September 29, 2015

8 Wildlife Species to Only See on the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to an amazing amount of endemic species from fish and insects to mammals and birds. The Galapagos wildlife may have become most famous after Darwin went to the islands in 1835 and came up with natural selection and evolution before releasing his famed study, On The Origin of Species, detailing what he found. Ever since that study was published the unique wildlife on the islands became one of the biggest draws for visitors and for good reason. There are many species that if you want to see them, you have to go to the Galapagos. Check out a few of our favorites!

Waved Albatross


This is the largest bird that can be found of the Galapagos Islands. The waved albatross is the only albatross that only lives in the tropics. While this bird does fly far and wide, it only breeds in the Galapagos Islands, making your chance of seeing one of them here much more likely than anywhere else in the world!

Magnificent Frigate Bird

frigate bird

One of the easiest birds to spot and pick out on the islands, the male magnificent frigate bird sports a large red throat pouch. The pouch inflates larger and larger as the birds try and make themselves more attractive mates for the female birds. The magnificent frigate on the Galapagos is thought to be distinct, genetically, from other frigates because it hasn’t bred with another frigate breed for hundreds of thousands of years.

Sally Lightfoot

sally lightfoot

Possibly the most popular animal for photos is the Sally Lightfoot crab. Its beautiful colors shimmer in the beaming sun as it scurries across rocks in and near the ocean. What differentiates this Sally Lightfoot from others is its interaction with the marine iguanas on the islands. They have a symbiotic relationship and clean ticks off of the iguana, a good source of food for them.

Lava Lizard

lava lizard

These tiny lizards can be found all over the Galapagos Islands. There are seven distinct species of this lizard that have been recognized so far. They are a great example of evolution and adapting to environments to survive— perfect specimens for Darwin’s studies!

Giant Tortoise

giant tortoise

The most famous and iconic animal from the Galapagos is the giant tortoise; after all, the islands were named after them! These are the largest tortoises in the world and can live for more than 170 years. Even given the long life span, there are only about 15,000 giant tortoises left in the world. Good news is that because of conservation efforts the population is on the rebound.

Marine Iguana


This is the only iguana in the world that has the ability to go into the sea for food. This unique quality likely came from the need to survive. With little to no nutritious vegetation for the iguana on land, over hundreds of years the marine iguana started going into the sea to eat seaweed. It is now unlike any other iguana you may find!

A few other animals that are great to look for while on your family vacation in the Galapagos Islands are the blue footed booby, the fur seal, the Galapagos penguin, and many, many finches. This is one of the best locations for a multigenerational family vacation where you can relax and have an unforgettable adventure!

September 22, 2015

See the Big Five on Safari

There is a lot of talk about the Big Five when talking about going on an African Safari. You may have heard the names, but do you really know the Big Five? The Big Five was a term coined decades ago by big-game hunters to give a nick name to the five hardest animals to hunt on foot, mainly due to the danger involved. Conservation efforts have greatly reduced the hunting of the Big Five and while this practice needs to stop altogether, the term Big Five has been reclaimed by conservation groups, tour companies, and travelers as a nick name for five of the most magical creatures that the world has to offer.

The African Lion

Brothers we saw heading to get water. They had just eaten.

A pair of male lions spotted on safari

One of the most iconic animals in the world, the African lion is one of the most sought after animals for safari goers to look for. It is easy to distinguish male lions from female lions. Male lions boast magnificent manes, one reason it may be the most recognizable animal symbol in the world. The largest population of lions can be found roaming the national parks and plains of Western Africa. Seeing a lion in the wild can easily be the highlight of a safari!

