An African safari is a magical experience for everyone, but this is especially true if you are considering this for a family holiday. Whatever the age of your family - whether your children are primary school age, cool teenagers, just about to head off to university, or even if you are planning a trip with three generations - so children, parents and grandparents - a safari will be an adventure that you can all enjoy together and reminisce about time and time again when you return home. It takes family bonding to a new level!
Knowing where to start when planning a family safari can feel a bit daunting, as on first glance there will appear to be so many different options that you could consider and it could all feel a bit overwhelming. This is where we can help and try to narrow down the choices a little bit for you, and help you plan and book a safari holiday that will suit everyone.
Going on Safari with Under 5s
Many parents travelling with toddlers do not like the idea of giving their young children malaria tablets, so a malaria-free safari destination tends to be their top priority.
South Africa is the only country in Africa that has malaria-free safari reserves, so this makes this an ideal family safari destination. You can take your pick from the Eastern Cape, Madikwe, the Welgevonden, Pilanesberg, Nambiti - the country is not short of choices! All are home to Africa's Big 5 - lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo - so you still get the full safari experience.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that very young children are generally not allowed on the adult game drives for safey reasons, and also, the normal game drive duration can be between 3-4 hours long, so it is probably asking too much of the majority of 3 year olds to sit still for that length of time and not get bored!
A lot of the lodges run special children's programmes, however, to keep their younger guests entertained while their parents partake fully in the safari experience. These programmes include bush bumbles - so much shorter game drives and the larger animals - such as elephants, rhinos and lion - will not be closely approached. Parents are of course welcome to join their children on these drives, but what we normally see happen is that mum and dad take it in turns - so one parent gets to go on the bumble, the other one gets to go on the proper game drive.
Babysitting services can also be arranged with the staff if the lodge does not offer such a programme.
If you really want to share the safari experience with your toddler, then you can arrange a private vehicle, but this does cost extra.
There is one lodge that does allow children of any age to go on game drives, and this is the Garden Route Game Lodge along South Africa's Garden Route. Although just a small reserve by comparison to others, it does have all the 'usual suspects' you would want to see on your child's first safari - giraffe, zebra, antelope, elephant, lion, rhino - making this an ideal family safari destination for a couple of nights, especially if you are on a bit of a budget.
Shamwari's Riverdene Family Lodge also allows children aged 4 and above to on game drives with the adults. The Shamwari Reserve is one of the largest and most established in the Eastern Cape, so this works really well too for younger families who have more money to spend on the safari part of their trip.
Going on Safari with Primary School Age Children (5 to 11 years)
The excitement and wonder on your children's faces as they see the wildlife for the first time actually in front of them instead of on the pages of a story book will be something all parents will remember and cherish.
And of course, for the children, it will be a series of exciting adventures day after day - as they see a herd of elephants with a baby Dumbo in tow, or watch the tall giraffe bending down clumsily to drink, or even seeing real life Simba lion cubs playing as the rest of the pride sleeps - will be memories that the whole family can share together and remember for years to come.
Not to forget, of course, the fact that your child will clearly have the best story in the 'show and tell what you did in the holidays' when they go back to school!
Again, South Africa is a popular destination due to the malaria-free aspect, and generally the family-friendly lodges that welcome children will allow kids aged 5 or 6 to go on the adult game drives. Most of these lodges will also run a kiddies programme too, which include additional activities during the day to keep the youngsters amused - such as short bush walks in search of insects, animal tracks and animal spoor (what child wouldn't just LOVE the opportunity to be able to pick up some zebra dung!), and story-telling about 'Why the Elephant has a Trunk' and 'Why the Warthog is so Ugly'. Some lodges will offer kiddies bush picnics or special 'themed' meal times, some will even invite the children into the kitchen where the chef will help them bake cookies.
If you are happier with the idea of your children taking malaria tablets, then this opens up the idea of a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. The Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya's Masai Mara are probably two of the world's most famous safari destinations, and offer some of the finest game viewing in Africa spread across their vast open plains. A lot of the camps and lodges here too have fun filled activities for kids to enjoy inbetween game drives, and may also include more 'local' customs such as learning to shoot a bow and arrow, or having competitions to see if you can jump as high as a Maasai warrior.
The real advantage of a family safari in East Africa is that you can choose to take a driver-guide and a private safari vehicle for the duration of your safari - meaning that it will be just your family in the vehicle, and nobody else. So if your child wants to sit and watch the elephants wallow in the river for 3 hours, or you want to return to the lodge after just an hour or two, you can - you only have yourselves to please!
The only downside is that the journey to the safari parks may be on the long side - the drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, for example, is about 5 hours - but you pass through busy small villages, and drive past curio stalls and fruit stalls at the side of the road, so you also get to see some of the countryside and culture too.
