A T+L A-List travel advisor weighs in on how to plan the perfect African safari for the whole family.

Advertisement

At Extraordinary Journeys, we believe it is important to explore the world with our children, but we are also aware that traveling with kids can be less vacation and more work. For everyone to enjoy the adventure, it's important to plan ahead. 

The right hosts, the right pace, the right guides, and the right activities based on your kids interests and ages are critical. With so many considerations, I've broken down some expert tips for ensuring your family African safari adventure is an actual vacation for everyone.

Children on safari, looking at an elephant in Zimbabwe
Credit: Courtesy of Somalisa

Essential tips for all ages

  • Think activities, not countries:  Match the safari destination that's right for your family and kids by first thinking about the activities that your family enjoys. Rather than tick off multiple counties in one trip, consider planning your adventure all within one country.
  • Have a private guide:  A private guide is essential for going on safari with kids.  Not only will your kids connect with the staff, but the adults will get a well-deserved break from 24/7 parenting duties. If a private guide is out of reach for your budget, private vehicles at each camp will give you the flexibility to make sure everyone is always having fun.
  • Talk before the trip:  Describe where you will stay, what animals you can expect to see, how you will travel around, what activities are available. Get their input and make sure your kids feel every bit a part of planning the adventure.

For young kids (under age 6)

Many safari camps only accommodate kids ages 5 and up, so if you're traveling with the preschool set on safari, identify camps that do take the little ones. I recommend South Africa or Tanzania for families with younger kids. Accommodation is typically free for children under 5, so the only costs are park fees and flights.

  • Slow it down: Consider four nights in each safari camp to give your kids some time to warm up to the place and the people (especially if your little ones are shy around new people). Settling in will make the camp feel more like home, so your family will have the chance to fully relax.  
  • Build in non-safari activities: Activities like making pizzas, building bows/arrows, and following tracks are the norm at most camps. But be on the lookout for accommodation that goes a step beyond, like an interactive farm or an evening river cruise to count hippos.
  • Always bring your swimsuit: Swimming pools are a godsend in the afternoons, but not every camp in Africa will have one. Double check with your specialist if this will be a key to your family's happiness.
  • Factor in your kid's personality: What makes them tick? Would they love playing soccer with other kids in the village or doing arts and crafts? Picking vegetables for your next meal from the garden? Watching penguins play on the beach? The more you can tell your specialist about your family, the more it will feel personalized.

For elementary kids (ages 7-11)

For this age group, you can also look a little farther beyond traditional locations as they have more patience with travel and can start to enjoy the journey, and not just the destination. I would add these destinations to the list: 

Kenya: I was born in Kenya, and it has a special place in my heart. Here, you can explore with a little more adventure in mind. Kenya's private conservancy options can take the conventional bush experience and personalize it to your family's day-to-day needs. Unlike national parks, conservancies and privately-run camps and lodges offer flexibility and more exclusive activities. Many of our favorite Kenyan lodges are owned and run by families raising their own kids in the bush.

Zambia: Are your kids keen on more intrepid adventures? The Zambia wildlife experience is incredible, and we recommend it as much for first time safari-goers as seasoned veterans. Although some of Zambia's open-air bushcamps won't be a fit for everyone, they pay off in offering uncrowded parts of the park in game-rich areas for travelers seeking that 'original' safari experience. And because it isn't as commercialized as other destinations in Africa, Zambia offers more value for your family safari budget than neighboring Botswana. Mix up game drives and walking safaris (for ages 12 and up) with some time in the Lower Zambezi for boating, fishing, and canoeing. 

Zimbabwe: Somalisa Acacia has no age restrictions and offers tailored nature walks around camp with dedicated child specialists. Zimbabwe is home to five World Heritage sites, including Mana Pools National Park, Matobo Hills, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, and Khami Ruins National Monument. Not to be missed among the five is stunning Victoria Falls. For kids and adults alike, the Elephant Express might just be a dream come true. If you have little ones who adore trains, this dual-engine single tram through Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park is a guaranteed delight.

Family quad biking at Jack's Camp in Botswana
Credit: Courtesy of Jack's Camp

For tweens & teens (ages 12+)

It's one thing to take "kids" on safari, and another to keep a brooding, smartphone-addicted teen or tween on safari and keep them excited about quality family time with little-to-no WiFi. These are some amazing activities that will keep you all captivated in the present moment.

Fly Camping: Sleeping in the bush under no more than a flysheet (traditionally a thin mesh fabric pitched like a rudimentary tent) may be old school, but it will never go out of style. No walls separating you from the great outdoors or the star-studded skies here. This is the ultimate escape. 

ATV Quad Biking: Race across Botswana's lunar salt pans or cruise Namibia's desert-scapes in a rough-and-tumble 4×4. If your teen can't wait to get behind the wheel, here is their access across Africa's endless dramatic landscapes. Age restrictions vary by country and camp, though 16 is a common base age. In much of Botswana, ages 12+ are welcome to get behind the wheel of ATVs, provided they get the approval from camp management and parents. 

Cultural Interactions: As your teens and tweens are learning about the world in school, safari for middle school and high schoolers can bring lessons to life. Some areas invite you to join in ancient traditions like leaping with Maasai warriors to compete for the highest jump, or learning the Samburu women's traditional methods of beautiful, vibrant beading. 

Conservation Activities: A great treasure of going on African safari with your tweens and teenagers is the opportunity to engage in conservation education and activities, like pump runs in Hwange, Zimbabwe or going out with anti-poaching dog teams. If you are traveling with conservation-minded teens 16 and old who are ready for an experience that will leave an indelible mark, consider adding rhino darting to your safari.

The bottom line is, kids and adults of all ages can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience on a family safari in Africa together, but it takes expertise and careful planning. Transformative travel on African safari will inspire a passion for wild places while creating an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime adventure for the whole family.

Elizabeth Gordon, of Extraordinary Journeys, is a T+L A-List advisor who specializes in East and Southern African safaris. Contact her at elizabeth@ejafrica.com