Family nature holidays

10 amazing animal encounters for families

Last updated 21st February 2020

This year, why not go wild with your kids? Amanda Statham recommends the best places for animal encounters with your kids 

1 | Observe polar bears in the Arctic 

Any fans of Lyra from His Dark Materials are going to love Discover the World’s Arctic Wildlife at Ranua four-night trip, which offers the chance to assist staff feeding real-life Lorek Byrnisons (that’s polar bears to you and me) in the Arctic Circle. Part of the European Endangered Species Program, other rare animal encounters at the wildlife park include lynx and wolves, plus there’s an array of exciting snow activities to try from husky-sledding to snowshoe safaris. At night, chat about the day’s adventures around the log burner in your cosy cabin with private sauna.

Three night breaks cost from £693 per adult and £582 per child including flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, winter clothing and unlimited entry to the Ranua Wildlife Park.

2 | Picnic with ponies in the New Forest

Don’t want to travel half way around the world for an exciting animal encounter? Head instead to the heart of the New Forest in the UK, where you’ll come face-to-face with semi-wild ponies, deer and highland cattle. Catch a train to Brockenhurst and hire bikes from Cylex in the station car park before enjoying a fabulous day out exploring the forest trails and picnicking close to some of the 5,000-plus ponies which have been allowed to graze and wander freely around the area for centuries. And if you want to make a weekend of it, check out New Forest Living’s portfolio of family-friendly cottages, ideal for pony-mad adventurers. 

One week’s rental cost for a two-bedroom cottage in the New Forest starts at around £650.

3 | Swim with pigs in the Bahamas

These famous aquatic swine are an Instagram sensation and no visit to the Bahamas would be complete without a day trip to Exuma Cays to join them for a dip. Found on Pig Beach, it’s Peppa come to life as piglets splash around in the sea alongside swimmers also keen to snap selfies with stingrays, star fish and Bahamian rock iguanas. Book a family room at Colombus Isle Bahamas resort for silky beaches, sailing lessons and an excellent kids’ club. 

One week all-inclusive costs from £1,475 per person, including flights from Paris. Children under six years of age stay free (from £1,027 per child).

4 | Feed foxes in Cornwall 

Petting and hand-feeding foxes is the main attraction at Feadon Farm Wildlife centre which operates alongside Gwel an Mor, a five-star resort on the north Cornish coast. A top location for a family holiday, children also get the opportunity to fly a bird of prey, pat a reindeer and meet a snake and other on-site attractions include Basecamp, a huge soft play area, fishing lake, beach and Scandinavian-style, self-catering lodges. 

A week in a two-bedroom lodge sleeping up to five from 24 August costs from £1,875 with a four night midweek break during May half term costing from £999.

5 | Hang with orangutans in Borneo

Kids get to observe these amazing long-haired primates up close at the Sepilok organg utan rehabilitation centre in Sandakan, as part of a 10-night Borneo Family Adventure with Cox and Kings. This incredible trip also includes cruising down the Kinabatangan River, wildlife encounters in the jungle to spot proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and sun bears, cooking classes and river rafting. 

Prices from £3,195 per adult and per child including ten nights’ B&B accommodation, international flights, all excursions, transfers, the support of an English speaking local guide and most other meals.

6 | Spot dolphins in the Azores

Twenty seven of the planet’s 80 species of dolphins and whales can be sighted off the coast of the Azores, making it one of the best places in the world to take children with a love of marine mammals. The North Atlantic archipelago off the coast of Portugal comprises nine volcanic islands and, when you’re not watching bottlenose dolphins spin through the air from the safety of a catamaran, you’ll get the chance to explore the cobbled streets of Ponta Delgada town and extinct volcano craters if you book a one-week Sunvil whale and dolphin spotting holiday

Prices from £1,121 per person (£4,484 for a family of four) departing 7 April 2020, including flights, B&B hotel accommodation, transfers and four three-hour whale watching boat trips. An optional experience, swimming with dolphins, can also be booked (extra charge).

7 | Breakfast with giraffes in Kenya

Giraffe Manor, a small boutique hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi, is world-famous thanks to its resident Rothschild’s giraffes who love nothing better than poking their necks through the windows in hope of a morning treat – little wonder it’s one of the most Instagrammed hotels in the world and Vogue has shot there. Hands Up Holidays, which specialises in luxurious family volunteer vacations, includes a night in the manor as part of a spectacular 10-day itinerary in Kenya packed full of more magical experiences such as a hot air balloon safari to spot the big five (buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino) and helping to build classrooms in the Masai community. 

This holiday costs from £5,700 per adult and £3,800 per child including flights, transfers, five star luxury lodge accommodation with all meals, game drives and a hot air balloon flight. 

8 | Encounter elephants in Sri Lanka

A Classic Family Sri Lanka itinerary with Experience Travel Group includes a stay in an eco resort, jungle trekking, white-water rafting and, best of all, the chance to observe baby elephants at Udawalawe National Park. You’ll head off in a safari jeep to see them in the wild then visit an elephant transit camp, run by the Born Free Foundation, where baby elephants are taught to feed themselves before being rehabilitated back into the wild.

Prices from £3,355 per adult and £2,797 per child (under 12) including flights, transfers, accommodation and all the activities mentioned.

9 | Track jaguars in the Pantanal

Budding David Attenboroughs can enjoy guided safaris in open-top jeeps, motor boats and even horseback to seek out the most elusive of big cats in Brazil’s largest wetland as part of a My Family And Other Animals adventure with Dehouche. And if the mission isn’t successful there’s promise of many more animal encounters to keep kids satisfied, thanks to a supporting cast of giant anteaters, armadillos, monkeys, raccoons and pumas. Away from the jungle, enjoy family time on the spectacular Costa Verde, hiking to waterfalls and snorkelling with a kaleidoscope of marine life. 

Prices from £3,000 per adult and £2,050 per child including international and domestic flights, private light aircraft transfer to the lodge in the Pantanal, full board at the Pantanal lodge including activities, and half board at Picinguaba.

10 | See sloths in Costa Rica

The chances of seeing a sloth in Tortuguero National Park are high, which is why you’ll spend two nights there on a Natural World Safaris’ Costa Rica Family Eco Adventure. As well as the sleepy, three-toed bears, children can make memories walking across hanging bridges, hiking through cloud forest, zip-wiring through jungle, visiting volcanoes and adjusting their binoculars for river otter, caiman and howler monkey sightings.

This 13-day holiday costs from £3,400 per adult and £2,800 per child including flights, 12 nights’ accommodation with most meals and activities.