What's your favorite place? I get this question all the time and it's impossible to answer. There is no favorite place. Everywhere we go we find amazing experiences and wonderful people. To pick just one country or city? I can't do it. That said, I sat down with my daughters to discuss some of our favorite stops along our travels over the past few years. In no particular order, here are some standout attractions...
Sitka, AlaskaWhen you go to Alaska, you have it in the back of your mind that it would be really cool to see a bear... under the right circumstances. Fortress of the Bear makes it possible. And this non-profit bear rehabilitation and rescue facility is just $10 for adults and $5 for kids (children under 7 are free), so it's much cheaper than an all-day wildlife tour. No hiking involved, either. Just show up and watch the bears (two sibling groups of brown bears, and one group of black bears) lounge, play, and eat in their sizable habitats. You observe the bears from elevated viewing platforms, allowing for unobstructed photography. You'll probably spot a few bald eagles at no extra charge.
Todos Santos, Mexico
Releasing baby sea turtles is an amazing experience. You can do so, courtesy of Tortugueros Las Playitas for free, though by the end of it, you'll probably feel inclined to offer a donation or buy a t-shirt. The non-profit relocates the nests of leatherbacks, Olive Ridleys, and black sea turtles to its greenhouse for incubation. When the turtles hatch (follow them on Facebook to stay in-the-know), volunteers collect data on the turtles, then shepherd them down to the shoreline at sunset. Show up and they'll hand you your very own baby sea turtle to place in the sand and cheer on as it makes the epic journey into the sea.
Todos Santos, MexicoThis place was a well kept secret until idiots like me starting getting the word out. Just kidding. Sort of. There are no signs, so you need someone to draw you a treasure map to get to this little gem of a beach. Be prepared to hike through a palm tree grove to get there (watch out for snakes on the path, seriously). You don't want to weigh yourself down with too much gear. At the same time, don't expect any facilities or vendors, so you'll need to bring everything you need with you. If you can find Palm Beach, you're in the club. Enjoy the incredible views, undeveloped beach, and massive rock cliffs. I saw one review on Trip Advisor that said this is a nice safe swimming beach. This is NOT true. The water is deceptive and currents are strong, every now and then resulting in the death of someone who thought it was a "nice safe swimming beach." Stay safe.
São Paulo, BrazilThere are a handful of KidZanias around the world, so you can experience this even if Brazil isn't on your itinerary. At first I thought we were subjecting ourselves to an annoying and expensive amusement park. Not so! Well, it is expensive, but it's an experience that puts annoying amusement parks to shame. In KidZania, kids are given "money" upon entry and with which to engage in commerce. They can go to a pizza joint and spend their money on pizza, or they can work a shift at a pizza joint, learn about the process and earn a wage. They can also attend flight school, intern at the hospital, serve as customs officials, and get their drivers licenses. It's an incredible microcosm designed to give children a taste of adult life and managing finances.
Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
Manaus is the jumping off point to reach this place. From there, a guide will take you by van to boat to smaller van to smaller boat to eventually reach the lodge. Sleep in hammocks, fish for piranha, view monkeys, toucan, tarantulas, caiman, and river dolphins. This experience was not a cushy one (no towels, frequent power outages, an occasional halt on running water), but my daughters (6 and 8 at the time) did fantastic. One of the most awesome adventures we've ever had with our kids.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
After the jungle, we were ready for a little beach time. I wondered if Copacabana Beach would be an appropriate place to take kids. Would they be exposed to a lot of buttocks? Well, yes. Yes, they were. But this is really only a big deal if you make it one. And it's usually the parents who freak out, not the kids. We spent New Year's Eve on Copacabana with a few thousand people, enjoying the beach and vendors all day (you can rent chairs and umbrellas and buy anything else you might need from passing vendors), and then stayed for the amazing midnight fireworks show. If you're into epic New Year's Eve parties, put Copacabana on your list. (The photo above is my daughters walking in Rio headed for the beach. This photo was also later used as the cover shot for Vagabonding with Kids: Brazil.)
Itacaré, BrazilCapoeira is an amazing mix of martial arts, dance, and what appear to be physical impossibilities. These people do not mess around! If you have an opportunity to watch a capoeira exhibition, do it. Just know that there is a very real chance someone's sweat might land on you. This is not the end of the world, I promise.
Beerwah, AustraliaYes, this is Steve Irwin's zoo and we happened to go on Steve Irwin Day, when Irwin's family and the zoo celebrate his life. I have trouble calling this place a zoo, because it's so much more. And I think if you were an animal in a zoo, this would be the zoo you'd hope to end up in. Amazing, overwhelming, educational, and interactive. This photo was followed by my husband and I asking the girls if they wanted to go look at some real animals, but this giant action scene of a croc battling a dinosaur held a lot of appeal for them.
Port Arthur, AustraliaI love prisons. It's true. I'm endlessly fascinated by convict history (which sometimes just boils down to man's inhumanity to man). You can easily spend all day roaming the grounds at Port Arthur, learning about the history of the wardens, guards, prisoners, and the evolution of facilities of incarceration. We added on the boat ride that takes you to the site of the boys' prison. It's everything you might expect it to be: shocking, entertaining, and also terribly sad. But this site was one of my favorites in Tasmania and well worth the trip.
I want to hear from you.
Which of these would make YOUR list?
What are your must-see attractions?
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