A great family vacation idea is the rainforest for kids. There are a number of places to visit a rainforest and it's a great learning opportunity. Here we'll talk about the benefits and dangers of visiting the rainforest and show your some of our favourite rainforest vacation spots.
There are a number of main rainforest areas to visit. Some closer than others depending on where you live. You'll find rainforests in Central America (including the Amazon), Southeast Asia, some in Africa (and Madagascar) and Australia.
Our favourite place to visit the rainforest is around Cairns, Australia and Northern Queensland. It's a safe, modern country with lot's of activities on offer.
We actually lived in the rainforest around Cairns for a number of years and learned a lot! We've found many free things to do in the area as well.
If you or the kids don't love humidity, the ideal time to visit a rainforest is the dry season. This is also the high season and most expensive. If you want to save a bit of cash, the monsoon or wet season is the best time to visit. Your timeline will need to be flexible (due to bouts rain) but you will get to experience some great storms (hopefully).
Most rainforest areas will have trails and many have waterfalls. These are usually free and one of the best things to do. Just ask around about one that will suit you and the ages of your kids.
In the Cairns area, there are 2 main free spots to walk through the rainforest alongside a creek. There are also some swimming hole.
Stoney Creek is one and pictured below. It's a small trail (30 minutes) with swimming holes dotted along it.
Crystal Cascades is the most popular swimming hole and waterfall area. There are a number of spots to go for a cool dip.
One word of caution, if you are swimming in freshwater creeks in the rainforest, beware of flash-flooding. Get out quickly if the water starts to rise.
A guided tour through the the rainforest is a great activity for kids. Guides or rangers have so much information to offer and can answer the zillion questions children might have. They'll also tell you about the dangerous plants to avoid - as there seems to be painful ones in every rainforest.
Every time we chat with a ranger, I leave feeling like I've gained so much more from the experience than I would have just hiking through.
There are some amazing sights in a rainforest, just take a look at this fig tree:
If you do go to the Cairns area, take a day trip up to the Atherton Tablelands and do the waterfall circuit. Seeing tropical waterfalls like Milla Milla, is something really special. Just look at the colour of that water!
Depending on the rainforest you visit, there will be a lot of wildlife around. It's great for kids who like animals and birds. And insects!
You can even keep a notebook of all the interesting animals you find, what colours they are and where they like to be in the rainforest.
If you want to stay in the rainforest in terms of accommodation, try and get a room that overlooks the forest. You'll get to see all sorts of wildlife and it will vary throughout the day. The birds will all wish you a good morning ... nice and early.
The rainforset is safe for kids but there are a number things to watch out for and be mindful of.
While walking, you may get leeches stuck to your feet. They won't hurt you really, it's just gross. I even found leeches in my bathroom while living in the rainforest!
Spiders: If you've got little ones, just watch out where they put their hands. There are webs around in various places. They're not going to jump out and get you though! We have seen big spiders on the cars of those who live in and near the rainforest but I have never seen any big scary ones while walking.
This is the biggest issue while walking through or staying in a rainforest. The more off the beaten track you are, the more likely you are to find snakes. And I've heard many stories about the size and variety of snakes in the Cairns rainforest.
That being said, we actually did not come across many snakes in all the times we've walked through it.
Precautions: wear close-toed shoes, socks and pants if it's not too hot.
The plants are on guard in the rainforest! They have names like "1000 Years of Pain" and things like that. Watch out for signs noting which plants will sting and stay far away. If you're on a trail used by tourists, they will likely be removed but if you venture into the bush, you'll run into lots of interesting things!
Don't be put off visiting the rainforest with you kids because of these things, just be aware so that you all will stay safe. We've never had any serious run-ins with the above in the many times we've been through the rainforest.
Here are our top picks for rainforest places to visit around Cairns and Far North Queensland:
Skyrail - just on the outskirts of Cairns, this will take you and the family overtop the rainforest with a stop or two to get out and look at the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. A ranger will be there to tour you around. It goes up to Kuranda - a nice hippy / touristy town.
Paranella Park: about an hour's drive south of Cairns, near Innisfail, is the ruins of a rainforest castle. It's very interesting and a good choice for the kids.
Cape Tribulation: if you want to true rainforest and special experience, Cape Trib is a great choice. It's a ways north of Cairns, over a river ferry and slightly isolated. You'll be close to the Coral Sea and have tropical fruit, Daintree tea and more to see. We camped there, saw crocodiles and beautiful crystal clear water on the edge of the rainforest.
The best thing about the rainforest for kids, is that it is nature. Surrounded by nature and exploring is such a healthy thing for their minds. Even the dangers provide a learning opportunity and can give kids a need to be self-controlled and responsible. I hope you go and have a great time!
For more on the Cairns area, visit our Cairns Family Travel page.
If you're staying in the Cairns area and have a car, the best spot is Palm Cove. It's about a 30 minute drive from the Cairns CBD but on a beautiful beach and the accommodation options are well rated here.
If staying in Cairns, I'd recommend The Lakes Cairns Resort. It's close to the Botanic Gardens and a safe, quiter area.