Exotic family holiday ideas for 2017 from Suffolk-based Stubborn Mule travel agency
PUBLISHED: 08:00 01 January 2017
Who says you have to set your sights low when you have children and also want a holiday to remember?
Steven Russell asked Suffolk-based family travel specialist Stubborn Mule for some great ideas and to give us the confidence to shout ‘Let’s do it!’
Stubborn Mule was founded by Liddy Pleasants in 2009. After cycling more than 3,000km with her husband and children − the youngsters then aged five and three years old − she wanted to share those kinds of experiences with other families.
Collectively, the business’s all-mum team has more than 80 years of travel experience, both as independent travellers and in a professional capacity.
Here they share their tips for travelling with children and their top picks of where to go in 2017.
Consider the climate - It sounds obvious, but whilst your kids might be “happy” to take a walk through an autumnal forest in the UK, it might be quite a different story to do the same in the Amazon jungle, in 90% humidity, for example. Heat, sun and humidity can be massively energy-sapping, so just be realistic about what can and can’t be achieved, and schedule in plenty of down-time.
Make sightseeing fun - Just because you could spend hours wandering through Angkor Wat or the Kasbah of Ben at Haddou doesn’t mean your kids will. There are, however, savvy shortcuts and handy hints for getting the kids enthused, particularly at cultural sites. Maybe bring along a cowboy hat, so they feel like Indiana Jones, or collect some sticks to use as “ammo”.
Create a “spotters’ guide” of what to see and do, and, when they spot things, they can tick them off their list. Bring along a bag for them to collect treasures (leaves and seeds, rather than ancient artefacts) en route. Anything that transforms sightseeing into a game is guaranteed to keep them occupied for longer.
Keep a diary - It doesn’t have to be a work of art, but getting kids of any age to make a diary − whether it’s a written one, something to stick souvenirs and photos into, or both − doesn’t just keep them engaged in the short term but will become a much-treasured keepsake and memory jogger in the longer term.
Brand them - In busy places like temples or airports, kids get lost. For the youngest children, write their name, as well as your mobile phone number, in Biro on their arm. For older kids, agree a meeting place in case you get separated.
Do your research - It’s a truism that the more you put into a trip, the more you’ll all get out of it. Find out as much as you can about what you’ll be seeing: the history, things to look out for, little-known facts before you go. It will enrich the experience hugely and limit the impact of any potential culture shock; and, if you’ve got competitive youngsters, feel free to harness that sibling rivalry with a game of “who can see the most?” whilst there.
Book ahead - Flights can book up, hotels book out and passports expire. When there’s more than one or two of you, and especially if you’re travelling to somewhere adventurous where there’s everything from climate to injections to visas to consider, it pays to book ahead in plenty of time.
Where should you go?
Nepal - Nestled between China and India, the mountain kingdom is home to Everest, the world’s highest mountain; it’s one of the planet’s most welcoming countries, and hit the headlines for the massive earthquake it suffered in 2015. A year and a half on, though, Nepal is rebuilding and what’s striking to the travellers flocking back is how much remains intact.
Trekking, by far the most popular reason for visiting, has been largely unaffected by the earthquake and offers travellers not only the most spectacular scenery on the planet but an active holiday for fitness lovers. If helping a nation get back on its feet isn’t enough reason to go, it’s also one of the best-value global destinations.
Best time to go? October to April, when visibility is at its best.
Approximate price range (based on a mid-season two-week tour for two adults and two children, including flights, excursions, accommodation and some meals) £5,000-£6,500
Oman - As people (and parents) look for safe, mid-haul destinations in the Middle East, Oman is the stand-out star: well-developed, with a great infrastructure. Glitzy hotels are popping up every bit as fast as those in more touristy Dubai.
Due sometime in 2017 is an attraction that will put Oman firmly on the travel map, though: a futuristic theme park for families − Majarat Oman; built to the tune of US$120m.
It’s not all bling, though. Another major attraction is of the natural kind: the Bimmah Sinkhole, a circular limestone hollow which boasts clear, turquoise waters that the kids will love jumping into.
Approximate price range: £8,000-£9,000
Belize - When you think of paradise, Belize ticks all the boxes. Palm-fringed beaches. Warm, crystal-clear waters. In other words, a heaven on earth.
Lesser known than neighbours Mexico or Costa Rica, this small yet fascinating country is tipped to be the next big thing in Central American travel. Why? Well, apart from its world-class diving and snorkelling opportunities, wildlife-packed jungle and chilled out beach scene, new flights mean getting there is easier – and quicker – than ever before: ideal for the family traveller.
Take a night safari to spot jaguars; paddle out to see manatee and caiman; snorkel in Shark Alley; see the Mayan ruins.