The Black/White Rhino


A lone rhino out in the bush

There are five species of rhinoceros in the world and two of them, the white and black rhinoceros, are native to Africa. Interestingly enough, the white and black rhinoceros are not at all distinguishable by color. There is no consensus as to why the white rhino became the “white” rhino and the black rhino was only given its name to show a difference from the white rhino. The main difference between the two is the shape of their mouths. Black rhinos have a pointed lip that they use to eat fruit from branches and the white rhino has a flat wide lip making it easier to graze on grasses. Both species can be found in Western Africa. The black rhino is critically endangered and the white rhino is listed as near threatened.

The African Leopard

Leopard cleaning its chops after eating a Baboon in the Masai Mara

A leopard relaxing out in the grass

The most distinguishing characteristic of the African leopard is its gorgeous coat of fur which ranges from pale yellow to deep gold with black spots all over.  Leopards are very skilled at adapting to different habitats and can be found in much of sub-Saharan Africa from mountain ranges to savannahs and grasslands. The only climate they will not be found is in extreme desert environments. Leopards become the most active between sunset and sunrise, making late night and early morning safaris the best time to spot them!

The Cape Buffalo

He's an old soul this one

He’s an old soul this one

One of the most dangerous animals in the Big Five category, the Cape buffalo is highly unpredictable. Adult buffalos have a large set of horns on its head and have what is called a fused base creating a bone shield across the top of its head forming a “boss.” The Cape buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa living in swamps and floodplains. Thy have very few predators and are regularly able to defend themselves against lion attacks. It is not rare to see packs of Cape buffalo stopping at a watering hole in the Serengeti!

The African Elephant

Taking the kids for a sip of water

Taking the kids for a sip of water

The largest of all the Big Five animals is the African Elephant. In fact, the African bush elephant is the largest land mammal in the world and it is also one of the most intelligent. The elephant is recognized quite easily by its large body, huge floppy ears, long trunk, and a beautiful pair of ivory tusks. The African elephant is vulnerable and soon may be placed on the endangered list if poaching does not stop. While on safari though, it’s a real joy to see elephants picking leaves off of trees or strolling down the road.

The Big Five can be seen in a handful of African countries, but Tanzania is widely regarded as they best. With annual events such as the great migration, going on safari in Tanzania gives families an opportunity to seen not just the Big Five but other incredible animals as well. Seeing amazing animals in their natural habitat can easily be the highlight of any family vacation!

September 15, 2015

5 Great Family Activities to Do in Southwest Ireland

Ireland has long been a great destination for a fun and relaxing family vacation. It has everything you would want: wilderness, wildlife, delicious food, and great fun. There is much to see in Ireland but one of the best places where you can find adventure, culture, and a bit of good craic is in the Southwest!

Learn to Sail

kinsale harbor

Sailing is an art and a skill that is practiced all over the world. But did you know that one of the most famous historic harbors in all of Europe is in Southwest Ireland? It is! The Kinsale Harbor is a place that sailors have visited for centuries because of its safe and noble waters. In the harbor, your family can hop aboard a small boat and learn the basics of sailing— a skill and hobby that may follow you home!

Visit Cultural Towns for Food and Art

Ireland has been making a bit of a splash in the culinary and art world. Kinsale has recently become the gourmet capital of Ireland and a hot spot for art tourism. Over the past few decades artists have been coming to Kinsale to hone their craft of drawing, sketching, or painting and this has translated into creating a wonderfully little town with its own unique culture. Kinsale isn’t the only town that has been praised for its food and art. Dingle has recently been called the best foodie town in Ireland and also has a host of small shops and art galleries for you to explore.

Go on a Sea Safari

jumping dolphin

One of the best places in Europe to view marine life out in the wild is in the small sea side town of Baltimore. With over 20 recorded species of whales and dolphins, there is always a good chance that you’ll be able to see one of these magical creatures swimming alongside your boat to say hello! Seeing dolphins or whales in their natural habitat is one of the most exciting things your child can ever experience.

