An African family safari is an incredibly rewarding and exciting vacation. Safaris are packed with healthy outdoor fun, make great learning environments and foster family connection away from the screens and Wi-Fi. You will feel more alive and connected than ever as you create shared experiences off-the-grid and out of the rat-race!
When it comes to picking an unforgettable family holiday destination, you can’t beat Africa. Predators stalk the grassy plains, chimpanzees and gorillas can be found in the precious remaining jungles, and the unspoilt reefs team with aquatic life. There is no nature channel program that can beat the real thing. Getting to see your child experience their very first lion sighting, or experience just how large elephants actually are, is a moment you won’t forget.
Plus, there are few things as fun as shouting: ‘I see something!’ when out on a game drive. Even a dung beetle in action is a worthy sighting!
Every game drive comes with a map of wild creatures you may encounter, and your kids can delight in ticking off that day’s sightings. They can even go put a pin in the sighting board to help other tourists find an elusive leopard or that hyena that makes it appearance around the game park entrance at dawn.
At safariFRANK we always put your family’s safety and comfort first and only recommend operators whom we know and trust.
Our favourite Family Safaris
Safari Types: Bush and Beach, Adventure, Expert Operators, Private vs Small Group
What kid doesn’t love the beach? From Boulders beach in Cape Town dotted with penguins to the tropical coastline of Zanzibar, there is much for the kids to explore. Think sandcastles, clear turquoise waters, and spending a lazy afternoon in a hammock. This is the version of ‘beach vacation’ that safariFRANK specialises in.
Some of the beach lodges offer a luxurious but just remote enough getaway destination, that you feel like you practically have a private beach. In Mozambique or on the Kenyan coast you are encouraged to indulge in locally caught seafood prepared by the chef, and sip coconut water directly from coconuts completing the quintessential beach experience. You can snorkel in the undisturbed reefs, go on a private fishing trip, or take a scuba diving course. And we haven’t forgotten those much-needed cocktails for the parents!
Picking your season to travel is an important aspect of any bush adventure. On the plains of the Mara the recent rainfall transforms the plains into a lush landscape full of new wobbly legs, and predators waiting on the side-lines for a calf to wander from its mother’s protective gaze. The sought after tented camps in the Mara are ideal for families. With a particularly high density of lions, visiting at this time of year won’t disappoint.
Many of the guides, being parents themselves, love hosting families and care for your children as they would their own. The family friendly lodges offer a host of kid friendly activities among them being bow and arrow shooting with the Maasai, starting a campfire with elephant dung and sticks, and educational bush walks around the camp. Some camps have been designed to ensure the safety of little ones, and keep them entertained, while still offering the grown-ups maximum game viewing experiences and often some much needed alone time. safariFRANK makes a point of forging relationships with the most experienced locals Africa has to offer. These lodges understand that kids don’t want to sit in a game drive vehicle for too long, and rather be romping through the bush surrounding the lodge and poking the anthills. We have lodges that are as kid friendly as it can get with a river rope swing, paddling a raft around a safe pool in the river, tubing and fishing in the river, as well as a host of other activities to keep the kids entertained. Laikipia, in Kenya, is a firm favourite for adventurous family safaris.
Taking children on safari can be a rewarding experience, with the bush offering a magnificent classroom and in-built playground. The guides are used to answering an endless stream of questions from their smallest explorers and hearing an actual lion roar tends to beat any Disney movie. If you are traveling with very small children – a private vehicle either self-driven or with a private guide is often the best option so you can set your own pace and stop the car as often as needed. Family focused lodges are known for their children’s programs. Your young ones can learn everything from drumming, to making crafts, to animal tracking and identifying local plants. A few of the programs partner with the local school, organising sporting activities with the local children or even an opportunity for your kid to try a day at an African school.
Being a part of the kids’ activities at the lodge also gives your children the opportunity to make new friends. Whether you are looking for adrenalin rushing adventure or lazy beach days, you can find it in Africa. For the members of your clan that need their days to be action-packed, there are the options of quad biking along dirt roads and gliding along the water in a Mokoro (traditional dugout canoe). And if you prefer a slower pace, there is the lodge pool overlooking the bush, or the hammock swinging by the beach.
As a parent, there is an added satisfaction to knowing your child is not only having fun but learning the importance of nature in the process. Africa offers a multitude of opportunities for cultural immersion – traditional African cultures – local children living modern lives in Africa being very different to the lived reality your kids experience back home.
Being out in the bush every day and seeing wild creatures in their natural habitat helps to cultivate an appreciation for conservation. The shrinking natural world and the dire need for us to save the last wild places can be put in age appropriate terms for the kids. A safari done well has the ability to ignite a passion for conserving our natural world and the wildlife that calls it home.