Approximate price range: £9,000-£10,000
Peru - The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu may be Peru’s best-known attraction, but for anyone wanting a good all-rounder type of destination, look no further. There’s the Amazon rainforest, the charming cobbled streets of Cuzco, the soaring condors flying over Colca Canyon, the Sacred Valley and Lake Titicaca.
Peru has also emerged as favourite for active families: ziplining, trekking, cycling and canoeing are all on the menu. There’s also a buzz about the lesser-known Inca ruins at Choquequirao, which, despite being the last Inca refuge from the conquistadors, will be accessed by a cable car (estimated late 2017 – could be later) bringing 3,000 visitors a day. Go now, before it’s ruined (no pun intended) forever.
Approximate price range: £8,000-£9,000
Namibia - Post the Brexit vote, the fact that Nambia, along with South Africa, is currently the best-value destination in Africa will see its star rise in 2017.
There’s safari and The Big 5 in Etosha National Park. As a destination, much of the country is malaria-free (a real comfort for parents with younger children) and it boasts the tallest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei (so massive, they’re clearly visible from space). Go quad biking along the dunes at sunrise for an experience you’ll never forget.
Approximate price range: £8,500-£9,500
Sri Lanka - Less than two weeks ago, Stubborn Mule staff member and mum Helene Cooper returned and professed she “couldn’t find a single downside to Sri Lanka”. High praise from someone who has been travelling − either alone, with her husband and/or her kids − for much of the last 20 years. One of the reasons Sri Lanka is so appealing is that unlike the rest of South Asia it has a weather pattern with two different monsoons, so it is always the ideal time to travel to one part of the country or another. This is therefore an ideal summer holiday destination as well as a Christmas or Easter one.
Stunning beaches, many of them offering “barefoot luxury”, rather than built-up resorts; pristine jungle; temples and culture; and, for a wildlife experience with the wow factor, blue whales.
Approximate price range: £6,500-£8,000
Borneo - It might have one of the longest flight times from the UK, but don’t let that put you off. Borneo is, frankly, BRILLIANT.
A nature lover’s paradise. You’ll be getting up close and personal to orangutans at Sepilok Santuary (and, in doing so, helping to conserve these “old men of the wild”), snorkelling in the South China sea, exploring the longest cave passage in the world, taking the longest tree-based canopy walk on the planet and, if you time it right, seeing turtles lay their eggs.
Those with longer than a fortnight can also learn about head-hunter culture (and how to use a blow-pipe) or climb Mount Kinabalu. A great all-year-round destination, Borneo is also one of the few South East Asian destinations that’s ideal to visit during the European summer.
Approximate price range: £7,500-£8,000
Cuba - If there’s been one stand-out destination of 2016, the place that sold faster than anywhere else, it’s been Cuba, thanks to the thawing of diplomatic relations and improved flights.
The recent death of Fidel Castro, though, and the fact American tourists are set to flood into this largest Caribbean island, means things are going to change here, socially and economically, faster than ever before. If you want to experience the timewarp that Cuba has been in for the past 50-plus years, do it soon.
Top things to do include taking a classic car ride in the colonial capital, Havana, and exploring the “adventure capital”, Vinales. A great winter-sun destination.
Approximate price range: £6,500-£8,000
Morocco - Arguably the most exotic mid-haul destination, Morocco has for years been a big hit among travellers. Low-cost, stable, yet refreshingly different to Western Europe. Haggling in its bustling souqs to grab a bargain seems almost a rite of passage.
Whilst Marrakech is the most-visited city, direct flights to the coastal town of Essaouira (once home to pirates) are increasing its popularity, whilst the port city of Tangier is also enjoying a renaissance with a flurry of new hotel openings.
Elsewhere (and THE big hit with kids), the ancient Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou (backdrop to many a Hollywood film), taking a camel ride out into the Sahara and staying overnight in a desert camp, and walking in the Atlas mountains are well worth straying from the cities for, to give a more rounded view of this magical country.
Approximate price range: £4,000-£5,500
Burma (or Myanmar) - For 50 years, Burma was off-limits to mainstream travel. In 2012, free from military rule, the South East Asian country opened its doors to western tourism and was unprepared for the flood of tourists that followed.
Since then, Burma’s infrastructure has grown, but not to a level which detracts from its charm and beauty. And oh, what beauty.
The temple complex of Bagan is perhaps the biggest cultural draw, but, once there, visitors say taking the fabled road to Mandalay, seeing the fishermen on Inle Lake throwing out their nets in a way that’s unchanged for centuries, or climbing Golden Rock with Burmese pilgrims are every bit as captivating. Unlike Cambodia or Laos, Burma also has beaches to the south of the country − a great way to end a holiday’s sight-seeing.
The best times to visit are between November and April, although there’s still plenty of sunshine during June and August.
Approximate price range: £7,500-£8,500