Explore the Countryside

No trip to Ireland would be complete without venturing into the rolling hills of the countryside. There are two main outdoor areas that are great for families to explore in Ireland: the Gap of Dunloe and Killarney National Park.  The Gap of Dunloe is a famous 7-mile long narrow pass through the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range that has become a popular path for bikes and horse drawn carriages. Killarney National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Special Area of Conservation. Your family can hike through the untouched forests and lakes while trying to spot the only remaining herd of Red Deer in the country.

a family cycling while on vacation in Ireland

Stay in a Castle

Quite self-explanatory, but you can have a room in your very own castle! Feel like royalty on the grounds of Ballyseede Castle. This is one of the best ways to learn what it might be like to live like the King and Queen!

There is no time better than now to see all that Southwest Ireland has to offer!


September 8, 2015

Our 10 Favorite Llamas in Peru

One of the best parts of any family vacation is getting to know the locals and making connections that you could only make through traveling. This holds true no matter where in the world you travel to. One place that we can’t get enough of, and neither can our traveling families, is Peru. Between our Friends Across Borders program, meeting Quechuan weavers, and sharing lunch with a local family in Cuzco, there are plenty of people to people opportunities in Peru. What about the other locals? What about a people to llama experience? These are also just as great. Here are 10 of our favorite llamas we’ve seen during family vacations in Peru.

1. This little llama family getting a snuggle in on Machu Picchu

llama on machu picchu, as seen on a family vacation to peru

2. This solo llama who goes out and grazes on her own

llama grazing for food, as seen on a family vacation to peru

3. This llama who stayed out too late last night

sleeping llama, as seen on a family vacation to peru

4. This philosopher llama sitting in deep thought

llama on a cliff, as seen on a family vacation to peru

5. This llama that loves to take selfies

girl taking a selfie with a llama while on a family vacation to peru

6. This ‘two-toned’  llama

brown and white llama

7. This suspicious llama

a skeptical llama

8. This llama that took over the screen, and probably everything else he does

photobombing llama

9. This tiny baby llama in a tiny purple hat

baby llama wearing a hat, as seen on a family vacation to peru

10. This llama who needs a haircut

llama with long hair

You can make all kinds of friends in Peru, whether it be locals, fellow travelers, or llamas. No matter who you meet, this is one of the best places for your next family vacation! Or you can see all of these reasons not to go to Peru… 

September 1, 2015

Be an Explorer in the Sea of Cortez

One of the most magical, bio-diverse, and unimaginably beautiful family vacation destinations in the world is the Sea of Cortez. While there is much to love about Baja, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez is definitely something that stands out. It sets a scene that anyone who lays eyes on it won’t ever forget. What is so captivating about the Sea of Cortez isn’t the beauty on the surface, but the wonder below it. It’s a body of water that has been explored in the past and will continue to be explored in the future. A few expeditions have become more well known than others and hearing about two of these famous journeys will make anyone excited to book a family vacation out to Baja and dive head first into the Sea of Cortez.

John Steinbeck

dolphins bajaIn 1940, author John Steinbeck went on a six-week expedition in the Sea of Cortez to collect marine specimens. What was an author doing on a marine biology expedition? Good question! Essentially, Steinbeck was looking for a new start after he gained fame for Tortilla Flat and The Grapes of Wrath. He was interested in marine biology and his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, was looking for a new adventure. Steinbeck’s exploration of the Sea of Cortez served as an important journey. You can read all about this expedition in Steinbeck’s book The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck was not just a fan of the Sea of Cortez, but of the Baja peninsula as whole.

Jacques Cousteau


One of the most famous modern day explorers, the Frenchman Jacques Cousteau led more than one expedition to the Sea of Cortez.  He did much of his exploring in the 1960’s and felt strongly enough about what he saw that he called the Sea of Cortez the “Aquarium of the World.” It’s no secret any more that the waters in the sea are full of rich and biodiverse marine life. Many locals refer to Cortez as the “whale highway” because of the migration path of whales during the winter months (visitors during this time can normally see dozens of whales at a time!). Whales aren’t all that can be found here. People should keep an eye peeled for dolphins, sea lions, manta rays, and over 900 species of fish that come in all colors and sizes!

