Travels of the Unexpected: Brilliant Offbeat Family Holidays

Original Travel
Original Travel Costa Rica


Fancy Borneo with kids? Want to hang out with howler monkeys in Costa Rica or mountain bike over the Dolomites? Tom Barber from Original Travel shares some offbeat ideas for adventurous families.

A good family holiday should be the perfect chance for parents and children to bond and enjoy a bit of adventure together, but when these holidays go wrong, boy can the wheels come off.

With this rather ‘glass half empty’ truism in mind, you might think that luxury travel company Original Travel would recommend the safer bets – family-friendly beach hotels in Cyprus, Sardinia or the Algarve, perhaps.

But instead, they feature a selection of wildly imaginative and often leftfield family holidays. Here are three of the best:

Summer in the Dolomites

Original Travel Why is it that Brits don’t appreciate the mountains in summer? While we religiously head to Europe’s finest resorts during the ski season, unlike many continental Europeans, the pleasures of summertime mountain life seem to leave us cold. Or should that be hot? Whichever, hasn’t anyone read Heidi?

So where to head? Italy, with its perfect kid-friendly food (the holy trinity of pizza, pasta and gelato) and general love of all things bambini, works a treat for summer Alpine trips, especially taking a Dolomite detour centred on the impossibly charming village of San Cassiano.

The village is a far cry from the OTT glamour and glitz of the regional capital Cortina, and (parents, please note) is a foodie haven. At the Rosa Alpina there is a brilliant family package including meals, mountain bike hire and the chance for the family to spend the night alone in the hotel’s magical mountain hut.

The mountains mean good clean fun, so biking and long walks should feature high on the list, but it’s important to note that many of the ski lifts will be open to families who enjoy going down more than schlepping up. There’s also a brilliant Adventure Centre outside Cortina complete with a Tibetan rope bridge, zip slides and a Mission Impossible park where children can enjoy guided visits into a natural cave system. Entrance to the Parks is included in the Rosa Alpina package.

The Rosa Alpina does have one potential downside – it’s not exactly cheap – but there’s always sister property Ciasa Antersies just up the via which offers good value self-catering accommodation and a cracking Dolomites Kids Kingdom playroom complete with climbing wall, toys, teddies and arts & crafts kit galore. They even lay on a twice weekly kids yoga sessions.

Costa Rica for Kids

Costa Rica with kids

Children love adventure playgrounds and Costa Rica can sometimes feel like one huge one, with amazing beasties thrown in for good measure. This tiny Central American country may not have the attraction of ancient civilisations found elsewhere in the region, but that’s unlikely to bother little ones, and the sheer range of activities on offer more than makes up for any cultural shortcomings.

Starting from the Caribbean coast before heading west, explore Tortuguero National Park with its rainforest waterways that are best explored by boat, and beaches where green turtles come by their tens of thousands to lay their eggs in summer.

Next stop should be the volcanoes and cloudforests of the country’s central spine. Seeing a live volcano in action is something kids will never forget. Iconic Mount Arenal is frequently obliging with a series of eruptions that make for memorable viewing – from a distance, obviously. At night, seeing the lava on the mountain side is particularly exciting.

Nearby is the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park where the family can explore the rainforest canopy, or enjoy night-time tours to see Costa Rica’s nocturnal beasties. Then there are the rivers coming off the (many) volcanoes for adrenaline-fuelled whitewater rafting, zip wires to whizz along and horse riding trails too.

Finally, on the Pacific Coast are some of the reserves that earned Costa Rica the mantle of being one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The Osa Peninsula in particular is the place to spot extraordinarily colourful macaws and funny-faced tapirs with their tiny trunks as well as the howler monkey – Planet Earth’s loudest inhabitant, and guaranteed to drown out the fiercest of tantrums. The beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast are a brilliant place for kids to learn to surf.

Borneo to Run

Borneo with kids The weather in Southeast Asia can sometimes be confusing, with the majority of places best in our winter. Not so Borneo, which is ideal during our summer time, making this a superb long haul holiday option for families, and the perfect place to occupy the mini-Attenboroughs in the family, with its impressive plant and wildlife biodiversity.

What’s the attraction? Malaysian Borneo easily takes the crown for top wildlife spot in the whole of Southeast Asia, from proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants to the endearing poster-kid for Borneo – the orangutan. The state of Sabah is home to the best wildlife spots, including the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, which is ripe for a family adventure.

Sepilok is home to a number of orphaned orangutan who are happily learning the skills they need to survive before being released back in to protected pockets of virgin rainforest. Visitors to the sanctuary can see these cheeky orange creatures in close proximity at twice daily feeding sessions and children can adopt one to receive updates of their progress once they are back home.

For a chance to spot some truly wild species, take the family to explore the Kinabatangan River, easily the best place for chance sightings of Pygmy elephants. Head out on open top boats in search of wildlife along the river banks. Hand the binoculars to the kids and watch their excitement as they spot nesting orangutan or troops of proboscis monkeys high in the tree tops.

Active families can then head into the jungle of the Danum Valley and explore the trails within this million-year-old tropical rainforest, or walk the canopy trail, suspended high above the forest floor.

Looping back to the coast, beach stays in Borneo are anything but boring for the little ones, with snorkelling trips, cycling and whitewater rafting on offer, and even the chance to play wildlife park ranger at the Shangri La Rasa Ria’s nature reserve, home to yet more orang-utans.

Tom Barber is Founder of Original Travel is a creative travel company which takes a thoughtful approach to creating tailor-made family holidays. The team partners with children’s party people Sharky & George to inject some (much needed) creativity and fun into the family holiday. The focus is on adding stimulating fun and educational adventures for the children while away, so making the holiday genuinely family-friendly. Follow Original Travel on Twitter @originaltravel

This piece has been written in association with Original Travel.