Do you Need to be an Experienced Rider to do a Riding Safari?

You do not necessarily have to be an experienced rider to enjoy a riding safari.  While some safaris involving riding amongst wildlife may require a reasonable level of experience, there are plenty of others where you don’t need to have spent much time on a horse.

In a nutshell, if you are riding with big game then yes you need to be a very good rider as you have to be able to control your horse if it does come across something that frightens it (and you!) You need to be able to gallop and jump and feel totally confident outside a riding school and in the open.  

If riding just with plains game or in Argentina where you are using your horse as a mode of transport, then you do not need to have had any experience at all.  In South Africa, in particular there are some wonderful places where you can ride amongst plains game but do not need to know how to ride. In Patagonia (Argentina) there are some stunning trekking horse safaris that you can do with no previous experience of riding at all.  In both cases the saddles are like arm chairs and really hold you in; are very comfortable and the horses are all chosen for the rider.  They are well schooled and if you have not ridden before will be pretty much bomb proof.

How to Keep your Children Safe on a Safari

Africa remains an exciting place to travel and a safari is one of the most memorable experiences families can share. But for those yet to experience it and maybe considering a trip for the first time, you will no doubt have several questions about child safety.

These may include: How safe are safaris in Africa? Where in Africa is safe to travel? What are the age restrictions for taking children on safari?

To answer these and many other questions we have compiled a list of child safety tips for families.

1. Age Suitability

Before even contemplating a safari trip you need to consider if your children are old enough. In simple terms there are two options when it comes to family safaris – lodge-based or tented camps. For safety reasons, many camps and lodges won’t take children under 8 years old. However, there are a number of properties that are child friendly and extremely well equipped to have even very young children. 

These are often owner-run bush homes or private lodges where they have their own children and love having others to stay. But it’s a very personal decision since every family is different. Parents must consider not only what to do with young children on a trip, but also how they will cope with flights, long drives, and very early morning rises. Our advice here is keep the safari short and sharp – four to five days being ideal to keep everyone’s attention, and combine with a few days on the beach so that everyone can let their hair down.

2. Vaccinate and immunize

Each country in Africa has its own inoculation demands and safety record, and while only your doctor can advise on specifics, we will inform you on what to expect and what precautions are recommended. Malaria, sleeping sickness and dysentery are just a few of the diseases you can pick up in some parts of Africa, although the chances of contracting anything serious like this are vanishingly small.

Make sure you and your children’s vaccinations are up to date and consult with your GP well in advance of any trip. The NHS Fit For Travel site has a good guide, broken down by country. If you prefer not to make your children take malaria tablets, there are a few game reserves in South Africa that are malaria-free.

4. Mosquito protection

While most safari destinations have relatively low malarial risks (cities and areas of large human populations are the worst) the most dangerous creature in Africa is the mosquito, and the younger the child, the more important it is to reduce the risk of malarial infection. The safari accommodation we use will always include mosquito nets over the beds and / or mosquito-proofed tents.

Camp or lodge staff will also spray tents or rooms in the evenings if necessary. The key time to protect yourself against mosquitos is between 10 at night and 6 in the morning when mosquitos are at their most prevalent, but it is best to extend this to evenings and early mornings to be safe. Make sure your kids wear clothing that protects areas typically vulnerable to bites – ankles, calves, wrists and neck.

For extra protection you can also spray your children’s clothes with insect repellent, which you can buy at home and for use on the skin something like Skin So Soft is a simple and effective protection against biting insects. Another good tip is to wear very light colours when you’re sleeping – mosquitos are attracted to dark colours.

5. Protect your kids from the sun

The sunshine is very strong in many parts of Africa and since your family will be spending a lot of time outdoors on safari, your children need to be well protected by sunscreen or sunblock. Pack the highest factor creams and sprays for younger children. Remember to re-apply after a few hours or especially after doing any swimming.

Make sure you take hats, ideally wide brim and tight with perhaps a chin tie so you don’t lose them from vehicles or boats. Children’s eyes can be sensitive to sunlight and on safari they will be exposed to a lot more sunshine that they’re used to. Good quality sunglasses offer some protection.

Dehydration is also a risk in hot countries so drinking plenty of water is absolutely essential. Make sure kids are constantly drinking.

6. Be careful walking around camp barefoot

As anyone who grew up in Africa will tell you, one of the joys of being a child in Africa is being able to go barefoot. However, this clearly needs to be tempered with an awareness of the many thorny or stinging things they could encounter. Hence suitable footwear is a good idea when they are outdoors – Africa has many snakes, scorpions (although these tend to keep well clear of humans if they can) as well as ants and wasps. Your children won’t need heavy-duty boots on a safari and for anything other than serious walks, trainers / sneakers are ideal.