You don’t need to be a famous author or explorer to enjoy the natural treasures of the Sea of Cortez. All you need to do is go!

August 26, 2015

4 Reasons Panama Is Great for Kids

Some places in the world are great for you to travel to and some are great to for you travel to with your kids. Panama is definitely the latter! Panama is rich with history, culture, innovation, wildlife, and adventure. There are plenty of opportunities for fun and education while on a family vacation in Panama. What we find kids love about Panama, you will too!


Bird in Panama

There is nothing kids love more than seeing wildlife up close and personal! Panama is home to over 900 species of birds, making it somewhat of a must-visit destination for bird lovers. Being able to watch as colorful toucans or quetzals leave their perch in a tree to take off and glide and streak through the sky is nothing short of amazing. White-faced capuchin monkeys stare as you make your way through jungles and down rivers because they are just as curious as your kids are! Seeing animals in their natural habitats create an excitement that no screen or device can.


Nothing says family vacation like a little adrenaline pumping fun! Panama is a great place to let out your inner daredevil (in a safe and organized fashion) and make some memories. The Chiriqui Highlands are a playground for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Kids won’t ever forget seeing streams and waterfalls beneath them as they fly through a treetop canopy on a zip-line! Another fun adventure in the highlands is white-water rafting. Your kids will love taking on Class II and III rapids with plenty of breaks for swimming!

Meeting an Embera Tribe

Embera Canoe

No trip abroad is complete without a chance to meet the locals and Panama has some of the best. Imagine a scene where you take your kids into a dugout canoe and slowly begin to paddle up the Charges River in the middle of a jungle. Along the way you pass thatched houses that blend perfectly into the fabric of the environment. This is what a journey to an Embera village looks like. This journey back in time to when things were simpler and technology didn’t rule the day will be an education your kids won’t soon forget and can’t get anywhere else!

Visit a Panamanian Farm

Visiting a Panamanian farm is a great way to show your kids how a modern day rural Panamanian family lives. Boquete is an exceptionally beautiful region and nothing proves this more than the local farms. Try your hand at milking cows and feeding pigs and chickens while taking in sweeping views of mountains and fields. Learning to make jams from rare tropical fruits and traditional tamales is a life skill that will stay in your family forever!

Take the family vacation you deserve and call us to visit Panama today!

August 18, 2015

20 Reasons Not to Go to Peru

Peru is obviously a terrible place to take a family vacation and we don’t know what good things to say about it, if there are any.

1. There’s nothing beautiful or magical about Machu Picchu

beautiful Machu Picchu - a perfect family vacation destination

2. Really, there isn’t anything worth seeing

Machu Picchu

3. Everything is old, who likes finding ancient Incan ruins anyway?

Incan Ruins

4. Llamas aren’t cool or fun animals at all

Llamas in Peru

5. And why would you ever want to meet one?

up close with llamas on a family vacation to peru

6. The weaving isn’t colorful or artistic

Peruvian art

7. There isn’t anything good to buy in the markets

shopping at the markets while on a Peru family vacation

8. The fruit doesn’t look appetizing either

delicious looking fruit at a market in Peru

9. San Blas seems like a drag and unoriginal

San Blas

10. All of the cities seem pretty bland

Peru City

11. The churches aren’t beautiful by any means

a church in Peru

12. Or unique

Peru churches

13. Nothing exciting, fun, or different ever happens

a performance in Peru

14. No one ever has fun river rafting

a family river rafting while vacationing in Peru

15. Or taking mountain valley train rides

riding the train while on a family vacation in Peru

16. All of the birds are boring

Colorful birds in Peru

17. And who would want to see this?

Peruvian reed boats

18. Or hike here?

hiking in Peru

19. Or sleep next to this terrible view?

a family camping in Peru

20. There is also no way your family has fun

family having fun while on vacation in Peru

Check out these Peru itineraries to see what you won’t be missing out on!

