01 Southern Iceland
“Drenched by the vapour, I looked up at the waterfall and thought it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.” This is an entry from my son Ethan’s diary from our trip to south Iceland.
The waterfall in question is Skógafoss — one of country’s biggest, at 196ft high and 82ft wide, with a double rainbow on most sunny days. What really impressed not just Ethan but all of us was that here, as in the other sites we visited during our week’s self-drive holiday, you can get right up close to true wonders of nature.
Over the week, we tasted 1,000-year-old ice from a boat floating amid the otherworldly, glacier-strewn Jökulsárlón Lagoon (as seen in Batman Begins, Tomb Raider and two Bond movies), were soaked by the geyser Strokkur, and hiked for hours through a landscape of bubbling sulphuric pools to bathe in naturally warm streams.
Iceland is the ideal solution to finding trips for kids well into their second decade who meet most suggestions with a sigh and the diss: ‘lame!’
Bloodcurdling roller coasters, hair-raising paragliding jaunts, and scuba diving expeditions have all met with Ethan’s approval in the past, but the rest of us can hardly trot around the globe after him in his quest for ever-higher adrenalin spikes. Yet here in Iceland, hikes in the craters of extinct volcanoes, whale-watching trips, riding Viking ponies, and playing on black-sand beaches all set the tone for a grand family adventure.
How to do it: A week’s self-drive holiday in Iceland costs around £1,000 for five, staying in Airbnb properties, hotels and farm-stays, with car hire but excluding flights. south.is
Known for its spectacular sea life, the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo is the setting for a new trip that includes a 3.5-day PADI Open Water Diver course for ages 15 and up, making it a great parent-and-teen bonding getaway. Equally thrilling features of the trip include a jungle night-walk, rainforest boat trip, jungle raft, and visits to a orangutan and proboscis monkey sanctuary and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The 11-night trip costs £2,375 per person for a family of four with some meals. Flights from £669 per person. activitiesabroad.com
The specialist Inca Trail for Teens trip starts in Peruvian capital Lima and takes in ancient sites from the Inca Empire, including the capital, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley, before heading along the Inca Trail for a four-day camping trek with spectacular views and fascinating ruins. There’s also the option to add on a trip to Lake Titicaca or to an Amazon lodge. Eleven days from £2,430 per person including flights. tourdust.com
What better way to see where Genghis Khan established the Mongol capital in the 13th century than with a native teen guide? Sarantoya, 18, acts as a link between children on the tour and local kids — part of the trip is spent with a nomadic family. The route takes in steppes, mountains, desert and forest, using local transport such as horses, camels and even a yak and cart. It also features bathing in hot springs and Buddhist rituals. From £5,580 for a family of four. Flights from £550 per person. responsibletravel.com
05 Abu Dhabi
The world’s fastest roller coaster and Yas Waterworld make the UAE capital a blast, but the best fun happens in the desert. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, in the Empty Quarter, offers camel treks, full-moon walks, biking, dune-bashing and falconry. There’s also archery, tennis and a teens’ club. Around £5,500 B&B for two adults, a teen and an under-12 in two double Deluxe rooms, with flights and transfers. takethefamily.com
Cornish holidays can be as epic as more exotic ones, offering wild activities such as surfing, coasteering and kayaking. You can glamp in a bell tent at a youth hostel or find a hotel such as Sands Resort Hotel & Spa, with masses of teen activities. Short breaks at Sands start at £45 per person a night. Bell tents for up to five at YHA Treyarnon cost £70 a night. sandsresort.co.uk yha.org.uk
A 12-day teen safari through some of the world’s most diverse, wildlife-rich habitats includes gliding through the Okavango Delta swampland in a mokoro canoe, meeting the San Bushmen people of the Kalahari Desert, and visiting Victoria Falls (with an optional helicopter ride). Prices with flights start at £2,695 per person. familyadventurecompany.co.uk
08 Turks & Caicos
Not even the most blase teen could get bored at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa, with everything from a surf simulator to teen spa treatments. Among the facilities and activities are beach volleyball, scuba diving, a waterpark, DJ academy, and even an aqua-themed nightclub with teen sessions. New for 2015 are sailing courses for over-8s, although the true highlight is a catamaran trip to see rock iguanas. From £2,189 per adult and £999 per child for seven nights all-inclusive in a Caribbean Deluxe Room, including flights. beachesresorts.co.uk
Adrenalin-fuelled outdoorsy fun is in plentiful supply in summertime in Western Canada. Scott Dunn’s teen-specific self-drive trip — From Turf to Surf Family Adventure — includes zip-lining and whitewater rafting in Whistler, ranch-based horse-riding, Pacific surfing, heli-hiking in the Rockies and a seaplane flight to Vancouver Island, spotting orca en route. Bear- or whale-watching and mountain biking can also be arranged. From £5,400 per person, including flights. scottdunn.com
The Bajan Family Adventure Camp is for 10-16s, staying at one of Barbados’ Elegant Hotels Group properties (Turtle Beach, Tamarind, Crystal Cove, Colony Club). On offer is horse-riding in tropical forest in search of green monkeys and mongoose; catamaran trips to swim with sea turtles, and submarine tours. The hotels also offer free watersports and tuition. From £1,545 per person all-inclusive for seven nights; the Camp starts at $100 (£67) per child for two days. virginholidays.co.uk
Japan is the perfect place to surprise teens who think they’ve seen it all, from following in the footsteps of samurai to manga-drawing classes. Student Saffia Badat, who visited aged 15, says: “It’s filled with technology and six-metre-high TVs that made my gadget-loving heart sing for joy. As soon as I arrived, all I wanted to do was explore.”
Hands on Japan offers small group tours, including noodle-making and taiko drumming, from £2,700 per person for 14 nights, with some meals but not flights. insidejapantours.com
Snowmobiling, downhill-skiing, husky-sledding and nights in a cosy cabin await in Arctic Sweden — specifically Björkliden ski resort and the Abisko National Park. But the real prize is a night visit to the Aurora Sky Station, one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights. Four nights from £995 per person. Flights from £183. magneticnorthtravel.com
13 Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a great choice of very welcoming homestays that can provide a fantastic — and budget-conscious — base for all the spectacular experiences the island has to offer those travelling with older kids, ranging from hiking in the highlands, riding elephants and surfing the southern reef breaks to photographing wildlife. At Lal Homestay, for instance, you get to feel like part of the host family and can even help out in the kitchen if choose, learning how to make everything from egg hoppers to coconut pancakes. A family room for five at Lal starts at £33 a night, with breakfast included. homestay.com
Published in the Summer 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family