June 5, 2015

6 Great Family Hikes

There are many great reasons to go hiking. Hikes are great for both physical and mental health, it’s simple to do, it’s low-maintenance, and hiking is also a great activity for kids. Hiking is a good way to get your kids off of the computer and out into nature! The best family bonding happens while everyone is unplugged and hikes are a fun and effective way to do just that. Here are six of our favorite places to hike that are perfect for all types of families.

Irazu National Park

A couple of kids gazing into the Irazu Crater

A couple of kids gazing into the Irazu Crater

A favorite from Costa Rica, the Irazu Volcano is the tallest volcano in the country. There are few trails here and they aren’t very long or arduous- typically a vehicle takes people up most of the way. These trails are very good for young kids and grandparents who may have difficulty with long hikes. The trails all offer great views of the volcano’s crater which holds an acid lake that has changed size and color over time.

Isabela Island

The hiking on Isabela Island in the Galapagos is beautiful and leaves little to the imagination. Many of the animals you’ll see traipsing around the different paths can only be found in the Galapagos making this an extremely unique experience. Whenever on Isabela Island, we always recommend taking a short boat ride out to the smaller island of Las Tintoreras for a hike. Here, your family can hike shark canal and get amazing up close views of resting white tip sharks. You also can’t go wrong with hiking along the beach!

Macchu Picchu

A family poses for a photo in Machu Picchu

A family poses for a photo in Machu Picchu

One of the more famous destinations on our list, Machu Picchu, is popular and famous for a reason. The history and mystery of Machu Picchu leaves all of its hikers in awe. We love this hike for families because the educational aspect is almost unmatched anywhere else in the world. This massive city hidden in the mountains was abandoned for an unknown reason. The mystery of the ruins will make your kids curious and engaged through the whole hike!


This national park in Costa Rica was called “the most biologically intense place on earth” by the National Geographic Society. This gives hikers ample opportunity to see beautiful and rare animals in their natural habitat. The jaguar, tapir, scarlet macaw, and red-eyed tree frog are all locals in these jungles and seeing them in the wild is an education your kids can’t get anywhere else. With a countless number of trails you can find one suited best for your family’s experience level.

Doi Inthanon National Park

Just taking a break by the waterfall!

Just taking a break by the waterfall!

Bringing you out to the Far East, Doi Inthanon is an amazing hike in Northern Thailand. Parts of this hike can be difficult but, as all of our recommended family hikes, there are options available here to adapt the hike to your family’s needs! Doi Inthanon is a great place to hike not only because it is the tallest mountain in Thailand but the paths are accompanied by beautiful forests and waterfalls for you to get the perfect family picture in front of!

Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley is another great place in Peru for a family hiking vacation. We’ve included it on this list because it’s important to note that Machu Picchu isn’t the only good area to hike in Peru! The Sacred Valley is full of lesser traveled routes and beautiful landscapes that are begging to be explored. Your family can have quiet stretches of trail all to yourselves and have great conversations along the way!

Hiking can be the best way to spice up any family vacation and create great memories. With Thomson Family Adventures we make sure that you get just that- great memories at every turn!

June 2, 2015

5 Reasons Why Costa Rica Should Be Your Next Vacation

Costa Rica, one of the most magical places in the world, has an infinite amount of good qualities and almost no bad ones. Last year, Costa Rica was the most recommended country to travel to- based on a survey of 23,000 travel professionals in 26 different countries. That was no surprise to us and we won’t be surprised if it holds the number one spot for another year.  The jungles are wild and beautiful and the people are warm and genuine. Costa Rica is safe and exciting for travelers of all types and ages. If you aren’t sold yet, below is a quick snapshot of why Costa Rica is such an amazing locale for family vacations!


Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world. In fact, it has been powering itself on renewable energy for most of 2015 and plans to be completely carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica is dedicated to being eco-friendly and has become a leader in eco-tourism. Many of its lodges, facilities, and companies in the tourism industry are all green and committed to leaving a small, if any, footprint behind. You can feel good knowing that you not only had a memorable vacation with your family in a beautiful country, but that you also left a positive impact on the environment.


