Taking your family to see wildlife can make for an extraordinary holiday. It is becoming ever easier to travel to wildlife destinations and there are numerous new parks and new tours for the adventurous family to explore. These are some of our suggestions for wildlife travel throughout the year – from visiting the sardine rush in South Africa to watching leopards in some of Sri Lanka’s most remote parks. All of the places we suggest are fairly easy for families to get to and the months we suggest are the perfect times to visit.
Visit Yellowstone National Park, USA in January to watch wolves, bison, elk and Pronghorn Antelope. January is an excellent month to visit this enormously popular park. Since wolves were reintroduced in 1996, they have become a huge draw and crowds gather to watch them. Visit in January though and you’ll find yourselves in near solitary splendour. Bison wander through the multi-coloured hot springs, steam rising from their coats and the snow covers the great forests. You can travel very comfortably with numerous expeditions mainly organized by the park lodges where you can also stay. A great winter adventure.
or take your kids to see beautiful humming birds in Trinidad. Visit Asa Wright Nature Centre to see ten species of these tiny, bejewelled birds hovering over tropical flowers. You might be lucky enough to also see armadillos, ocelots, peccaries and various tropical birds and flowers.
February is a great month to visit Tanzania. Take the kids during the school half term and avoid the enormous crowds that gather to see the great migration. This is the month to see cheetahs – to see a cheetah racing at unbelievable speed across the plains of the Serengeti after its prey. Combine a safari with a trip to the beach for the perfect winter holiday.
Or escape the winter in Australia and visit Eungella National Park to see platypuses. Australia has some extraordinary animals, but none more so than the platypus. Go in February to see the babies – puggles swimming after their mothers.
March is a lovely month to visit Costa Rica. Book a family lodge in Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and take a walk in the jungle. You can see tapir, ocelot, three different species of monkey, coati and many other animals. But its the birds people come to see in March. There are over 400 species of birds in the park and as foliage is low in March it is the best time to see them. The quetzals are the ones to look out for, long streaming tails and iridescent feathers.
Or visit stunning Matura Beach in Trinidad where the whole village comes out to protect the nesting site of the world’s largest leatherback turtle. The turtles nest in March and on peak nights up to 150 turtles can be found lumbering up the sands to lay their eggs, carefully protected by the villagers.
April is a great time to see jaguars in Belize. The end of the rainy season means easy access to reserves and parks – 50% of Belize is under some kind of wildlife protection and it is an easy and family-friendly country to travel around. Try the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which it the only reserve in the world dedicated to jaguars. Stay at the spectacular Chan Chich Lodge for a very memorable trip.
Or for somewhere closer to home, visit Scotland to try and catch a glimpse of baby red squirrels who appear in March. Abernethy Forest Reserve might be the best place to try. Take the kids into the woods with cameras and binoculars for a great afternoon squirrel spotting.
Take your family to one of the world’s greatest wildlife destinations, the Galapagos Islands. It is so much easier to get to the Galapagos nowadays and you can choose any number of family-friendly tour operators. May is a good time to go as crowds have decreased and the rainfall is low. Take the kids to view the giant tortoises, the enormous marine iguanas and the penguins.
or follow the Tarka Trail in the West Country to catch sight of some Eurasian Otters. May is when they cub and seem to be especially playful and inquisitive.
If you have any sea life enthusiasts in your family, then taking them to see the sardine run in South Africa will be a wonderful treat. This is the ocean’s version of the great migration and just as the wildebeest in Africa attract predators, so do the enormous mass of sardines, which are constantly attacked by thousands of dolphins, sharks, seals and gannets. You can take a tour boat out from the Cape to watch the waters boil with sea life and if you are lucky, humpback whales join in the show as they gather here to mate and raise their calves.
or of course you can visit Tanzania or Kenya and the Serengeti for the other greatest show on earth, the wildebeest migration. Book a family-friendly lodge near the park and prepare for a show like no other when over a million wildebeests are joined by gazelles and zebras and of course, some hungry predators on their 800km journey. Although the wildebeest are on the move year round, June is when they head towards the Masai Mara and therefore cross the Serengeti being joined in part by elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, lions, giraffes, vultures and eagles.
