Family Safaris in Africa

Maasai giraffe family, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
James Warwick/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Going on a family safari in Africa will be one of the most rewarding and exciting vacations you'll ever take. But, taking your family on safari in Africa isn't cheap so you want to pick the right safari tour, and country, in order to get the most out of it. This article will help you plan the right safari for your family and offers tips on keeping the children happy en route, as well as specific family-friendly safari recommendations.

What Country Is Best for a Family Safari?

The best place to go on a family safari is South Africa, especially for families with young children. The roads are excellent which means you can rent your own car and thus set your own schedule. Flexibility is key when you have little children. You can make stops when you want, return to your hotel when they tire and plan the length of your own drives around the wildlife parks.

South Africa also has plenty of smaller, private wildlife parks where you can see a lot of animals in a short amount of time. These private game parks often have comfortable accommodations with swimming pools and buffet lunches and dinners. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape in South Africa are filled with beaches and game parks in close proximity, a winning combination with children.

Finally, South Africa is home to several malaria-free game parks, so the children don't have to take malaria pills and you don't have to worry every time a mosquito comes along. The country also boasts some of the best doctors and hospitals on the continent. See our "Top 10 Activities for Children in South Africa" for more details.

Kenya makes a good option because you can combine a beach holiday in Mombasa with a night or so at the Tsavo National Park which is just an hour's drive away.

Tanzania probably offers the best safari experience in Africa, but the infrastructure isn't quite as good as that in Kenya unless you stick to the "Northern Circuit" which includes the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Combining a safari with the beaches of Zanzibar makes for a great family vacation.

Namibia has malaria-free areas, a large coastline, fun sand dunes and good roads. But, the distance between places of interest is significant. If you have children who don't mind long drives, then Namibia would make a wonderful family destination.

If money is less of an issue, Botswana is a great safari destination and not a lot of driving is required since many of the safaris offered are fly-in. Make sure your children are old enough to appreciate this vacation; not just because it will cost you more than other destinations, but also many safaris include traditional canoe rides through the delta region, and this could be dangerous with small children.

Age Restrictions on Safaris

Many safari tours have age restrictions on children, which is why an independently booked and planned safari is usually a better option for those traveling with children under 12. This is because many tour operators feel it's unsafe for small children to be sitting in the back of an open safari vehicle while viewing wildlife. Children are also more prone to sunburn, falling ill or general boredom on these long drives. Also, when you view wildlife it's important to keep quiet and that's sometimes difficult to enforce with a small child.

Some adventure safari options like canoeing or walking safaris are not suitable for children under 12.

Certain lodges and campsites also have age limits. Wild animals roam in close proximity to camps and there's a real risk to your toddler if s/he decides to leave the tent on their own. Some lodges may not have suitable dining options for small children or have food available throughout the day.

If you're making your own reservations, double check to make sure children are allowed to stay at the lodge/campsite and what the age limit may be on game drives.

Keeping Your Children Interested While on Safari

Game drives can be long and a little dull since spotting wildlife can be tricky (they like to wear camouflage). Here are some tips to help keep your little ones interested:

  • Buy them a camera.
  • Let them use binoculars.
  • Award points or a prizes for spotting birds, insects, wildlife.
  • Give them a bird or animal checklist to mark off what they see (every wildlife park will have these available).
  • Stay in a family-oriented lodge that offers special drives for children or babysitting options so you can leave them at the lodge.

Recommended Family-Friendly Safaris

While you may find it easier to hire a car and book your own safaris, here are some excellent family-friendly safaris you could go on or at least get inspired by:

Lists of Family-Friendly Safari Lodging

Key Points

  • Book a self-drive safari.
  • Make sure the lodge or camp allows children.
  • Stay somewhere with a pool.
  • Make sure the safari you choose is age-appropriate. Canoeing or walking safaris are not suitable for children under the age of 12.
  • Wait until your children are 8 years old so they can fully appreciate the experience.
  • If you're worried about malaria, South Africa has malaria-free game parks you can enjoy.