Safaris are not just for big kids – far from it! Little kids will go wild for the wildlife in Africa, so a family safari is a fantastic, fun-packed experience for all. Watching the eyes of your children widen with excitement as they encounter their first elephant and hearing them giggle as the vervets get up to some monkey business in the treetops is just wonderful. These are precious moments for any parent and your kids will be buzzing from their bush adventures for weeks on end.
So travelling with kids actually doubles the magic of Africa, as you’ll see it all once from your own perspective and twice through the shocked reactions of your little ones. You’ll be spellbound by their open-mouthed astonishment and amused by their total amazement. They might even be rendered speechless for a while – a rare occurrence no doubt!
Not only that, but there’s a whole lot for kids to learn on safari, from identifying animal tracks to understanding the habits of the wildlife in Africa. This makes it an excellent educational adventure for your cheeky monkeys and they’ll feel as though their storybooks have come alive before their very eyes! It’s heart-swelling stuff and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you do decide to jump in a jeep and head off a family safari in Africa, we have a few bite-sized chunks of advice that will help you have the holiday of a lifetime. We’ve been around the safari block more times than we can remember, so we ought to know a thing or two! This is what we’ve picked up from our years in the Big Five business about taking your youngsters out in the wild. We hope our tips set you on course for a truly show-stopping safari.
1.OLDER IS WISER
It is understandably tempting to take your toddlers on safari, but from our reams of family feedback, we’ve found that children just slightly older get far more out of a safari than really little ones. If you can manage to wait until they hit the age of 6yrs or so, you’ll find your family experience a thousand times more rewarding. There’s no need to rush it while they’re tiny.
This is partly down to general lodge policy, which often states that only children over 6yrs can join adult game drives. For kids under this age, a four hour game drive is just too long and demands more stillness and silence than you can reasonably ask from really little ones. Safaris can also become boring for kids, as there are plenty of moments when you need to sit quietly and wait for some animal magic to happen. Sudden noise can compromise safety and scare the animals away, so it’s not such a great set up for toddlers.
2. START WITH SOUTH AFRICA OR KENYA
These two destinations are hugely popular with families, and for very good reason. If you’re a first-timer to family safaris, these are superb spots to try before heading anywhere more challenging.
There are a handful of brilliant Big Five game reserves across South Africa that are completely free from malaria. This is a massive draw for anyone travelling with their little clan in tow. By opting for one of these reserves, you don’t have to worry about malaria medication and you can take the odd mosquito bite in your stride. Being parents, you’ll already have 101 things to think about before heading to the airport, so at least this will take one thing off your plate.
Kenya and South Africa also have a wide range of reserves and lodges that welcome children with open arms, and this makes all the difference when you’re taking your kids on safari. The more family-friendly the lodge, the more they’ll keep your kids entertained and occupied with all kinds of bush activities. This means that you’ll get more time to yourselves as parents and, after all, it’s your holiday too! Doing some research about family lodges beforehand and choosing one that really loves children will completely pay off in the end.
3. GET WITH THE KIDS PROGRAMME
Across South Africa and Kenya, there’s a smattering of safari lodges with excellent programmes for kids. While you take a well deserved break at the pool between game drives, your children can set off some ‘bush bumbles’ that will get their eyes popping and set their minds spinning. Afterwards, your kids will be a-buzz with tales from their mini bush adventures and your batteries will be blissfully recharged. What could be better?
Kids programmes provide a huge assortment of activities that are both educational and entertaining for children – every parent’s dream. They involve nature walks to spot insects around the lodge, junior tracking courses with unmissable chances to pick up zebra poo (!) and themed bush picnics. Often, there are cooking lessons for budding chefs to whip up cookies, as well as traditional storytelling about ‘Why The Elephant Has A Trunk’ or ‘Why The Warthog Is So Ugly’.
We recommending choosing a lodge with a really active and engaging kids programme, as you’ll find that the whole family benefits in the end. Your children will be happy, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll all be eager to run straight back to the bush on your next holiday.
4. KNOW WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Small children are not naturally made for the rhythm of safari life, which is packed with very early mornings and late afternoon game drives. While it’s wonderful for a few days, it definitely disrupts family routine, so it’s important to recognise when enough is enough.
Your kids will love the excitement of their safari experience, but the dawn wake up calls will take their toll after a couple of days. We normally recommend safaris of one to three days for families with children under the age of ten. This is just enough time to feel the magic of a Big Five safari without your rug rats getting ratty and overtired. It’s the perfect middle ground.
5. GO FOR CAPE TOWN AND THE GARDEN ROUTE
A trip along Garden Route ending with a Big Five safari is a killer combination for little kids. The Garden Route is natural playground for children, so it’s a perfect place for a family adventure. As you drive along the stunningly scenic coastline, your little ones can monkey around in Monkeyland, enjoy interactive elephant experiences, wander amongst tropical birds, cuddle baby cheetahs, stay on a working ostrich farms and spot dolphins in the surf. The list just goes on and on!
The Garden Route really is the stuff of family holiday fantasies, and topping the trip off with a Big Five safari in one of the malaria-free reserves of the Eastern Cape will be the icing on the cake. So, if you’re in doubt about where to take your youngsters this year, go for the Garden Route. It’s a real treat for big kids and little kids alike.
So that’s it – our top five tips for a first-class family safari. It goes without saying that if you need a hand choosing a lodge or a chat about any parental concerns, we’ll be right on the end of the phone. Feel free to give us a call on 0044 1932 428380 and we’ll help in any we can.