In terms of the cost of a family safari with younger children, the majority of the lodges charge 50% for children under 11, and many have family rooms where the kids can sleep in the same room on a sofa bed, or in an adjoining room.
Going on Safari with Kids aged Over 12 Years
With slightly older children, where the potential worry of taking malaria precautions is less, then the whole of Africa suddenly opens up to families looking for a safari holiday. East Africa, Botswana, South Africa's Greater Kruger National Park, Zambia and Zimbabwe all now can play a part in the decision-making process and entice you to travel here for your summer or half term vacation.
The world-famous private game reserves and safari lodges of the Greater Kruger Park still offer possibly the best Big 5 game viewing opportunities to be found anywhere, with lion and leopard tracking a particular speciality. You cannot go wrong with a safari in Kenya or Tanzania in terms of general game viewing, and if you time it right you may also be able to meet up with the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra and witness an exciting Mara River crossing. Botswana will surpass your dreams of an African safari, as it is not just about the wildlife but the scenery here is stunning. Zimbabwe is climbing the ranks in terms of a safari destination, and Zambia is ideal if your family has an adventurous spirit and you want to experience game viewing from a two-man canoe or on foot.
Safari holidays with children 12 years and upwards does come with a price, however, as the majority of lodges will charge adult rates when your child gets to 12 years.
If the lodge does not have a bespoke family room, then teenagers may have to be in their own room or the lodge may still request for safey reasons that one parent shares with a child, especially if the lodge is unfenced and the rooms set apart from each other.
Some parents with children of this age may, of course, also be looking for a family holiday that will encourage the children away from looking constantly at their mobile phone or sitting in front of their games console! You will be delighted to know that Wi-Fi when out on game drives is nigh-on impossible to get - so you will get to see your child's face rather than just the back of their phone or the top of their head!
Multi-Generational Family Holidays
If your family trip is going to be made up of grandparents, parents and children, then one idea would be to look for an 'exclusive use' lodge or private safari house/villa, where the entire lodge is taken up by only your family group. You will have all the normal services of a chef, housekeeping staff, waiting staff, safari vehicle and guide - but you will basically be able to plan and work your day as you want, with nobody else to please but yourselves. So if you all decide you want to lie in on Day Three and go out later, well, you can!
Combining Your Safari with Something Else
Most families choose to only spend a few days of their holiday on the safari itself - only serious hardened safari enthusiasts will go on a 14 night safari-only trip!
South Africa also has penguins colonies, whale watching trips, Ostrich Farms, wildlife sanctuaries, meerkats, endless beaches, towering mountains and the opportunity to see another part of the world that is beautiful, diverse and welcoming. Combining a safari in South Africa with Mauritius for the beach is a very popular combination, and the majority of the beach resorts here are set up to welcome families.
Tanzania and Kenya both have some truly beautiful beaches where families can relax and enjoy the warmth of the sun and clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Lake Malawi is a popular 'beach' destination after a safari in Zambia - this large lake provides water sport opportunities for those looking for something beyond sun, sand and swimming. Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling and water-skiing are just some of the lake activities available to visitors, or take a dhow cruise between the islands.
Some lodges run special offers during the year, which means children under a certain age can stay free of charge, so there are always ways to keep the cost of a family holiday down!
Check out Our Suggestions
We have been planning family safaris for years, and the following suggestions below will hopefully give you some inspiration for your own holiday.
If you would like to use one of these as a starting point for creating your own unique family safari holiday or if would just like to discuss some initial ideas, simply complete the enquiry form or give one of our friendly experts a call on 01932 428380.
South Africa is very popular with families from all over the world who are looking for a holiday that offers sunshine and beaches and plenty of activities for kids of all ages in a country that is truly family-friendly. It is especially good for families with younger children, as South Africa is the one country in Africa where you can go on safari without having to worry about taking malaria tablets.
Kenya is a brilliant place for a family holiday. Between the incredible wildlife safaris and the stunning tropical beaches, your children will really feel like they've hit the jackpot!
Watching your kids gasp in amazement at roaming herds of elephant and playful cheetah cubs will be an experience that you'll never forget and something that they'll carry with them forever. So, travelling as a family will actually double the magic of your safari, as you'll get to see it all through the eyes of a very excited child! Not only this, but Kenya is home to vibrant tribal cultures that will fascinate your children and help them learn about the world we live in.
A holiday with teenagers has to be the right mix of adventure, entertainment, and relaxation - with the first two really aimed at the kids, the last one definitely for the parents! Making sure that there is something for everyone is key when planning your family holiday, and these itineraries will hopefully give you some ideas. Plus the inner hope that you will deliver the best holiday your teenagers have even been on and as a result become the coolest parents ever in the history of mankind.