Are you thinking of going on a safari holiday with your kids, but you’re not sure what to expect? A safari might not be the first activity that comes to mind when planning a getaway with young children, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better experience that exposes your little ones to nature, wildlife, and traditional African cultures. With that being said, it can be challenging to find family friendly lodges or resorts that specifically cater to families.
To ensure you have an unforgettable African safari experience, we’ve put together everything you need to know to plan your perfect family safari holiday.
Best African country for a safari with kids
While Africa offers several pristine safari experiences in various countries, South Africa is undoubtedly the top destination for a safari with children. Not only is it home to an exceptional range of national parks and conservation areas, it is easily accessible and boasts several malaria-free reserves. As many young children aren’t able to take malaria prophylactics (especially when they are very young), it is crucial to avoid high malaria zones. South Africa is almost entirely malaria-free, with the renowned Madikwe Safari Lodge being one of the country’s top malaria-free reserves.
South Africa also has the best infrastructure and widest variety of safari accommodation and family friendly lodges. Most of these lodges have dedicated kids’ clubs, children play areas, and exciting safari programmes. These safari programmes include a variety of adventures and “mini-safaris,” introducing kids to the bush in a safe and regulated way. Top family friendly lodges and camps across South Africa are recognising the importance of having dedicated safaris for kids and are even offering specialist junior ranger programmes in which children learn more about Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity through age-appropriate, safe guided activities.
Some of the top family friendly lodges that deserve to be on your safari travel bucket-list are Madikwe Safari Lodge; Marataba Safari Lodge; Kambaku Safari Lodge; Nottens Safari Lodge; Rockfig Timbavati, and Black Rhino Safari Lodge.
**TIP: When planning your family safari holiday, we highly recommend that you take the necessary time to do your research. This will help you find the perfect family friendly lodge that best suits you and your family’s needs. Families going on a safari holiday should be aware that although most safari camps and lodges welcome children of (nearly) all ages, some have a minimum age restriction ranging anywhere between 4 and 12 years old. Doing the appropriate research is vital to avoid disappointment.
Safari with kids
One of the most frequently asked questions is whether you can take kids on a safari. The short answer is yes, definitely! However, there are several important factors to consider when planning a family safari trip, especially if you’re looking to go on a safari or game drive with your children.
Lodges have age restrictions
It is important to note that not all safari activities are open to children of all ages. Most lodges (including family friendly lodges) and safari camps have age restrictions when it comes to their safari experiences and game drives. These age restrictions can vary from one lodge to the next. The majority of game lodges do not allow children under the age of 5 on game vehicles. Some lodges extend their age restriction to 6 – 8 years old. It all depends on the specific game lodge or safari camp and their set of safety regulations and guidelines
If you are travelling with young children (under the permitted age for a safari or game drive) and would like to go on a safari, you may be able to book a private safari vehicle for you and your family, provided that the lodge you are staying at offers this service.
Alternatively, almost all of South Africa’s family friendly lodges offer excellent babysitting services that are only too happy to look after your little ones while you go on a safari. Many safari camps and lodges have also developed tailored children’s activity programmes and some even have a dedicated guide specially allocated to families with young children. For kids aged between 4 and 8, these programmes mostly consist of a guide who takes them under their wing and keeps them entertained with a range of activities around camp. Some of these activities include storytelling, painting/drawing animals, birding and bug collecting. These dedicated guides will keep an eye on your kids while you go on a game drive or enjoy any other safari activity.
Walking safaris and guided bush walks is another activity where the age restriction can vary at the camp/lodge’s discretion and is often dependant on the prevalence of dangerous game in the area/reserve. The general age restriction for walking safaris at most lodges and safari camps is 16 years old.
**Tip: While the general age restriction pertaining to kids going on safaris or taking part in any safari experiences such as bush walks applies to most game lodges and safari camps, it can still vary from one lodge to the next. It is recommended that you do your research and/or contact the lodge/camp you are staying at beforehand for full clarification regarding their specific age restrictions and guidelines.
Private game-drive vehicles
Many lodges and camps prefer or insist that families with young children book private game-drive vehicles. When using a private vehicle on game drives, you’re able to dictate exactly how long you stay at each sighting and how long you’re out in the bush for. This really comes in handy if your little ones become restless while out. An extra bonus is that it gives the whole family the opportunity to enjoy a bucket-list worthy African safari experience.
Pricing and discounts for children
In terms of pricing, most game lodges and safari camps consider anyone over the age of 12 to be an adult. This is not to be confused with the minimum age restrictions that apply to various safari experiences and activities. As children over the age of 12 are regarded as adults, they generally pay adult fare. There are very few game lodges (including family friendly game lodges) and safari camps that offer discounts to children over the age of 12, and even children under the age of 12 need to be sharing with an adult to receive a discounted rate.
Proximately to wildlife
Some policies restrict how close guides with young passengers onboard can get to predators, especially in open vehicles. This means your viewing of the big cats, such as lions, leopards and cheetahs, and perhaps even other unpredictable game like buffalo may be very restricted or distant if there are children present on the safari.
Many lodges are unfenced
To offer guests an unparalleled and immersive African wilderness experience, many of South Africa’s lodges and safari camps are unfenced. An unfenced lodge or camp allows all wildlife – including predators like lions, leopards and hyenas that are very active at night – to wander through. If you are travelling with very young children, you may want to stay at a fully fenced lodge.