How to safari with (young) children?
Updated: Feb 19
Planning a safari for a honeymoon or a family is quite a different piece of work.
My husband and I went on a safari a few years back before climbing Kilimanjaro. It was a wild remote luxurious tented camp in the Serengeti. We were woken up super early in the morning to go on long game drives, come back for lavish breakfasts, then read all day until it was time to go out for a long early evening drive again. After a few days, we were bored. The lack of movement and activity was getting to us. We ended up running around the camp to try and keep mobile.
Fast forward a few years and I was planning a trip to South Africa for the family. The kids are quite young, so I didn't want to spend too long in a safari park but also thought we had to see wild animals. They would love it and get a lot out of that experience. So I started looking at the best possible options, but there are a few challenges and considerations:
Malaria area / or not
Our kids are too young to take anti-malaria medication, so we had to avoid a whole region of SA - namely Kruger Park. This was helpful to narrow our research, but also removed quite a lot of interesting options.
Family-friendly safari parks
Unsurprisingly, lots of safari parks do not accept young children. That was our first challenge. Second, if they accept them, kids are not welcome on game drives. Luxurious hotels and resorts offer comprehensive babysitting services with full playrooms to keep the kids away. This sounds great, but a real shame to be so close to animals and not let the little ones see them. This was not for us.
So the search got more and more precise. Who would accept 2 small humans to experience the driving around to find wild animals?
[A quick side note on why traditional safaris and young kids are not compatible:
You need to be really quiet on a safari
You need to be really patient on a safari
You need to accept driving around to find nothing ==> go and explain that to kids!]
After a while searching, I realised that we had to go for a small, maybe less obvious game reserve. We ended up deciding on the Addo Elephant Park, near Port Elizabeth. It is a manageable area, easy to drive into (you can even self-drive). But most importantly, we found the best lodge offering perfect services for a family:
- Large family-friendly rooms (with everything needed)
- Our own ranger - Christian - meaning we could decide on timings, schedule and length of drives
- Our own car which meant that no one would be waiting for us when we (obviously) turn up 15 minutes late in the morning
- A small resort with only 8-10 rooms so very attentive staff
- A great playroom and swimming pool for quieter times
- Great delicious varied food
What we learnt:
- Don't go for too long, 3 nights is plenty. This will allow you to go on 6 drives.
- Always go for shorter drives than what you think. 2 hours in the morning is perfect. 1h30 in the late afternoon.
- Communicate with your ranger. Christian was a young father as well so he understood the patience level of kids. He knew not to take us for long drives. He knew we needed easy wins (take us straight to the elephants and let's hang out there)
- Snacks snacks snacks ...
- Take kids binoculars and maybe a safari-themed sticker book to point out what you see.
- If the weather is unsuitable for a drive, get your ranger to put on a documentary and play David Attenborough.
- Book a small place that can be flexible with kids mealtimes and food requests (pasta pesto at 18.30 for the win!)
Safaris are becoming 'cooler' and modernising, expanding their target market, opening to families with young children, people with reduced mobility and different kind of clientele. It is not only about driving around to spot wild animals. Resorts are finding more interesting ways to entertain guests and ensure everyone has a great time (think gourmet food, spas, education, sports, conservation projects,..)
They are also becoming more environmentally conscious and there will be lots of improvements on that front in the coming years.
It was a fabulous experience and the kids got a lot out of it. They learnt about big animals, but not only. They saw new birds, crawly things, different colours, weird trees and overall new landscapes and horizons. It opened a new door of interests and triggered their curiosity.