No need to leave the kids behind on these bold trips, from the backwaters of Kerala to Yosemite National Park.

Having kids need not put a stop to global explorations or imaginative travel experiences. Continue the journey with one of these family-friendly holiday ideas.

Kerala, India: The laid-back one
With its riot of sounds, sights and smells, India can prove overwhelming for first-time visitors, not least children. One of the best places to acclimatise is mellow Kerala, where families can enjoy the country’s richness of nature, history and culture without the hassle.

Flanked by the mountainous Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, the slender state descends from tea plantation-cloaked slopes to golden beaches that edge into vivid blue seas. In between is Kerala’s tangle of backwaters, 560 miles of emerald waterways that wind languidly past paddy fields and riverside villages. Gliding along in a traditional teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat, watching local life play out and sleeping under the stars, is one of India’s most magical experiences to share with your children.

In the summer holidays, there’s an additional treat: the colourful snake boat races, where teams of up to 100 oarsmen compete in long, canoe-style boats while cheering crowds look on. The most famous is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race held in Alappuzha on the second Saturday of August, a spectacle young travellers won’t easily forget. Though the snakes here are metaphorical, there are plenty of animals to spot in the jungles of the vast Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, including monkeys, tigers and about 1,000 elephants.

Explore’s family holiday in Kerala includes a guided nature trek in Periyar National Park and two days exploring the backwaters near Alappuzha (taking in the Nehru Trophy Boat Race where possible). Families can also cycle Kerala’s back roads, visit local villages and temples and take part in a homestay. Back on the coast, there’s the chance to explore historic Kochi, the oldest European settlement in India, and laze on the palm-fringed sands of Varkala and Kovalam.

Iceland: The weird and wonderful one
Many Icelanders still believe in supernatural creatures, and if there were a place where elves, dwarves and gnomes surreptitiously roamed, this otherworldly land would have to be it. Straddling tectonic plates, it’s a volcanic playground of fuming earth, twisting lava and glittering icebergs. All this natural drama makes Iceland an exciting prospect for children.

Top of the list should be the twin attractions of Gullfoss, a double cascade that thunders down a narrow ravine, and Geysir, the original hot-water spout after which all others are named. Surrounded by colourful springs and steaming vents, it can shoot water up to 70m into the sky. It’s best to stay out of the way of this one, but elsewhere Iceland’s geothermal oddities invite the curious to come closer. Almost every town has a thermal pool to swim in, with the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík the most famous. Here, familes can splash about in the warm turquoise waters against a backdrop of eerie lava fields.

These mysterious landscapes are easy to explore. Hiking is one option, but a more memorable way to experience them is to ride a pony across the black rocks or to the summit of one of Iceland’s numerous volcanoes. A trip to the surreal lava caves of the Heiđmörk conservation area offers kids the chance to journey into the underworld.

As its name suggests, it is ice, as well as fire, that accounts for some of Iceland’s most magical experiences. The snowy expanses of the world’s third-largest glacier are up for exploration in the Vatnajökull National Park, or at their journey’s end in Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. The vast, blue-tinted icebergs that drift here are best viewed from the prow of a Zodiac inflatable boat.

This activity is just one of those on offer on Exodus’s family tour to Iceland. Traversing the southern coast, this trip takes in Geysir, Gullfoss, and the Blue Lagoon, as well as the caves of Heiđmörk. Optional activities include whale- watching and horse-riding, and there’s free time in family-friendly Reykavík.

Oman: The young explorer’s one
Spanning the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancient state of Oman is a wild land of vast desert dunes and rugged mountains that meet the Indian Ocean in a 1,000-mile sweep of empty beaches and fort-studded towns – a perfect setting to inspire kids’ sense of adventure. A recent entry into mainstream tourism, Oman’s child-friendly hotels and facilities make it an approachable destination for a family holiday, yet it still feels intrepid. Its year-round sunny climate makes it ideally suited to a half-term or Christmas break.

