Family safaris travel guide

Family safaris travel guide


2 MINUTE SUMMARY

Anyone who’s ever been on safari talks about that first moment they spot animals in the wild; how extraordinary it is, after growing up on Attenborough documentaries, to actually see a lion dozing beneath a tree, or watch wildebeest grazing on the African savannah. Sharing that experience with children is incredibly special – life changing, even. They won’t be simply observing, either. The landscape is an enormous outdoor classroom and safari guides are the most inspiring teachers. In between game drives, kids can learn to follow prints or make spears, and the chance to experience a unique world and the people who make it home opens young eyes and minds. Children aged eight and up will enjoy a family safari most, with Kenya and South Africa well equipped with child friendly lodges. If your kids are 12 and older, you can pretty much take your pick of safari destinations, from Tanzania to Botswana and Namibia. Find out more in our family safaris travel guide.

What do family safaris entail?


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Major wildlife for your minors


Family safaris run as both tailor made and small group trips. A tailor made trip gives you complete freedom to design your itinerary, with expert help from your vacation company in choosing lodges, game drives and other activities that suit you and your children.
Small group family safaris often cost a little less than tailor made and your children will have readymade companions for them to share and learn with. Some small group safaris are semi participatory, too, so older children will be expected to help with the washing up while camping, for example, but this can really enhance the sense of adventure and community – a unique element of a small group trip that may be lacking from a tailor made vacation.
In Namibia and South Africa self drive safaris are popular, letting you explore by car and even go on independent game drives, as you can enter Etosha and Kruger National Parks in your own vehicle. Simply park up by a waterhole and wait for the animals to arrive. It’s an exciting, flexible way to see wildlife with kids, but not for the faint hearted!

In what way are these vacations child friendly?


The best family safaris include a driver and guide who are used to working with children – good guides who welcome young explorers and know how to engage them will really bring a game drive alive and keep children rapt. Kenya and South Africa are particularly good for family safaris. The latter is also able to cater for teenagers brilliantly, with lots of adventure activities, such as rafting, hiking or kayaking, available alongside game drives.

How old do children have to be?


Most family safaris will have recommended minimum ages, but generally speaking, children around eight or over will get the most from a safari. Seeing wildlife requires patience and silence, and open-sided vehicles provide little protection from the dawn chill or midday heat, so small kids with even smaller attention spans may struggle. Bush walks are often only suitable for older children, too, typically from age 12. A country like Namibia, with its dry air, extreme heat and cold, and long drive times, is best suited to older children and teens.

What is there to do besides game drives?


Bush walks are sometimes possible, particularly in Maasai run conservancies, offering exploration on foot instead of a vehicle. Adults don’t always have to participate, either. At some lodges, the staff may run “bush school” programmes for children, teaching them to track rhino or follow elephant spoor, while parents head out on a game drive. The Maasai of Kenya and northern Tanzania make wonderful, kind teachers, and a visit to a Maasai village is a real highlight of a trip here. Young people can learn to throw spears, make fire, milk cows and jump like a true Maasai warrior. In addition, having the chance to meet local children who live in an entirely different way can be a life changing experience for your own kids.

What’s the accommodation like?


Many lodges, particularly in Kenya, cater well for families. They may have family chalets or adjoined tents, so you can all be together. Some will offer a range of low key extras for kids, too, from board games to the option of an early child friendly dinner. Others offer organised activities, from craft workshops to tracking lessons in the bush, and may encourage children to help cook camp meals, providing a really rounded outdoors education. It’s worth finding a lodge with a pool so the kids can let off steam after a game drive. Do check with your vacation company whether they have guides who are trained in working with children and know how to educate and entertain.
Older kids will love a camping safari, either wild camping or staying in simple campsites, and their parents will love the smaller price tag associated with these trips. In a lodge, you only experience the wild landscape while out on game drives or doing activities. When you camp, you’re in that natural environment 24/7, soaking up the sounds, smells and night noises – it’s a thoroughly intense experience. Some camping safaris aren’t advertised as family vacations, but will often have a minimum age of 12, so work for families with older children.

Combining safari & beach


A safari topped off with time on the beach is a combination that really works with families. After a few days of dusty game drives and time being quiet in a jeep, the beach is the perfect place to unwind. There’s no risk of getting bored either. Children can take a sailing trip on a dhow, strap on a mask and snorkel or simply splash around in the warm Indian Ocean. Kenya has lovely beaches near Mombasa, while from Tanzania you can fly to Zanzibar. A South African safari can be teamed with the wild Mozambique coast where there is sand dune surfing, horse riding, sailing and kayaking to enjoy. Or head to sophisticated Mauritius, where resorts with kids’ clubs, watersports and beachside accommodation await.

Is a safari safe for kids?


Putting your precious kids in close proximity to hungry lions and hefty hippos naturally raises questions of safety. Rest assured that fully qualified guides and support staff know how to keep their clients safe. All camps and lodges have strict safety controls, including regular patrols by trained safari staff and each camp has a set of guidelines, which include things like keeping to the camp paths and not wandering around after dark. On game drives, it’s of course essential to stay in the vehicle, so spontaneous loo breaks are not always possible. Instead, the driver will drive to find a safe place, usually in a wide open place with a good view of nearby game.

