Family wildlife vacations guide

Whatever youíre doing, wherever youíre going, the biggest challenge on a family vacation is keeping the kids entertained. That goes for family wildlife trips, too. There may be 80 elephants drinking by the Chobe River in Botswana, right in front of your jeep. There may be orangutans swinging through the forest canopy in Borneo. A pod of 30 dolphins may be racing alongside your boat in the Azores, but if your child is tired, grumpy, hungry, homesick, frustrated or all of the above, he or she wonít be impressed Ė and you wonít have a good time either.
Donít assume showing your kids the worldís most iconic wildlife will blow their socks off Ė a well planned itinerary is more impactful than a single experience.
When it comes to combining wildlife and family, a well planned trip is essential. Kids need down time to play, pools to cool off in, manageable drive times, fun activities and sympathetic guides. Fortunately family wildlife vacations have every detail covered, so that when the big beasts show up, your little ones are ready to enjoy the spectacle. Find out more in our family wildlife vacations guide.

What we rate & what we donít


Galapagos Islands

Yes theyíre remote and expensive to reach, but once here, your children can Ė literally Ė walk amongst the wildlife, which is harmless and utterly otherworldly. Marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue footed boobies and comical pelicans are waiting, and older children will love snorkelling with sea lions. Itís a year round destination, and land based trips, rather than cruises, give families space to explore.

Tiny wildlife

Encourage your kids to observe the small creatures and birdlife on your family wildlife trip, as well as the big beasts: tiny frogs and fluttering butterflies in Costa Rica; dancing lizards and dew drinking beetles in the Namib Desert; iridescent birds perched in trees in the African bush. Take every opportunity for first hand exploration, too, whether thatís bush walks, canopy tours or kayaking.

Family safaris

A classic safari isnít naturally a fit for kids Ė long game drives, coupled with sitting still and staying quiet Ė but donít discount an African safari. Specialist family safaris are designed with youngsters in mind. Drive times are kept short, lodges have pools and bush craft classes, guides are experienced at engaging children and other adventure activities are mixed in. Big game and big fun.

Small group travel

While tailor made travel offers flexibility, there are huge advantages to a small group wildlife trip. The group will be made up of three to five likeminded families. Children have ready made friends, which takes pressure off parents and gives them some time out. The group is small enough to reach out of the way places, but big enough for a good social mix. In addition, small group trips often cost less than tailor made.

The Great Migration

If the sight of millions of animals stampeding across the vast East African landscapes doesnít have your kidsí jaws on the floor, nothing will. The annual Mara River crossing is perhaps the most spectacular element of this huge migration Ė and it falls within the summer vacations Ė but you can also see vast herds on the move in the Serengeti, too.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a long, distinguished track record for preserving its wildlife and the varied ecosystems packed into its tiny footprint. Turtles, howler monkeys, sloths and caiman are easy to see, with no need for long game drives. The fact that itís small, safe, English is spoken widely and there are lots of adventure activities that dovetail in with wildlife watching makes CR a perfect family destination.

Orangutans in Sabah

Borneo is synonymous with orangutans, and Sabah is by far the best place for families to see these unique creatures. At Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary a huge canopy walkway is safe for even the youngest of children and a great place to see orangutans in the treetops. Kids will also love the giant flying squirrels, macaques and unsightly, flatulent proboscis monkeys.

Getting active

Back to back game drives, long journeys on bumpy roads or hours at sea do not suit most people, let alone children with bundles of energy and short attention spans. Well designed family trips build in lots of action packed adventure and flexible free time as well as wildlife watching, so kids can explore, have fun and relax, too.

Tiger mania

Showing your children a tiger in the wild is an extraordinary and extremely moving experience, but you should also be prepared for no-shows. There can be a sort of mania among travelers to catch a glimpse of these endangered big cats, when actually sightings can never be guaranteed. Manage the mania, and your kidsí expectations, before setting out on a tiger safari.

Petting big cats

The chance for children to pet baby lions or cheetahs and have their picture taken with them might seem like the icing on your family wildlife vacation, but animals habituated in this way can never be released into the wild. In South Africa in particular, when lion cubs gets too big to be safely handled there’s a good chance they will end up on a canned hunting reserve. Read more about this issue here.

Ignoring local culture

Donít come on a family wildlife vacation with wildlife the sole focus. Alongside the animals youíll also find welcoming local people, interesting history and amazing food. Enjoy laid-back Creole culture on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, visit Soweto in Johannesburg before a South African safari, take a village walk on a tiger safari in India and stay in local guesthouses on the Galapagos.

Irresponsible souvenirs

Children may want to spend their pocket money on a souvenir from their vacation, but make sure they are shopping responsibly. Never purchase items made from endangered species, including coral, turtle shells or eggs, ivory, fur or bone. Itís not ethical or responsible and, in the case of ivory, rhino horn products and cat furs, it is actually illegal, too.

Our top Family wildlife Vacation

Exciting family holiday in Tanzania

Exciting family vacation in Tanzania

A family vacation for all ages including the best of Tanzania

From £3000 to £4500 13 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Family wildlife or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

What does a family wildlife vacation entail?

Letís deal with the wildlife element first. This type of trip will place seeing animals, marine life and birds at the center of the adventure. A mixed sightseeing and cultural vacation, with perhaps an afternoon in a national park looking out for animals doesnít quite qualify as a family wildlife vacation. Exploring the Galapagos Islands and meeting its giant tortoises and marine iguanas does. A safari in Tanzania with family friendly game drives and guides does, too. As does a vacation in the atmospheric parks of central India, searching for tigers and a supporting cast of Jungle Book characters.

The way in which you see the wildlife is geared towards families, too. Where the wildlife is dangerous Ė Tanzania or Botswana for instance Ė youíll rely on the safety of vehicle, but safe and fun nature walks, bush craft lessons and boat rides add variety, and game drives are kept to manageable lengths. Elsewhere, children can have closer encounters with wildlife, from snorkelling with sea lions in the Galapagos to seeing orangutans enjoying lunch at rehabilitation center in Borneo.

Wildlife is the main Ďthemeí of the trip, but woven through will be other activities to keep everyone from tots to teens engaged. Zip wires, rafting, sea kayaking, hikes, hot springs and even a few days lazing on the beach might all be included. If a family wildlife vacation was food, it would be the equivalent of a buffet rather than one huge meal that all tastes the same.

Whatís a family?

A family can typically mean mums and/or dads, but also aunts, cousins and grandparents. Generally, as long as youíre an adult traveling with a child under the age of 18, youíre a family in the eyes of tour operators. Some trips will have minimum age restrictions, but most are flexible, and eager to be inclusive, particularly if you have kids with a mix of ages. Activities are tailored to youngsters, with duration, drive times, risk and physical challenge all taken into account.

Tailor made or small group?

A tailor made family wildlife vacation will give you the chance to pick departure dates and even the tripís duration, and you can steer the activities towards the interests and ages of your families, upgrade hotels or work in beach time. Many have no minimum age.

Small group family wildlife vacations will have groups of 10 to 16 people, so thatís three to five families; small enough to tread lightly and reach remote places, but big enough for a good social mix. A small group can hop aboard local boats, eat at friendly restaurants and make use of traditional accommodation and homestays. Both styles of vacation sometimes offer discounts for children aged 17 years and younger, but itís not a given. Operators may also try to put families together with children of similar ages, so teens arenít paired with toddlers.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nadezhda1906] [Underrated: Rod Long] [Rated: Daniel Rosengren] [Overrated: vishwanath Hawargi] [Whatís a family?: Tim Williamson]