Visiting Africa with your children could be one of the most interesting, fun and educational holidays you ever take as a family. There are obviously many factors, including certain restrictions, to take into account when considering family safari holidays, but in general we are very enthusiastic about family safaris. We have the expert knowledge and understanding to ensure you and your children’s expectations of Africa are met and exceeded.
Some huge positives about Africa as a family safari destination are as follows:
- Africans themselves live in a very family orientated society and have an affinity with children
- Africa is easily accessible from Europe with little time difference (no jet lag)
- There are a good variety of family-friendly safari camps and lodges, often with specific family accommodation options
- There are great beach destinations to combine with the best safari regions
- English is widely spoken and western food is readily available
- Most countries now have a very good tourism infrastructure, so relatively little time needs to be spent travelling
- The overall quality of guiding is excellent, with guides able and happy to entertain and educate children as well as adults
A few realities do however exist:
- Much of East and Southern Africa is prone to tropical diseases and is malarial (not all), so children may need to have inoculations and take malaria prophylactics
- Some safari camps and lodges do not take children under a certain age – often 12 years
- Some safari activities are not suitable for younger children, such as walking safaris, gorilla and chimp trekking, canoeing or horse-riding – the age limits vary but can be as high as 16 years
- Immediate access to full medical facilities may not be possible, although all properties will have first aid facilities at the minimum
Travelling with kids may occasionally seem like hard work. However, with Africa offering such wonderful opportunities for you and your children, any efforts you make are likely to be rewarded many times over.
You may wish to consider the following factors if planning a family safari:
What age should my kids be to enjoy a safari?
The answer to this obviously varies according to the family involved and the destination chosen. Bear in mind that game-viewing is a patient exercise so the ability to sit in a vehicle for two to three hours is a great benefit. However, a gentle safari for two days in malaria-free South Africa is suitable for children of all ages – imagine the excitement of a three year old spotting their first giraffe or elephant! At the other end of the scale, a two week wilderness safari involving adventurous walking, canoeing and fly-camping is only going to be suitable for much older children (min. 14/15 years). As a general rule, our opinion is that with children under 10 years old, you need to plan fairly carefully, and factors such as how long you spend on safari and how many areas you visit are important (see below).
Baby-sitting and nanny services are often available, but it is usually only ‘non-safari’ hotels that may also have play areas, baby/children’s menus, and baby equipment.
Accommodation on Safari
You will need to decide whether your child/children is/are old enough to sleep on their own – remember, accommodation units can be some distance apart. Many camps have large enough individual units to be suitable for a family of three or four to share, though this can sometimes mean limited space for the parents. Some properties do offer family units, where accommodation is joined either by a walkway or perhaps by occupying the same deck (inter-leading rooms are normally restricted to hotel-style properties). If you’re considering a mobile safari, it is very rare for tents to be large enough to accommodate three, or to be linked together.
In addition, you may wish to consider whether or not properties are fenced, have swimming pools, or offer a range of child orientated activities (see below).
Safari Activities for children
Safari activities that are suitable for children will vary according to the ages of children and the region you visit.
Children of all ages will normally be able to undertake game drives, which is the usual way to see wildlife. Most safari vehicles accommodate 4 to 10 guests so a key part of a family safari could be having your own vehicle for game drives, enhancing flexibility without inconveniencing other guests (depending on the lodge, paying extra for a private vehicle may be compulsory with young children).
More active and adventurous activities such as walking, canoeing, horse-riding or primate tracking do usually have age restrictions. These start at around 14 or 15 years.
The best safari camps for younger children are those that combine excellent game drives with other activities which are not age dependant, such as cultural activities, boat cruises and fishing. A limited number of safari camps and lodges offer specialist ‘Kids Safari Clubs’ which run various activities to entertain children, and teach them about the bush. However, these clubs tend to run activities during game drive periods, rather than ‘between’ activities, so adults and children are separated. Some safari companies also offer the option for families to be guided by specialist children’s guides, whereby the program of activities and style of guiding for the whole family is more orientated to the needs and interests of the children.
Keeping the kids busy in camp
Children are much happier when they are occupied. Bored kids are not often good company! Luckily, boredom and Africa rarely go together, but there are a few things to consider. As game drives often take place in the early mornings and late afternoons, there is usually a fairly long period during the middle of the day which is spent in camp. This is usually spent resting, reading, playing board games or cards, chatting to staff, visiting local villages or wildlife viewing from ‘hides’, but you may wish to consider whether a swimming pool could turn this ‘down time’ into ‘fun time’.
Malaria free and Soft Adventure
If you are looking to ‘dip your toes’ into the world of safari, and see some of Africa’s amazing wild animals without committing yourselves to anything too adventurous, then you should consider a few days on safari in South Africa, in combination with a more general sight-seeing holiday. Most areas of South Africa are malaria-free, including some safari regions, and the country, in general, is far more developed than other African destinations, with a fantastic tourism infrastructure.
Cultural interaction and learning
One of the genuine benefits of making the effort to travel with children is the exposure they have to different cultures and peoples. Africans have a natural affinity with children, and in addition to your children forming bonds with, and learning from, local guides, it is not uncommon to find camp staff entertaining your kids with local games, cooking, or enquiring conversation. Further cultural opportunities like visiting local schools or villages can easily be included in most safari itineraries.
For further information or advice on planning a family safari holiday, call us on 01787 888590 or contact us to speak to one of our specialists.
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