Three hours from the capital, Muscat, are the vast ochre dunes of Sharqiya Sands, a landscape where Bedouin communities live much as they have done for centuries. A stay at one of the camps here offers kids a taster of Lawrence of Arabia-style desert life: having tea with a local family, riding a camel through the dunes and sleeping under a sky crowded with stars. Quad biking, sand-boarding and driving over the dunes in a 4x4 are somewhat less traditional activities, but no less memorable.

Oman’s history comes to life in its hundreds of castles and towers, some dating back to medieval times. Built to protect the country’s coastline during its days as an imperial power, many have great views over the Arabian Sea. Inland, the battlements of dramatic Nakhal Fort are ripe for a mock battle before young soldiers recover with a picnic in the surrounding date plantations.

The coast the forts once guarded is still coveted today, except that now it’s for its gently sloping beaches and warm, shallow waters, which are ideal for children. It’s also well worth venturing out to sea on a boat to look for dolphins and whales, including the colossal blue whale. Families visiting Oman in October half-term should make a beeline for one beach in particular – that at Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitors Centre, a world-renowned site for nesting endangered green turtles (September to November is peak season).

Cox and King’s family holiday in Oman starts with time in Muscat, and takes in visits to historic forts and towns, walks in some of the country’s most scenic wadis (river valleys) and mountains, and a stay at Sharqiya Sands. En route, there are opportunities to swim in natural pools and spot dolphins in the Indian Ocean. There’s also time to enjoy the coast at leisure, including a stay at a resort with its own private beach.

Saadani National Park, Tanzania: The wildlife one
Beaches don’t tend to feature prominently on safari holidays, lions and elephants not being known for their love of balmy ocean views. At Saadani National Park on Tanzania’s northeastern coast, however, savannah and sand sit side by side, allowing for an uncommonly laid-back wildlife-watching trip.

The park is home to every type of animal you and your children may have dreamed of. Giraffes, Tanzania’s national symbol, roam the plains in some of the largest numbers in Africa, alongside buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and antelope – all considered dinner for the lions and leopards that also inhabit the region. Elephants can be found in the park’s rare coastal forest, and hippos and crocodiles wallow in the waters of the languid Wami River in the south of the reserve.

Saadani’s position on the Indian Ocean means that its wildlife is not confined to dry land either. The school summer holidays coincide with the peak hatching time of green turtles in the stretches of creamy sand that border the park. A trip out to sea offers the chance to encounter humpback whales and dolphins, as well as the dozens of fish that breed among the coral reefs offshore.

The Adventure Company’s family trip to Saadani has dawn and dusk game drives, a boat safari and night-time wildlife viewing. The trip ends in exotic Zanzibar, for a couple of days’ further exploration and relaxing.

Southwest USA: The active one
From forest-cloaked mountains to big-sky country, nowhere does the great outdoors like the USA. And few corners are as great as the southwest, with vast canyons, giant trees and surreal rock tableaux providing the perfect backdrop to an active family holiday.

California’s Yosemite National Park is a place of superlatives, with North America’s tallest waterfall and groves of giant sequoias, the world’s largest tree. Further east, families can get a taste of the Wild West, saddling up for a cowboy adventure through the desert and canyons of Utah and Arizona. Bryce Canyon National Park bristles with otherworldly spires, and waterfalls plunge into pools perfect for a wild swim in nearby Zion. And yet the most impressive rock formation – and the likely highlight of any family trip in the region – is Arizona’s Grand Canyon, which doubles as the world’s most spectacular geology lesson. Viewing the vast tranches of rock from the air on a helicopter ride or from the transparent Skywalk will be an unforgettable experience for any child.

An itinerary like this, while epic, can be done in comfort on an organised tour. KE Adventure’s trip begins in California and includes Yosemite, a visit to a ghost town and a drive through Death Valley. In Utah’s Zion National Park, families stay at an adventure ranch and sleep in a cowboy wagon before heading to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. From swimming and cycling to rafting on the Colorado River, there are plenty of opportunities to get active – and free time for winding down and sharing stories in between.

 

The article 'Five family-friendly adventures' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.