d like to see Mount Kilimanjaro. Senegal is also a politically stable country. It’s been a democracy since the 1960s, and most people are Muslims, but not so conservative that you need to dress modestly, or can’t order a beer at your hotel.
Though Senegal doesn’t offer a safari experience, it has plenty of wildlife. Visit the Bandia Reserve near Dakar for a look at giraffes, zebras, warthogs, monkeys, and rhinos. Senegal’s French colonial heritage and slave trade history makes for some fascinating (if dark) tourist experiences for tweens and teens: there’s a still-standing slave house on the Ile de Gorée, and sites of historical importance in Saint-Louis. Or, if you prefer more natural attractions, perhaps Senegal’s biggest draw is Lake Retba — a lake that’s naturally a startling brilliant pink!
Other adventures: Ile de Fadiouth, a tiny island in south Senegal made entirely from shells, the beautiful Atlantic beaches of Dakar and its environs: Plage Bel-Air, N’Gor Island, Yenn, the 100-mile stretch of the Petite Cote and its fishing villages; the amazing outdoor fish market in Mbour; taking guided paddling tours around the Sine-Saloum Delta to see Djoudj National Park, one of the world’s best bird sanctuaries.
The beautiful tropical Indonesian island is a popular spot for honeymooners and adult hedonists, but it has plenty of family-friendly spots, too. Bali has a wet season and a dry season, so unless you want to plan around rain, consider a trip between April and September. Make your home base in a quieter area like Legian (close to the party capital of Kuta), beachy Nusa Dua or Sanur (which has calm-watered beaches that are great for younger kids), or Bali’s cultural center, Ubud.
Once you’ve settled in, you can start in on Bali’s enchanting adventures, like attending a shadow puppet show, swimming through the waterfall at Gitgit, or visiting the turtle hatchery on Gili Meno — you may like the leisurely pace of the Gili Islands so much that you decide to stick around (and since they’re a ferry ride away, an overnight trip may be more practical than a day excursion). Got social-media-mad kids? They’ll jump at the chance to visit one of Bali’s “trick-eye” galleries, museums with fool-the-eye 3D photo tableaus that are perfect selfie spots. Try on Bali’s Dream Museum Zone in Legian for size.
Other adventures: Dolphin-watching on the north shore of Bali; feeding the local primates at Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary; rafting on the Ayung River; wakeboarding at Bali Wake Park; ziplining through Bali Treetop Adventure Park.
Central America’s not safe for kids, right? Wrong! Belize has beautiful beaches with astonishing marine life, rainforests full of squawking toucans and playful spider monkeys, Mayan ruins, deep, dark caves. Like Bali, Belize has a wet season and a dry season — travel from December to May for clear blue sunny skies, or from June to November if the cheaper prices are worth the threat of rain (not a given, even in the wet season).
Try staying in Cayo for access to archaeological sites like the ruins of Xunatunich and Caracol, in Stann Creek or Toledo for sandy beaches and lush jungles, or Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, for scuba diving, snorkeling on Belize’s Barrier Reef, and easy island living. Wherever you wind up, make space on your schedule for beach days, cave-tubing through the monkey forests at Caves Branch, visiting Mayan ruins, and water sports from swimming to snorkeling to boating to fishing.
Other adventures: Cave canoeing at a site like Barton Creek Cave; visit a modern Mayan town like Hopkins Village for food, drumming, and culture; walk through one of Belize’s beautiful butterfly farms for a peek at iridescent blue beauties; scuba dive at massive sinkhole the Great Blue for a look at parrotfish and Carribbean reef sharks; check out underwater caves at Caye Caulker; kayak through the reefs at Laughing Bird Caye.