January 10, 2020

The Decade’s 5 Most Popular Family Vacation Destinations

As the 2020s began, we reflected on all of the memories family travelers made with us in the 2010s. However, we also started to wonder: where did families go for these adventures? What destinations sparked their spirit of wonder?

With our interest piqued, we ran the numbers on our 30+ international destinations, talked to families and built this list. Here are our top 5 most popular family vacation destinations from 2010 to 2019.

5. Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru.

Peru is a country of mountains and mystery. Perched high in the Andes is the Incan palace of Machu Picchu, one of the most fascinating ruins in all of the Americas.

For families interested in hiking, the nearby peaks and surrounding trails continue to be just as family-friendly as they were through the 2010s. Hiking and walking excursions are also available in Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo ruins, Qachikata Quarry and the Sacsayhuamán ruins, to name a few!

Elise Gardner traveled to Peru with her daughter in 2019 and said it was an experience she would never forget.

“Our days were full of outdoor hiking and walking among historical sites as well as great cultural experiences,” Elise said. “It was the perfect way to take in a country that we probably couldn’t have organized on our own.”

Elise Gardner, her daughter, and her guides Irving (far left) and Juan Manuel (far right) at the Sacsayhuamán military complex.

These ruins tell the story of Peru’s past, but its villages, markets and craftsmen tell the story of the present. In the small Andean village of Chinchero, families visited local Quechua women as they worked on some back-strap weaving, the oldest type of loom in the world.

Families love Peru because its people embody a culture that spans centuries of indigenous history and international diversity.

“We met lovely people along the way,” Elise said. “Everything was perfectly organized and orchestrated, from our amazing guides to accommodations and meals to transportation.”

A group of Peruvian women sit in the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, Peru.


4. Italy

The Canal Grande, Venice, Italy.

Florentine pizza, Venetian canals and Roman architecture: need we say more? Italy remains a go-to travel choice among families, as it has been for hundreds of years. The colossal stoneworks of the Colosseum and gold gilded Vatican offer historical insight into Italy without sacrificing any of the beauty.

Kristi Griffin took her family (ranging from 11 to 75 years old) to Rome, Florence and Venice in 2019. She said the trip could not have been more perfect.

“We all agreed it was kind of magical,” she said. “One of our favorite activities was the bike ride down Appian Way. We even got a glimpse of the Pope’s helicopter as it flew overhead!”

Kristi Griffin and her family on Appian Way. James is ready to ride!

Kristi’s 11-year-old son, James, got to see the Learning Tower of Pisa, which was on his international travel bucket list. Her 15-year-old son, John, got to see lots of ancient Roman history he had been studying in classes.

“My 17-year-old daughter, Kate, loved it so much, she hopes to study abroad in Florence,” Kristi said.

John, James and Kate at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

During the trip, Kristi and her family created their own Italian pizza, gelato and souvenirs with the help of local artisans. She said each workshop was fantastic, and the artisan at the fresco painting class made the experience especially valuable.

“He taught us a bit about the history and phenomenon of the Renaissance period and fresco painting, but it wasn’t too much or over our head,” Kristi said. “We had a great time and we all came home with our own fresco painting.”

The Griffin family met a local Italian artisan for a fresco painting class.
The Griffin family met with a Florentine artisan to make authentic Italian pizza.

Southern Italy’s Amalfi, Sicily and the Aeolian Islands combine stunning coasts and rugged adventure with the beauty of Italian culture. This area of Italy is off-the-beaten-path, making it a great choice for families looking for something fresh.

Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Between the Aeolian Islands and Sicily, families can hike and explore a few different volcanoes, each with distinct terrain and landscapes. Thomson staffer Christine Bowe hiked them in 2018. She said some volcanoes offer stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea, while others overlook entire hillside villages.

“Others still look like they could be on another planet, with their rocky craters and sulfurous fumaroles,” Christine said.

3. Tanzania

It’s no surprise Tanzania was one of our top destinations of the decade – ask Biff Pusey, who traveled there with 18 family members in 2013.

“The experience was better than even the most experienced travelers amongst us expected,” Biff said. “The knowledgeable and engaging guides were willing to answer every question kids ages 3 to 23 can ask.”

Biff Pusey stands with some family members in Tanzania.

