Family Safari Holidays

Family safari holidays

“We saw the big-five and so many fascinating smaller animals too, all making their home in the vast African wilderness. We learnt how to track the big cats, ate under the stars and made friendships that the children will never forget. We wanted an adventurous family experience that our older child would enjoy as well, and our safari went way beyond our hopes and expectations. We unanimously voted this our best holiday ever!”

A safari in Africa provides a fantastically exciting holiday for a family. But is it right for you and your family? Which country is best suited to a family safari? Should you go to East or Southern Africa? How long should you spend on safari? Will the kids enjoy it? Are they old enough? Will it be safe?

Here we answer some of the questions we are most frequently asked, but if you’d prefer to chat through the options, just ring to speak with one of our family safari specialists.

Teenagers and kids on a family safari in Africa

So, what is the ideal family safari holiday destination?

This is the million dollar question. Africa is a large continent and there are a lot of countries that can offer superb safaris. But we think that there are four countries that are particularly well suited to family safaris. And here’s why.

Tanzania

If you want the real family safari experience, we think it is difficult to beat Northern Tanzania. Here you’ve got the wildlife rich plains of the Serengeti and the dense concentration of animals in the Ngorongoro Crater. Any game drive is likely to offer a real breadth of wildlife sightings and will usually include some exciting predators.

But in addition to this, Tanzania has masses of other things you can do. Cycle through the banana plantations on the edge of the Rift Valley, take a tuk tuk ride to the markets of Mto Wa Mbu and stop for a cookery lesson, visit the Bushmen of Lake Eyasi, walk alongside giraffe on the plains beneath Mount Meru, canoe on the Momella Lakes in Arusha National Park and climb an extinct volcano for views over Olduvai Gorge.

[For more ideas on kid-friendly activities check out our Tanzania with kids blog or see our Tanzania family safari section]

Making bow and arrow on a Tanzania safari holiday

Learning to make a bow and arrow and firing it, is always a popular activity

Added to this, there is also the fabled Spice Island of Zanzibar where you can round off your trip with picture-perfect white beaches and fabulous snorkelling.

In our opinion, our Tanzania Safari and Beach itinerary is the perfect family blend of activity, safari and beach. We can select family friendly accommodation to suit your budget and the ages of your children.

Kenya

This is where safari all began and it’s still a great destination for family safari holidays. But (and don’t let the Kenyan tourist board catch us saying this), you have a to work a little harder to make a safari here suitable for families. The choice of which area to visit is particularly important. You need to avoid the regular, well-trodden route that goes from one game park to the next, with nothing in between.

We love Laikipia, the wild and rugged region to the north of Nairobi. Here, critically, in addition to plenty of game, there are lots of activities that the kids will love. We’re talking rafting, swimming, camel rides, hiking (in a fun way), visits to authentic Samburu villages, climbing craggy cliffs, sunset hot chocolates, marshmallows over the camp fire. All of this will keep the children thoroughly engaged and of course complement perfectly the game drives which also form a key part of the trip.

Add to this the game-rich plains of the Masai Mara (deservedly famous), and the white beaches of the Indian Ocean, and you have the basis for a wonderful African family safari holiday.

Find more information check out our Kenya family safari section or go straight to Highlights of Kenya for one of our most popular African family safaris, combining the best activities in Laikipia with wildlife viewing in the Masai Mara and finishing up with time on the beach.

Child on a family safari holiday taking a photo of rhino

South Africa

This is our top pick for younger children. A drive along the famous Garden Route, either starting or finishing in Cape Town, will allow time to visit the small game reserves around Port Elizabeth. These may not have the majesty or grandeur of Kruger or the East African national parks, but, critically, they are malaria free. So no tricky malaria tablets to coax into unwilling mouths. And whilst they are not vast areas of wilderness, their relatively small size means a particularly dense concentration of wildlife. This is ideal for younger children as it keeps them engaged.

Also, once the safari has finished, South Africa offers a huge range of other child-friendly activities – zip-wires, paddle boarding, cycling, swimming in rivers and so on.

On safari at Amakala, photos of South Africa for families blog

A family-friendly safari in the malaria-free Eastern Cape works well with Cape Town and the Garden Route

If taking malaria tablets is not an issue, Kruger National Park is absolutely superb and you can visit on a self-drive basis. This means you can take the game viewing at your own pace and do as much or as little as you want. Again this can be combined with other exciting activities or perhaps with Cape Town and some of the southern winelands.

Our Classic Cape & Garden Route includes a shorter safari that provides a great introduction to the safari experience. Our Kruger & Beach Family Safari includes more game viewing and this can be extended depending on what would suit your family.

Namibia

Namibia is a vast country and the driving distances are quite long so this isn’t necessarily the ideal African safari holiday destination for families with younger children. However, if the kids are a little older (or not too fussed about being in the car), Namibia offers the chance for a serious family adventure.

There’s vast sand dunes to race down, ghostly ship wrecks to visit, rocky crags to climb and remote bushmen to visit. And up in the north there are the vast tracts of wilderness that comprise Etosha National Park, one of the continent’s great reserves. As with Kruger in South Africa, you can self-drive here so you can explore at your own pace. Check out our Namibia family holiday section for more detailed information.

