With the right planning, a safari holiday can be the ultimate adventure for parents and children - the holiday of a lifetime, sharing incredible experiences, witnessing awesome wildlife and creating magical memories that will last forever. If you’re thinking about planning a safari holiday over the coming year, here are some steps to help you get the ball rolling:
- Involve everyone in the planning process
- Accommodation options for the whole family – big and small
- Decide what safari experience your family will enjoy
- Where to go - choose from a range of family friendly destinations
- When to go - plan around the school holidays
- Before you go - get organised and take some stress out of travel
- What to pack for your safari holiday
This will be a trip of a lifetime and perfection is always in the planning. Find an expert you can trust and start planning early. Many of the best safari camps are small and fill up a long way in advance so you want to ensure that you have maximum choice. There is so much to think about and sometimes can feel rather daunting for first timers, but involve the whole family in lighting the touch paper of imagination. You’ll know your family best and while you may not know what to expect on safari, an experienced travel consultant will take the time understand the sorts of things you’ve enjoyed as a family before and make recommendations based on that. Take some time to get lost in YouTube looking at some of the wonderful safari videos on offer. Check out our family safaris video too.
NH Tip: Keep it short and sweet. Particularly with younger children, less can be more. Four or five nights or intensive safari action will be plenty before heading off for some R&R at the coast.
Accommodation options for the whole family – big and small
As you can imagine, in national parks and reserves populated by large numbers of wild animals, many safari camps have age restrictions in place. That said, there are plenty of places that cater specifically for families. We’ve travelled extensively in Africa with our own kids, so have the first hand experience to advise on the best places for families with children of all ages. Make no bones about it, safaris can involve long days, but time spent spotting wildlife in awe-inspiring, remote locations, dinner cooked over an open fire under the stars and bedtime stories accompanied by roaring lions mean there is rarely a dull moment. Each family is different, but here are our favourite three safari accommodation options:
Savour the seclusion of a private house
Possibly the greatest luxury on a safari holiday when travelling as a family is exclusivity - do what you want, when you want. A private safari house affords the privacy to do just that, to be a family, share meals, enjoy the pool and take your own drives and walks led by a superb guide, when and how you want.
Simple but brilliant light tented camps
Light tented camps offer the wonder of flexibility - set up in unspoilt, wildlife-rich areas often in places where vehicles are not allowed. Get off the beaten track to experience real wilderness enjoying your sundowner with not another soul.
On the move with mobile fly camps
Particularly for families with older children, a mobile camp has the ability to access properly wild areas, with ingredients that give a safari its unique flavour - an excellent guide, access to the best areas, great food and a comfortable camp – while minimizing the cost on things that most people can do with out in the context of a safari holiday.
NH Tip: Somewhere like Mkombe’s House is the perfect destination for a private family re-treat combined with a wildlife goldmine in the Serengeti. Between July and October this is a stone’s throw from where the wildebeest migration crosses the Mara River.
For something more simple, use light tented camps to combine the highlights of the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti with quieter, lesser visited areas of Northern Tanzania - Sit watching elephant drinking at a waterfall in the Great Rift Valley escarpment.
Mobile Fly camps are a fantastic way to move slowly, stop often and experience great wildlife with a dedicated private guide.
Decide what safari experience your family will enjoy
For us, having an experienced private guide to look after you is pretty much non-negotiable as a family. The amount of time they can devote to you (as opposed to answering questions from strangers with differing interests and priorities) will have a massive impact on your experience. The knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of a good guide is infectious. Having him all to yourselves will ensure he keeps your kids spellbound. Ask questions, learn from them and they will make your safari.
There are one or two areas of Africa where a self drive is worth considering. In Namibia particularly it’s a great way to give you the independence to explore on your own while also keeping costs under control.
For families with older children there are few experiences as memorable as a walking safari. Staying in mobile camps and lead by experienced armed guides, this will be a proper education for the whole family. Learn to track big game, identify birdsong and use the wind to silently approach wildlife on foot.
Combine with beach luxury
One of two countries are ideally placed to offer the perfect combination of safari and beach; time to relax and enjoy lazy days after an exhilarating time in the bush. White sandy beaches in Zanzibar easily combine with Tanzania or Kenya. Mozambique is an excellent bolt-on option to enjoy the turquoise waters and colourful marine life.
NH Tip: Your safari doesn’t have to be one thing or the other – it’s easy to combine different styles of accommodation and experience for variety.
Where to go - choose from a range of family friendly destinations…
Our family safaris are designed to get the important things right – letting you explore quiet, game rich areas with an excellent guide and wildlife that will be sure to keep you all on the edge of your seats. Depending on what you want to experience on your trip, there are a number of incredible destinations to think about.
Tanzania has everything for a family safari holiday - incredible wildlife, awe-inspiring views and natural wonders of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, but also some of Africa’s best and far less known parks like Ruaha and Selous in Southern Tanzania. Plus with Zanzibar and Pemba Islands just 20 miles off the coast, a safari can easily be combined with some exotic beach time - a great way to start or finish your trip.
Zambia has a huge amount to offer families from awesome wildlife, a range of adventurous activities as well as some proper wilderness to get off the beaten track. The Zambezi River is a must and gives you the rare opportunity for top drawer game viewing in a beautiful setting. Zambia has some great private house that provide exclusivity, privacy and a pool to cool off after a hot day in the bush.
