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10 Family Vacation Ideas

By Andrew Harper

The Harper Way | January 7, 2017

While the editors of The Hideaway Report travel the globe seeking the finest hotels, resorts and inns, they also love nothing more than spending time with family in some of the most beautiful locations around the world.

Following are 10 of our favorite family-friendly spots, each brimming with activities and set against exceptionally intriguing and scenic backdrops — perfect for all of your multigenerational getaways.

While the editors of The Hideaway Report travel the globe seeking the finest hotels, resorts and inns, they also love nothing more than spending time with family in some of the most beautiful locations around the world.

Following are 10 of our favorite family-friendly spots, each brimming with activities and set against exceptionally intriguing and scenic backdrops — perfect for all of your multigenerational getaways.

1. Okavango Delta, Botswana

Children discovering African wildlife while on safari. Photo by Mickey Hoyle, courtesy of Wilderness Safaris.

For older children, an African safari can be a transformative experience. (In our view, age 12 is the minimum; some lodges require children to be at least 14, so it is important to check in advance.) The wildlife in the Okavango Delta is second-to-none, with huge numbers of big cats, especially leopard. It is possible to view game from horseback, or even from the top of an elephant. And children love cruising through the waterways and reed beds on a mokoro dugout canoe.

2. Belize

Lamanai ruins, Belize.

Belize offers an unbeatable combination of water-based sports, such as snorkeling, diving and fishing, and jungle-related activities like whitewater rafting, bird watching (for exotic species including toucans and scarlet macaws) and horseback riding. The country’s barrier reef is the second longest in the world and in many places lies less than a mile offshore. The lagoon it creates is like a vast saltwater swimming pool, teaming with marine life. There are also Mayan sites with impressive temple structures — Xuanantunich, for instance — that are almost deserted and incredibly atmospheric.

3. Venice

Gondolas are still the preferred way to navigate the canals of Venice, and they provide unforgettable moments for children and adults alike.

None of the great cultural capitals of Europe — not Paris, not Rome — has the instant appeal of Venice. It's not unusual to see children, making an initial foray into the Old World, rendered speechless by their first trip down the Grand Canal. Nowhere else on the planet has such an immediate impact; it makes history and art seem so alluring. Venice never disappoints (so long as you avoid the height of the high season, with its cruise ship crowds). And if the appeal of Titian and Tintoretto begins to pall, then you can always take a vaporetto over to the Lido, rent a bicycle and spend three or four hours cycling down to Chioggia, at the southern end of the lagoon.

4. Zermatt, Switzerland

The Matterhorn, Switzerland.

In general, the American ski resorts are better suited to family vacations than those in Europe — favorites being Vail and Beaver Creek — but children are invariably impressed by the Matterhorn, which towers over the Swiss town of Zermatt. Europe’s highest cable car lifts you to the Klein Matterhorn at 12,740 feet, from where there are sensational close-up views of the Breithorn (13,661 feet), Monte Rosa (15,203 feet) and the Matterhorn itself (14,692 feet). The descent to Zermatt is via a long, easy, intermediate piste — Zermatt is renowned for undemanding family skiing — with numerous mountain restaurants along the way. There, you can stop to rest, sit in the sunshine, sip a cup of chocolate and marvel at the scenery.

5. The Greek Islands

Remote beaches abound on Zakynthos and the Greek Isles.

Kids and young adults love Greek myths — thanks to the Percy Jackson books and movies — and the Olympian gods are big at the box-office. But much Classical history can still seem intimidating and remote. So rather than trudging across the baking stones of the Forum or the Parthenon, seek an entry to the ancient world aboard a sailing boat in the Greek Islands. In the spring and fall, you can sail in the southern and eastern Aegean, and in summer, the Ionian Islands — Ithaca, Cephalonia, Lefkas, Paxos, Zakynthos — are idyllic. There is an inspiring simplicity to Greek island life that is ideal for family vacations.

6. The Galapagos

A sea lion on a Galapagos island.

Despite the increasing pressure of tourism, the animals and birds on the Galapagos are still astoundingly tame. Sea lion pups will attempt to untie your shoelaces and blue-footed boobies will bring you pebbles as gifts. The snorkeling can be extraordinary — though you will need a wetsuit to have fun — with huge turtles, giant spotted eagle rays and harmless (but nonetheless scary) six-foot Galapagos sharks. The best way to see the islands and to avoid the crowds is to charter your own catamaran. But there are also “safari” lodges on the island of Santa Cruz, from which you can hike, cycle and ride.

7. Chile

Guanaco in Torres del Paine National Park.

Due to its unique geography, Chile boasts an astonishing variety of landscapes. In the north, the Atacama Desert has 20,000-foot active volcanoes and soda lakes dotted with pink flamingos. Here, you are also close to the pre-Columbian Andean world of Peru — most children seem to have encountered the famous pictures in National Geographic of mummified sacrificial victims buried by Inca priests atop Chilean summits. In the south, the scenic splendors of Patagonia are augmented by penguins, condors, rheas and guanacos.

8. Nepal Himalayas

The enchanting landscape of Nepal.

Scenically, the Nepal Himalaya is the most beautiful place in the world. The size and splendor of the mountains has to be seen to be believed. A low-altitude trek, with trails between 7,000 and 12,000 feet, is suitable for children over age 14—if they are fit, adventurous and accustomed to the great outdoors. Of course, Everest has a unique appeal, but the most spectacular scenery is in west/central Nepal in the foothills of Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu. (The Everest trail is crowded and ascends to Base Camp at 17,590 feet, where altitude sickness is a risk.) There are a few small lodges — though none is luxurious — but a private trek with your own tents, porters and Sherpa guides provides the authentic (and unforgettable) experience.

9. Alaska

A young boy spin-fishing in Alaska.

When children first learn to fly-fish it is important that they don’t spend hours failing to catch anything. Disillusion tends to set in very fast. Fortunately, in Alaska the salmon and trout are so numerous, and so unaccustomed to anglers, that the skill level required for success is well within the capacity of the average 12-year-old. The only trouble with an Alaska trip is that if your child becomes accustomed to hauling in five or six 15-pound chinook salmon in the course of a morning, then he or she is likely to be spoiled for anywhere else.

10. Colorado

West Beckwith Mountain in Gunnison National Forest, Colorado.

Summer in the Rockies, around Telluride or Gunnison National Forest can be pure pleasure. There is hiking, trout-fishing and horseback riding to alpine meadows strewn with wildflowers. Within days, city and suburban kids have the ruddy complexion and confident demeanor of children who grew up in a Western saddle.

This article has been updated from the original, which was featured in a 2015 issue of Traveler magazine.

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Andrew Harper Photo Our editors write under the Andrew Harper byline so they can travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.

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