Best exotic family holidays

tropical beach holiday

These are definitely not your average holidays – and they come with a price tag to match. But if you’ve been saving up for something special then these kid-friendly destinations offer incredible experiences that the whole family will remember for a lifetime

Costa Rica

A sloth in Costa Rica

If you’re looking for adventure (with a bit of beach-lounging thrown in) then head to Costa Rica. The coastlines are unbeatable, with great stretches of sand dotted by the occasional turtle, and the jungles are untamed and bursting with wildlife.

Be thrilled by child-friendly white water rafting through lush rainforest, whizz through the canopy on a zipwire, or visit cacao plantations to discover how chocolate became integral to the indigenous community as the ‘Drink of the Gods’. If heading to the coast, you can recline on sun-soaked sands while the youngsters have surfing lessons. Mumsnetters recommend that you explore Tortuguero National Park for the chance to see monkeys, toucans and macaws.

Best for: Endless variety; children over 7

When to go

Costa Rica is at its driest from December to April on the Pacific coast, and between September and October on the Caribbean side. These are the most popular times of year to visit, but don't rule out travelling in the rainy or 'green' season – most days just see a prolonged shower in the afternoon, and there are far fewer visitors.

Getting there

Direct flights are the more expensive option for travelling to Costa Rica and will take about 10 and a half hours. A layover will make for cheaper flights but, of course, will mean more travelling time too.

We went for 3 weeks before we had children. It was amazing! I'd love to go back with the children!

Spending money

Costa Rica is relatively expensive compared to other Central American countries: you can expect to spend about £30 per person per day on food, transport, etc.

Health info

All travellers to Costa Rica should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and have all their routine vaccinations up to date. But if you plan to go trekking in rural areas you will need a few more jabs.

There is a low risk from malaria and dengue fever in Costa Rica – consult with your doctor before travelling.

Ensure you are up to date on official Government advice on travelling to Costa Rica.

Book your trip to Costa Rica here.

Vietnam

view of Halon Bay Vietnam

Vietnam has something for everyone, from bustling cities to peaceful temples. The Vietnamese coastline is an area of breathtaking natural beauty and Mumsnetters particularly recommend a visit to Halon Bay. Climb aboard a two-day boat cruise and take in the stunning sunsets and sunrises, drink in hand. Outdoorsy types can kayak in the turquoise water around the island towers, and even visit a floating village.

Heading inland, take the children to get sticky fingers in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, renowned for its incredible street food, then escort them to stare open-mouthed at the Thang Long Water Puppet Show. It’s a feast for the eyes and an incredible musical show for all ages, considered a cultural highlight of Northern Vietnam.

Best for: Young families; children of all ages

When to go

Vietnam is warm all year round – the temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees – but it is worth noting that different regions of the country have different rainy seasons. Spring is a good time to visit – the weather is particularly good in April.

Getting there It is such a fantastic place – I think it is actually the best family holiday we've had and we would definitely go back to explore further south.

The average flight time from the UK to Hanoi is about 11 hours and a return flight will set you back around £700 per person.

Spending money

Vietnam has become a more expensive destination in recent years but it is still relatively cheap; be prepared to spend around £30 per person per day on food, travel and other expenses.

Health info

All travellers to Vietnam should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid and have all their routine vaccinations up to date. If you plan to go trekking in rural areas you will need a few more jabs, so make sure your get the lowdown on travel vaccinations for Vietnam.

Visitors to Vietnam are at low risk of contracting malaria, but you should discuss your itinerary with your GP before you travel nonetheless.

For more advice that is tailored towards family holidays in Vietnam, take a look at Experience Travel Group's handy guide.

Book your trip to Vietnam here.

South Africa

Elephants seen on a safari

South Africa is vast and varied, with lush greenery and pristine beaches found along the east coast, deserts scattered with meerkats, tortoises and ostrich in the centre of the country, and game reserves overflowing with wonderful – sometimes endangered – species in the north.

A safari led by an expert guide through the sprawling nature reserves is an unmissable experience for the whole family – even the most cynical of teens will be completely bowled over. We suggest that you admire the last remaining Maputaland elephants in South Africa – they’re enormous – or visit private game reserves where you can spot lions, leopards, springbok, rhino and giraffe, as well as endangered African wild dogs. Swimming with dolphins in the coastal waters around the border with Mozambique also comes highly recommended.

Best for: Animal lovers; children over 13

When to go

The best time to visit South Africa – for both animal sightings and weather – is October to March as this is the dry season, and animals are drawn out of the bush and down to the watering holes. Visit from July to October if you want to spot the whales as they breach and play along the east coast.

