Taking kids on an African safari: All you need to know
It’s no secret that one of the best holidays with kids we’ve ever had was taking the kids on an African safari. We absolutely rave about it whenever anyone asks us about our family-friendly South Africa safari holidays. Something we didn’t initially pick up on, however, is that people weren’t just asking how our safari holiday was. What they really wanted to know, amongst other things, was ‘Is it safe to take young kids on safari?‘.
It seems that people like the idea of an African safari with kids, but aren’t sure whether it’s possible. We’re by no means safari experts but before we had kids we visited some of the top national parks in Africa on a 3-month overland trip through Africa. We love the whole safari experience and so on a family holiday to South Africa, we decided to take our then 2 and 4-year-old boys on safari. We’ve never looked back.
If you’re keen on the idea of a family safari holiday but aren’t yet 100% sure, our FAQs will help answer the most common questions we get asked.
Can you take young kids on safari?
The short answer is yes. We took our kids on safari in South Africa when they were 2 and 4 years old and we all had an unforgettable time. Safari holidays are one of the best holidays for families with young children and here’s why:
- Going on safari with kids is easily one of the most educationally rewarding and fun experiences we’ve had.
- Seeing African animals on safari up close in their natural habitat is such a thrilling experience.
- Helping kids gain a better understanding of animal conservation by seeing these beautiful animals on safari is so important.
- Watching an African sunset and going to sleep to the sound of a lion roar is like no other camping experience you’ve ever had.
When choosing a safari, just check that the lodge you like the look of caters for young children. We’re not just talking about family-friendly accommodation. If they don’t allow children on game drives and don’t have babysitting services, then you won’t be going on a game drive yourself.
Look for lodges that are family-friendly with a kid’s club, child-friendly game drives and/or babysitting. We’ve pulled together a list of the most family-friendly Kruger National Park accommodation that have these facilities.
How old do kids need to be to go on Safari?
There’s no official age limit for taking kids on safari so you will ultimately need to make the call as you know your children best. Some places don’t allow kids under a certain age either for safety reasons or because they’re considering their other, child-free guests but there are plenty of options that cater for kids of all ages.
We found that from 2 years old was an excellent time to go because they have an understanding of which animal is which by this age and if not, they will definitely learn on safari!
Where are the best places for safari in Africa with kids?
Before we had kids, we travelled for 3 months through Africa and went on every type of safari you can imagine. We covered self-drive cheap safaris in the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Etosha National Park in Namibia. We took mid-range guided safaris in Tanzania and Kenya and a luxury safari holiday in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
In our opinion, the best African countries to visit for a safari with young children are South Africa and Namibia for a few reasons.
- they offer great wildlife viewing in national parks where you can self-drive. Self-drive safaris are easier as you can do them at your own pace. You’re missing the knowledge of a local guide, but you can set challenges to get the kids spotting their own wildlife and have a wildlife spotting book to hand.
- they are mostly malarial free which means you don’t need to to take malarial medication. Always check the guidelines before you go as malarial zones can change.
- they are the most western countries in Africa which makes communication easy. You’ll also find familiar foods in their stores, including the all-important snacks for the kids. They’re among the safest countries in Africa too, although you should continue to remain vigilant as with travelling in any foreign country.
Is it safe to take kids on safari?
The main question we get is about safety. Is it safe to take young children on safari? Before we had kids we had heard that kids needed to be 12 and over to go on safari. We thought this was because it would be annoying for guests to have loud kids in camp and also on vehicles scaring animals away. In fact, we found out that children under 12 are the perfect size prey for the big cats.
Don’t let this put you off. Many family-friendly lodges offer game drives tailor-made for families with small children in enclosed vehicles. If you are doing a self-drive safari, make sure you read the rules very carefully. Don’t open windows to take pictures. Don’t stop for a toilet break anywhere other than a designated (safe) toilet area. It’s about being sensible.
If you still aren’t convinced that it will be safe for young children, you can always opt to stay on a game reserve that doesn’t have the Big 5. You can stay in tents and have the safari experience but feel comfortable that there are no predators. It’s still just as thrilling seeing elephants and buffalo up close.
Some places also have wildlife viewing from the safety of camp so you don’t even need to go on a game drive. Watering holes are the ideal place to spot wildlife.
