Downtown Puerto Vallarta at sunset - Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, M

9 Learning Vacations for Your Next Family Getaway

Every trip away from home is an opportunity for kids to open their minds. They may taste a new food, hear a different language or spot animals they’ve never seen before. 

Consider taking their on-the-road to a new level by choosing a vacation destination that’s ripe for learning–about history, nature, culture, and more. We picked nine spots to inspire your family to use the world as a classroom. 

Get Wild in Costa Rica 

A panoramic shot of a Capuchin monkey family resting on palm leaves in a forest

With lush rainforests, rugged coastlines, and diverse biodiversity, Costa Rica can feel almost untouched. Take kids there for deep, up-close learning about nature. You’ll see leaf cutter ants busy underfoot and multi-hued birds soaring above. Listen for howler monkeys and spot anteaters and bats. Stand still long enough and the flora and fauna will come to you. Though relatively small, Costa Rica has a whopping 28 national parks. Beach fans will love Manuel Antonio National Park. Marvel at Green Turtles and help conservation efforts through volunteering at Tortuguero National Park. Snap photos of the volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park and while in the area, dip in the hot springs, hike to a waterfall, and experience the zipline and aerial tram.

Explore America’s Route 66

Along the highway known as the “Mother Road,” there are more than 250 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The route begins in Chicago, near the Art Institute of Chicago; travels through smaller towns in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, finally finishing up in Santa Monica, California. Purchase postcards along the way and have your kids write about their experiences to family and friends at home. (Literary bonus: Have your reading-age kids tackle Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.)

See Temples and Shrines in Tokyo

Kyoto, Japan - October 21 2014: Daigoji Temple founded in early

Tokyo’s Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are some of the most interesting and picturesque sites in the world. Meiji Jingu is a heavily forested shrine located in the heart of the city. Large sake and wine barrels flank the entrance and it’s not uncommon to witness traditional Japanese ceremonies during your visit. Asakusa is another shrine worth seeing as it includes a series of halls and brightly colored buildings where “spirit beasts” are depicted inside. See a series of stone monuments as well. One of the most popular sites in Tokyo is Senso-Ji, the oldest temple in the city. See beautiful halls, pagodas, gardens, and gates—and make sure you leave time for shopping in the outdoor stalls flanking Nakamise Street.

Study Geology in Utah’s National Parks 

Zion National Park Cliffs, USA

Utah’s “Mighty Five” parks are stunning settings where you can learn about geology, history, flora and fauna. Explore the hoodoos, sandstone fins, massive arches, and balanced rocks at Arches National Park; spot mule deer noshing on the forested plateau in Bryce Canyon National Park; marvel at the wide expanse and see the night sky without light pollution at Canyonlands National Park; hike over desert rock at Capitol Reef National Park; and try canyoneering, backpacking, or horseback riding in Zion National Park and in the Greater Zion adventureland.

Climb Active Volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii

Hawaii lava tourists

The Big Island of Hawaii has recently seen a lot of volcanic activity. Lava has returned to Kīlauea Volcano’s summit and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, just stopped erupting this past December. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park includes the summits of these two volcanoes and is a designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. View the park’s webcam to see the current Kīlauea eruption and check with park rangers before heading to the park to see the volcanoes up close via one of the trails or overlooks.

Bike Around Mackinac Island in Michigan 

view of Mackinac island

For a vacation that feels far removed from the hustle and bustle of a city, visit Mackinac Island, which rests in Lake Huron between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Mackinac Island State Park is full of informative immersive programming; wander the trails that lead to the limestone Arch Rock formation; learn military history at Fort Mackinac, founded in 1780; and spend time at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, home to Native American art and historic photographs. The island can be explored on foot, in a horse carriage, or via bicycle. The classic stay: The historic Grand Hotel, a National Historic Landmark that has been featured in movies and claims to have the longest front porch in the world.

See the Danza de Los Voladores de Papantla in Puerto Vallarta

If your kids have been taking Spanish in school, why not give them an opportunity to put what they’ve learned to use in modern Mexico? Travel to Puerto Vallarta, a family-friendly destination that beckons travelers to explore its streets on foot. Be sure to stop by the Isla Cuale, home to rows of market stalls selling crafts, souvenirs, and oddities. In the Zona Romantica district, also called Old Vallarta, cafes and shops line the cobblestone streets; El MalĂ©con is a sculpture-studded waterfront promenade that stretches 12 city blocks. The oceanfront outdoor Los Arcos Amphitheater features year-round cultural performances, including gaucho parades, mariachi celebrations, and The Danza de Los Voladores de Papantla, or Dance of the Flyers of Papantla. This age-old ceremony is thrilling for all ages. Five dancers in elaborate costumes climb a tall pole, are attached to ropes, and fling themselves off in choreographed movement while one stays at the top to play the flute.

Learn about Viking History and More in Oslo

Oslo, Norway-June 15, 2018 – The Stave Church from Gol and tourists in Norwegian Folk Museum.

The seafaring Vikings have captivated the imaginations of many kids. You can see relics of that past at the Historical Museum in Norway’s capital. The Viking Age exhibition, where you can marvel at the gold and silver treasures, jewelry, weapons, and tools, tells the stories of Viking warriors, traders, craftsmen, and farmers throughout time. (The Museum of the Viking Age will open in 2025.)  

One of Norway’s Stave churches, which resembles what you’ll see in Disney’s Frozen movie, can be seen at the Norsk Folkemuseum, an open-air museum with 160 historical buildings. This outdoor museum, the country’s largest museum of cultural history, highlights what life may have looked like in Norway beginning in the 1500’s.

Visit a Maasai Village in Kenya

maasai people in kenya
Photo: Wendy Altschuler

Bring your older children on a classic African safari in Kenya—nothing can quite compare to the herds of wildebeest and zebra making their way across the vast savannah during one of the greatest migrations on Earth. Learn about and observe the wildlife of the Maasai Mara—lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos—during daily game drives and spot rhino at Lake Nakuru. Most of all, visit a local Maasai Village. Learning about how the Maasai people build their homes by hand, using the resources in their natural environment, is an eye-opening experience, especially for kids. They’ll likely be surprised at how little an entire family really needs to survive. You’ll see the tools they use to make food, protect their herds, and keep their children safe. You’ll likely be lucky enough to hear songs and watch warriors jump impossibly high during a display of impressive athletic prowess.