August 11, 2015

Where Will You Be This Winter?

A great way to spend the winter and the holidays is off on an adventure. If you’re a Northeast Coaster like we are at Thomson Family Adventures, there is nothing we understand more than wanting to escape the snow (especially after last winter!). If you’re from the warmer regions of the country, there is no way to make the holiday season more memorable or special than spending it in an exciting new place with the ones you love. Lucky for you, we have four great destinations for a winter and holiday time family vacation!


galapagos sea lions

The holiday season is full of wonder and amazement, but nothing will compare to the wonder or inspire the amazement that the Galapagos Islands will for your family. This is one of the few places in the world that has sustained its pristine natural biodiversity and charm with minimal change from human intervention. The conservation efforts on the islands are top of the line and allow you to see beautiful beaches, swim with playful sea lions, find old giant tortoises, and explore picturesque islands. This will be the best gift you can get your kids for the holidays!

South Africa

One of our new family vacation destinations, South Africa has an unrivaled country spirit. With a deep history producing revolutionary figures like Nelson Mandela, South Africa is a cultural and historical adventure like no other. It is a country dedicated to social empowerment and development that will inspire you and your children. There are also great intimate family safari opportunities in South Africa. You can see the Big 5 up close and enjoy magical evenings as the sun slowly sets, casting dark hues of oranges, reds, and yellows, over the South African bush.


There is something in Baja for everyone. It has plenty of active sport options, good for all ages, from surfing and kayaking to hiking and horseback riding. Or you can saunter around the cultural beach towns of La Paz or Todos Santos taking in the local art and food scenes. Escaping the cold for a beach town sounds just about perfect to us, even more so after remembering the average temperature in December is a cool 80 degrees!

Costa Rica

CR waterfall break

A destination that is perfect for multigenerational family vacations is Costa Rica. The National Parks of Corcovado and Manuel Antonio offer exciting opportunities to explore this amazing tropical land. you can sit by waterfalls in the jungle and enjoy fresh, juicy, and delicious fruit or relax on warm secluded beaches! It’s easy to fall in love with Costa Rica and sharing the experience with your family will make it even more unforgettable.

The holiday season is a great time to travel since everyone will be under one roof. Use this this time for a family vacation and have a holiday adventure your family will talk about forever!

August 5, 2015

7 Reasons To Bring Your Older Kids to Thailand

Finding the right place to take your older kids on a family vacation can be challenging. You want them to have fun and learn without feeling like kids(although they will always be kids to you!). One destination perfect for this kind of adventure is Thailand. Here are seven reasons why Thailand is great for older kids!
Islands and Beaches
The beaches in Thailand are the epitome of tropical beauty. There is no island that encompasses this like Phuket. Famous for its white sand beaches that disappear into emerald teal waters and sandstone islands that tower out of the bay. There are stretches of untouched and private beach on small islands like Koh Yao Noi or Koh Yao Yai that are perfect for quiet and relaxing family time. Not to mention fun activities like snorkeling and diving!
The Temples and Palaces
Thailand is a country with beautiful temples and architecture. Some temples are intricately and delicately decorated in strong bright colors with golden spires and sparkling mosaics. Others are more modest and may be set atop a mountain. Visiting the Royal Grand Palace and Wat Pho in Bangkok are sites not to be missed.

Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have unique markets where you can find almost anything! Visit the floating market in Bangkok where 10,000 boats cover the canals to create an incredible market where you can pick out fruits and vegetables for snacks throughout the day! The night markets in Chiang Mai are a true adventure in the art of haggling!
Arts and Culture
Learning about the culture of Buddhism is a really sophisticated discussion to have with kids. It’s great to discuss hot the art and architecture is so beautiful and inspiring or how the peaceful friendly people are eager to talk about their lives and philosophies.
Natural Wonders
Spending time in the natural wonders of a place can be the best part of traveling. You can search for waterfalls, wild plants, and the rare green-tailed sunbird while hiking in Doi Inthanon near Chiang Mai. Being the national animal of the country, elephants are a major part of Thai culture. You spend an entire day with an elephant and learn to care for it which is a lesson in responsibility and respect. It’s also an unforgettable experience to share with family!