7. Stay in the vehicle while on game drives

Always stay in the safari vehicle when driving in or traveling through a game park. Africa is not a zoo, the wildlife is free to attack you (or even eat you!) if given any encouragement. Only get out at designated spots and follow the advice of your guide to the letter. If the children are desperate for the toilet, never let them out the vehicle without asking your guide if it is safe to do so. No matter how tempting it may be to take that perfect photo, don’t get out of the vehicle to do it without getting the go-ahead from your guide.

You’d be amazed how easy it is to miss a lion or leopard lurking in the grass at very close range (These are animals that evolved to be experts at concealing themselves). Many safari vehicles are open-topped and open sided and the wildlife is generally relaxed around them, but when in the company of big game – particularly the large cats, don’t allow children to stand up without checking with your guide. Animals are used to the shapes of vehicles, but can react unpredictably if a human outline suddenly appears at close range.

8. Always be on the look out for animals in the bush

While the closest encounters with wildlife tend to be in vehicles, there can be times when you’ll come across wildlife up close on a walking safari or occasionally around camp. Bull elephants in particular are often drawn to the same shady trees that make ideal spots to locate tents. They often walk close to rooms or tents with no sign of fear, but under no circumstances should they be approached. When walking around in a camp or lodge you should always be on the lookout for wild animals and children should always be accompanied. If you do encounter a wild animal, keep calm, don’t turn your back or run and quietly move back in the direction you came from, ideally getting into a room, tent or vehicle.

Walking safaris are not suitable for children under the age of 12 and many guides operating in areas where there are populations of dangerous wildlife won’t take children under the age of 16 until they have seen if they are suitably behaved. Any time you are walking in the bush you need to tune all your senses to the environment (this is one of the things that makes walking safaris so exciting). If you are walking with (older) children, keep them close at all times. On a walking safari your walking guide and /or ranger will be armed and will brief you clearly before the walk starts on how to react in the event you encounter game at close range. Top of the list are keep quiet, don’t make sudden moves, don’t run or turn your back, but above all, listen carefully to your guide and follow his instructions.

9. Be careful near rivers or lakes.

Be careful not to allow children to swim or play near rivers or lakes. There’s a reason why you won’t see the locals swimming in many places as lakes and rivers can be teeming with crocodiles. In addition, the peaceful-looking hippos are arguably the most dangerous of all the big animals. If they sense danger hippos will charge and attack whatever lies in their path in order to get back to the safety of the water.

In some parts of Africa there are also parasitic infections that can be transmitted to humans through contact with fresh water. That said there are many places where you can swim safely, but this should only be done with the clear go-ahead of your guide or hosts. If swimming is a priority for your family holiday then consider spending some time on one of the wonderful beaches on the Indian Ocean (Tanzania and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba are the best) or book one the many safari camps or lodges with a swimming pool.

10. Night time supervision

This one is as simple as it is important. Don’t allow your children to walk or run around at night in areas where you know there is wildlife present that can be potentially harmful – and this includes in your safari camp or lodge. Children mustn’t be allowed to play away from the main lighted areas of camp and you should keep them close to you at all times – it’s not uncommon for leopards to frequent safari camps.

Finally, you should always ensure that your room is closed at night or your tent properly zipped up. Don’t allow children to come out after dark – most safari camps will have a system – radio, whistle, air horn etc – to allow you to alert your guide or ranger in the event of an emergency.

Child Restrictions in Botswana

There is no easy way to sum up the child restrictions in Botswana. Every lodge seems to have a different rule; some do not allow any children under 12 years, while others allow children but only those over 6 years old are allowed out on excursions (making a family safari a little pointless). The majority of camps set the minimum age at either 8 years or 12 years.

The decision not to allow young children on safari is usually a combination of safety, consideration for other guests and economics. Camps and lodges in Botswana are very safety conscious and so are anxious that in a potentially dangerous encounter with an animal, you only have to think about yourself while haring up a tree. Camps are also unfenced and many are raised on platforms so also not conducive to a relaxing holiday for Mum and Dad. Since all the camps are small and beds are restricted by government regulations, it is difficult for lodges to cater for the additional beds and offer reduced rates. Furthermore, there is the obvious issue of the proximity of wildlife and other guests, both of whom are expecting peace and quiet.

