This post was first published on June 5, 2011 as a guest blog on World School Adventures.

One of the greatest educational travel experiences we’ve had as a family (three boys plus mom and dad) has been to visit animal rescue centers.  The staff members and volunteers we’ve encountered have been universally friendly and knowledgeable and were willing to spend time with the kids talking about the animals, their care, and the dangers they face.  Inevitably, we learn about indigenous cultures and national politics, since conservation issues so often cut across the various spheres.

Here are a few specific places I can recommend:

Parrot Sanctuary, Hacienda Nohpat, Mexico: We stayed almost a week in this hacienda in the Yucatan, on the outskirts of the bustling city of Merida.  In addition to being a beautiful place to stay, the property is also an active parrot rescue center.  The parrots came out to have breakfast with us on the patio every morning.

Turtle Sanctuary, Mexico: The center is in the southern part of Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancun.  It was built to protect the island’s native giant sea turtles, which used to be killed for their meat, shells, and eggs.  Now the center cares for several turtle species and every year, they are released back into the ocean by local school children.

We’re headed to Costa Rica in August and plan to visit the Sloth Sanctuary, as well as the Jaguar Rescue Center.

We always make a donation to the help the center’s cause.  A friend of mine who travels to Africa several times a year for work visited an elephant rescue center in Kenya and adopted two baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Fund.  She visits them every time she goes.

Visiting rescue centers has taught all of us about conservation, but also allowed the kids to meet inspirational people who are truly passionate about their work.