Guess what I did on my holidays?

Eating cowboy breakfasts in Arizona, jungle trekking in Sri Lanka, husky sledding in Lapland - a comprehensive guide to the best family breaks around the world

I'm not one for sacrifice, but when it comes to planning family holidays I, like most parents, buckle under the pressure of satisfying my child's every perceived need. But if the thought of sitting on yet another tour bus or faking it at the beach disco rates L for Lame, then a no-holds-barred, high-octane adventure could just fit the bill.

I'm not one for sacrifice, but when it comes to planning family holidays I, like most parents, buckle under the pressure of satisfying my child's every perceived need. But if the thought of sitting on yet another tour bus or faking it at the beach disco rates L for Lame, then a no-holds-barred, high-octane adventure could just fit the bill.

More accessible and less expensive modes of travel – along with increasing international co-operation – have opened up the globe to families seeking fresh challenges. Today, the possibilities seem endless. River rafting, abseiling, wilderness hikes, jungle boating, rock climbing, cattle drives, dog-sledding. These sort of trips will inevitably test your family's abilities and endurance. At the same time they help to promote independence, a willingness to try something new and a sense of achievement – all so important to children and your sanity.

Europe and Scandinavia

Rock climbing is the ultimate problem-solving adventure. Children need to learn how to get from A to B without too much interference from either adults A or B. In the French resort of Puy St-Vincent at Via Ferrata, children can try out a combination of hiking and climbing using cables, ladders and steps. The Narreyroux Valley offers easier routes suitable for children as young as six.

For adrenaline-inducing hydrospeeding, kayaking and airboat rides, junior adventurers aged five and up visit the lower Durance River, while the more experienced tackle the upper Durance and Gyr rivers. Children aged eight and up get to explore the local gorges with a guide and even try their hand at canyoning – a combination of walking through rivers, abseiling down waterfalls and sliding down natural toboggan runs created by the river. Mountain biking and paragliding can also be arranged.

Esprit Alpine Sun (01252 618300; www. espritholidays.co.uk ). Recommended for all ages. Nursery care is offered for children aged four months to two years. On three days each week, there is a Mini Alpies club for three- and four-year-olds, Midi Alpies club for five- to seven-year-olds and Maxi Alpies for eight- to 12-year-olds. A week's holiday costs £229 per adult, children receive a discount of up to 50 per cent. Infants stay for free in an Esprit chalet. Children's nurseries and activity clubs cost from £80 per child.

A unique nine-day family adventure takes place north of the Arctic Circle in Hetta, in the heart of Lapland. Setting up base camp at a lakeshore hotel offering magnificent views of Pyhakero Fell, the active itinerary promises full-on thrills and every chance of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

There is a snowmobiling lesson and learner's "self-drive" and a wilderness campfire. Pine forest hikes and a guided snowshoe trek are matched by a 15km husky sled safari. There is a visit to a reindeer farm and an excursion to a Lapp village on the banks of the Kautokeino. A kick sledge ride takes you out on to the frozen lake Ounasjarvi to try ice-fishing for perch, grayling and Arctic char.

The option of an extended snowmobile safari is a perfect opportunity to explore the "Sahara" of Lapland. Destinations include the fells of Halti and Kebnekaise, and you can even take a Polar Sea safari to Norway.

Walks Worldwide (01524 262255, www.walkworldwide.com). Recommended for all ages. Tours focus on maximum flexibility for families, ensuring children always have a means of transport available should they get tired. A nine-day holiday costs £940 per adult, children aged two to 11 £740, infants £50.

Asia

Join like-minded families on this small-group guided tour which aims to provide stimulation, enabling children to get to know Sri Lanka at grass-roots level. From the coast you head inland to Habarana to explore an unspoiled tropical woodland by elephant. There's boating on a lake in search of wildlife; exploring the well-preserved ruins and immense Buddha statues of Polonnaruwa; a walk up Sigiriya rock and a cycle ride through rural villages.

At Kandy, children get an in-your-face encounter with the baby elephants of Pinnawela elephant orphanage. Travelling on by train through the stunning mountains to the Kelani River there is a chance to try jungle trekking and whitewater rafting. Climbing ever higher into the dramatic hill country to experience the colonial splendour of Nuwara Eliya, the descent brings you to a jungle camp on the edge of Uda Walawe national park. Here you drive in Jeeps in search of wild elephant, sambar, spotted deer and other wildlife, before returning to the tropical beaches of the Indian Ocean.

Travelbag Adventures (01420 541007; www.travelbag-adventures.com). Recommended for children from five years old. The 16-day trip costs from £1,049 per adult, children from £859 each.

Finding an authentic way to immerse children in another culture has become a task of exquisite difficulty nowadays. This trip provides a unique opportunity for an intense encounter with the colour and exuberance, mystery and serenity that typify Thailand. Heading north to Chiang Mai, discover the local markets, handicrafts, temples and pay a visit to the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre, before departing on a private tour for Lisu Lodge. With the Lisu villagers as your neighbours this is a chance for your children to experience traditional tribal culture first hand – to participate rather than simply spectate. Get your children in touch with a way of life unchanged over centuries and explore this remote region by bike, elephant, bamboo raft or oxcart.

Magic of the Orient (01293 537700; www.magicoftheorient.com). Recommended for children from six years old. The 10-night/13-day holiday costs from £985 per adult, children from £726.