For something a little different, consider a trip to planet’s fourth largest island - the beguiling island of Madagascar. Here you’ll find rainforests rich in exotic wildlife including lemurs, chameleons and birds a plenty. Time it right and Madagascar is awash with marine life, from migrating humpback whales to whale sharks. Your children will be excited by the chance to swim with manta rays or huge green turtles while the whole family will enjoy relaxing on white sandy beaches and cooling off in turquoise waters.
NH Tip: Whichever destination you choose, we believe adventures like this aren’t for spoiling the children. It’s about having quality time together, broadening their horizons and appreciating that the best things in life may not be things at all. Keep this front of mind when making the tricky decisions along the way.
When to go - plan around the school holidays
We are very aware that school holidays often dictate travel dates and flexibility. There are some fantastic options for safaris all year round and here are our picks that fit in with school holidays:
February half term
Every year in mid-February roughly a million wildebeest gather on the short grass plains of the Southern Serengeti to give birth. Roughly 400,000 calves are born in the space of a single week. As you can imagine this attracts numerous predators; cheetah stalk the plains, lion prides sprawl in the shade of trees, leopard, while illusive, are never far away. All of this makes travelling in February half term a superb time for wildlife viewing.
Easter is also a good time to visit Tanzania and game viewing is still plentiful, but Kenya is another great option during the early Spring. An easter family safari in Kenya can include some time in Meru National Park where there are lots of opportunity to fish, enjoy beautiful scenery and African-style camping. Then to Laikipia Plateau which offers enormous freedom to do exactly what you like, from swimming in waterfalls, fly-camping under mossie nets, camel safaris with Samburu guides or tracking wild dog on foot – the options are endless.
Between July and September there are numerous options for families throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The Luangwa Valley in Zambia is stunningly beautiful in early summer with great game on show. Families with older children can book a private safari house in The Luangwa, giving you all space and privacy to come and go as you please. One of the main attractions of Zambia is the abundance of big game and if you book a private house you have a good chance of seeing elephants, hippo and giraffe from the comfort of your own verandah.
Meanwhile in Northern Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara the wildebeest migration is in full swing on the Mara River. An action packed safari is more or less guaranteed at this time.
The school summer holidays are the perfect time for a family safari with so many destinations having the right balance of great weather, amazing wildlife and exciting activities for young and old. Most of the African safari locations are ideal for family trips between June and September.
Autumn half term
Morocco is ideal for a short half term break in the Autumn. The fierce desert heat is too much in the summer, but (like the Spring) Autumn is a great time to visit the Atlas Mountains or the deserts of the south. Morocco is incredibly easy to access from Europe, but is also one of the best wilderness destinations in Africa, especially if you want to embrace a new culture. Our top recommendation is to try one of our mobile tented camps carried on the backs of mules or camels. If you like the idea of trying some of Morocco’s legendary surf breaks, consider heading to Taghazout for a few days at the end.
Families that like the idea of getting off-grid for a few days should again head to Morocco with breath-taking wilderness, days exploring on foot, freshly cooked Moroccan food and nights beneath a blanket of stars.
Before you go – get organised and take some stress out of travel
Passports and visas
Be sure to understand the visa requirements for all the countries you are visiting or travelling through on your safari. Make sure all passports have at least six months validity from the date of your return to the UK and ensure that there are at least 2 blank pages for each country. Visit the government’s official travel advice website for more information on visa requirements. The more you can do ahead of time, the better. If you’re travelling to South Africa you will need to have original birth certificates for your children so you must be prepared for this.
Consult with your doctor or GP about your travel plans as soon as you know your travel dates. They will be best placed to advise you, but you will need a yellow fever vaccination for travel to East and Southern Africa. Other vaccinations you may need include hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Malaria is common in certain parts of Africa and although there’s no vaccination you can protect yourself by taking an anti-malaria treatment and avoiding mosquitoes using a mosquito-repellent spray and mosquito nets.
Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is a necessity. It is a condition of booking that you have travel insurance in place from the time of booking to ensure you are covered in the event you have to cancel your plans. Look out for family cover packages which include cancellation cover and emergency medical coverage when setting up your policy – also don’t forget about those gadgets which you may need additional cover for.
What to pack for your safari holiday
The main thing to remember is to travel light and it is not a fashion show – think comfortable, think practical and never pack more than you can carry – most domestic flights in Africa limit you to 15kg of hold luggage. Depending on your itinerary, there may be other luggage restrictions on flights so be aware of this when you are sitting on your suitcase forcing the zip into submission.
Here’s a brief checklist:
- Loose layered clothing that protects you from the sun and biting insects
- Colours matter - choose olive, green or khaki (white attracts animals, black/blue attracts insects)
- Use a soft bag or duffel bag - wheeled suitcases are not suitable in the bush
- Good quality sunglasses (UV protection)
- Sunscreen for protection against the strong African sun
- Small first-aid kit packed with bandages, hand sanitizer and over the counter medications for you and your children
- Insect repellent and malaria medication
- Pack an extra travel toothbrush for freshening up on long haul journeys
- Wide brimmed hat
- Light hikers or sports footwear are best for most safaris
- Flip flops for wearing in your tent and around camp
- A pair of good, mid-size binoculars - probably the most essential piece of safari kit in your bag – one pair each to make sure no one misses out
- Extra memory card so you can snap away and capture every precious moment
- A small flashlight/headlight is essential for the evenings
- Bring a backpack to keep your travel documents safe
Posted by: Alex