Travel is the world's best teacher...period!
Exactly what kids learn often goes beyond the obvious and it is a life skill best taught when children are young. This is when their sense of wonder, imagination and curiosity hold no bounds.
Travel agents know family vacations are not a "one size fits all" proposition. One of the first, most important question we ask parents as we start planning a vacation is..."What do you want your kids to get out of this particular trip? The answer to this question usually comes in two parts. The most popular answer we hear is "To have fun and learn something". About 1/3 of the time a parent will answer "To learn something and have fun while doing it". When we hear that subtle difference with that second reply, we know the priority is on an education vacation. Either way, achieving both these two goals is very easy. The order in which a parent answers tells is our clue and helps us to focus priorities. (Admittedly we do love it when we meet a homeschooling or even worldschooling family who straight up travels for the sake of learning.)
When it comes to inspiration for an educational family vacation, travel agents often turn their focus to UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Founded in 1978, the UNESCO World Heritage List of sites has grown to 1,092 natural wonders, historical gems and and culturally important sites in 167 countries around the world. With such a rich resource as a starting point, it's then easy to craft the perfect itinerary blending dates, length of stay, budget, etc. along with the ages, stages and most importantly, the interests of their children. The result is a memorable vacation experience where everyone has fun growing their brains.
Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Family Vacation Spots
Here are some of our top picks of UNESCO World Heritage Family Vacation Spots.....
Italy boasts the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any other country on the planet with 54 in all, 55 if you want to include Vatican City due to geography. Italy is the epicenter of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. Visitors are simply immersed in history, culture and feats of human genius. Almost every area of Italy that is beloved by visitors is on the UNESCO World Heritage list - Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, Sienna, Genoa, Verona, The Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Cinque Terre and many more. There is something here to fascinate children of all ages and please every member of an extended family traveling together. Kids will learn about "la dolce vita" with their first taste of homemade pasta and Gelato.
2. The United States
Every year, international visitors flock to visit the iconic natural wonders and the UNESCO Sites in our own backyard. The Grand Canyon tops the bucket list for many families. For this reason, it's important to plan ahead because tour and accommodation availability can be an issue during school holidays. The awe inspiring example of nature at work and geology on display makes for a memorable visit. Your perspectives change according to how you participate with the Canyon...hiking, biking, rafting, helicopter flights or by wild west train.Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Everglades, Olympic National Park, The Great Smokey Mountains, the Redwoods and Hawaii Volcanoes National park give proof for song "America the Beautiful". Prefer a city stay with the kids?....New York's Statue of Liberty and Philadelphia's Independence Hall are both on the list. Both cities offer tons of other types of family fun things to do.
3. Sian Ka'an, Mexico
Thousands of families flock every year to the all inclusive resorts of the Riviera Maya. While beautiful beaches, waterparks and margaritas are certainly fun, few visitors know about the secret hidden just a few miles south. Sian Ka'an is Mayan for "the origin of the sky". This 75 mile coastline is a protected biosphere and Unesco World Heritage Site. The tropical forests here are home to Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and Central American Tapir. Mangroves and marshes provide for over 300 species of birds, crocodiles and manatees. Aquatic neighbors of it's barrier reef include wild dolphins, sea turtles and 400 species of fish. Day tours and even overnight stays with welcoming Mayan families are possible.
4. Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada
Young paleontologists love the idea of hunting through history and geology to find fossils of the past. One of the best places in the world to do this is about a two and a half hour drive east of Calgary in Alberta Canada. Dinosaur Provincial Park is located in the heart of the Canadian Badlands. UNESCO deemed this park important because more than 400 dinosaur skeletons have been found here representing more than 55 different species. These fossil finds back 75 million years. The scenery here is other worldly. Guided tours and hikes offer families the opportunity to explore. There is a small visitor center that offers a few exhibits. Most of the finds from here live in the Royal Tyrrell Museum which is just a 2 hour drive north.
5. Serengeti National Park
Located in Tanzania, Africa, this Unesco World Heritage site and national park covers 5,700 miles of savannah. It is home to lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, hippos, antelopes, wild dogs, cheetah and primates. Twice each year Serengeti National Park plays host to the world's largest, natural migration of animals in the world. A safari here is high on the bucket list of many families. This is where families can witness nature in all its glory.
6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
600 miles off South America this UNESCO site, marine reserve and natural museum consists of 19 islands located at the confluence of three ocean currents. These islands were the living laboratory of Charles Darwin and sparked the collision of scientific debate and religious beliefs. Sea lions, tortoise, marine iguanas, dolphins Turtles and penguins and the blue footed booby all call these islands home. Unlike Africa where creatures can eat you, the creatures of the Galapagos have no fear of humans and welcome you with a natural curiosity. Children old enough to respect these amazing creatures will enjoy memorable wildlife encounters here.
7. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Some know Dubrovnik as the "Pearl of the Adriatic" due to its importance as Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards. Others may recognize this incredible city as "King's Landing" from the popular show "Game of Thrones". UNESCO recognized Dubrovnik for its beautifully preserved Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains despite earthquakes and conflicts. It's a remarkable city to explore while walking in the footsteps of history. Families can also enjoy the fun of incredible beaches with sparkling clear water and nearby mountain hikes. The farm to table food here will give you an appetite for more to explore.
8. Machu Picchu, Peru
In the middle of a tropical forest, high atop a peak in the Andes sits on of the greatest archeological treasures of the great Inca civilization. Here you'll find 200 ancient religious, astronomical, ceremonial and everyday structures perched atop a heart stopping slope. It truly is a masterpiece of engineering genius. The magnificents of this location is completely lost by every great photograph ever taken it of it. To appreciate its wonder it must be experienced first hand. Not for the faint of heart and not recommended for children under the age of 10. Every journey to Machu Picchu included stops in Lima and Cusco which are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. If time permits, a visit to Chan Chan is also highly recommended.
9. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Families can swim, snorkel, dive and sail in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Australia's Great Barrier reef stretches over 1,600 miles. That's comparable in size to the coastline from Maine to Florida. It is the largest structure on earth made by living organism on our planet and is visible from outer space. These 2900 reefs are home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, one-third of the world's soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world's seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals. It is the perfect destination to please beach lovers, nature lovers and animal lovers.
10. Great Wall of China
China ranks a close second to Italy when it comes to having the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most iconic of this sites being the Great Wall of China. Built in 220 BC, this 5500 mile long fortress of earth, brick and wood was the dividing line between the civilized world and nomadic tribes. It is one of the greatest architectural accomplishments of human history. The Mutianyu section is the most popular among foreign travelers. This is the most child-friendly section. Mutianyu and some of the most popular sections of the Great Wall are a short drive from Beijing.
How do you choose?
Trying to choose a top 10 list of some of the world's best spots for family educational trips is like asking a parent which of their children they love the most. Please know this is just a tiny sample of the types of itineraries and adventures an experienced travel agent can create for your family, your extended family, even your school or organization. In most cases, agents are paid by commission so it doesn't cost you any extra to use their services and expertise.