If you take children on safari it will be an experience they will remember for a lifetime. Not only will they have the chance to see real live game stalking through the African wilds and get to bump around in dusty jeeps but it will give them an appreciation for nature and other cultures. However there are certainly some considerations to keep in mind when planning a safari for the whole family. The age of your children and their ability to withstand some hardships might determine the length of safari you choose, your mode of transport and the kind of accommodation you select.
The lodge safari is without doubt the best option for a comfortable trip. The lodges contain modern conveniences and can be quite luxurious. However some do set a minimum age for children, which is generally about 12 years of age, although in some places this is as old as 16 years. Even then, their inclusion in game viewing maybe left to the discretion of the manager. Contact the lodge before making a booking if you are in any doubt.
Some lodges advertise themselves as family friendly and may have child sitting or other activities on during the day so the kids can stay behind while the parents enjoy themselves. Game drives are usually arranged during the day unless there is a nocturnal activity you wish to see. There could also be a host of other activities like walks or hot air balloon rides available. At night you can settle back to eat dinner right in the reserve, and there is a high possibility more game could pass by in the evening.
When selecting the activities each day you should keep in mind how suitable your child is to that activity. If you want to do a game drive, consider how well your child can sit still and obey the guide’s instructions. Animals are sensitive to smells and noise, and the success of seeing game will depend on how quiet they are.
Similarly as the best time to see animals is early in the morning, children wishing to go will need to get up early which maybe difficult for some, and parents as well. If you feel your children could handle being moved around from camp to camp each day you might like to choose a mobile safari. There are also options for you to do a self-guided safari rather than take up the tour options.
In any case be aware that each day will involve a lot of time in the sun. Make sure the children have adequate headwear and sun block. Safaris are often very dusty so sunglasses for them, and you, are also a good idea. Similarly make sure you have a lot of water to stay hydrated - do ensure this is bottled water so you avoid stomach bugs.
As the safari will take you some distance from medical treatment make sure you pack whatever medicines you will require during this time. Insect repellent, diarrhea treatments and malaria tablets can be a good idea. Always check with your doctor first about any local health concerns such as malaria or hepatitis that you might need protection from. If you are worried about medical care then you are probably best to select a safari in a malaria free area and/or close to modern conveniences. The options in South Africa probably best cater for this. Children will probably enjoy seeing a variety of wildlife so try to select a game reserve that will offer this. If they have an interest in any particular animal or type of animal then try to actively seek out areas they will find this.
For example if they love gorillas you should head to Uganda to see the mountain apes. Whereas if they want to see elephants, lions and buffalo somewhere like the Kruger National Park in South Africa might be more ideal. Most families tend to select safaris in South Africa because the roads are good, you can rent your own car and there are plenty of small, private wildlife parks with great accommodation. Many of the parks are also malaria-free and you can easily design an itinerary with beach and safari time for variety. Kenya is usually another good option because you can similarly combine a safari in Tsavo National Park with a beach side holiday in Mombasa, just an hour away.
In Tanzania the infrastructure is not as good as South Africa or Kenya, but if you’re a little more adventurous you’ll appreciate the incredible safari experiences available have here. Tanzania is home to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater which are really like the Mecca of the animal viewing areas in Africa. If you feel you’re children need other activities as well, you could combine a safari with beach visits in Zanzibar.
Namibia is another choice. It has malaria-free areas, good coasts and roads, but distances between sights can be significantly longer than other places. While in Botswana the Okavango Delta is an obvious highlight and some game lodges will take children. Many safaris in this region involve a fly in and canoe trips, so they would not suit small children. A range of different activities is usually a sure way of keeping kids interested beyond a day or two. Particularly if they know there are options to canoe, hot air balloon, 4WD, walk, bike or elephant trek.