Gamel CR Beach

The beaches in Costa Rica are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Many beaches are incredible spots for peaceful, relaxing, and sun filled afternoons. Costa Rica has over 1,000 miles of coastline and some stretches are more popular than others, offering kayaking and snorkeling, while some are more secluded and intimate.


iguana cr

This is one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet making wildlife viewing in Costa Rica amazing. There are over 500,000 different wildlife species in Costa Rica and this makes up 4% of the total amount of species worldwide. This is quiet incredible considering that Costa Rica is no larger than West Virginia! Some of the notable wildlife in Costa Rica is the sloth, scarlet macaw, iguanas, red-eyed tree frog, mantled howler monkey, and many more.  But most of these species are endemic to Costa Rica which means you’ll just have to visit to see them!


It would be impossible to talk about Costa Rica and not talk about the surf. For decades now, surfers have traveled from all over the world to ride the Costa Rican waves. Spots like Playa Tamarindo are great for beginners and people looking to take lessons and try surfing for the first time. If you have a bit more experience though, you can search out “secret” locations that can only be reached by boat. If you or your kids have had any interest in surfing- then Costa Rica will be a perfect vacation spot for you!


CR waterfallBeing outdoors in Costa Rica is a must. The natural beauty of the country is its heart and soul. About 30% of Costa Rica’s land is protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, and preserves. What this means for you, tons of clearly marked and safe trails for hiking. Hiking in Costa Rica is never boring and the scenery never gets old.  On a single hike, you could find yourself in three different ecosystems!  A couple of our favorite places to hike are Corcovado National Park and Arenal Volcano Park.


The great features of Costa Rica don’t stop here. Some of the most wonderfully curated flavors come from Costa Rican dishes and their salsa and merengue music can keep you dancing and having fun all night! There is a little something for everyone in Costa Rica and it is a great destination for a family vacation!

May 26, 2015

The Best Regions to Vacation in Thailand

Thailand very well may be one of the most interesting and diverse countries in the world, making it a great destination for families. It is home to a long history, rich culture, dense rain forests, and beautiful beaches. Thailand’s unique culture comes from bordering four other countries, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia, and its large expatriate population. Thailand is a true international crossroads and each region is special in its own way. Here are three different regions in Thailand that we love and are perfect for family vacations!

The Urban Epicenter


Bangkok is home to over 8 million people, which accounts for over 12% of the nation’s population. Nearly 720,000 people living in Bangkok are expatriates, making Bangkok a truly global city. Bangkok was also once referred to as “Venice of the East” because of its intricate canal system and because its buildings used to sit on stilts. Most of the canals have been filled in and the buildings now sit on solid ground, but the incredible architecture of the city remains. One of the best viewpoints of Bangkok is from the Chao Phraya River. The breeze you catch while on a long-tail boat is cooling and welcoming as you sit in the sun! You can even take a boat right to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, two of Thailand’s most marvelous structures. It is highly possible and probable that Bangkok is one of the most vibrant, busy, and exciting cities in the world. Your kids will be in absolute awe taking part in the daily hustle!

The Rose of the North

While Bangkok is indisputably the most famous, popular, and important city in Thailand, Chiang Mai cannot be overlooked. Historically, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from 1296-1768. Although the Lanna Kingdom no longer exists, its traditions and culture still do and there is no place they flourish like in Chiang Mai. The speed of life in the North is much slower and more relaxed than Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a great place for the arts (it’s in the middle of a bid to be named a Creative City by UNESCO) and it’s great for nature lovers- most of the Chiang Mai province is forests and parks. The highest point in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, is just outside of Chiang Mai and offers a gorgeous climb for hikers! Our favorite part of Chiang Mai though is the elephant conservation and rehabilitation farms. Not only do they do great work, but they teach you to train, bathe, feed, and ride elephants over the course of a day. These smart creatures are friendly, take great pictures, and won’t ever forget you!

