Family safaris in Botswana and Zambia

Step into an outdoor, interactive classroom where storytellers relate folklore legends around the campfire; where houseboats cruise past lazing hippos and watchful crocodiles, and helicopters swoop over steaming waterfalls; where vast herds of elephant draw gasps and at nighttime you go to sleep in an open camp with the sounds of safari are constantly on the wind.
Victoria Falls, the best-known adventure capital of southern Africa combined with what is likely the continent’s greatest safari destination, certainly as far as elephants are concerned - yes, it’s not exactly difficult to pinpoint why family safaris in Botswana and Zambia hold such appeal. But it’s important to note that these trips will not be suitable for everyone. While the minimum age can be as young as seven, safaris in Botswana are definitely most suited to older kids, 12 and up.
So how do you know if a safari in Botswana and Zambia is right for your family? Well, the best people to consult are always the specialist operators who design the trips and have years of experience in crafting suitable itineraries. On this page you’ll find a useful introduction to what you need to consider to ensure an epic safari vacation.

Highlights of Botswana and Zambia family safaris

Victoria Falls

Named by the 19th century Scottish missionary Dr David Livingstone, Victoria Falls, or to give it its Lozi name Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, is one of Africa’s most impressive spectacles. The town of Livingstone is known as the adventure capital of Zambia, where you can go white water rafting on the Zambezi, or take a scenic helicopter flight for a bird’s eye view of the falls. You might also venture into the surrounding Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in search of white rhinos.

Chobe National Park

Taking a boat over the Zambezi and a short drive brings you to Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park, home to a simply incredible concentration of elephants – some 120,000 of the big grey beauties. Game drives here are, as you can probably guess, pretty special, and you can also take a boat safari to see gigantic hippos and crocodiles – don’t trust their toothy smiles. For kids, Chobe is all their wildlife fantasies come to life.

Okavango Delta

Spanning some 16,000sq km over an ever-changing labyrinth of islands and lakes, the Okavango Delta is among the last of Africa’s great wildlife habitats, absolutely teeming with animals from hippos, elephants and crocs to lions, African hunting dogs, hyenas and rhinos. As you cruise along the waterways in a houseboat, you’ll see local fishermen poling their mokoro dugout canoes – it’s a safe, easy way to see wildlife up close, and a bit more comfortable than a 4x4 for young explorers.

Moremi Game Reserve

Arguably the best game viewing in Africa is to be had in the Moremi Game Reserve, which takes up almost half of the Okavango Delta and is formed of swamps, islands, forests and dry land. On the floodplains you’ll see a stunning array of wildlife: antelopes, lions, lots of elephants, African hunting dogs and even leopards.

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Botswana family adventure

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Practicalities

The minimum age for a family safari in Botswana and Zambia is seven, but given the cost involved in a vacation of this type, you need to be sure that your kids are definitely ready to enjoy it – you know them best. There’s no getting around the fact that Botswana is one of the most expensive places to take a safari, and if you want to take the whole family it can get very pricey. Specially designed family safaris however use more modest accommodations so that you can see the country’s incredible wildlife with your kids. In all honesty, our view is that luxury lodges are a little bit wasted on teens anyway - immersive camping is where it’s at, and will provide them with some amazing stories to tell back home about lions roaring at night.

There are other challenges too, with some long distances by 4x4 involved, while patience and silence are required for sustained periods on game drives, often in chilly mornings and evenings. Again, well-crafted family trips ensure that the itinerary is broken up, such as more relaxing river cruises, and even kids with a less than ideal attention span are likely to find themselves captivated on game drives, with tour leaders selected for their ability to engage well with families and younger travelers. Along with expert guides, the scene is quickly set for what could easily be the most memorable vacation your family will ever take.
Small group tours of around 12 days give careful consideration to the age breakdown of the other children, so you can be confident your kids will have likeminded and similar aged peers to share the experience with. Friendships tend to form very quickly on trips like this, which is a massive factor in everyone enjoying themselves. Group sizes are usually limited to around 16.
The best time to go on a family safari in Botswana and Zambia tends to be July and August, to coincide with the school summer vacations. At this time, it can be cold in the mornings, around 6°C, but rising to 25°C later on in the day, and you’ll need warm clothing for the game drives. These dry months are a great time to see wildlife as it’s congregating around water sources and easy to spot.
Accommodations are a mix of safari lodges and camping, and you can also enjoy a memorable overnight stay on a houseboat in the Okovango Delta. While they’re comfortable enough, don’t expect luxury. Sleeping on open campsites, where animals are free to roam around outside your tent, may sound a bit risky but they are closely patrolled by staff and provide a truly exhilarating experience that kids will love and means you’re way more immersed in nature than someone tucked away in a fancy game lodge.

FAMILY SAFARIS IN BOTSWANA & ZAMBIA TRAVEL ADVICE

Antony Barton from our travel specialist Explore with some useful advice on ages and accommodations:

How old do kids need to be?

“We raised our minimum age from five to seven a couple of years ago, but in truth Botswana trip lends itself best to older kids, and we’ve found the average age of children taking part on our tour over the last few years is 13. W e tend to find that one of the first questions families ask is the age make-up of each group and often this is the most important criteria for selecting which departure date to opt for. Children, usually of a similar age, tend to bond very quickly - experiencing seeing the diversity of wildlife in such a mix of environments so far removed from their home orbit; and sharing this with both their parents and peers - this comes out in the feedback we get time and again.”

Memories over luxuries

“Botswana and Zambia will not suit all families. There are some long drives involved, we wild camp and the facilities are absolutely not luxury - so if this is important then don't book this trip! There are dozens of specialists who offer fly-in safaris staying in top-end lodges which Botswana goes out of its way to encourage. What we offer is a great value option, it’s more how we travel within the country that makes the difference. We select tour leaders who are comfortable with leading youth groups / family groups and naturally pitch their information to a younger audience; I think this is valuable - keeping kids engaged and excited on longish safari drives enhances the experience for everyone.”

Accommodation

"The accommodation can be pretty modest. Camping in unfenced areas, with animals such as elephants and hyenas wandering around outside, is thrilling, but the tents can be cramped. Staff are friendly and helpful, and you’ll have everything you need, but it’s crucial to anyone’s enjoyment of the trip that they know what to expect from their accommodation.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nicole Olwagen] [Top box: Joanna Simmons] [Okavango Delta: Excuse] [Practicalities: Benjamin Hollis] [Memories over luxury: Lars Plougmann]
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