Our top six wheelchair accessible holidays

The number of fully wheelchair accessible holidays out there is still not enough, but it’s growing healthily. A day will hopefully come when the only barrier to what people can experience on holiday is their imagination. We have a feeling it’s not too far off. Catalonia is among the world’s most committed destinations for accessible tourism, but it’s far from alone. Wheelchair users can take a classic South African safari with confidence; travel deep into the forest in search of rare mountain gorillas; discover the wilds of the Antarctic, or the ancient temples of Japan, and cruise past hippos and rhinos in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Time to take the brakes off.

Antarctica

Perhaps no other place holds the promise of adventure so much as Antarctica, the white continent at the bottom of the world. A wheelchair is no barrier to exploring this frozen frontier, when expedition vessels have specially adapted cabins, lifts to all floors, and crew trained to assist people with limited mobility on excursions onto the ice. You do, however, need to travel with an able-bodied companion.

When to go: December to April
Our top selling trip: Luxury Antarctica cruise
Read more: Expedition cruising guide

Botswana

A typical holiday in Botswana sees you flying between several destinations across a vast country, such as Makgadikgadi and Chobe National Parks, and the Okavango Delta. Safari transport options, from 4x4 game drives to river cruises in boats and mokoro dugout canoes, can all be adapted for wheelchair users so you don’t miss out on seeing rhinos, elephants, giraffes and lions. Camps are compact, and some also offer massage therapy.

When to go: June to September
Our top selling trip: Botswana luxury tailormade holiday
Read more: Botswana travel guide

Japan

Japan is very accessible for people with mobility issues and as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics approaches, that situation is improving still further. Public transport in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka can easily be navigated by wheelchair, but in Kyoto and Nara private tours are more suitable. Comprehensive information packs and bilingual support help with everything from finding ramps at bullet train stations to wheelchair-friendly restaurants.

When to go: All year-round
Our top selling trip: Wheelchair accessible holiday to Japan
Read more: Japan travel guide

South Africa

In South Africa you might enjoy a self drive holiday from Cape Town, along the Garden Route and through wine regions to Knysna and Kruger National Park, or join an organised and guided tour. You can also add a beach extension to the idyllic isle of Mauritius. While there are still some practical challenges to overcome, safaris are getting far more accessible.

When to go: July – August
Our top selling trip: Self drive South Africa holiday
Read more: South Africa travel guide

Spain

In Catalonia, close to a lake used for training by several Paralympics teams, professional instructors teach everything from rowing and kayaking to horse riding for people with limited mobility. Activities and hotel facilities are all accessible with ramps and wheelchair-friendly bedrooms, with en suite bathroom doorways wide enough for standard chairs. Massage therapy is also available at a boutique countryside accommodation.

When to go: June – September
Our top selling trip: Disabled activity holiday in Catalonia, Spain
Read more: Catalonia travel guide

Rwanda

Seeing the endangered mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park is a truly life-affirming experience. Mobility issues needn’t be a problem, as throne chairs can be carried by porters through the forest – not always comfortable, but certainly worth the effort. In Rwanda more widely, accessible accommodation on the ground floor of hotels can be arranged, as can suitable restaurants. Most visitor attractions in Kigali are wheelchair accessible too.

When to go: May – October
Our top selling trip: Rwanda highlights, tailor made tour
Read more: Rwanda travel guide

Our top Wheelchair accessible Holiday

Wheelchair accessible holiday to Japan

Wheelchair accessible holiday to Japan

Wheelchair-friendly version of Japan's highlights

From £3180 11 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Hello. If you'd like to chat about Wheelchair accessible or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

Wheelchair accessible holidays advice

Ali Muskett, from our supplier InsideJapan, explains how to navigate Japan by wheelchair:

Bullet boarding

“On the bullet train there is a choice of regular seating, where one seat in a row of three is removed, or a private ‘multi-purpose’ room, which must be booked in advance. The station staff are typically extremely helpful – 10 minutes before boarding, they will escort you onto the train and also ring ahead to the end station to ensure there is someone to greet and help you at the other end. All bullet trains have an accessible toilet. It’s a similar story on the subway in the main cities. There tends to be an allocated wheelchair space on the city buses too, and more and more wheelchair accessible taxis are appearing in Tokyo.”

Accessible accommodation

“We need to clarify the client’s exact requirements, so we need to ask a lot of questions and encourage people to be as open as possible about their needs. This can be time-consuming for both parties but ensures they will get the best possible experience. We provide detailed information about bedrooms and bathrooms in our Info Packs – this includes layout plans of the bathrooms, and handy English-Japanese phrases so for those with particular needs or concerns, we can provide additional phrases in anticipation of specific issues. We have a bilingual customer support team, based in Nagoya Japan 24/7 and they will sort out problems or emergencies on behalf of the client.”

Eating out

“A number of traditional restaurants in Japan aren’t wheelchair accessible because they have tatami mat floors and low seating. However, there are a number of fantastic options that are. We know which restaurants are/aren’t accessible and can make reservations in advance. In our experience, wheelchair travellers don’t want anyone else in the party to have to make sacrifices for them. All of our trips are carefully tailored to ensure that everyone gets to enjoy the same activities. We pre-arrange transport so that everyone can travel together and work with a company that runs Japanese cultural experiences in an accessible room.”
Simon Mills, from our supplier Native Escapes, on how wheelchair accessible safaris work:

Gorilla watching

“In Rwanda, the walk in the throne chair very much depends on the location of the gorilla families. It can be as little as 30 minutes or as long as four to five hours. There are currently seven main groups that can be tracked in Rwanda; they vary in number from around nine to 39 individuals. Of the seven groups, there are a couple that tend to be found on the saddle between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga which is around a two hour walk from the park entrance. Nothing is guaranteed though and you may find yourself tracking a group such as the Susa, first studied by Diane Fossey and often found on the slopes of Mount Visoke, a five hour hike away. So the walk can be very up and down and yes, there can be overhanging branches.”

South Africa safaris

“In South Africa, some properties are graded as wheelchair friendly, while others have room types that could be used or adapted to suit (ie. closer to the main areas, open-plan etc). The safaris are more challenging in as yet, there are no vehicles that have been specifically adapted for electronic wheelchair users – rangers tend to lift the guest in and out of the vehicle. It is therefore really important to understand the severity of the disability and the size of the guest when we plan their trip.”

Wheelchair accessible holidays tips from our reviews

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful wheelchair accessible holiday tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your trip – and the space inside your suitcase.
A beautiful, calm place to be...so much to explore – and cycling, walking and riding too, with our lovely, funny and down to earth hosts to look after us, just perfect.
– Liz Glover, who stayed in a Catalan country hotel
“We took horse riding lessons nearby. I am a wheelchair user, but the instructor/owner got me on the horse and was very encouraging and helpful teaching me beginners’ dressage. We also went rowing in a nearby lake. It's a great outdoors/ activity area. Hotel owners give 100 percent.”
– Tony Mangan on a disabled activity holiday in Catalonia

“Our youngest loved the pool and could manage the walk in shower-with-a-seat independently and spent hours in both! A beautiful, calm place to be, with a delicious breakfast (the best scrambled eggs!) - so much to explore – and cycling, walking and riding too, with our lovely, funny and down to earth hosts to look after us, just perfect.” – Liz Glover, who stayed in a Catalan country hotel
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Garden: Gareth Williams] [Miyajima: Lorna Thomas] [Gorilla: Hjalmar Gislason]
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