Getting there Spend a couple of nights in either Plettenberg Bay or Knysna: There is so much to do in that area, dolphin cruise, tree top safari, you can walk with elephants, the beaches are amazing, loads of beautiful walks.

The average flight time from the UK to Cape Town is 11 and a half hours, and return flights will set you back between £500 and £600.

It is worth noting that if you are travelling with children you may be asked to present your child's birth certificate upon arrival in South Africa.

Spending money

The most expensive thing about South Africa is getting there, followed by accommodation – it is otherwise a relatively inexpensive destination. You should expect to budget around £30 per day per person per day.

Health info

All travellers to South Africa should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Dyptheria as well as having all routine vaccinations up to date. But if you plan to visit rural areas you will need a few more jabs.

Throughout most of South Africa there is low to no risk of malaria, however there is a risk of malarial infection if you plan to visit low-altitude areas of Mpumalanga Province and Limpopo Province. You should consult your doctor about your travel plans.

Check Government advice on travelling to South Africa before you book.

Book your trip to South Africa here.

Malaysia

beach at Perhentian islands, Malaysia

If you're looking for a tropical paradise, look no further than Malaysia: its white beaches and turquoise waters make it a dream destination for holidaymakers wanting a bit of sun, sea and sand. However, if you think you would get bored sunbathing for a whole week, fear not, there is plenty to see and do.

Escape the crowds and take a bike tour through rubber plantations, vibrant green paddy fields and picturesque villages. Then head to the bustle of Kuala Lumpur where you can join a ‘foodwalk tour’ – a fascinating (and delicious) way to discover the many cultures that make up Malaysia. The colourful streets of Penang are also well worth a visit.

Best for: Sunbathers and swimmers, children of all ages

When to go

Malaysia is dependably warm, though wet, throughout the year.

Getting there We went to Malaysia and loved it. Went to an elephant sanctuary there, which was a wonderful experience and the highlight of our trip.

Return flights from the UK to Kuala Lumpur cost around £400 on average and the flight takes about 13 hours.

Spending money

Remember to bring cash from the mainland as there are no cash machines on the islands.

Health info

All travellers to Malaysia should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid as well as having all routine vaccinations up to date. Depending on where you plan to travel, you may need some extra vaccinations, too.

Malarial mosquitoes are present in rural areas of Malaysia but not in Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown, or Penang State (includes Penang Island). You should discuss your travel plans with your GP to see if antimalarials are a necessary precaution.

For more advice that is tailored towards family holidays in Vietnam, take a look at Experience Travel Group's handy guide.

Book your trip to Malaysia here.

Galápagos Islands

Seals on the Galapagos Islands

If sustainability is a priority for your family, an island-hopping trip to the Galápagos could be for you. The archipelago boasts a unique ecosystem that aided Darwin on his path to discovering the Theory of Evolution (a great way to introduce this to the kids!), and the tourism there is very environmentally conscious.

Hike up volcanoes and take in the awesome views across the islands, then head to the coast to spot the marine iguanas before snorkelling around spectacular (and, thankfully, cool) lava tunnels. You might spot turtles, sea lions or penguins on your way. If you'd like to do some volunteering, the whole family can get involved with the reforestation project at the Hacienda Tranquila.

Best for: Ethical tourists; kids over 7

When to go

The most popular times to visit the Galápagos tend to be June to August as well as December and January. The weather can be unpredictable so far from the mainland so, whenever you decide to visit, make sure you’re prepared for all weathers.

Getting there

I loved Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands: it was real holiday of a lifetime stuff.

Flight costs from the UK to the Galápagos Islands are pretty steep. This is partly due to the fact that you have to fly to mainland Ecuador before continuing your journey on to the archipelago. This layover also means that the journey takes a long time – think 24 hours plus. It therefore might be worth spending a couple of days exploring Quito or Guayaquil before continuing your journey.

Spending money

The currency used in the Galápagos is the US dollar. Bear in mind that cash machines are not available on every island and some businesses do not accept credit cards so you will need to be pretty organised and have plenty of cash.

Health info

All travellers to the Galápagos Islands should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid as well as having all routine vaccinations up to date. A vaccination against Yellow Fever is also recommended. If you plan to visit rural areas you will need a few other jabs, too.

Make sure you are up to speed with Government advice on travelling to the Galápagos Islands.

Book your trip to the Galápagos here.

Zika virus

Unfortunately, Zika poses a risk in all of the destinations mentioned above. Do your research on the virus and what precautions you should take in advance. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, so if you're pregnant or trying to conceive, you might want to consider a European family holiday for the time being.