Africa

Children are drawn to water like bears to honey. Running rapids on a "hidden" river in Morocco has to be the ultimate thrill for budding first-time rafters. Moving at a mellow pace, from flat-water to Class II rapids, families get comprehensive coaching along the way. Children get a chance to operate as part of the oar or paddle crew, working with the experienced guide to manoeuvre the raft. A typical day comprises a couple of hours' rafting both morning and afternoon, breached by a leisurely lunch and allowing plenty of time to explore en route, to hike up side canyons and visit Marrakesh and the souks. By night you set up camp beneath the stars at spectacular riverside campsites.

Adrift (01488 681611, www.adrift.co.uk). Recommended for six years and up. A week costs £960 per adult, enquire about special family rates.

Australasia

Australia is huge, so deciding where to head can be a complicated affair. If you want to feel you've at least scratched the surface of this immense island, you could join a dedicated family programme designed to fire young imaginations each step of the way. On a 20-day whistlestop tour, children can experience outback adventure from life on a sheep station to a Jeep safari spotting koalas, platypus and fur seals on Kangaroo Island. There's a special introduction to the Flying Doctor Service at Alice Springs, bush barbecues, a sunset camel ride to view Uluru and a chance to get immersed in traditional Aborigine culture. Other attractions include a four-wheel drive through the Daintree Rainforest, a seaplane ride over (and snorkel under) the Great Barrier Reef and a surf lesson at Bondi Beach.

Abercrombie & Kent (0845 0700610, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk). Recommended for six years and up. The 20-day trip costs £6,720 per adult, children aged six to 11 £1,875.

Submerged lakes, ancient cultic sites, hidden waterfalls and unique marine wildlife make Tahiti and the surrounding islands a paradise for children. This is veritable Indiana Jones country. Tahiti itself consists of two joined extinct volcanoes surrounded by coral reef and covered with dense tropical vegetation. Renowned for its diving, adventure options for children include swimming with rays, walks on the outer reef, catamaran cruises, learning to ride the waves and body boarding at surf school, plus dolphin encounters and whale-watching expeditions. The Tahiti Plongée dive school in Papeete welcomes children aged eight and up on escorted dives. Guided hikes through the tropical jungle, four-wheel-drive safaris to the interior and horseback treks all add to the daredevil appeal of this untamed island.

Transpacific Holidays (01293 567722, www.transpacific.co.uk). Recommended for eight years and up. A week costs from £1,569 per person, children aged two to 11 from £799.

Americas

This extraordinary resort has 30 candlelit Palafitos built on stilts overlooking 40 miles of virgin beach on the Pacific coast, south of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Combining luxury with a love for the environment, there is no telephone, no TV and no electricity. The pleasures are simple but sublime. Rise early for a horseback ride through the countryside. Take a rowing boat or canoe out on the peaceful backwaters to spot the mass of wildlife that populates this government-protected nature reserve. Take an escorted birdwatching tour and try out windsurfing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking. Mile upon mile of wild coastline remains untouched due to preservation orders; it is one of the last remaining natural habitats of the sea turtle. Visit between June and January and you will have the best chance of seeing turtles lay their eggs. Children can even witness the hatching and participate in the release of the baby turtles under cover of darkness.

Veloso Tours (020-8762 0616, www.veloso.com). Recommended from four years and up. An all-inclusive week's holiday costs from £2,478 per person; special rates and discounts available for children throughout the year.

Wake up in Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, and you will be reminded of a time when summer meant stripped-down pleasures: bare feet on a wooden floor, stone fireplaces and baked beans by the bucket-load. Founded in 1868 and set in 640 acres of the exquisite Rincon Mountain foothills, this cowboy ranch packs enough authenticity to convince your Game-Boy fans there really was a time before electronics. Ride out through the old mesquite corrals for your own cowboy breakfast of chilli eggs and blueberry pancakes. Hike the Sonoran Desert and get up close and personal with the local wildlife under the guidance of Tanque Verde's own dedicated naturalists. Mount up for an all-day pack trip to experience the expanse of the Old West with its giant Saguaros. With more than 120 well-trained horses, riding is offered daily – both walking rides for beginners and loping rides for more experienced riders. This is a chance for Ma and Pa to practice those "city slicker" skills and to turn the children into keen rookie wranglers.

North America Travel Service (0845 122 8899, www.northamericatravelservice. co.uk). Recommended for all ages. A supervised programme for four- to six-year-olds (Buckaroos) and seven- to 11-year-olds (Wranglers) operates daily. Seven nights cost from £1,356 per adult, based on two adults travelling with a child; infants up to two years cost £169, three years £349, four years up from £1,126.

Best of the Rest

Adrenaline junkie heaven, Hawaiian-style, including a hike to the world's most active volcano (001 303 413 0938; www.theworldoutdoors.com).

A camel trek in the Sinai Desert or heart of Jordan, staying with the Bedouin tribes (01728 685971, www.tribes.co.uk).

A Masai Mara safari, with a dedicated Masai to escort and inspire your brood (0870 727 7077; www.tropicalplaces.co.uk) or direct ( www.heritagehotels.co.ke).

An off-the-beaten-track family safari through East Africa to Zanzibar (01728 861133, www.dragoman.co.uk).

Into the blue learning to sail, scuba, waterski and windsurf in Turkey (023 9222 2333, www.sunsail.com).

Cycling adventures through the Swiss Alps (01633 681997, www.freewheelholidays.com).

A yacht cruise to the Galapagos Islands (01962 779317, www.quasarnautica.com).

Nature-rich eco-adventures in Belize (020 7292 5050, www.exus.com).

Multi-sports in Jamaica and a unique chance to absorb island culture by teaming up with your own local playmate (020-8742 8818, www.erihotels.com).

Helen Truszkowski is the author and series consultant of Cadogan Guide's best-selling 'Take the Children' series.



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