Namibia family holidays - family adventure holidays - kids on safari

The AfriCat sanctuary at Okonjima Nature Reserve is a firm family favourite

Namibia is also one of the least densely populated places on earth so there is masses of scope for getting out into the wilderness, sleeping under the stars or in remote lodges with nothing around.

Our Highlights of Namibia includes, as the name suggests, all of the main sights including ample time in Etosha. Our Northern Namibia tour includes even more wildlife viewing. As ever, both itineraries can be tweaked to create the perfect safari holiday for your family.

Note that accommodation in Namibia, particularly around Etosha, fills up many months in advance (often more than a year). It is therefore imperative that you start to plan any trip to Namibia a long way in advance.

Mum and two children watching elephants on a family safari holiday

So, once you have decided on where to go, what else to you need to be thinking about?

Which are the most family friendly national parks?

The first thing to consider is the type of animal that can be seen in a particular park or reserve. It may be sacrilegious to a safari aficionado but we have to be honest about what animals appeal to children. Yes we are generalising but for the most part, lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, giraffe, baboon, crocodile…..tick. Small birds and endless varieties of antelope.….not so much. An adult bird-watcher might be enthralled by a smaller niche wildlife reserve where there is a chance to spot a rare species but the children will frankly be much more interested in watching a troop of baboons playing or a herd of elephant sweeping across the plains. So choose your destination with this in mind.

The second thing to consider is the concentration of animals. Again, many experienced safari-goers will choose less visited and more remote parks and with good reason. They offer a more untouched experience, the chance to get out into the wilds of Africa, far away from other tourists, and experience that ‘Out of Africa’ feeling.

Giraffe and zebra in the Kruger - family safari

Game is prolific in the world-famous Kruger

However, the more well-known wildlife reserves are famous for a reason. Kruger National Park (South Africa), Etosha (Namibia), the Serengeti & Ngorongoro (Tanzania) and the Masai Mara (Kenya) all have particularly high concentrations of animals. And the animals here are more accustomed to tourist vehicles and therefore do not run away when a jeep approaches. As a result, within a relatively short space of time you can see a real range of (interesting, child-engaging) wildlife. Yes there may be other tourists around, but if you choose the right camp, and know where to go, you can still ‘get away from it all’.

How do we plan the right itinerary?

Having selected your destination and perhaps with an idea of which national parks you want to visit, the next thing to do is to come up with the right itinerary. And this is key. This is where our expertise really comes into play.

In our experience, children won’t want to do day after day of vehicle based safaris. A couple of days is fine, but back to back game drives day in and day out won’t work.

The key to a successful African safari family holiday is to incorporate a mixture of elements throughout. The game drives are the foundation of the trip and will be the highlight for the children. After all, what child wouldn’t go wild for close-up encounters with lions, giraffes, buffalo, leopard and elephant?

BUT the game drives have to be interspersed with other activities that take place outside the vehicle. We’re talking bike rides, swimming in waterfalls, visiting villages, learning how to make a bow and arrow, exploring wineries, hiking through coffee plantations and so on.

All of the countries that we have highlighted above have been selected precisely because they offer superb safaris, but also a great range of activities that complement the safari. There may be other destinations that are fantastic for game viewing but we don’t recommend them for a family safari holiday purely because there isn’t enough else to do. This really is key and we can’t stress it enough.

Family safaris - family sending off on a cycling trip in Arusha

Bikes rides are one of many activities that can be interspersed with game drives

Roughly speaking, for every day spent on a game drive, the next day needs to be spent doing something different… and we don’t just mean driving on to the next national park. All of our itineraries have been designed with this (perhaps surprisingly simple?) formula in mind. But remember that every single holiday that we design is tailor made for your family. Our sample itineraries are there to whet the appetite and show you what you could do and we will then tweak this to ensure that we get the perfect itinerary for you.

For inspiration have a look at our Tanzania itinerariesKenya itinerariesSouth Africa itineraries and Namibia itineraries. Or if you don’t know where to start, contact us and we can give you bespoke advice.

Kids playing in the pool on an African family safari holiday

A lodge with a pool is great for the kids to let off steam after a game drive… and still spot local wildlife!

Which destination suits which school holiday?

Once you have a feel for each of our key Africa safari destinations, check out which works best for each of the school holidays.

February half term

A great time to visit Kenya and Tanzania.

Cape Town and the Garden Route are also lovely although busy.

In Northern South Africa (Kruger) there will be some torrential downpours but these are usually short-lived and the rest of the day will be sunny and hot.

Coastal KwaZulu Natal and Durban will be hot and humid.

Namibia will be very hot and there may be occasional thunderstorms (particularly in the coastal areas) but these are usually short-lived

Easter holidays

This is a great time to visit South Africa.

In Namibia it is the end of the rainy season and usually by the Easter holidays there is little rain left so it is a good time to visit.

It’s the green season in Kenya and Tanzania which means there will be plenty of rain and this is not the ideal time to visit. However, there are not many other visitors and you can get cheap rates.