The Islands of the South

If you take the laid back nature of Chiang Mai and multiply it by ten, you’ll get a sense of the pace of island life in Thailand. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are on Thai islands. The most famous and possibly most scenic is Phuket. This is the largest island in Thailand and perfect for the family trying to relax on the beach and play in the water. The sand is soft, white, and not too hot. The beach disappears into emerald Phuket1and teal waters that seem too beautiful to be real. Dotted throughout Phang Nga Bay are limestone islands that stand tall out of the water and make for a surreal view. This backdrop makes for the holiday card of the century! There are also plenty of places for snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, boat rides, and searching for hidden caves and lagoons- the kids won’t ever get bored!

These three areas of Thailand are all very different and unique in their own way. Going to one is memorable- going to all three is unforgettable! Thailand has all of the ingredients to make for the family vacation of a lifetime.

May 20, 2015

An Emotional Tour of World War II

By Noemi Gamel


We have been home schooling, with various degrees of success, during our RTW trip. In addition to more or less structured grammar and math lessons, they have been learning history by visiting museums and sights that have historical significance. For our WWII unit, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan, the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands, and the beaches of Normandy in France.

The Hiroshima Peace Park is a stark reminder of one of the events that led to the end of WWII: the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. After sitting down with the kids under the shade of a tree in the park to explain the rationale and events leading to the bombing, we visited the various monuments in the park dedicated to peace and remembrance. I found the display of one thousand paper cranes very emotional, especially because it is dedicated to the children who died in the bombing and the project was started by a young girl who died of leukemia due to the effects of the radiation. Tristan walked away in tears from the exhibits demonstrating the acute burn and radiation injuries displayed by the wax statues, and a kind museum guide offered him a paper crane, a sign of peace. We were very moved by the gesture.

In Amsterdam, we waited for over one hour to enter the museum dedicated to Anne Frank. This was the one place Kara was most looking forward to in our RTW trip, because she read Anne Frank’s Diary a few years ago and was deeply affected by it. We were all very emotional during the visit, and at the end we had a discussion about prejudice and the importance of speaking out against injustice, whether it affects us directly or not.

We ended our unit on WWII with a D-day tour in Bayeux, France. We saw the bunkers and cliffs of Point du Hoc; the beaches of Utah and Omaha; and the Saint de Mere church and museum dedicated to the American airborne divisions. We were able to tie in what we learned at the Anne Frank house with what we learned about D-day and the liberation of Western Europe, which unfortunately came too late for Anne and most of the people who lived in the Secret Annex.

While we visited the sights a bit out of order, the children were able to learn about different aspects of the war and its impact throughout the world. I hope when Kara and Tristan study WWII in school, they can remember with reverence the sights we visited.


May 18, 2015

Sextant, Compass, and GPS

Did you know the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador… and Ecuador has the equator running smack through it? Yup, Zero Latitude.

What better place to feed your fascination with the whole idea of aligning stars, managing agriculture, calculating time and distance, and navigating directions? Imagine hanging out right where the center of the world is, under the Southern sky full of stars you might never have seen before (unless you’ve been to South American before!). Learn about navigational forces and sundials. Be astounded at how the ancient civilizations perfected their skills. Straddle the equator! Then after hiking, treasure hunting, and star gazing in the highlands, fly out to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of the mainland.

In these volcanic islands you’ll still enjoy star lit skies at night, but from a completely different landscape than the mainland. Swim, hike, and kayak amongst breathtaking wildlife , bioth at your feet and soaring overhead.

May 15, 2015

Family Vacation in Historic Ireland



Ireland seems to have a voice that reaches out to you, calling you home to the rolling hills that sweep over the countryside in a color wheel of green. Every so often you might see the ruins of a castle or a whitewashed cottage bordered by a stone fence. The heart of every village is the pub, and it’s usually filled with friendly people sharing the day’s news, sometimes while listening to an impromptu seisun of traditional music.
Ireland is a small country with not even 5 million people. In fact, the United States has seven times more people of Irish ancestry than people actually living in Ireland! This may be one reason Ireland has become a top family vacation destination! Despite its relatively small stature, Ireland fills some pretty big shoes with so many wondrous natural and manmade sights. However, its biggest treasure is its people, who are among the friendliest and most welcoming in the world.

