Things to consider before taking kids on an African wildlife safari
If you’re considering taking your children on an African safari, it’s likely you’ll have spent plenty of time reading up on the subject and the internet is loaded with articles offering advice on the practicalities of sharing an epic wildlife-watching experience with the younger member(s) of your family. Ultimately, the type of trip you decide on should suit your own priorities, needs and travel philosophy, so always refer to these as you’re weighing up your options.
Don’t plan your trip around someone else’s enthusiasm or preferences. Experts at SafariBookings.com, the largest online marketplace for African safari travel, have shared some of their top insights to help you prepare.
The right age for an African safari?
There really is no ‘right’ age for when a kid should go on a safari. Some younger kids will get right into the adventure, soaking up every animal encounter, fully switched on and excited. Others will be unable to sit still for long, making long drives hard work. So, you need to ask yourself how well your own child will cope with this type of trip.
You also need to remember that lots of parks and lodges have age restrictions on their activities, and even on who can visit. You’ll find that some game drives are only accessible to kids who are 6 or 7 years old, while walking safaris are almost always for older teenagers and adults. Do plenty of research beforehand to work out if your own child’s age rules them out of certain activities or certain places.
Putting together a child-friendly itinerary
Generally, with kids, it’s better to allow more time to get around. Sprinting from one park to the next will just exhaust them. So, allow for longer stays in each place to let them rest up. You may also be expecting a bit much of a child if your itinerary has you going straight from one wildlife-watching location to another.
Break things up occasionally with an excursion that’s more about them, such as grabbing some beach time on Kenya’s beautiful coastline in-between trips to the fabled Tsavo and Masai Mara regions.
Immersing kids in the African experience
Resist the temptation to pack an iPad or tablet when you go on safari. Instead, invest in some photo-rich wildlife guides that a child can use to identify what they see, and will keep them mesmerised while you’re cruising around a park looking for animals. If you’re confident, give them a camera so they can frame their own memories of Africa’s remarkable wildlife and its ever-changing landscape; a sketchpad is another option.
Finally, don’t underestimate the impact of immersing your kids in everyday activities on your journey. Take them with you when you pop into a supermarket or have them by your side when you chat to a local about their connection to an area. All of these minor events are part of the travel experience and including your kids in such routines will help them acclimatise more quickly to daily life on an African safari.
Choosing your accommodation
When it comes to accommodation, you will certainly want to keep an eye out for lodges that offer activities for kids. At best, it will mean wonderful cultural and animal-focused activities, like visits to local villages and mini-safaris, that engage and stimulate your offspring. Don’t, however, make this the only criteria for choosing where to stay. Sometimes a particular location or experience will trump the need for child-centered distractions.
Don’t let malaria put you off
If you’re concerned about your child being exposed to malaria, for instance, you’ll want to focus your safari on South Africa’s malaria-free areas, the main ones being the Waterberg, Pilanesberg, Madikwe and the parks of Eastern Cape. Another option is Namibia’s Kaokoveld region, a remote and very dry wilderness where those pesky mosquitoes have failed to take hold.
Choosing the best transport
Those who recommend hiring a private vehicle for taking kids on game drives – assuming you aren’t driving yourself around – have a point. Standard game drives are usually lengthy affairs and the last thing anyone wants is for a young person to go into tantrum mode, which will upset their fellow wildlife watchers and perhaps draw unnecessary attention from some of the animals! With a private tour, you can set out on safari and head back to your accommodation at the time of your choosing.
Whichever option you choose, make sure your child visits the toilet before you head off, unless you want the nerve-racking experience of managing your kid’s urgent needs out in the African bush.