Image credit: Wilderness Safaris

There’s no bigger thrill than seeing African animals in their natural habitat, but are safaris practical for families? Emily Bamber reports

Like this and want more details? Click here to download and save as a PDF.

Watching a lion stalk its prey or elephants play at a watering hole are enough to make the average adult giddy with excitement. For a child, watching animals from their storybooks appear in real life, a safari is a dream come true.

However, there are practical considerations to take into account. Most important is the age and maturity of the children – game drives can involve long spells sitting quietly, and noisy children not only disrupt animals and fellow travellers, but may also place themselves in danger.

For this reason, some lodges have a minimum age limit of about eight years. Others will lower that if clients will take sole use of a jeep or restrict themselves to specific activities such as walking safaris.

Many properties welcome children and have ‘junior ranger’ style programmes for them. Some will also have excellent educational centres, play areas, supervised activities, flexible mealtimes and babysitting services.

Activities for &Beyond’s WildChild programme vary according to destination, from stargazing in Namibia’s Sossusvlei Desert to fishing in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Sanctuary Retreats offers tailor-made kids’ activities at four camps in Zambia, Botswana and Kenya. W

ilderness Safaris is now even more family-friendly with a new pricing policy that offers a 65% discount off-peak and 35% off during the peak season for children under 16 who share with an adult. The company offers family accommodation at 24 classic and premier camps and 11 adventure camps.

Knowledgeable guides are the key to success, says Expert Africa managing director Chris McIntyre; those who engage with children and are able to adjust their presentations to guests’ ages and interests.

He says: “It makes an enormous difference when guides actually guide children – rather than guiding their parents and letting them tag along.”

Most parents will be keen to avoid young children taking anti-malarial medication, so malaria-free areas of South Africa such as the Eastern Cape, Madikwe and Pilanesberg National Parks tend to be very popular with families, as is Namibia.

“South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve and Kariega Game Reserve are both child-friendly and provide activities for children,” says Hayes & Jarvis Africa destination manager Nick Wilson.

“The focus is on educating the young about nature and wildlife, and encouraging future generations to understand their responsibilities when it comes to wildlife conservation.”

Those with older children might reconcile taking the malaria medication to find greater adventures deeper in the bush.

“Botswana offers some excellent camping safaris that are aimed at families, both in the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti,” says Rainbow Tours programme manager Carina Hibbitt.

“For families with older children, Kenya is a great choice, with plenty of exciting activities including mountain biking, river tubing, camel trekking and sleep-outs.”

For younger children, avoid packing too much into each day, and allow time for children to relax, sleep or play. Happy children mean happy adults, and a considerate itinerary will help them appreciate the wonders they’re going all that way to see.


Image credit: Shamwari Game Reserve

Best for… young children

South Africa’s Eastern Cape is big game-viewing country; it’s also malaria-free making it ideal for families with young children.

Rippon’s Safari Lodge on the edge of the Shamwari Game Reserve has several two-bedroom family suites. There’s also a staffed kids’ club, a play area, two pools and beautiful gardens where they can run wild. Daily game drives into the reserve promise big-five viewings plus giraffe, zebra and cheetah, with eagles overhead.

Flights from Port Elizabeth mean the Eastern Cape is easy to bolt on to a Cape Town and Garden Route holiday.

Book it: Travel 2 has a seven-night holiday from £979 per adult, £579 per child, including return flights with KLM, car hire, three nights’ accommodation in Cape Town, two nights near Plettenberg and two nights at Rippon’s Safari Lodge, based on travel between May 1 and June 30.
0800 022 4182

Best for… teenagers

Even the sulkiest teen will enjoy spotting the wildlife, but if families want back-up entertainment, then suggest they stay at South Africa’s Sun City.

This vast resort complex has water parks, cinemas, live music, golf, shopping and more. It’s also on the doorstep of Pilanesberg National Park, where the big five and countless other species roam across open plains. The whole area is malaria-free and it’s just two hours’ drive from Johannesburg. Inside the park there are 125 miles of well-maintained roads and plenty of restaurants and picnic spots.

Book it: Virgin Holidays has a nine-night holiday to Sun City from £1,389 per adult, £1,099 per child, including return flights with Virgin Atlantic, B&B accommodation at the four-star Cascades Hotel and car hire, based on April 7 departure.
0844 557 3933

Best for…luxury

Kenya has some of the most famous safari lodges in Africa, none more so than century-old Governors’ Camp in the Masai Mara. Luxury tents with en suite bathrooms and verandas line the Mara River and families can have sole use of a jeep for guided drives.

On walking safaris guides will point out footprints, bugs and dung; alternatively, clients can visit a Masai village and school, take a hot-air balloon flight, or in July and August, see the wildebeest migration. Older children will love sitting around the campfire in the evenings, and for there’s a babysitting service and flexible mealtimes for younger visitors.

Book it: Rainbow Tours has a 10-day Trunks and Turtles holiday from £2,995 per adult and £2,250 per child, including international flights with Kenya Airways, transfers and all meals, three nights at Governors’ Camp and six nights at Turtle Bay Beach Club, based on travel before July 10.
020 7666 1250

Best for…adventure

In a remote region of the Kalahari in northeast Namibia, the Bushmen live and hunt in ways unchanged for centuries.

At Nhoma Camp families can learn traditional crafts such as building bows and arrows, making fires and gathering berries, and will follow the hunters as they track animals across the plains. Guests stay in raised tents with en suite bathrooms and private terraces. In the evenings they can watch locals dance around the fire.

The camp makes an excellent stop on a tour of northern Namibia, and combines well with Etosha National Park, where they’ll see large animals including elephants, oryx and rhino.

Book it: Expert Africa has a 13-night self-drive tour of Namibia from £2,623 per adult or child, including return flights with South African Airways, car hire, three nights at Nhoma Camp and other accommodation on a mixed-board basis.
020 8232 9777