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- African Safaris for Families
- Favorite Experiences
- Food on a Family African Safari
- Travel Tips for Planning a Family African Safari
- 1. Plan on at least two weeks to explore.
- 2. Select a family-friendly destination.
- 3. Consider your children’s ages.
- 4. Consider the time of year.
- 5. Consider the abilities and interest of each family member.
- 6. Look for opportunities to do more good.
- Other Resources:
The word safari means “journey” in the African language of Swahili and, for most families, a safari is indeed a transformational journey that manages to be both exciting and relaxing while offering lifelong learning experiences for the entire family. Learn how one aunt and her nephew chose the right trip, plus get six safari tips for planning a family African safari that will be the perfect fit for your family.
African Safaris for Families
One of the most memorable and treasured experiences of my life was the first time I took an African safari with my 16-year-old nephew. I had always dreamed of going on a safari game drive, seeing the big five, connecting with local people, learning more about my roots and exploring the history of various countries in Africa. To have the opportunity to share my first safari experience with a child who had never traveled before made it even more amazing. Like many families, we considered this to be the trip of a lifetime.
Planning our trip was exciting but also a little overwhelming. Like many families, we had no idea that there could be so many different kinds of safari experiences from which to choose since the world’s second-largest continent is a wildly diverse collage of landscapes, cultures, languages, wildlife and safari experiences. There were many decisions to make, including which countries and national parks to visit, where to stay and what type of game viewing and other safari experiences to schedule.
Being it was our first trip to the continent, at that time I felt it was important to go to a country where we could speak the language, and mitigate some culture shock by visiting both city and safari destinations. As my nephew had only experienced city life prior to this trip, the countries of South Africa and Zimbabwe were the perfect gateways for our first African experience.
My nephew’s favorite experiences during this trip were visiting Soweto and being on safari. First, he really enjoyed seeing the modern daily life of Soweto, learning about the 1976 student uprising for civil rights during apartheid and connecting with local people over lunch.
Then he had a blast being on safari around Kruger National Park and the experiences around Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and learning how to spot and listen for animals among the trees and grass. We enjoyed walking safaris and game drives. But our first wildlife encounter came during an evening float on the Zambezi River, where we saw our first elephant along the river bank at dusk. What an amazing and thrilling experience.
Food on a Family African Safari
Initially, I went into the trip worried about meals and what food and drinks my nephew would enjoy beyond his beloved Fanta. But one of his favorite meal experiences came at the boma in Victoria Falls near the beginning of our trip. He loved this interactive dinner, which was a fun evening of traditional drumming and a special visit with a traditional fortune teller. It was fun to watch him try and enjoy traditional foods like crocodile tail and warthog, which in his words “taste just like ham.”
Lastly, my nephew really enjoyed the attention he received when wearing his basketball jersey, which was definitely a conversation starter with the locals. ln fact, he ended up trading it for a few souvenirs at Green Street Market in Cape Town where he learned the art of bartering.
Beyond being immersed in the outdoors and natural wonders of Kruger National Park and Victoria Falls, what I loved most about this trip was also being immersed in the daily life of cities of Jo’burg and Cape Town and learning about apartheid. A special moment came when my nephew and I had a deep discussion about our experience in Johannesburg, and he realized how more alike than different we are even though we live on the other side of the world. My own “aha” moment came when I realized the struggle through apartheid is very similar to our family’s history and experience during and before the civil rights era in the United States.
But is an African safari right for kids? After 15 years of going on safari and compiling safari tips, I am convinced that with a little research, careful planning and collaborating with a tour operator, an African safari is a fantastic childhood and family travel experience.
Travel Tips for Planning a Family African Safari
1. Plan on at least two weeks to explore.
A safari is not an experience you want to rush. Simply getting to some African countries can be a long journey from the U.S. You’ll want to give your body time to adjust and allow yourself to fully experience your destination, which might mean taking long road trips from your arrival city to your game reserve.
2. Select a family-friendly destination.
While Africa is safe and welcoming in general, some regions are off limits, just like parts of some cities in the U.S. Some of the safest places on the continent are family-friendly safari destinations in the national parks of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
3. Consider your children’s ages.
Generally, an African safari experience is best for children age 6 and up. While children of all ages can be fascinated with wildlife, elementary-school-aged kids are usually able to fully appreciate going on a game drive in a safari vehicle or a bush walk. While most safari camps, safari lodges and activities welcome children, some have minimum age restrictions for safety reasons. This varies by destination, safari lodge, safari vehicle, and game viewing activity. Special arrangements generally can be made for alternative activities for children between the ages of 3 to 7.
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4. Consider the time of year.
The ideal time to go on an African safari really depends on what you want to see.
Most families will plan trips around school vacations. Winter holidays, spring break and summer break are all great times to go on safari.
Southern Africa has a similar climate to the southern part of the U.S., which makes these countries great year-round destinations. Eastern Africa has more distinct dry and wet seasons but also a tropical climate. June through October are the driest months, and the wettest months are March and April.
Do you want to see the great migration? It happens all year long, but the wildlife you will see depends on your location in the Serengeti and/or Masai Mara and what time of year you visit. For example, if you want to witness the wildebeest migration, you would go to the Serengeti in June or July. If you want to visit during calving season, you should aim for January or February.
5. Consider the abilities and interest of each family member.
You know your family best. To have the best safari, be sure to consider their likes and physical abilities for planning activities. There are various safari experiences and game viewing experiences to choose from. Be sure to let your tour operator and safari guide know your interests so they can weave them into the itinerary if possible.
- Consider early morning, late afternoon, early evening, and off-road game drives with a safari guide
- Consider bush walk with a safari guide
- Consider self-drive in a private reserve or national park
Beyond the thrill of seeing the magnificent wildlife in their native habitat, both up close and with a pair of binoculars, there are also opportunities to unwind and relax around your lodge or tented camp. Available activities will depend on the countries you visit and the lodge or tented camp you choose, and can include hiking, cycling, kayaking, rafting, horseback riding and swimming.
6. Look for opportunities to do more good.
Look for itineraries that give your family the opportunity to have a safari experience that does more good and less harm to the local community. That means itineraries for small group tours that balance wildlife game viewing in destinations like Kruger National Park, Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls, Serengeti, and Masai Mara, with cultural immersion experiences. These can include visiting a Maasai boma or a homestead in a village near a national park, serving on conservation projects that help to sustain wildlife and biodiversity and taking cooking or language lessons from local residents.
Global Family Travels Africa tours emphasize authentic cultural immersion experiences that will give your family a true taste of the continent. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with the people, the wildlife and the environment and see how they thrive together. We work with local partners that invest in the local community.
Learn more about our trips via our blog.
If you found this helpful, please check out our other safari tips and information on visiting Africa.
About the Author and Global Family Travels
Kelly McCoy is Manager of Africa and Seattle Sustainable Community Tours at Global Family Travels, whose mission is to “Learn, Serve and Immerse,” using travel as a means to build cultural bridges and to foster global citizens. In partnership with communities, schools and non-profit organizations, the company offers family-friendly, sustainable travel experiences in support of education, access to clean water, conservation, gender equality, and the preservation of local cultures. The small group trip itineraries feature educational sightseeing, cultural immersion, homestays or visits with local families, service projects, and fun adventures designed to keep all ages happy and engaged.