5 Unexpected Destinations for Adventurous Families

Mar 17, 2017
Instead of queuing up for endless amusement park rides or doctoring sunburns on the beach, plan a memorable family vacation the entire household can get excited about. We’ve mapped out some of our favorite destinations for adventurous families looking to explore rainforests, hike glaciers and get up close and personal with exotic wildlife.

The Azores

A cluster of nine volcanic islands off the Portuguese Atlantic coast might not sound like a family-friendly destination, but the Azores are packed with thrilling adventure for kids of all ages. Over 1,000 miles west of Lisbon, the archipelago is made up of molten rock but hasn’t experienced an eruption since European settlers arrived in the 15th century. Visitors can hike and bike trails carved in the mountainside by lava flows, canoe deep blue crater lakes and go horseback riding to waterfalls through mossy forests. Virtually every town has a marina providing ecology boat tours in which dozens of dolphin and whale species come within feet of cruisers willing to brave the tiny crafts. For a quieter retreat, book a private cottage overlooking the coast, swim with dolphins in the open ocean, and bike around Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a twin lake within a dormant volcano, before picnicking on its shoreline.


A vacation in America’s last frontier, Alaska, feels like venturing to another planet while leaving your passport at home. Our nation’s largest state is on the Arctic Circle and occupies as much land as California, Texas and Montana combined. Harsh conditions make cruising one of the easiest ways for families to visit several towns without tacking on additional intrastate airfare costs. While the larger boats offer more amenities, smaller vessels get closer to the coastline, meaning better views of whales, bears and glaciers. Passengers can spend time on dry land with daytrips to fish for fresh Alaskan salmon, explore Denali National Park and hike the ice at Exit Glacier.


With only a one-hour time difference from New York City, jet lag is minimal for first-time international fliers heading south to Buenos Aires. Argentina’s capital city has 15 football teams, and many foreign sports fans want tickets, but anyone attending with small children should book ahead through an organized group. This ensures young spectators can enjoy the national pastime at a safe distance from the passionate -- and sometimes dangerous -- local fans. No trip to Argentina is complete without a tango experience. Mom and Dad can treat themselves to an affordable feast of steak and wine, two of the country’s top exports, before taking a dance class or attending a show. Travelers of all ages will enjoy the town’s many homemade ice cream shops and the street performances in the colorful La Boca barrio. Beyond the city limits, outdoorsy families can hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park, spend a day as a gaucho on a working ranch or tour Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian border by helicopter.


Active teens will never forget an African adventure complete with a safari and a visit to Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. A former colony of the British Empire, Zambia still uses English as its official language, and its citizens practice and expect very polite communication with one another as well as with visitors. Victoria Falls, twice as tall as Niagara, was introduced to the Western world after David Livingstone came across the geological wonder in 1855. There, guests can raft the Zambezi River’s Class V rapids, try to catch tigerfish and visit local schools where kids are paired with locals their age to hang out and play soccer. Walking safaris in South Luangwa National Park are led by local guides, giving a closer glimpse at the preserve’s diverse wildlife, from dung beetles to prides of lions, as well as the chance to camp in tents overlooking wetlands full of elephants, giraffes and hippos. Wrap up the trip on a private island in Lake Malawi National Park where days are spent kayaking the secluded waters and beachcombing its shores before cooking freshly caught fish over an outdoor fire.


The crowds of people and the language barrier that confront visitors to the world’s most populous country are daunting, but those who dare to board the long flight with kids in tow are rewarded with vacations filled with rich heritage and exotic foods. Race through Beijing on a rickshaw and fill up on dumplings, or head to the Yangshuo Mountains to rock climb the limestone cliffs, ride bamboo rafts down rivers and bike through villages and rice paddies. Animal lovers big and small can cuddle pandas in Sichuan province, while film fanatics hiking near Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park feel like they’re stepping onto the set of “Avatar.” A visit to traditional temples adorned with red paper lanterns and Buddha statues can teach the entire family about the country’s ancient history -- and of course a daytrip to the Great Wall should be on everyone’s bucket list. China’s first emperor ordered the beginning of the wall’s construction in the 5th century B.C., and the structure now snakes over 5,000 miles across the country.

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