May half term

This is a great time to visit South Africa and Namibia.

It’s the green season in Kenya and Tanzania which means there will be plenty of rain and this is not the ideal time to visit. However, there are not many other visitors and you can get cheap rates.

Summer holidays

The perfect time to visit Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia.

Cape Town and the Garden Route will be cold and wet so avoid but it’s a superb time of year to visit Northern South Africa, including Kruger and KwaZulu Natal.

October half term

A great time of year across most of Africa. Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia are all lovely in October.

In Northern South Africa (including Kruger) you will get a mixed bag of weather. The rains start towards the end of the month so it can be wet at times so this may not be the ideal time to visit.

In Cape Town and along the Garden Route, October is the spring time and again you will get a mixed bag of weather. It can be warm and sunny but you may also get the odd day of rain, and the hot summer temperatures have not arrived yet.

Christmas holidays

South Africa is very busy in the Christmas holidays with local travellers. You must book a long way in advance and expect places to be busy.

The weather will be beautiful in Cape Town and along the Garden Route.

In Northern South Africa (Kruger) there will be some torrential downpours but these are usually short-lived and the rest of the day will be sunny and hot.

Coastal KwaZulu Natal and Durban will be hot and humid.

Namibia will be very hot and there may be occasional thunderstorms (particularly in the coastal areas) but these are usually short-lived.

Kenya and Tanzania will be experiencing the short rains so there will be some rain at times, but this usually falls in the late afternoon and evening so this is a good time to travel.

What age do the children need to be to enjoy a safari?

There is no hard and fast answer to this. Even the youngest children (toddlers and upwards) will enjoy a game drive but their attention span will be short. They might manage an hour or possibly two in a game reserve rich in wildlife where there are no lengthy gaps between spotting (interesting) animals. Longer than this, well their interest will start to wane. (Yes we are speaking from experience. Liddy’s 4 year old loved a game drive in Amakhala in South Africa but after 10 minutes looking at two huge rhino just 5 metres from the vehicle, looked around and said ‘I’m bored now, can we go on?’).

A smiling 4 year old on safari on a family safari holiday - South Africa family holiday

Our MD’s  four-year old on a family safari in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Once children are 7 or 8, they will enjoy a slightly longer game drive. We’re talking perhaps 3 or 4 hours and again there needs to be a relatively high concentration of wildlife. Interest will quickly start to dissipate if there are long stretches with nothing to see, so the particular park or conservation area needs to be chosen with care.

Older children (12 plus?) may last longer still, but realistically even for older children, a half day safari is probably enough in one go. The ideal itinerary would have a morning game drive that can be extended if everyone is engaged and loving it, but which can finish at lunch if the family have had enough. And then an optional one again in the afternoon for those that are interested.

Again we can’t stress enough the need for careful planning when designing an African family safari holiday. All of this needs to be taken into account. There needs to be scope to extend or cut short the game drives depending on how everyone is feeling

How safe is a safari for children?

We’re glad you asked. Obviously the answer is that it is very safe, or we wouldn’t be arranging family safaris!

There is specific safety advice on each of our country overview pages (see safety in Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Namibia).

However there are two golden rules that apply across all destinations:

Rule 1: Always follow the advice of guides, lodge staff and park rangers to the T. All the time. No exceptions.

Wild animals follow patterns of behaviour which park rangers and safari guides are familiar with. They know how to behave in every wildlife situation and will instruct you accordingly. It is extremely important that you do EVERYTHING your guide advises, without question and by the letter. Nobody understands an animal’s behaviour more than them. If you feel your child would be unable to follow instruction, don’t go. It’s not worth the risk.

When on a safari you are bound to hear horror stories bandied around the camp fire at night, but these always, always, always involve someone doing something that they shouldn’t have done. Getting out of a jeep when they shouldn’t, running at night when they’ve been told not to, making lots of noise when the guide has asked for absolute quiet. If you do what you are told, and make sure that the children do too, you’ll be fine.

Rule 2When staying in tented camps or lodges in the middle of a national park, nobody is to leave the tent on their own at night. Ever.

For our own peace of mind, we only use tented camps in which all family members can be in one room (or the parents can be divided between the children), unless children are in the high teens and can be guaranteed to sort out any problems that they might encounter during the night on their own, without a parent. Of course if there is a genuine emergency, there are camp staff on patrol who can be summoned to escort people from one tent to the next, but the children must be old enough to understand this and wait, even when they have a problem.

Follow these two golden rules and you’ll have a wonderful time and can be confident that you will keep your family safe.

Where do I sign up?

An African family safari holiday is without question a life-affirming and phenomenal experience, in which you will share literally breath-taking encounters together. We’ve shared our insights to enable you to choose the right destination and itinerary for your family, and to keep you safe, engaged, excited and entertained for the whole adventure.

To start planning your holiday in more detail, just ring to speak to one of our safari specialists for advice that is tailored to your family – 01728 752751. Or get in touch using our simple online form.

Two boys by a camp fire at Kati Kati lodge on an African family safaris

Kids always love a campfire and it’s a great opportunity for quality family time after a day on safari

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Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.

01728 752751

Stubborn Mule cartoon