Our travel experts have explored extensively in rainforest environments, but heading to the jungle with kids in tow can be a more challenging experience. The rainforest is inherently hot and wet, with strange bugs buzzing and crawling around. And rainforest wildlife is often found in the canopy, making it difficult for younger travelers to view.
These challenges and more face family travel in the rainforest. Such a trip with children must be planned and executed differently than it would for a group of adults. The family travel experts at AdventureSmith Explorations have compiled the following tips for travel in the rainforest with kids, with our own successes and failures in mind.
1) Slow Down the Pace
Tropical rainforest can be a demanding environment for any traveler, let alone kids. Plan your itinerary to explore at a slower pace that is appropriate for younger travelers without too much moving around.
A full day of rainforest exploration is too much for all but the heartiest kids. Schedule your longest activity in the morning when temperatures are the coolest and wildlife is active. Get up early. Conclude your morning activity by lunch and follow local customs by taking siesta in the hottest part of the day. Add another short activity in the afternoon before returning to your lodge to relax before dinner.
2) Get the Kids Involved Before You Travel
Having children prepare for their journey beforehand will enhance their experience immeasurably. There are numerous books, field guides, games and websites that will educate kids about the rainforest environment and its inhabitants that they will encounter on their trip. Continue this process on the trip by testing their knowledge and asking leading questions while in the rainforest. Good guides, experienced in working with children, are an invaluable resource and will keep kids engaged by teaching them about local flora and fauna as well as culture and conservation.
3) Educate & Entertain
One focus of any family rainforest expedition should be to learn about the environment you visit. As mentioned above, this is best achieved if you prepare kids before departure. Bring field guides or identification charts so kids can identify species along the way. Make a game of how many birds, insects or animals can be sighted on a hike. Have kids keep a travel journal and let them take their own photos. Bring along a pair of binoculars for each child and show the kids how to use them. Rainforest wildlife can be fleeting and easily missed when kids have to share. Unplug and leave the screens at home. Phones and devices are a great tool on drives and airplane rides, but in the rainforest they will distract from the purpose of the trip.
4) Travel by Boat
Rainforest walks and hikes are sometimes draining for kids. They get hot and tired, and rainforest wildlife is often found high in the canopy making it difficult for kids to see. In some places this can be alleviated by exploring the rainforest by boat or by kayak. In Costa Rica, Tortuguero National Park offers a series of rivers and canals that make rainforest exploration by boat easy and fun. Visit the Amazon during the high-water season where small pangas venture deep into flooded forest. Many small ship cruises utilize small craft to explore up close, away from the ship. This will allow kids to orient to rainforest exploration, learning how keep cool, to spot wildlife and ward off any bugs. Then, when they are an experienced jungle explorer, you can venture farther afield on hikes and treks.
5) Interact with Locals
Any visit to the rainforest with children should include a visit to a local village or school. Rainforest residents are very friendly, family-oriented people, and travel with children can open authentic cultural interactions in a meaningful way. Many lodges have programs designed to incorporate school visits or even language classes that offer a chance for kids and their parents to interact with local people. Afterwards a friendly game of soccer is a sure way to get kids having fun and interacting, regardless of their language ability.
6) Book a Rainforest Lodge with a Pool
Many ecolodges do not have air conditioning, and long hot days can wear on kids. A pool is an essential way for kids to cool off and have fun. Sitting by the pool watching the kids swim also allows parents a chance to relax, read and enjoy each other’s company.
7) Request Family Guides
Most top ships and lodges have guides with kids of their own or with experience working with younger travelers. A good guide can keep activities both educational and engaging for kids, making the rainforest a fun and exciting place for kids. The lessons of the rainforest include the struggle for survival, competition, symbiosis and interaction. When taught effectively, these are lessons that will last a lifetime.
8) Travel with Other Families
Traveling with other families with kids of similar ages is a great way to enhance the experience for kids and parents alike. Kids will engage and entertain each other leaving parents to enjoy other aspects of the trip.
Top Rainforest Family Vacations
Adventure travel to the rainforest is becoming increasingly popular. Central America is the most popular region due to its proximity to the United States. At AdventureSmith, our top rainforest family vacations include Costa Rica Family Adventure, Panama Family Adventure, Hawaiian Seascapes and Amazon cruises. Another popular option is to combine an Ecuador Amazon Adventure with a Galapagos Family Cruise.
Traveling to the rainforest with children can be the experience of a lifetime, or an exercise in frustration. With a little bit of planning and perseverance, along with these 8 tips above, you can have an interactive experience with your children where the entire family will grow.
I recently traveled to Costa Rica with my wife and two young sons age 7 and 11. We chose an adventurous itinerary that included two of Costa Rica’s most diverse and famous rainforest environments in Tortuguero and the Osa Peninsula. See my Costa Rica Coast to Coast Expert Review, and read Costa Rica from Kid Level for a young traveler’s perspective. Call the experts at AdventureSmith for help planning an incredible trip.
Any advice from your travel experiences? Please share your own family and kids rainforest tips in the comments below this post.