Time to Experiment
Have unique experiences like a Thai massage, fish spa, eating roasted grasshopper, and riding in a tuk tuk. With an extra day in Bangkok you can try the incredibly clean and organized city rail system or have a custom suit made for the coming job interviews. Take a class in the martial art of muay thai or attend a professional fight. The chances to try something new Thailand are endless; you just need to be there!
One of the things that Thailand is most known for is its delicious cuisine. The spicy and flavorful dishes will wake up your taste buds like no other food ever has. A few favorites are papaya salad, pad thai, tom yum soup, and phat kaphrao. Take a Thai cooking class to learn how to create these incredible flavors. This is a lesson your older kids will learn to love even more after moving away from your home cooking!
While Thailand is great country for all ages to visit, older kids are able to dive deeper into the culture of the country for a more sophisticated and thoughtful experience. Take your older kids on a family vacation they’ll never forget!

July 28, 2015

What Makes a South Africa Family Vacation so Magical?

South Africa is country that begs to be explored. It’s a magical place from its cities to its bushveld. South Africa has something for everyone, history lovers, wildlife explorers, sports fans, and everything in-between. With a troubled past and bright future, thanks to a strong and warm people, South Africa becomes more than just a destination for vacation or a trip. It becomes an experience that can be trans-formative for travelers. To begin to understand what makes South Africa a magical place, you need to understand its history, current strides toward progress, and a bit about what makes it unique.


It wasn’t until 1994 that apartheid, state enforced racial segregation, was officially disbanded and South Africa held its first fair and democratically held presidential election. In the first election under the new constitution, Nelson Mandela won the presidency. Nelson Mandela’s victory did not come easy. It took decades of social activism by a majority of the country and Mandela himself spent 18 years in a political prison on Robben Island. Visiting Robben Island is one way to see South Africa’s history up close. Although apartheid isn’t too far in the past, it’s the dedication and outlook toward a better future that is inspiring and kids and adults alike will have an unmatched learning experience while in South Africa.

Social and Cultural Development

Music is a great way to spur social and cultural development

Music is a great way to spur social and cultural development

When Thomson Family Adventures sends families to South Africa we make sure that it is not only educational but fun! As mentioned earlier, the past of South Africa is troubled. The effects of apartheid have not yet all been eradicated. The good news is that there are several programs that are dedicated to bettering the communities and people of South Africa. By visiting youth development programs in Cape Town’s Langa Township you can meet the people and kids working towards a better South African future through dance, music, and the arts. When staying at the Grootbos Reserve it’s rewarding to see how your travels can positively impact a community, not mention its location in the beautiful fynbos. There is no feeling like making new friends and giving back to the world while in the midst of an adventure!

Unique Wildlife

Cape buffalo spotted on safari!

Cape buffalo spotted on safari!

It isn’t just the people in South Africa that are magical and inspiring, it’s also the wildlife. You may know that South Africa is one place that you can spot the Big 5 animals in Africa. Going out on a safari to see lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinos, and leopards can be life changing. Not only can you find the Big 5 in South Africa, but also the Marine Big 5: bottle-nose dolphins, African penguins, fur seals, whales, and the great white shark. This is the only country in the world where you can find the Big 10! You’ll also get to see zebras, wild dogs, giraffes, and gazelles. These are the types of animals that most people only see on TV or in a zoo. Seeing them out in the open and in their natural habitat is a completely different feeling and will inspire awe and wonder in you and your child.

Feel the magic of South Africa on your next family vacation!