When it comes to wildlife-viewing, biggest isn’t always best. Going animal spotting with kids is always more enlightening, more imaginative, more engrossing when children have a ‘bugs-eye view’ on proceedings. So, with the same childlike sense of wonder, here are 6 superb locations where your mini-beast can get up-close and personal with the animal kingdom.
Go animal detecting in a game reserve, South Africa
Fabulously family-friendly (and on a malaria-free reserve) Madikwe Safari Lodge has a wonderful purpose-built Eco-House, always a hive of activity. Kids can meet live specimens from the Reserve such as tarantulas and scorpions, and there’s a cool animal skull display. But it’s the bug CSI, dung tracking and making moulds of animal tracks (plus bush orientation and star gazing sessions) which will really earn your Junior Ranger their detective chops. Each suite has a plunge pool, and, unusually, the family safari drives allow kids from 2 years old to come along.
While you’re here: check out the waterhole which attracts giraffe and zebra (all the Big Five are present in Madikwe); 300 bird species to spot; look for the African Wild Dog
Getting here: an easy 4 hour drive from Jo’burg or a 45 min flight
Swim among dazzling coral reefs, Malaysia
This tropical island in the South China Sea would be devoid of human species but for luxuriously laid-back Batu Batu resort. The on-site PADI dive has exceptional staff, and offers Bubblemaker kids diving courses (from 8 years of age) and supplied-air snorkelling for ages 5-7, allowing children to gaze upon spectacular reefs and be immersed in an enthralling underwater world of colourful coral, fish and crustaceans. Many of the stilted wooden villas have annexes attached with bunkbeds for children.
While you’re here: release hatchlings into the wild at the turtle conservation centre; enjoy jungle walks; decide which of the 8 near-deserted beaches is best
Getting here: 3-4 hour drive from Singapore (4-5 hours from Kuala Lumpur) and a 20-minute speedboat ride
Discover a magical rainforest, Costa Rica
Luna Nueva Lodge is both working finca – practicing regenerative agriculture and a custodian of sacred seeds – and place of learning. Children are welcomed on fascinating jungle tours looking at life at a microbial level; without these weird and wonderful insect species life would cease to exist. Take the Rainforest Mysteries Trail at night with an expert guide for nocturnal sights and sounds, and animals such as the red-eyed tree frog, sloth or kinkajou honey bear. Climb the 15-metre Canopy Tower for the views; of the 250 birds recorded at Luna Nueva, the toucans and hummingbirds are the most popular.
While you’re here: the Arenal volcano is only 10km away; plant a tree in the biological corridor connecting Luna Nueva’s 50 hectares of rainforest with the 22,500-hectare Children’s Eternal Rain Forest; zip-wires; white-water rafting
Getting here: 2.5 hour drive from San Jose airport
Learn the art of beekeeping, Italy
Lovely Borgo Pignano, a rural complex of villas and hotel rooms, is surrounded by rolling hills, meadows and woodland. Their renowned biodynamic kitchen garden of heritage vegetables and fruits, native to Tuscany, is cultivated sustainably. The estate has a strong commitment to raising healthy bee stocks, considering them critical for its well-being. Families are invited to learn about bee-keeping and traditional methods for extracting honey and beeswax, as well as understanding the social structure of bee colonies with its Queen, drones and worker bees. The on-site lab turns the produce into soap and honey.
While you’re here: splash in the kids swimming pool; learn pizza-making; take a guided nature walk; try horse-riding
Getting here: 1 hour drive from Pisa
Explore a tropical butterfly garden, Vietnam
Phu Quoc is the largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, and relaxed good value eco-resort Mango Bay is on its southern coast. Here children can really get back-to-nature with guided jungle walks. A highlight for all ages is the superb butterfly and rare orchid garden, expect to find butterflies fluttering all over the resort. Lizards, giant snails, crickets, frogs, geckos and toads also keep you company (some may join you in your open-sided bathroom!).
While you’re here: try kayaking; there’s a safe shallow beach (snorkels, a fish chart, buckets & spades are supplied); take a cooking class
Getting here: daily flights from Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc, complimentary transfer to the resort
Go birdwatching in a pristine wetland, Argentina
There’s an incredible array of birdlife in the Estero del Ibera wetlands, in the northeast of the country. Base yourselves at former cattle ranch turned eco-retreat Estancia Rincon del Socorro for an unrivalled opportunity to get close to this watery world, best achieved on boat and canoe tours led by expert bilingual guides. Waterbirds are easier for kids to identify as they are usually larger, less afraid, more visible. Other animals to sight include capybara, alligator, deer, monkey and caiman.
While you’re here: go on a night-walk safari; watch gauchos at work; swim in the pool; learn horse riding
Getting here: an internal flight to Corrientes or Posadas, then a 4×4 transfer