July is the month to visit the mountain gorillas in Uganda. This, of course is a trip for older children, but once they are of an age to climb up hot jungle paths, then take them in July during the dry season. Bwindi Impenetrable Park is not quite as difficult to penetrate as its name suggests and if you stay in a lodge near the park’s entrance, then a trip to the gorillas is organized for you. There are another 120 species of mammal here including chimpanzee and wonderful bird life, so it won’t be just the gorillas that your family can marvel at.
Or visit the Pantanal in Brazil for a chance to view macaws, caimans, jaguars and capybaras. The water table is low in July, so things get crowded around declining ponds and rivers. There are many and numerous trips to take out of Rio, or you could stay in a lodge near this enormous wetland.
Wilpattu National Park in northern Sri Lanka is a marvellous place to see leopards. Closed for many years due to the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, it was only reopened in 2003 and remains relatively uncrowded. The leopard population is unknown, but a large proportion of visitors have been lucky enough to see them. There are also sloth bears, elephants, barking deer and jungle cat, not to mention large numbers of wading birds, peacocks and jungle fowl. Book with an eco-safari company and you can camp within the park, going on night drives and listening to the elephant trumpet through the night.
Or take a ferry to Ireland to catch the shearwater migrations. Thousands of migrating birds including kittiwakes, guillemots and the Mank and Great shearwaters can be seen from the enchanting island of Cape Clear. Arm your kids with anoraks and binoculars and enjoy the spectacle. You can stay in the self-catering hostel on the island.
Take the kids to the well-organized and accessible Chobe National Park in Botswana. September is a very good time to see a lot of African elephants as the dry season reaches its peak and elephants (and a lot of other remarkable wildlife) line the Chobe River scrabbling to get at the last of the water. The elephants are the big draw, but if you are lucky you will also see lion eying up the buffalo at the waters edge. The best way to see this spectacle is from a river cruise of which there are many to choose from.
Or visit Western Australia to Shark Bay World Heritage Site to see dugongs, who move near the shore to feed on seagrass beds in September, making viewing them much easier. Shark Bay is a shallow lagoon rich in marine life and you can also see Bottle-nosed dolphins, Sea turtles, Tiger sharks and pelicans there. Its a fabulous place to take children to as you can visit Monkey Mia first, where curious dolphins enter the shallow waters to nuzzle visitors and accept snacks from the rangers.
October is the month for a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The end of the dry season means that animals are grouped around the remaining water hole. There are a million different types of safari, so you could choose a family-friendly one, or stay in a lodge near the crater for easy night-time or early morning safaris. Try exploring outside the crater to take in the Olduvai Gorge where there are still plenty of animals but the crowds are smaller.
Or visit Madagascar to pay the lemurs a visit. Its not the easiest country to get to and you might benefit from an organised family tour. October is a good month to go as the weather is mild and you might just get a chance to see baby lemurs skipping along forest paths after their mothers.
The rains arrive on the plains of Etosha in November bringing grass and flowers, frogs and insects in their wake. As the water holes fill up the larger animals begin to disperse into the newly rejuvenated landscape and a safari here can be very rewarding as elephants, rhinos, Springboks and elands can be seen in large numbers. There are numerous camps in the park itself with safaris on offer and swimming pools for the kids to cool off in after safari.
or take the kids to Kaziranga National Park in India. The park only opens in mid-November as the floodwaters recede. The park is home to the very rare Indian rhino and one of the highest densities of tigers in the world. Most of the wildlife watching is done from the back of an elephant, something that will delight your kids just as much as anything they might see in the jungle.
The spectacle of the monkeys enjoying their natural hot tubs in snowy weather is very charming and you can combine a visit to the macaques with a ski on the nearby slopes. Stay in nearby Yudanaka, which has its own collection of hot springs for humans to enjoy and ancient temples to visit.