Safari is, I think, one of those must-do/wish list/bucket list type trips that every parent dreams of doing with their kids; what could be better than seeing their total amazement as they spot lions, cheetah, leopard, elephants and more in the wild – and I do mean properly in the wild, not in a theme park where the animals are caged at night, or a ‘wildlife park’ where the wildlife is, in fact, thousands of miles from its natural habitat. But it’s probably not a family adventure to undertake lightly – not least because it is expensive, so you want to get it right.
Here then are my top tips for taking kids on a family safari – if you have any of your own please do share them below.
1. Stay in a lodge. If you choose a lodge with a swimming pool and a kids club then if your children feel hot or bothered or need a break from game drives you have somewhere they can retreat to. The Four Seasons Serengeti, for example (now officially one of my favourite places to stay IN THE WORLD) has a fantastic discovery centre, where the kids can revel in the delights of animal skulls (all found in the Serengeti) and lots of fun facts; they can also learn to make fire with the Maasai or hang out in the kids clubs. The idea of camping out under the stars might be very appealing – but from talking to a (local) guide, it’s actually a bit of a headache for parents, because there are so many things that could go wrong, and facilities (however luxurious) do tend to be a little limited; you’re often confined to a fairly small area. So maybe that’s something to do for one or two nights, just for the experience, but not the whole trip if you’re travelling with kids on safari.
2. Get visas and vaccinations sorted before you go. For a start, if you go somewhere like Tanzania, you have to have a yellow fever vaccination; getting your visas before you go simplifies the arrivals process and ensures you don’t have to queue (and trust me, after around 15 hours of travelling, the last thing you’re going to want to do is queue with kids). And of course, malaria tablets are essential – your GP will advise you on the best ones for your trip.
3. Manage expectations. This is my absolute mantra for all family travel – if you over promise (you WILL see this, you WILL see that) and it doesn’t work out then you’re going to have some disappointed offspring on your hands. On our first day in the Serengeti, for example, we didn’t see ANY elephants, not one; I was actually starting to panic a bit but then of course on the second day we saw a couple, and on the third day – elephants galore.
4. Safari is probably best for ages eight and up. And the reason for that I think is simply that game drives can be exhausting, because you’re constantly keeping your eyes peeled for any sign of movement (particularly big cats); and you’re also out for at least four hours on a half day drive. Many safaris won’t accept children younger than eight anyway. Slightly older children are more likely to appreciate what they’re seeing, and cope with the journey to get there, and their interest is less likely to wane. You want your kids to remember their safari experience for the rest of their lives, not just through photos, and also, of course, because you ARE surrounded by wild animals they can’t, er, run wild. I was very surprised to see one jeep from a tour company pass us with a small baby in the back; I can’t imagine they were having too much fun being stuck in a hot car with insects flying in 🙁
5. Embrace the wild whenever you get the chance. One of my favourite moments was when we went for a picnic at one of the designated picnic areas. The chance to get out of the jeep and stretch our legs, feel the breeze and see the Serengeti from a different angle, by foot – even if it was only for a short time – was absolutely magical.
I’d go back tomorrow.