I get asked on a fairly regular basis where people should take their children. Given the amount of traveling we’ve done, they ask, where are the best places for a family vacation?
That’s a hard question to answer because every family is unique and they have different interests, but I finally set myself to think about this. I decided my criteria for the list would be those places that, if I were to have children again, I would make sure I took them.
In short, these are amazing locations/events that every child should see and experience.
Northern British Columbia, Canada
The entire Alaska Highway is a great experience, but if you aren’t interested in the whole 1500 miles, I would recommend just one small segment – the 300 miles from Watson Lake to Fort Nelson.
When we set off to ride our bikes from Alaska to Argentina, not only did I never dream I would be pedaling next to wild buffalo, I didn’t even know wild bison still lived! I had seen bighorn sheep in photos – but to encounter them in the middle of the road?
This section of road was something dreams are made of. Caribou… bears… moose… bison… bighorn sheep… I would say British Columbia and the Yukon are just as exotic as Africa.
Whodathunkit? Not me, that’s for sure.
If seeing all these animals in their natural, remote setting isn’t enough, you will also find Liard Hot Springs in this segment of highway. A beautiful place sure to enthrall kids of all ages, you’ll want to spend a few days playing in the delightfully warm water. Liard is a natural hot spring that hasn’t given into development and concrete pools – you’ll soak in natural pools in a natural setting.
This destination, more than any other we’ve visited, sparked the most fascinating family discussions and led to many a brainstorming session.
I’ve written about the area before, so will just recap here. Please see this blog entry about the whole mysterious area for more details.
In short, this part of the world piqued our interest in ways nothing else ever had before or since. Starting with seeing conehead skulls in the regional museum, then on to mysteriously carved stones found in the desert, and culminating in a flight over the Nazca Lines, this area will get you questioning some very basic “truths” about our world as well.
In addition to the mysteries in the sand, one of the highlights of the area is being able to go sandboarding on the huge sand dunes in the area. You’ll head into the desert in a dune buggy, then surf down massive hills. The best part? The dune buggy meets you at the bottom so you don’t have climb back up.
Southern Taiwan during Chinese New Year
Seeing the Chinese New Year celebrations should be a must for every child! It’s amazing. Fantastical, actually.
While you could see the celebrations in pretty much any Chinese area, I am familiar with those in southern Taiwan, and know them to be over-the-top spectacular. We lived in Kaohsiung, a city of 5 million that has pretty close to zero tourism, so we saw the real deal, rather than some hyped-up tourist version.
It would be worth being in the area for the whole week, in order to see the build-up to the actual day, but the real treasure is the day the stores reopen – I think maybe two days after New Year’s? Hang around in downtown Kaohsiung, waiting for the large department stores to open. That’s where the magic happens.
The larger stores put on the most spectacular shows prior to opening. I mean – THE. MOST. SPECTACULAR. Dragon dances with a twist, shall we say. Prior to the dancing beginning, look for a bunch of poles set up in front of the stores – that’s your cue that the magic will be happening there.
And once they start, you’ll know what I mean. The dragon, consisting of two men working together under one dragon suit, will be leaping and jumping from pole to pole, making it look absolutely effortless. It’s an extraordinary sight watching the nimble dragon twist and turn into all kinds of contortions in mid-air before landing on other poles.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any video of the spectacular dragon dances in Khaosiung, but was excited to stumble upon an event a few months later with the poles set up. The dragon got up on the poles and then got down – apparently, the poles were not set up correctly and were wobbly. So – no video of the flying and leaping, but you can see the poles here to know what to look for.
While not watching the New Year’s celebrations, there isn’t much to do in Kaohsiung itself, but you’re only a quick hour away from the beach at the southern tip of Taiwan. Who doesn’t enjoy a day at the beach? Eat lots of seafood for me, will ya?
Ecuador for New Year
This is another one of those celebrations I would like to see every kid experience. And every adult, for that matter. Ecuadorians know how to do New Years right!
We were just outside of Quito for New Year, but from what I’ve heard, similar celebrations happen throughout the entire country. I would imagine you could pretty much throw a dart at the map of Ecuador and find a nice celebration to take part in.
There are quite a few wonderful traditions in this part of the world, but my favorite is that of the Viejo. All day, Ecuadorians drive around with stuffed dolls tied to their cars. They’ve got stuffed dolls sitting outside their houses and businesses. Stuff dolls are pretty much everywhere. Those dolls represent the Old Year, hence the name Viejo (Old).
At midnight, the Viejos will be beaten and kicked to get rid of all the bad stuff from the previous year, then burned. It’s a pretty fun tradition and one I keep thinking I might adopt up here in the USA.
There are several other very cool traditions that are part of the Ecuadorian New Year as well. I leave you with this video I created of the event. It’s not a perfect explanation of it all, but will probably do better than I could manage with words.
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