What makes a child friendly safari?
It wasn’t very many years ago that safari camps only catered for adults, and children under 12 years old simply weren’t allowed. Then, around the turn of the century, came Jaci’s Safari Lodge and Ant’s Nest, both in South Africa. Children were actively encouraged at these camps, with safari activities designed around them, along with family friendly accommodation and food. Since then, children have become welcome on safari across most of sub-Saharan Africa, with today’s guides, managers and camp teams brilliant at offering families child friendly safaris.
Given the breadth of choice available to families now, it’s worth looking at what makes a child friendly safari……
Guides who are great with kids
There are individual camps like our old favourites Ant’s Nest and Hill whose guides will take kids on bug and spoor walks, or the wonderful ‘safari school’ at Laikipia Wilderness. There are mobile operators like Drumbeat Safaris who will plan an entire itinerary around a family’s specific interests – so if you are travelling with a child who is an elephant enthusiast or a budding birder we can make sure they get the best attention. All over, there are guides who will delight in making bow and arrows, who will spend ages toasting marshmallows over the camp fire and who’ll play football during down time.
Then there are the bigger operators with fun children’s programmes running throughout their camps and lodges to entertain, inform and educate. Among our favourites are:
Ker and Downey’s Young Explorers’ which covers tracking on foot and in 4×4 safari vehicles, identifying spoor and a range of birds. There’s even the chance for children to try poling a traditional dugout canoe and sit behind the wheel of the game drive vehicle.
&Beyond’s Wildchild programme where children staying in their Namibian camps might learn how to find food and water in the desert while Okavango Delta adventures include fishing and making necklaces with the Delta’s beautiful water lilies.
Singita’s Mini Rangers’ course includes tracking, bush survival techniques, bird spotting competitions, nature quizzes, and a ranger’s test. A certificate for each child on completion recognises new-found knowledge and accomplishments.
Head to East Africa for the Saruni Camps’ Warriors Academy which is a fabulous learning adventure allowing families with children to explore the wilderness, wildlife and authentic lifestyles of Africa’s iconic Masai and Samburu tribes.
Family friendly accommodation
The accommodation is a huge part of any safari, and for most families a medley of different lodges and camps provides a varied, rewarding experience. You might like to start in the relative normality of a conventional lodge, meeting Africa’s wildlife for the first time and getting used to an excitingly unfamiliar environment. Once acclimatised you could move on to a tented camp or even a private safari villa. Some post-safari relaxation on an Indian Ocean beach is a great idea for families and options here range from elegant hotels and charismatic safari-lodge-by-the sea spots to private island resorts.
Child Friendly Lodges
These are generally permanent structures of wood or stone and centred around a dining/bar area. They often have interconnecting rooms, family cottages and swimming pools, making them especially suitable for families with younger children – they are close at hand at night but children and parents have different bedrooms. Among our favourite lodge recommendations for families are: Borana Lodge, Ant’s Nest, Kwandwe Ecca Lodge and Tswalu Tarkuni.
Child Friendly Tented Safari Camps
Tented camps encapsulate the ethos of safari and the vast majority would be described as luxurious. Nearly all offer en-suite facilities with running water and many camps will have at least one family tent with interconnecting bedroom suites to house parents and children under one roof. There are so many to choose from, but Camp Kalahari, Little Chem Chem, Serengeti Safari Camp and Time + Tide Chongwe River Camp are all child friendly great examples.
Child Friendly Mobile Tented Camps
Mobile camps can vary from simple cubes of mosquito netting to spacious East African style safari tents. Accommodation is usually en-suite but your loo might be long or short drop and your shower water may arrive in a bucket. On the face of it these many not appear child friendly but they can often be booked exclusively and provide the ultimate family safari adventure. Drumbeat Safaris in Botswana is one of the very best when it comes to hosting families. We love this interview with owner Annelies Zonjee-James, which gives an insight into what it’s all about.
Child Friendly Safari Houses
These private houses are just as they sound – glorious, exclusive-use properties set in beautiful locations. Usually with a pool, they come with a full range of staff including private guides and chefs. Among just a handful of cracking child friendly choices are Luangwa House and Time + Tide Chongwe River House, both in Zambia (Lucinda worked at the former and Charlotte and her family had a truly memorable few days at the latter), Cottar’s Bush Villa – a super stylish option in a private concession in Kenya’s Masai Mara, and Ndomo Point, a great spot on the shores of Lake Malawi.
Areas with great wildlife and interesting child friendly activities
Safari activities come in many guises, with plenty more ways for families to enjoy the wilderness and wildlife than the traditional 4×4. Walking, riding (horses, camels and bikes), canoeing, boating, fishing – the list goes on, are all on offer if you know where to look. Mix it up a bit and even children with the shortest attention spans will be captivated. Here are our top countries for families looking for an active safari.
What next to plan your child friendly safari?
We would be delighted to help plan your perfect child friendly safari holiday, perhaps including some of these wonderful camps and lodges. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.