However, all is not lost! There are one or two destinations that actively encourage and cater for children, allowing the folks to have a holiday while the kids are entertained. For example, The Young Explorers club operates out of {Shinde} in the Delta and {Edo’s Camp} in the Kalahari. There are lodges such as Garden Lodge near Kasane from which you can explore Chobe while having a safe, family-friendly place to return to. So, if you are set on a safari for your young family, there are options. If you are not sure about what the average day will be like and whether they are likely to really appreciate the experience, feel free to give us a call and chat about it.

Tanzania’s Top Safari Highlights

Tanzania is full of safari highlights and exceptional game areas, but here are a few of our favourites:

Serengeti wildebeest migration

Serengeti wildebeest migration is a spectacle at any time of year but perhaps most through the dry months of June to October as the herds swarm off the southern plains and make their way north, tackling the crocodiles of the Grumeti, Bologonja and Mara rivers before settling between the Serengeti’s northern plains and Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

Flycamping in the Selous

Flycamping in the Selous – simple mossie nets, comfortable bedrolls, good food, hot showers, starry skies and miles of wilderness.

Mobile camping

Mobile camping roaming through the Serengeti and surrounding areas, including Loliondo and the Gol Mountains. These areas are at their absolute best from February through to late April when the seasonal rains turn the plains into a paradise of romping wildebeest, fat & happy predators, an amazing variety of flowers and huge diversity of birdlife including many northern migrants.

Trekking in search of chimpanzees

Trekking in search of chimpanzees in the forests of Mahale on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Based out of Greystoke camp and combined with fishing and snorkelling in the lake, this has to be one of the most spectacular wildlife experiences in Africa.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater in April and May when the flowers have started to bloom throughout the highlands and most other tourists have headed home. Its a time of sporadic rain but don’t be frightened off by it, this is the time to gamedrive in the Crater and walk in the surrounding hills.

Walking and game driving in Katavi

Walking and game driving in Katavi during the late dry season (September & October) when the harsh dryness forces the game to congregate close to the dwindling water sources. Whether it be thousands of buffalo, hundreds of hippo & elephant, crocodiles hiding away in riverbank caves or the brazen lion prides feeding off this plenty, this is a time of epic African game viewing.

5 Common Misconceptions about the Serengeti

The Serengeti is one of the world’s most famous wildlife areas, but it’s surprisingly little-known beyond the peak times and places.

1. Every animal you see is surrounded by dozens of vehicles. (False)

Everybody dreads the safari nightmare of watching a hassled cheetah besieged by a circle of vehicles sprouting long lenses. But while there are parts of the park where this can be a reality, this is in large part down to the knowledge and experience of your guide. Travel with an experienced guide and he’ll have the confidence to take you to areas others don’t know. The best guides and companies don’t work on mileage restrictions, so they’re free to get off the beaten track.

2. You can’t walk in the Serengeti (False)

Walking safari in Tanzania

While it’s true that the majority of people never leave their vehicle during a safari to the Serengeti, a small handful of operators are allowed to run proper walking safaris over many days in special wilderness zones where game drives aren’t allowed. Explore quietly on foot in the cool of the morning and evening. Sit high on a rocky kopje in the shade of a tree during the heat of the afternoon and sleep under the stars in a lightweight walking camp by night.

3. There’s nothing to see when the migration is over. (False)

Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings; while the major events of the wildebeest migration are spectacles in themselves they’re by no means the only story in the Serengeti. Northern Serengeti in particular comes into its own between November and the end of March. The wildebeest have moved south and few if any visitors reach this far north. However, resident game remains exceptional along the Mara River and in particular in the Lamai Wedge. There is the real possibility of finding the Big Five during this period and doing so without another vehicle in sight. For families it’s hard to beat Mkombe’s House – the first private house in the Serengeti.

4. Game viewing in the rains isn’t worth doing (False).

Cheetahs in The Serengeti

Rain is what drives the Serengeti migration; it’s what makes the herds move hundreds of miles in search of fresh grazing on their annual odyssey. Fortunately, many people are put off by the chance of rain on safari so travel towards the end of March and you’ll find you get the holy trinity of conditions: Low season prices, few other tourists and excellent game viewing. Add to this spectacular thunderstorms on the horizon each night, numerous migrant bird species and plenty of young wild animals and you’ll see why it’s well worth braving the chance of the odd shower.

5. You can’t drive off road (False).

Gol Mountains

Between December and May the migration is in the southern short grass plains. These extend from the Serengeti itself into the Ngorongoro Conservation area and far up to the Gol Mountains and the edge of the Rift Valley above Lake Natron (The Salei Plains). In much of this area there are no more than a handful of arterial roads and the majority of the area is open to off-road driving. With a knowledgeable and experienced guide you’ll quickly be able to leave the main roads.

Looking for a safari in the Serengeti?

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