My top 5 family travel destinations

March 22, 2010 at 9:10 pm

These are my own very biased views. Obviously I can only select from the forty or so countries we’ve visited. Sometimes a trip is colored, in good and bad ways, by events or circumstances that have little or nothing to do with the particular country you’re visiting, but it still has a strong effect on how you perceive that country. Take our trip to Ireland for instance – objectively a great destination, but one that never really worked for us. Thanks to BA strikes, getting there went from routine to a nightmare; our youngest child was sick; the weather (late August) was terrible and we didn’t pack right; and we had a really unfortunate rent a car experience which makes me just cringe now thinking of it. So although day by day we had some great times, as a whole the trip did not really work. That’s one of the interesting things about family travel – it’s more the overall feeling of the trip, rather than day by day experiences that is the barometer of success or failure. Sometimes when you think back, it can be hard to pick incredible highlights, but you just know the trip worked. That’s how I felt with each of the following places. 

1. New Zealand : To me, New Zealand is the ultimate family destination. Firstly, it has everything you could ask for – unbelievable adventure, beautiful beaches, great hiking and climbing, spectacular natural scenery, all in a relatively small and accessible area. So you can do a driving tour of the country and take in a huge amount of the country and it never feels difficult. Add in the ease of language, driving and first world amenities and service, and you have just a top quality destination. It’s no surprise to me that Lonely Planet names NZ one of its Top 10 Countries for 2010, and then starts off by saying : You must think we’ve run out of ideas. Recommending New Zealand’s too obvious, right ?’ Well it may be obvious, but that doesn’t make them wrong.Within 2 memorable weeks, we went magnificent beaches, paddled next to dolphins, hiked around Mount Doom, climbed a glacier, jumped out of an airplane, and lots, lots more. This is truly God’s country, as New Zealanders like to call it. 

Family at bubbling Rotarua


'Mount Doom' on mighty Tongariro Crossing


Franz Josef Glacier


Franz Josef Glacier


More Franz Josef Glacier


Milford Sound


Hot Water Beach


Preparations at Hot Water Beach


Beautiful Coromandel beaches


Read my 12 year old’s memories of our trip at 

2. Guatemala – This is another adventure destination, but here the adventure is the riotously colorful local Mayan culture that will embrace you virtually on arrival. The country is a spectacle of color – from the traditional clothing, to the unbelievable markets, textiles, music and overall atmosphere – that will enchant you and leave you feeling a love for this wonderful country. It is a great family destination – we studied Spanish together for a week in Antigua, a beautiful, charming once great colonial town which is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding countryside- which includes great jungle ruins (most famously Tikal), markets you have to see to really believe, spectacular scenery and volcanoes (any country with unforgettable Volan Pacaya deserves a visit just for that – see my report at, and if you like Caribbean beaches (disclaimer : we did that part on the Honduran island of Roatan). It’s a destination small enough to feel doable at a relaxed pace in a perfect climate (OK, Tikal was stinking hot) with friendly people all around, a safe feeling, and many distractions to keep the whole family occupied and engaged throughout. 

Dani at Tikal




Roasting marshmallows at Pacaya


Amazing Pacaya


Antigua city center




3. Vietnam – Another amazing family destination. The wonderful thing about Vietnam is that your whole family is just thrown headlong into a crazy world so unlike what you’re used to (well that was what happened in our case) that you feel you’re in some kind a travel culture show and left gaping almost everywhere. Vietnam’s interesting in that it grows on you; our initial feeling on arrival in Hanoi was ‘What are we doing in this crazy place’, but after a while all that noise, excitement, non stop traffic and just general hubbub becomes a part of your normal – if there is such a thing in Vietnam – daily life in this fabulous country. The country provides such a sensual experience of sights and sounds that you’re wrapped up in it before you realize it. And what clinches it for me as a family destination is that it feels so safe, unthreatening and welcoming. In fact we were amazed at how welcoming the people are towards Westerners, those same people the Vietnamese could be excused for hating. All in all, we have wonderful memories of our children walking through the markets, negotiating prices, or running around the boat on Halong bay, always with Vietnamese smiles not far behind. (For a kid’s view of Vietnam, see my daughter’s blog at

Being rowed to Perfume Pagoda


Halong Bay


Beach at Halong Bay


Morning exercises, Hanoi


My kids marvelling at Hanoi's streets


Street scene, Hanoi


4. South Africa – I admit my bias here for I am a born and bred South African, but in fairness my family is not, and they just love SA ! Again, this a place of amazing diversity – whether of people, food, music, culture or landscape. It is obviously a country with great wildlife, but beyond that, it offers almost everything – great beaches, terrific hiking and nature, modern cities (and incredible food !) mixed with a real African experience, and adventure and fun for the whole family throughout. This is a country you must see, and well deserving of its title ‘A world in one country’. 

South African wildlife


Cape Town


Boulders Beach, Cape Town


Table Mountain


New Green Point Stadium - we'll be back for the World Cup


Camps Bay Beach


More wildlife


Addo Elephant Park


5. Colombia – This is probably a wild card and you’ll no doubt be thinking ‘Colombia ? The Colombia ?’ The answer is a resounding YES !! We were there in the summer of 2009, and never have I experienced a bigger gap between perception and reality. We absolutely loved it. Not only the amazing colonial city of Cartagena – an absolute gem, a must see city if ever there is one – the bustle and style of Bogota, the white sand and seven colored water of Caribbean San Andres island, but the overall friendliness and warmth of the people. Plus the memorable Volcan Totumo, the most bizarre travel experience I’ve ever had (  Not only did we feel safe everywhere, but we felt special too, treated wonderfully, and overall a fun, friendly family environment. The official Tourist Board expression is ‘Colombia, The only risk is wanting to stay’, and we really felt that. I’d go back in an instant. Just a wonderful, beautiful destination, a must visit ! 

Bogota street


Benjy being Benjy, at Cartagena fort


San Andres Island


Bizarre Volcan Totumo


Liora and Benjy getting massage


My turn


Cartagena street scene