A safari holiday with the kids – dos and don’ts

Scary animals, malaria and long day trips all make family safari holidays sound like a recipe for disaster. Here's how you can make it work for you...

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There has been a big TV focus on Africa this year – with David Attenborough’s hugely popular Africa series and the current Top Gear Africa special. However, parents who’ve been inspired to take an African safari can be put off the idea due to questions of safety, expense and the effort of taking the kids along too. Here, Will Bolsover, director of Natural World Safaris, looks at the Dos and Don’ts of a safari with children and which African destinations are best suited for family holidays. 

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DO go in half term

Avoid the longer summer and Easter breaks and consider going in the half-term weeks instead. Trying to take the children out of school during term-time can be a real headache but the high prices of the peak season are also something you want to avoid. Taking a shorter safari break in the half-term solves both of these issues. Four to seven days is a good amount of time for a family safari – children’s excitement about a safari adventure won’t fade over this time and parents won’t be taking on too much by trying to pack, organise and entertain the kids for a fortnight.

Will Bolsover says: “As well as benefiting from off peak prices, going on a safari in the low season has its other perks – February is one of the best times in Kenya for game-spotting.”

DON’T risk malaria

Avoid destinations that have a high malaria risk, especially if you’re going to be travelling with younger children. There are a few malaria-free reserves in South Africa, including the stunning Madikwe Game Reserve. Madikwe borders Botswana in the North West Province, and is home to the Big 5 animals (African elephant, lion, leopard rhino and Cape buffalo), as well as giraffes, zebras and wild dogs. Choosing a malaria-free reserve is a sensible option for families, greatly reducing the health worries that are associated with long-haul travel.

DON’T ignore down-time

For a lot of parents, no matter where you go or what you do on holiday, it’s always ‘same stress, different place’. Safaris can feel like an intense option for a family holiday but the rewards and memories are far greater than a package holiday. However, it’s important to plan in some down-time for both you and your children.

A whole day of safari can be draining for kids, so choose to stay in a property that has fun things to come home to, like a swimming pool to cool off or a garden to run around in. To make sure you get the rest you need away from the kids, consider accommodation that has a babysitting service.

Will Bolsover recommends “a private family safari house as the best value option for families, with your private 4×4 safari vehicle, driver/guide, chef and staff to look after you, this can be a surprisingly affordable option.”

DO encourage creativity

Keep children entertained in between seeing animals on safari with simple creative tasks. Giving children cameras and letting them take their own photos of their experience will give them a sense of responsibility and encourage them to explore their surroundings to the full. Similarly, taking it back to basics, take paper and crayons for them to draw their safari experience instead.  Make sure there are plenty of binoculars for kids to spot animals for themselves and avoid any potential ‘I’m bored’ times with games such as animal bingo, or the first person to spot five red things wins.

For kids who love technology, Will Bolsover suggests, “Always carry an iPad (if you can). It’s a world of entertainment at your fingertips.”

DO know your family

You know your family best, what they’ll enjoy, what they won’t enjoy and which activities will be the most successful. If you like to hang out on the beach together choose a safari destination that’s on the coast such as Kenya, Tanzania or Madagascar all of which have stunning beaches. If you think that the whole holiday spent just on safari is too much for the kids, break it up with day visits to some of the area’s national landmarks or think about other adventure activities to try, such as canoeing or horse riding. Talk to your safari company about all of your needs and favourite activities you want to experience to build a safari holiday that is tailored perfectly to your family.

Three of the best African safaris for families:

Kenya

The best time to visit Kenya is between June and February – making it a great choice for safari holidays in the October and February half-terms as well as holidays around Christmas. Kenya has some fantastic family safari attractions with a great mix of wildlife, including elephants, chimpanzees and the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Kenya has excellent private family houses to stay in including Acacia House and Mara House which share a swimming pool, welcome children of all ages and each include a chef, house manager and personal guide.

Zambia

Like Kenya, the best time to visit Zambia is between June and February, perfect for the autumn and spring school holidays. Zambia has plenty of animals that will delight children including monkeys, giraffes, baboons and maybe even a leopard when the sun sets. Zambia has brilliant water attractions to visit as a family including the thunderous Victoria Falls and the relaxing Lake Malawi. Stay in the private family houses like Robin’s House and Luangwa Safari House for incredible views of the Luangwa River and a choice of day, night or even walking safaris.

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South Africa

See everything from penguins to lions in the diverse habitats in South Africa. This region is a popular choice with families due to the simplicity of the safaris which are concentrated in big natural reserves around Kruger National Park. South Africa is also in the same time-zone as the UK, meaning children won’t lose any sleep due to jet lag. There are animals to see in South Africa all year around, making it a great choice for the May/June half-term as well as the other off-peak holidays. South Africa is also a good choice for families who like to relax on the beach and people who want to visit the city life in Cape Town.

View to Watering Hole at Acacia House © Steve Mann, Acacia House © Simon Urwin, Lion Cub, Kenya © Will Bolsover

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