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I recently returned from Hunan Province in China, where I spent time exploring the Zhangjiajie Geopark. Never heard of it? No worries, neither had I. But if you’re familiar with the film Avatar, this is the inspiration for the movie’s unique backdrop.
Blown away by where I had been, I dug out my copy of the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die to check if Zhangjiajie had made the cut. It did not. I then wondered what would make my list of “1,000 Places Families Should See Before the Kids Grow Up.” (Not a bad book idea, right?) After all, I’ve traveled extensively with my own children and now focus on family travel for a living. So, if I had to create a directory of destinations to recommend to people, where would I start?
The first dozen or so would be easy: Orlando, Fla., San Diego, Calif., the Grand Canyon, Costa Rica, London, the Atlantis Paradise Island — you get the idea. But what would come at the end of the list? With that in mind, here are some lesser-known spots that may not be as familiar but are sure to please kids and parents alike.
The PhilippinesTour operator Kids Sea Camp and Family Dive Adventures hosts family-focused diving expeditions to some of the most pristine waters in the world, including the Philippines. It’s well worth the long trip, especially for a chance to encounter the whale sharks that come to feed in Oslob, on the island of Cebu.
CubaBeautiful beaches, lush scenery and five-star properties are synonymous with the Caribbean, but when it comes to the people, Cuba is hard to beat. Miami-based Cuba Candela specializes in crafting curated, customized itineraries for families looking for a deeper cultural connection to the destination.
Cody, Wyo.Home of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and its five museums, this throwback to the Wild West serves as a gateway to Yellowstone, as well as some top dude ranches in the country.
The GalapagosThis spot is probably high on many lists, and it’s an absolute must for adventurous families and those seeking to get unplugged. Given kids’ universal love of animals, it’s a home run. Just book early as cabins on Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures and Latin Trail’s Galapagos cruises can sell out quickly.
Machu PicchuPeru is without a doubt a bucket-list destination for many. When your clients finish exploring in the Andes, tell them to head to the Amazon for even more adventures. Several tour operators, including Intrepid Travel, offer itineraries for families.
The Swedish WildernessThis recommendation is a bit more out there, but that’s intentional. Tour operator Escapade Sweden takes both kids and their parents on a journey to reconnect with nature and their wild selves in a fun and meaningful way.
PortugalI’ve heard it called the California of Europe, which is fitting given the surf, wine, laid-back vibe and beautiful weather. It’s also home to several five-star Martinhal Resorts, which focus solely on discerning families.
The DetailsFamily Travel Associationwww.familytravel.org