Choosing a privately guided safari means you get to tailor-make your children’s very first bush experience. Breakfast out in the bush with no one but your family and the guide means quality family time. Sitting down for dinner in the restaurant at night and getting to sample the local cuisine – have your kids tried bobotie before? How about malva pudding?
With little ones in tow, it’s important to prioritise going to a malaria free destination; until they are about 5 and can take malaria medication, it’s best to steer clear. But this hardly means you’re out of options! South Africa is a safe zone and it has many incredible malaria-free BIG 5 parks to visit including game reserves in the Eastern Cape, Welgevonden in the Limpopo region, Madikwe and the Kalahari. Not all lodges will accommodate children under 5 years of age while others offer child-minding services and private vehicles for game drives greatly enhancing the family’s experience.
A private safari geared towards small people means a guide who is talented at making this one big educational adventure. You can expect family friendly lodges to offer a host of kid friendly activities such as fireside story time for kids and arts and crafts activities. Professional lodge nannies are often around meaning you can sneak off for an hour or two at the spa. Not having to worry about malaria in South Africa means you can safely combine your BIG 5 adventure with a trip to Cape Town and explore the vibrant city at the bottom tip of Africa. Another good option is to combine the safari with a beach destination like Mauritius.
Tweens often have the most fun on safari. They are old enough to understand this is the trip of a lifetime and often want to get a taste of it all. They are usually our most curious adventurers, and our guides enjoy fielding all their questions. Moving around and visiting different camps is a good way to keep your tweens entertained. Each lodge is inspired by a different local culture, and a cultural experience is a huge added bonus to being on safari in Africa.
A self-drive and camping adventure in Namibia and Botswana might just be the best thing they have ever done. For kids from 5 to 10 years of age, areas with a low risk of malaria can be visited with due care, including taking appropriate anti-malarial drugs.
An African family safari even gives a teenager an excuse to look up from their phones. That said, they likely won’t get signal either. Africa is adrenalin packed enough to keep their attention, from getting within metres of a rhino on a walking safari, to sitting on the edge of your seats as thousands of wildebeest stampede through crocodile infested waters. Quad bikes, sand boards, and mountain bikes all give them an opportunity to stay on the move! There are places to be! Things to explore! If a horse is too mainstream for them, how about riding on camelback? And if they want to get up in the air there are hot air balloons and micro lights.
For teenagers almost all options and locations are available to you including most walking safaris and mobile camping trips. This opens up an exciting world of experiences and a private mobile safari in Botswana is the family adventure of a lifetime. This is a great time to engage with your teen on activities they want to do, to find common ground and strengthen bonds. Perhaps you’ll even get a heart-to-heart….
There is a new trend afoot with the rise of the intergenerational safari where grandparents travel with their children and grandkids or sometimes with just their grandchildren.
The bush is something that be enjoyed at any age, and with a safari expert helping you organise your trip you can be sure to meet everyone’s expectations. Intergenerational safaris can require a mix of activities, whilst the kids are at bush school and the parents are out on a guided walk, the older generation might enjoy the comforts of the lodge. If easier access to vehicles and specialised lodges with wheelchair access is required, there are lodges that specialises in accommodating all abilities.
We highly recommend doing a private safari with our personalised vehicle ‘The Beast’. This allows for a lot of flexibility as well as ensuring an intimate social environment ideal for the whole family.
A few tips:
- Building your safari around the age of your child will ultimately serve everyone. If you have a toddler on a schedule, try to build the safari experience around that schedule. Morning game drives can be before bath time and meals can be scheduled before anyone gets too hungry and cranky. Game drives can also be scheduled around short attention spans with lots of breaks to stretch your legs and climb the closest tree with the ground squirrels watching.
- School aged children may benefit from being the masterminds behind the trip (with some adult supervision of course). My trick to five years and older is making them feel that the adventure was of their making. Looking at maps and cottages beforehand and showing them pictures of the lodge options can make them feel like they are a part of the planning. Teenagers can take an even more active role in the organizing and plan a day or two of the itinerary.
- Some areas offer ‘voluntourism’ options to older children and families. We recommend extreme care be taken with these as many are profiting from such activities rather than truly giving back. In the worst cases, some organisations exploit the very animals they say claim to be helping. For those who want to be active and involved whilst travelling, we suggest training programs as part of the safari such as the bush-wise course, which imparts knowledge that will set participants up for a lifetime in conservation.
Lastly some ‘frank’ advice:
- Booking a private vehicle will allow greater flexibility and fun, consider ‘The Beast’ it makes all the difference! Check it out here.
- Family-friendly camps are key and small, owner-operated camps often offer greater flexibility and more personalised service.
- Bringing binoculars/cameras, games, colouring books and more can keep children entertained on quiet afternoons and game drives.
- Do a ‘slow safari’ and plan some downtime for younger children who sometimes just need to sleep and play. Remember you will often have great game-viewing from camp.
- Consider visiting a local community and school and enquire how to contribute and share as part of the visit.
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