Safari trips are meant to be a relaxing, melodic experience, however, tending to kids in the African bush can be stressful, if done wrong. Luckily there are a few tips and tricks you can try so you and your family can sit back and enjoy the glorious adventure of an authentic family safari.
We began safari trips when our kids were toddlers. It was exhausting and stressful. The tension came from getting our children to behave during game drives, meals and midday siesta periods.
Exhausted as the safari day up-ends little kids regular routines (early wake-ups, different meal times, late dinners) and our kids slept terribly and misbehaved. We recommend the age to bring them along is around seven when they can follow guidebooks, handle a schedule and manage their impulsiveness during less-stimulating periods.
Additional costs will make or break game drives but are well worth it. We had a bad experience sharing our game drive with first-timers who ask endless questions, stop frequently and didn’t like our kids swinging on the roll bars and throwing muffin bits at each other. With a private guide and vehicle, we shortened our game drives or parked somewhere and let our boys play while we enjoyed cocktails.
A guide who is inspired and energised by kids, will encourage your children’s passion for the wilderness and make the parents’ safari a joy. We’ve had guides who have lost our kids attention. We’ve had a few who have leapt up and down in excitement, picked every leaf and branch to taste, touch, smell and told fabulous bush stories and great jokes. And we’ve also had guides take our kids fishing in their own time, had them make and shooting bow and arrows, and even catching frogs at night with torches.
Parts of Africa are teeming with herds of animals and action around every corner, others require you to work hard to locate wildlife, and the focus is on the landscape, smaller animals and birds. Kids love big, hairy, noisy animals, so choose carefully. Consider safaris that include hot-air balloons, horse riding, boat rides, quad biking, bush walks and active days that can make it all exciting. Game drives twice daily can be too long and start feeling boring for kids.
We suggest taking a species checklist that allows kids to mark off what they have seen; children love lists. Alternatively, download a bird app so they can hear the bird calls and identify them during quiet patches of driving. Ask if they can sit up front next to the guide. Sometimes they can have a turn on the tracker’s seat. Take small snacks for sensory modulating, such as carrots, wine gums, and popcorn. Ask to stop often and get out, so they can feel their environment. Take glow sticks for the drive back in the dark.
It's surprisingly formal and quiet and designed for adults who want to relax and escape busy lives, so if you have noisy, active kids like ours, communal dining, swimming pools and living areas don’t work well. This is the main reason we decided to focus our business on villas. We enjoy having a house to ourselves, where we can enjoy meals, wake-ups and activities at our own pace, and where the kids can start feeling familiar and at home. Long dinners can be appreciated, while kids watch a movie or fall asleep nearby.
The daily routine of most safari lodges in Africa involves morning and evening game activities, leaving a long siesta period between 11 and 3 to relax, visit the spa and pool. Our boys do not rest or sleep, and after a morning drive, where they have sat inactive for up to 4 hours, they were fidgety and in need of activity. Some lodges have properties that are electrified from any dangers and offer active play areas, small skull-bomas or walking trails, rivers to wallow in, trees to climb, shooting ranges and a kid’s zone. If you have physical kids, factor these facilities in your choice. Lodges that are open to the bush will restrict their movements to the living areas and bedrooms.
African people love kids. Wherever we go our kids always end up making ‘best friends’ with barmen, chefs, waiters and butlers. Our boys have sat at bars for hours learning to make various refreshments and sharing stories with bartenders. They have even helped serve drinks! Some lodges will also facilitate very authentic visits to the local communities, which is a very enriching experience. Our boys will always remember their visit to a Maasai village in Amboseli.
Experience has taught us that some lodges promote themselves in this space, but only rely on a kiddy gift pack, a small sticky indoor play area and a few bored babysitters. It doesn’t cut it so don’t be fooled by their marketing material.
Find out about specialist guides for kids, if they give families free private vehicles and specific activities offered in the ‘kids club’. Also, inquire about children’s meals and babysitting. Sometimes a lodge will have two or three smaller lodges associated with the parent property, and it’s quite common for one of those to be specifically aimed at kids, so check.
Safaris involve early wake-ups and long dusty days, so ending up with a few days on a beach is perfect.
To get the most valuable memories from your vacation, make sure to give this helpful advice a try. Make sure to chat with experienced safari travel companies who will be able to give you real, solid advice.
Contributing Writer: David Rogers