It’s well-known that Tanzania is the world’s premier safari destination. Often considered the “Switzerland of Africa,” it’s a safe, peaceful country and home to the endless golden plains of the Serengeti, where Disney’s “The Lion King” was set. It’s also one of the last places on earth you can spot all of the “Big Five” in one day: the lion, leopard, African buffalo, endangered black rhino and elephant. It’s home to about half of Africa’s lion population and over 1,100 bird species.

Perhaps Tanzania’s biggest claim to fame (and one of nature’s most dramatic scenes) is the Great Migration. During this year-round phenomenon, about two million wildebeest and zebra stampede through the grasslands and hurl themselves across rivers, desperately trying to outrace crocodiles snapping at their hooves. With enough luck, families can see one of these river crossings, where thousands upon thousands of wildebeest move at once.

When Biff and his family went on safari, they visited with locals in communities around the Serengeti region through our Friends Across Borders program. They spent time chatting with some Maasai while their kids played games with the local children.

“We were able to meet locals in Arusha and several villages to play a soccer/football match against a school,” Bill said. “They were much better than we were! It was the highlight of our trip.”

Thomson traveler Jillian Bowdring met her pen pal in the Eastern Serengeti in 2013.


2. Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands

Rika Stevenson, second from the right, stands with family members at the equator in Ecuador.

Is it world-class chocolate that makes Ecuador so easy to love? Maybe it’s the rugged hikes and lake kayaking, lava tunnels, traditional villages and bustling markets. Rika Stevenson took her family group of 16 people, ranging in age from 9-72, to Ecuador in 2017. She said everyone had a blast.

“Different interests, different activity levels, different needs and different goals for the trip,” Rika said. “We all had an amazing trip.”

The appeal of mainland Ecuador is this accessibility to diverse and immersive adventuring. In the Andean mountains, Rika visited several indigenous villages and textiles markets that make up the lifeblood of the country’s laid-back, beating heart.

“There was always something fun to do between point A and point B,” Rika said. “It could be a stop to learn about chocolate and eat an amazing lunch, or a stop to see the views.”

The feet of a blue-footed boobie in the Galapagos Islands.

Located 600 miles from the mainland are the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador’s lesser-known island getaway. It’s famous for its blue-footed boobies, Darwin’s finches, giant tortoises and sandy ocean vistas.

Families love the archipelago’s one-of-a-kind natural setting and sporty activities, such as volcano hiking, surfing and snorkeling. Ninety-seven percent of the islands are protected National Parks, meaning all of that beauty is untouched.

“The highlight for most of us was the homemade paella meal under the stars on our last night in the Galapagos,” Rika said. “The food was delicious. The stars were amazingly clear and bright. The night was magic.”

1. Costa Rica

The waterfall of Celeste River, Costa Rica.

It’s no wonder Costa Rica was the decade’s most popular destination. Its unpretentious, laid-back culture makes it an easy starter destination for families traveling internationally for the first time.

Relax on the beach and zip-line through rainforest canopy. Soak in the hot springs and play soccer with your local pen pals. Here’s why Costa Rica remains such a popular destination with family travelers:

  • Activities for every family and every age: kayaking, snorkeling, beachside relaxing, cooking classes, cultural excursions and a variety of hiking options.
  • It’s so close to home for many United States citizens, and easier to get to than parts of Europe or South America.
  • It’s a good starter destination for families that have never traveled internationally.
  • Costa Rica is a safe country: American ex-pats retire here.
  • Jungles, sweeping ocean beaches and friendly cities are among the variety of landscapes Costa Rica offers.
  • “Pura Vida” is more than a mantra in Costa Rica; it’s a way of life. No fuss, no stress: families can enjoy the simplicity of nature without complication.
Zip-lining in Costa Rica.

Traveler Penny Righthand, 72-years-old, took her 14-year-old grandson on the trip and said they had the time of their lives.

“We both did all of the adventure activities (zip-lining, whitewater rafting, belaying down cliffs under waterfalls) and felt exhilarated and completely safe at all times,” Penny said.

Penny said her grandson went on the trip with three other kids and got to know them well. “They all hung out together and had a ball,” she said. “No cell phones or tablets in sight for the entire trip – except to take pictures!”

Beyond the thrills of the rainforest lie sun-dazed beaches, year-round good weather and rivers ideal for float trips and kayaking. When it comes down to it, Penny said Costa Rica was unbeatable.

“I’ve traveled a lot with several tour companies. For family fun, I’d have to say this was the best.”

To the families who grew closer, learned more and laughed together during their travels with Thomson, thank you. Here’s to another decade of wonder!