Almost a fifth of Ireland’s population lives in Dublin. It’s a large city with a small feel and you can see all of the best sites by spending a day walking around. Dublin is full of history and you can see it in its streets. From the Book of Kells on display at Trinity College to O’Connell Street and the General Post Office, headquarters of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin begs to be explored. It’s not just ancient history in Dublin. Ever hear of a little band called U2? They got their start right on the edge of Dublin’s Temple Bar district!

Heading west out of the city, you and your family will find yourselves in a completely different world. The Irish countryside, Connemara specifically, is adorned with small villages, rolling hills, green pastures, and roaming sheep. Connemara also has its own slice of pop culture fame. The famous 1952 movie The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in the village of Cong in Connemara. There’s a statue in the town of Wayne holding O’Hara just like in the film!

While Ireland may not be world famous for its cuisine, it’s difficult to find a bad meal. The stews, bangers (sausage), potatoes, and fish all make for a hearty meal- not to mention the soda bread and brown bread. At the end of your meal, when there is only a bit of bread left, you can dip it in the what remains of the stew for the perfect finish to what is sure to be an incredible and flavorful delight!
There are so many reasons to take a family vacation to Ireland, and really none not to. Plus, we’ve taken into consideration everything that makes Ireland the amazing place it is, and we’ve incorporated activities, sightseeing, cuisine and culture to make your adventure one that you’ll hold deep in your heart for many years to come.




May 13, 2015

Tulips in Amsterdam

By Noemi Gamel


What do you think of when you hear of Amsterdam? Call me a total geek, but I think of tulips, windmills, the Anne Frank House, and The Fault In Our Stars book. To recover from our emotional but uplifting visit to the Anne Frank House, we headed to Keukenhof, one of the largest tulip gardens in the Netherlands (more then 800,000 tulip bulbs are planted each year).
The history of Keukenhof goes back over 500 years when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria gathered fruits and vegetables from the woods nearby for her kitchen. The landscape architect father-son team by the name of Zocher designed the castle gardens in 1857, and for the last fifty years the estate has served as the main platform for the Dutch floriculture section.
As you walk into the gardens, you feel like you are in a Dutch version of Disneyland, where the theme is tulips instead of fairy tales. Everywhere you go, you see, smell, and feel the flowers. In addition to numerous paths, gardens, and ponds, you will also find a maze, green houses, tulip fields, a playground, and a petting zoo. Prepare to spend the whole day here!



May 4, 2015

Temples and Shrines in Kyoto



By Noemi Gamel

There is no shortage of temples and shrines in Japan thanks to the long and diverse history of Zen, Buddhism, and Shintoism. If you like history, comparative religion, or architecture, you can spend days contemplating these amazing buildings. If you are traveling with children, however, it is easy for them to get “templed out”, as Tristan phrased it one day.
So if you are going to Japan with kids, make sure you get the highest yield to avoid temple fatigue. In Kyoto, some of the highlights include Fushimi Inari and the Arashiyama district in the western outskirts of Kyoto.
We spent one afternoon at Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of rice and patron of business. This is a great shrine for kids to visit because there are many activities, such as walking the pathway of hundreds of traditional gates and guessing the weight of a rock to make your wish come true. The scenery is also very beautiful.
I also highly recommend a day trip to do a walking tour of the Arashiyama district. Your first stop should be Tenryuji Temple, which is one of the largest and most impressive Zen temples in Japan. The gardens are elegant and breathtaking, as are the simple buildings in the temple complex. From there, walk through the bamboo groves to the villa of Okochi Sanso, a popular actor who died in 1962. Though not a temple, the grounds are very pretty and offer scenic views of the area. You will be treated to a sweet and matcha tea at the end. After the villa, take a walk through the back streets of Arashiyama to the Gioji Temple. This is a very small temple, especially compared to Teryuji, but the moss gardens are so beautiful and intricate that you cannot miss it. Afterwards go to the main street of the Arashiyama township to shop and eat.
One final note about each of the temples mentioned above. All of them are working temples where priests work and the devout come to pray and participate in ceremonies. Depending on when you arrive, you might have a normal visit or be treated to something special. Stay flexible and enjoy your time in Japan.



