Taking your family on an African safari for the first time can be rather daunting. Parents are worried about what to expect and concerned about how children will cope. What will the kids eat on safari? Will they be bored? Will they have to get up early/stay up late? Is it safe for children on safari? What if they need the toilet whilst out on a game drive? All these questions (and more) are completely valid. A family safari, done well, often gets the “best experience we’ve ever had” testimonial, and rightly so. It’s no surprise then that an African safari remains a firm favourite for family and multi-generational trips.
To help ease your fears here are a few FAQ’s on taking children on safari.
1. What age can I take children on a safari?
Certain lodges don’t allow children under twelve on a safari. Other properties won’t accept children under four so make sure you check beforehand. We work with a few lodges that will accept children of any age on a game drive. However, this is at the park manager’s discretion and they won’t allow children to go on a drive if they think safety will be in any way compromised.
At Big Wide World, we think ideally the earliest age for taking children on your family safari game drive is 6. It can be a pretty scary experience seeing a 5 tonne bull elephant up close and personal. However, some lodges have ranger trucks with car seats built in (raised a little so the little ones get a marvellous view). It is really important to understand what ages and personalities your little ones have before deciding if it’s right for them.
If you decided to leave younger ones behind whilst you went on a game drive with older kids, worry not. Lodges we work with have a range of activities for younger ones. “Junior Ranger” programs, scavenger hunts, dung tracking, are some of the fun and adventurous activities kids can take part in that don’t involve game drives.
2. Which African countries are best for taking children on safari?
Different countries offer different experiences but you will go far to beat what South Africa has to offer for family safaris. With malaria free reserves, guaranteed sightings of the big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant & buffalo) and first world infrastructure, South Africa is a perfect choice for families. Plus, your safari can easily be topped or tailed with some great extension options (Capetown is an amazing destination with loads for families to do).
3. Are all game drives in the morning?
No. Depending on what property you are staying on, some lodges have fixed itineraries and this will no doubt include a morning drive. If your family aren’t too keen on a 5am start, a great alternative is to visit a watering hole where there is a high likelihood of animals hanging out together. Some families on a self-drive prefer visiting watering holes to game drives as the chance of seeing lots of animals is extremely high, especially in the dry season. The other option available is a “sundowner” drive. This takes place in late afternoon, once the temperatures begin to fall and is a lovely way to finish your day.
Flexibility is key when on safari with children. Rather than trying to organise a safari around a lodge’s set itinerary, our families often stay in a private house and make use of their dedicated guide and car so they can explore at times that suit them.
4. What does a typical safari day look like?
5.30am – Wake up call with a coffee and light snack.
6.30am – Join your 4×4 for the morning game drive.
9.30am – Head back to the lodge a hearty breakfast, swapping stories, photos and memories.
11am – Enjoy your lodge, have a splash in the pool or an afternoon siesta. Spend some time with the rangers, or maybe you’d like to visit a local village for some volunteering work.
4pm – Head back out to the bush as the temperature drops and the animals start to wake.
6.30pm – Enjoy sundowners out on the savannah. Nothing beats a G&T in the bush whilst the children are entertained with stories of African legends.
7.30pm – Bush tucker time. Dinner round a camp fire and an early bed, ready for the next days adventure
9pm – Experience a night drive, some lodges will offer a nocturnal species search.
5. Do I need to give the children Malaria tablets?
Malaria tablets can be grim for adults, let alone children. Where possible we would recommend taking your family to malaria free destinations. There are a few reserves in South Africa deemed non-malarial. Other countries have ‘lower risk’ statuses depending on the time of year. For example, Namibia from July to October, is a ˜low-no risk” destination along the Skeleton Coast and into the south of the country.
We are more than happy to point you in the right direction but you should always, always consult your GP and the FCDO for the latest advice on the malaria situation.
6. Are safaris safe for children?
As with everything in life, if done with caution and careful consideration, safaris are perfectly safe for children. For self-driving safaris being aware of your environment and incorporating common sense will keep you safe (i.e. no hands outside of vehicles or shouting at the wildlife)
Guided safaris are likely to be carried out in open vehicles which brings with it a different set of challenges. Some parks won’t take your vehicle near big cats (lions, leopards, cheetahs) if there are very small children on the safari. All guides we use are experts in their field, highly experienced and trained in case of emergencies.
7. What will my children eat on safari?
Some safaris will incorporate a meal into their drive. Your guide will find a safe place to stop, set the table and give you and your family one of the most memorable meals you will ever have together: dining in the African savannah. Children are well catered for and will be offered fun nutritious options, both out on the drive and back at the lodge. Fish cakes, veggies, homemade chips, DIY pizzas, fresh fruit salad and homemade chocolate brownies are some ideas of whats on offer. Our private chef’s are well versed in parent’s daily quest for fresh and wholesome food!
8. Can we get involved and help the local community?
Absolutely yes. We encourage our guests to take part in some of the initiatives we are involved in. For example, families with younger children have taken part in community gardening projects, joined in local pre-school playtime and helped knit blankets for communities around the reserves. Whilst teenagers have helped out with football coaching, day care centres and schools. Once we know what your skills are and where your interests lie we can arrange something suitable.
When done well, family safaris are a fantastic way for children to be introduced to African wildlife and cultures. No matter how many documentaries or wildlife shows you’ve watched, nothing prepares them for experiencing wildlife in it’s natural habitat for the first time. We have some brilliant opportunities for children to become involved first-hand with conservation efforts – giving them an early start on how to protect our magnificent planet earth.
Hopefully we’ve alleviated some worries in this blog. If you would like any other information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.