Is a safari with kids expensive?
Going on safari can be expensive, like a high-end, all-inclusive, once in a lifetime safari honeymoon. These safari holiday packages include a super luxury resort with all food and game drives included and are pretty pricey. Don’t get me wrong. If money is no object, they are out of this world and completely worth the splurge. If you’re on a budget, however, you can still have amazing cheap safari holidays in places like the Kruger National Park and Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa or Etosha National Park in Namibia.
We’ve done budget safaris in Addo, the Kruger and Etosha by self-driving and staying in campgrounds. It’s the best way to keep the cost down. You just pay the Kruger National Park park entrance fee (or Etosha or Addo) and a small amount to camp overnight. This is very easy to organise yourself without the need for a third party tour company.
If you don’t want to do a self-drive safari, you can try to keep the costs down by booking direct with local agents. In Tanzania we had a local guide drive us through the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and Lake Manyara and we stayed in mid-range accommodation. We have also done luxury African safaris and while it’s nice to have the added extras, the wildlife viewing is no less spectacular on a cheap African safari.
If you do want a luxury family holiday, we highly recommend specialised safari consultants Audley Travel who organise the most amazing African safari package holidays.
How long is the ideal safari for kids?
We love going on safari but even we draw the line at more than 5 consecutive days on safari with small kids. We like to make the safari a feature of our holiday, not the sole focus of it. If you don’t want to do a week of daily safaris, you can find safari and beach package holidays where you spend part of the holiday on safari and the rest at a beautiful African beach resort.
In terms of the safari drives, the younger the children are, the shorter the game drives should be. For children under 7, we would recommend about 2 – 3 hours. Most safaris are taken in the early morning or late afternoon as these are the best viewing times. Animals tend to escape the heat of the midday sun and spotting them will become difficult. Between these times you might want to make the most of the pool (if you have one) or have a family siesta.
If you’re doing a self-drive safari, you have complete control over how long your safari drive is which is another reason we love self-drive safaris with young children.
What to pack for a safari
We’ve written a post on what to take on safari but in summary, your safari packing list should include :
- Take layers. Early morning or early evening game drives can get chilly.
- Take sunscreen, hat and sunglasses and mosquito spray, especially if you’re in an open vehicle.
- Take binoculars to help you spot animals. The kids love them and they’re better than any toy. They don’t need to be specifically kid’s binoculars. You’ll be amazed how much more focused they will be on the safari. No pun intended!
- Take snacks and water.
- Take your camera with a decent zoom lens. We have a beginners Canon 250D DSLR with a Tamron 70-300mm lens.
- Take a wildlife-spotting book if you’re doing a self-drive safari.
- Take a headtorch in case your safari camp doesn’t have electricity at night.
- Sturdy shoes in case you do a walking safari. Trainers should be fine, but we would not recommend flip flops.
What to wear on Safari?
When you think of safaris, you might conjure up images of people dressed in khaki clothes. This would be the stereotypical safari outfits of years gone by. That’s not to say that people don’t still wear that sort of African safari clothing, but these days you can wear pretty much what you want, as long as it’s not too bright. Aim for neutral colours. If you’re doing a self-drive safari, it won’t matter what safari clothes you choose to wear.
Can we see animals without doing a safari drive?
If the idea of driving around for hours spotting wildlife with small kids does not appeal to you, there are other options. We have stayed in places where you can watch wildlife from your accommodation. In this case, you can treat the accommodation just as a base to explore other things in the area with the added bonus of seeing wildlife.
We have stayed at the incredible and very family-friendly Onguma Bush Camp just next to Etosha National Park in Namibia. You can watch animals from the pool area or while enjoying a meal at their restaurant.
We’ve also stayed at Okaukuejo Camp where we watched endangered black rhino come at dusk to the illuminated waterhole. It was an incredible experience.
If you can’t make it to Africa just yet, why not start with one of the UK safari parks? Try searching for ‘safari parks near me’. We were surprised at how many animal safari parks there were in the UK. Whilst it’s not the same as spending your holidays in Africa, it will give you a taster and might also give you an idea as to whether your kids might be interested in a safari or not.
Any other questions?
We’d love to hear if you have any other questions about taking kids on safari. Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.
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