Best time to go on a family safari


TEMPERATURE & RAINFALL

Locations: Kenya | Tanzania | South Africa
Being tied to the school vacations isn’t a problem with safaris, since Jun-Aug is the best time to go to Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and Kruger in South Africa. It’s dry then, although expect very chilly nights. Prices go up, but the chance to see spectacles such as the Great Migration should feel worth the extra money. Dec is also an excellent time to visit Kenya and Tanzania, with migratory birds and newborns around. Mar-May is the rainy season in Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana, so an Easter safari isn’t ideal, but Apr-May is excellent in Namibia, with the landscape refreshed after the rains.

FAMILY SAFARIS TRAVEL ADVICE


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN THE KNOW



Faye Wilkinson, from our supplier Intrepid, has advice on picking and packing for a family safari:

What to look out for


“We try to mix it up so the vacation is not just safari the whole time. We put something a bit more active in. In South Africa particularly, we visit Blyde River Canyon where you can go trekking, kayaking or snorkelling. We go to Kruger, but also other parks for very different wildlife spotting in each and that seems to be something young people respond positively to. The accommodation is also key. Camping works really well. Bush camps are often quite basic with a participation element so the young people are getting involved and taking responsibility for things, helping out, and there’s a nice independent element to it all. That’s also nice for parents to see. Look out for short journey times, too. Journey times in Africa can be long, but we’re conscious of breaking up journey times for family vacations, with more stop offs and not traveling great distances. South Africa is ideal. We visit three really quite different parks in terms of flora and fauna, but all within manageable distances.”

Packing tips


“100 percent bring binoculars! People do come without them. You can also buy good guides, to birds or different species you might spot, as apps on your phone. These are really good when you’re in camp, you can spot things, it keeps you busy and you know what you’re seeing.”

Life without WiFi


“Some camps will have WiFi, and that can be quite nice as everyone has a chance to crash for half an hour with their phones, but if you’re wild camping you won’t. Most teenagers just get into the experience. It’s so different from what you would normally do, with amazing landscapes and wildlife; it’s quite special and most children respond well to that. They should also get on with the other young people on the trip, and want to chill out together, and so the lack of Wifi is not a huge problem.”
Liddy Pleasants is the founder of Stubborn Mule Travel and has taken her own children on safari. She offers her specialist advice on family safaris:

Packing advice


“If you are taking malaria tablets, take something to help the children wash them down. Some clients swear by sticking them in a spoonful of Nutella. Bring walking boots or really good trainers. It sounds obvious, but people turn up in just flip flops, which aren’t adequate. Take old clothes as they get trashed. People arrive in bright white T shirts and by the end of the day they’re covered in dust. Tsetse files are annoying and they’re attracted to black and navy – colours that look like water or a buffalo – so dress in neutral colours. You can often charge devices but there may not be WiFi everywhere, so bring alternative amusements, like a pack of cards, Scrabble or a good book for down time in the camp in between game drives.”

What age works best?


“We don’t have a minimum age for our family safaris because we don’t want to exclude a family group that includes just one very young child. Children aged 8+ can usually enjoy game drives, but then again I went on safari with my children, and my nine year old loved it but my four and 11 year olds were bored after two hours so it’s not straightforward. Know your own kids. If they’ve been lapping up Attenborough documentaries since they were four you’re probably OK.”

What to look out for


“Look out for lots of activities, not just game drives. I feel strongly that you can’t send a family on a trip with back to back game drives, it’s too long. The roads are rubbish and you get bounced around. Everybody enjoys a trip with a bit more variety. I’d say 14 years and up is suitable for a more traditional safari that’s only game drives. Lodges often have pools, which is good for kids, but bear in mind if you travel in our [European] summer it’s winter there so you may not be in the pool as much as you think.”

Picking your destination


“My feeling is Tanzania and South Africa are the best destinations for family safaris because there’s such a lot of scope for combining game drives with other things. Safaris are so expensive, you can’t take the risk that the kids are going to get bored. In Kenya you can do a Maasai village experience, but they are increasingly contrived and it’s a bit more difficult to find authentic villages. In Tanzania, however, you can find Maasai villages where your children can learn to make fire, herd cows and work with the blacksmith. You can find villages where you can go cycling around the plantations or take a tuk tuk ride, where there’s a painter’s cooperative where you can learn to paint, or you can shop in the market and then learn how to cook Tanzanian dishes back at Mama’s house. In Tanzania, walking safaris are possible in Arusha where there are no big predators. We had giraffes walking past us just 10 metres away.”

Combining safari and beach


Simon Mills, from our supplier Native Escapes, has this advice: "I think it works well. It means that children can enjoy time at the beach and on other activities after a safari, which can be tiring and a bit restrictive (you can’t venture too far on your own). We have a lot of families who combine a safari with another area of Africa – for instance in Kwa Zulu Natal, with great biking, horse riding and hiking. There are some good beaches there too."
Photo credits: [Topbox: flowcomm] [Major wildlife for your minors: flowcomm] [In what way?: flowcomm] [How old?: flowcomm] [Accommodation?: flowcomm] [Safari safety: Tim Williamson] [What to look out for: nh5] [No wifi: Roderick Eime] [What age works best?: woodleywonderworks] [What to look out for: John Hickey-Fry] [Combinations: South African Tourism]

Written by: Joanna Simmons
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