April 27, 2015

Kaiten Sushi in Japan

By Noemi Gamel


One of our favorite dining experiences in Japan has been kaiten sushi. You may have seen it before in movies or your hometown, where the sushi is placed on a conveyor belt that travels around the counter, and you pick whatever looks tasty. In Japan, this is considered a form of “fast food”, and it certainly can be speedy dining experience, but that is about where the similarities to fast food end.
We went to a kaiten sushi spot located in the Tokyo Skytree that we loved so much we went back for more! The line to get in can be long but it is worth the wait. The sushi chefs at the center greet you with a hearty welcome in Japanese. The first time, we were lucky to get a four-person booth that abutted the conveyor belt. Kara and Tristan had a blast grabbing plates of sushi as they passed by.
If there was a particular dish you liked, you could ask the chef, or in our case, point to the picture menu, and he would custom make a few plates for you. Kara did that with the sweet omelet sushi.
Judging by how packed the place was, it was clearly popular with the locals. We were the only Westerners in the restaurant. I got the feeling that the kids’ excited squeals were a bit of a source of entertainment for our fellow diners! Our inability to speak Japanese was not a problem with the conveyor-belt set up. We just picked what looked good! There were several families with small kids there. Apparently some traditional sushi restaurants in Japan do not allow children, which is one of the perks of kaiten sushi. They are kid friendly.

When you are done eating, you just stack your plates on the table and the server counts them with a scanner and hands you your bill. Kaiten sushi tends to be a little cheaper than traditional sushi restaurants.
Have you ever tried kaiten sushi? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.


April 24, 2015

Why You Should Travel to Italy



A picturesque scene from an Italy family vacation
If you haven’t decided where to go on your next family vacation, we can help with that. There are many reasons why you should travel to Italy. There’s a history lesson at every turn, offering new ways to explore centuries-old Etruscan villages; Roman ruins; medieval walled towns; and Renaissance cities that boast some of the world’s most revered artistic treasures. Italy also boasts an astonishing 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — 46 cultural and four natural.
Italy has no shortage of breathtaking natural landscapes, either. Its Mediterranean coastline stretches for miles, showcasing rugged cliffs, hidden coves, jutting fjords and harbor towns. From the Italian Alps and lakes region in the north to the verdant vineyards and olive groves in the central region to the volcanoes of the south, it is incredibly beautiful.
Another reason why you should travel to Italy is one that you’re probably already familiar with: the food! Pasta, pizza, fresh seafood, rich pastries, refreshing gelato and so much more have helped to make Italian cuisine a favorite for families everywhere.
We love Italy and know what a great destination it is for families. That’s why we’ve put together our Southern Italy: Volcanoes and Islands program that we’re débuting in 2016. The area from Naples south along the Amalfi Coast to Sicily is full of sights that are perfect for families to explore. The scenic coastal region is known for dramatic cliffs and medieval villages. There’s also ancient Pompeii, the Roman city that was buried under the ashes after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Your kids will love hiking to the top of the now-dormant crater and wandering through the wonderfully preserved ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


 Family hiking on an Italy family vacationSpeaking of UNESCO sites and volcanoes, our Southern Italy family vacation boasts two of the country’s four natural UNESCO sites — the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily, and Mount Etna, the country’s largest volcano. Both destinations are included on our trip, and your family can discover them in a variety of fun ways: from a kayak, on foot and from a boat. You can also swim and explore the islands’ sea caves. We’ve also factored in some free time for you to pursue your own interests in this amazing area.

Our General Manager, Jim Kackley, explains — in a nutshell — why you should travel to Italy. “Italy is such a wonderful destination filled with warm people, great food and incredible history. Many of us have been there without our kids, and now it is time to take them to see some of this wonder.”