What are the best countries for kids?

Nothing like a tantalizing and absolute sounding title for what is sure to be conjecture and un-researched opinion. Still, not to be outdone by professional journalists I’ll carry on making it up as I go along and give the best places we have found for kids in our limited experience….

Where do they most like kids?

We have been to North, South, East and West and where they like kids is pretty easy to categorise, the further south you go the more they like them. So, Sri Lanka gets a big thumbs up, as do Jordan and Ecuador. In fact just about anywhere in South Asia, the Middle East or South America we have been has been kid-friendly. Of course kid friendly doesn’t mean kid facilities, it means they don’t look at kids like beings from an alien planet or get upset when the kids make a noise or a mess. What people in places like this tend to do is smile indulgently and clean up any incidental mess. Italy by the way has no kids, so it’s not so much that they don’t like them, it’s just that they’re not sure what they are.

kids being friendly to each other
kids being friendly to each other

Easiest place to get ad hoc babysitting

A general rule of thumb, the poorer the country the easier it is to get babysitting. A harsh but true economic reality that means in places like Nepal and Sri Lanka we were able to find babysitters who would sit with the kids for an hour or two while we ducked out for a while. In our experience it’s OK to ask and people are happy to do it. You’ll struggle to get a criminal records check and two references but you know what the middle-aged working class women who normally step up to the plate for this kind of thing are a nice bunch. We found people by asking the ladies who clean the rooms in the hotels or at reception, or if we rented houses the women who came to clean. We never left the kids for more than an hour or two and always took the babysitter’s cel phone number (even in really poor places people have phones)…

Chandra was our cook and cleaner and took us out for the day to boot!
Chandra was our cook and cleaner and took us out for the day to boot!

Best place for cheap fun

For sheer variety of landscapes, each with its own version of cheap fun combined with a healthy disregard to health and safety the best place for cheap fun has to be Argentina. During the one holiday our boys went to a great zoo , played on free parks, had snow ball fights, went horse riding in the mountains, climbed trees, clambered over rocks, played lots of table football, saw dinosaurs, went on boating lakes, built fires, made mosaics, attended Gaucho festivals, did Condor spotting, pan pipe-playing and rock collecting.

The cold was worth it to see this :)
The cold was worth it to see this 🙂

Argentina seems to be in that nice place between having rich country facilities (good zoos, open top bus tours and the like), combined with a population with not much money, meaning that everyone has to keep their prices own. This was not true everywhere (the zip wire park in Cordoba was around US$100 for 4 ‘kids’) but the museums and zoos were peanuts and of course other stuff was completely free. It’s also worth noting that in many of the kid places the sometimes expensive incidentals like the popcorn at the cinema, were also reasonably priced.

Most unforgettable experience for kids

No question, hands down the jungle. There must be loads of jungle spots but you would have to go a long way to beat Kapawi lodge. Some people might worry about creepy crawlies and nasty diseases in the jungle, but if you’re going for a few days to an established spot, then you’re OK with insect repellent and mosquito nets.  We have never bothered with malaria medicine which seems to be an obsession with suburban GPs in the UK at least, the risk is minimal unless you’re spending days under canvas or going to one of the real malarial hotspots in Central Africa.

Anyway back to the fun stuff. The jungle is quite simply the best place for adventure. There is no traffic, no crappy tourist tat to buy (well maybe a bit), no decisions to make, just lots and lots of fun. This is our only holiday were there was no whining or complaining about not wanting to do stuff (the kids didn’t complain either). We were all keen to pull on our wellies in the morning and go off to look at trees and learn stuff as well as being happy to hang around the lodge during down time. The people were fantastic (the staff and the other guests) and couldn’t do enough to make the kids feel comfortable. The trip cost a fortune but it was the best loads of money we have ever spent.

Best place for introducing hiking

The jungle is fantastic, but it’s no place for a lot of walking, the terrain is just too difficult. So if you want to wean your smaller kids into the joys of hiking then it has to be the wonderfully flat Baltic States. We have been to Latvia and Estonia (in one trip) and both had fairy tale woods, good summer walking weather and short driving times.

If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn't choose Viljnadi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good
If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn’t choose Viljnadi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good

Best city

That’s easy, the less cars, the better the city. London of course has wonderful places for kids like the museums, but if you’re there for a couple of days it’s simply too much to try to do it all. If you’re not worried about seeing everything then you can take the underground off-peak and stick to some of the not-quite-so-packed options like the science museum and the Imperial War Museum. Personally I would avoid the likes of the London Eye and Madame Tussaud’s as they are expensive and really, really busy.

Staring down the barrel of a gun
Staring down the barrel of a gun

If you have smaller children, then go for a smaller city, places like Tallinn in Estonia, which has a pedestrianized area, green spaces and plenty of town walls to climb. You can also use Tallinn as a base to explore other parts of Estonia, given its size and lovely clear roads. You can also get a boat from Tallinn to Helsinki on a day trip, the kids can have a good run around on the boat and when you get to Helsinki it is also easy to maneuver with little ones.

Another pedestrianized town we visited was Bhaktapur in Nepal, where the kids can run around the temples without fear of getting run over (which is the case in most other places we visited in Nepal). Although it’s basically a suburb of Kathmandu, which is probably one of the world’s least kid friendly cities, Bhaktapur itself is fantastic as long as you don’t mind the kids running up and down lots of stone steps playing manhunt with local kids.

I kept expecting the kids to fall down the hole.
I kept expecting the kids to fall down the hole.

So what is the best country for kids?

Well the short answer is nowhere and everywhere. We have yet to find a place the kids haven’t enjoyed and different places have pluses and minuses. But one thing I can say is that kids are a lot more adaptable than adults and many of the places that you think are going to be too ‘difficult’ for kids, are often the places they most enjoy.