Leaping lemurs, Madagascar
Who needs Paramount Pictures when Madagascar’s inhabitants have seemingly escaped a cartoon for real? Weird, wonderful lemurs – singing ones, mini ones, even ones sashaying like tipsy ballerinas – iridescent frogs, technicoloured chameleons, and laid-back boas trump anything a cartoonist could pen. This private family tour takes in the nature reserves of Berenty, Vakona and Andasibe-Mantadia national park, so you’ll hopefully see all the above and more before the credits roll on glorious Sainte Marie Island. Go during the summer holidays when humpbacks will be on vacation, too.
Elephant safari, Nepal
A two-day elephant-back safari in the Chitwan national park, keeping an eye out for monkeys, exotic birds and, if you’re lucky, tigers and rhinos, is the highlight of this escorted group trip. But there’s plenty more to keep children wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, from a night camping under the stars to bike rides through the mountains, and from making friends with locals in the village Bandipur to flying a kite in the Himalayan breeze.
Gorilla watching, Uganda
Uganda is home to roughly half the world’s 700 or so mountain gorillas, and this new group tour for older families should see you locking eyes with at least one. You’ll spend time in Queen Elizabeth national park – where you’ll search for leopard and elephant, track chimps in the Chambura Gorge and dodge hippo on a river cruise – and by Lake Victoria. But the USP has to be three nights’ camping in the gorillas’ backyard – the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While sightings of the endangered giants can’t be guaranteed, a 90% success rate means this could well be the only time you’ll see your teenagers lost for words.
Bats and badgers, Yorkshire
Deep within Cropton Forest in the North York Moors national park, cabins make a superb base for mini-Chris Packhams in the making. Forest ranger Russ runs regular, fun and informative expeditions in search of bats – you get your own ultrasonic detector – red and roe deer, and Cropton’s more anti-social inhabitants, badgers. After dark you’ll be taken to a hut overlooking the family hide – keep quiet and you’ll be able to watch the cubs playing while mum and dad forage for supper. With luck you’ll also spot foxes, rabbits and pine marten.
Tag leopards, South Africa
What nature-loving kid wouldn’t fancy tracking leopards, setting camera traps – even helping to fit collars? Add world-renowned zoologist Gerrie Camacho – founder of the Ingwe Leopard Project – to the mix, and you’ll never get them home again. Your private family tour starts off at Paperbark Bush Retreat – a great, safe area for kids to acclimatise – then you’re off on a four-day bush adventure, with Gerrie as your personal guide. You’ll spend a night in Kruger and two at the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, overlooking a river bed where lion, elephant, rhino and co often chill. Then it’s back to Paperbark to see just how photogenic those cats really are.
Wildlife sanctuary, Borneo
Watch a turtle nesting, explore the world’s oldest rainforests, bathe in mud volcanoes … this new family group tour combines wildlife, culture, education and adventure. You’ll visit the world’s largest orang-utan sanctuary, investigate where bird’s nest soup comes from and where thousands of bats live, snorkel on Tiga Island and, best of all, take jungle walks and river cruises through the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary – an area crammed with unusual creatures, including Asian pygmy elephants, sun bears, proboscis monkeys and the sublimely serene orang-utans.
Tiger tour, India
On this group trip you’ll spend three nights in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve with fingers crossed, but even if the world’s largest cat fails to show, the abundance of wildlife – from sloth bears to monitor lizards – is breathtaking. Next you’ll visit Jaipur, and take an elephant ride to its Amber Fort before heading to Bharatpur, one of the world’s finest bird sanctuaries. Finally, you’ll visit the Taj Mahal and ruined city of Fatehpur Sikri, where monkeys now rule.
Brown bears and bloodsuckers, Romania
The Romanian Carpathian mountains are home to more than 40% of Europe’s brown bears. Experienced guides will take you tracking bears and wolves in the Kingstone Mountain national park – but keep an eye out for lynx, chamoix and buzzards too. Leaving the mountains, you’ll visit Bran Castle – home to the original Count Dracula – before moving on to the Danube Delta where you’ll spend a day exploring this wildlife-filled watery maze.
Creature comforts, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s astonishing ecological diversity – roughly 5% of the world’s species live here – and excellent, easily accessible national parks make it fab for families. Over nine days, you’ll kayak through mangroves, camp in style at Corcovado with the sea at your feet and your head in the forest, white-water raft down the Reventazon river and hike through the magical Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Animal action – residents include monkeys, sloths, otters, iguanas, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, caiman, armadillos … we could go on – is near as damn it guaranteed.
Whale of a time, Canada
A 10,000-mile migration is hungry work, so when Pacific grey whales hit Canada’s Clayoquot Sound they’re ready for one hell of a plankton feast. Join Earthwatch’s family expedition next August and you’ll help scientists search for whales, identify individuals and map their prey. Accommodation is a comfy hostel on Flores Island. You’ll have time to explore this coastal temperate rainforest by foot and kayak – look out for black bears, wolves, otters, eagles and the indigenous First Nation culture.