This post about kids on safari is written by Kate Bergh of Cedarberg Africa, a specialist tour operator for Southern Africa with a strong interest in family safaris. Contact us if you would like to talk to a specialist about your family safari.
As a mother of three, I’m all for introducing children to the wonder of African wildlife: the bush is a natural arena for learning about the cycles of the earth, the predator hierarchy and the fascinating ways animals adapt to their environment. So a family safari in Africa could well be your best trip ever! But it does require some thinking around kids on safari.
Here are some happy family safari tips we’ve learnt over the years. Some you may know, some may be new…
1) Know your family
Your kids on safari will be no different from your kids on any other holiday. What sort of family trips do you enjoy? Adventurous or laid back? Lots of activity or time alone in a pristine environment? Do you want to be always together or prefer some time apart?
If your kids show no major love of animals, don’t book a solid 10 day safari. Rather combine a shorter 2 to 3 night safari to introduce them to the African wildlife along with other options such as Cape Town, the Drakensberg mountains or Victoria Falls. You can always include a second safari lodge which has more active options available…
How good are they at travelling long distances? Would your kids like to meet other children or do you want to stay alone as a family unit? Are there any interests/activities that you enjoy such as walking, canoeing, horse-riding? This is the sort of vital info that lets us to design the ideal family safari for you.
2) Safaris are structured
A safari – for a few days – is a fairly structured way of life. Some kids will easily adapt into the routine of morning and late afternoon game drives interspersed with time at leisure.
However more boisterous or active kids may find this more difficult especially in the winter months when swimming in the pool may not be an option. See Variety later…
3) Longer stays (at least until they can pack their own bags and sort out what’s dirty!)
I speak from experience as someone who does a lot of research trips with my kids staying only 1 or 2 nights at each safari camp! 3-4 nights is a good time period at each lodge. It also reduces tiring travelling time.
4) If on a long safari – go for variety of activities
If you want to stay at two or more safari camps, try some with different activities for the kids. My kids have loved going on a horse-riding safari or an elephant back safari – even a camel ride in Kenya. Many lodges in Zambia or Botswana offer boat cruises as an alternative to a game drive and most kids (and adults) like this variety. Sometimes its good to combine a safari camp in a prime wildlife area, with one which doesn’t offer predators as then your family can enjoy getting out of the vehicle.
5) Be realistic about attention spans for young children
Parents often want their 3 or 4 year old children to go on a game drive to experience the wildlife. I have great sympathy with that and some 4 year kids cope just fine. Others cope fine only on a good day. The reality is that with years of safari experience, the game lodges have found that only children from 6 to 7 years or so can consistently cope with a game drive lasting 3 to 4 hours. And some kids only really get into it from 8 or 9 years old…
If you have young children, choose a lodge that’s geared for younger kids OR take a private vehicle so that you can head back when you want if the kids are getting tired or fidgety or hungry…
6) Choose the right sort of lodge for your family
Very broadly safari lodges fall into three categories:
a) Classic safari lodges which allow kids from 6 years upwards but make no special concessions to kids other than perhaps a few board games. This is perfect if you like to hang out together as a family or if your kids are teenagers…
b) Family-friendly lodges geared to children over 6 years old.
Most of our family friendly lodges are in this category as only a few families bring very young children to Africa. Children join in the game drives and the lodge will usually offer additional wildlife-related activities for kids back at the lodge, usually in the morning after brunch.
c) Some of Family-friendly lodges also cater for younger children with shorter “Kids safari drives” on offer and supervised wildlife-related activities. They will offer early kids suppers, a children’s menu, even some baby-sitting or story telling so that parents can have dinner in peace.
7) Consider a Private Landrover
If you are unsure about whether your children will cope with a long game drive, consider booking a private vehicle and guide. It’s a great option (and often not too expensive). The advantage is you can make the game drive as long as you like and also your ranger will know what you’ve seen and focus on showing you new things. He (or she) gets to know the kids and builds a relationship with them. Recommended!
8) Plenty of Cameras & Binoculars
Photos are an integral part of a safari. I strongly recommend bringing at least two cameras with you and perhaps buying a couple of disposable cameras for younger kids. My kids love taking photos and as they get into their teens, you could find you have a budding amateur photographer on your hands!
Likewise – for kids to get the most out of their safari – and to maximize family harmony – I recommend bringing as many binoculars as you can lay your hands on. (From my experience, more ‘low grade’ bickering takes place over binoculars than anything else on a family safari!)
Every family is different. Some families want to stay together and enjoy game drives altogether. If they have very young children, this may mean some compromise on the choice of game lodge. Or budget for having your own game vehicle. Other families love the idea of the children having their own safari activities where they may meet other kids and learn about the bush in a child-friendly way, and (lets be honest) it also gives parents some ‘time off’.
Contact us to discuss YOUR own family’s preferences, or head to our Family Safari pages