Safari companies in South Africa and Kenya open their doors to families seeking adventure with children of all ages.
Safari, or “travel” in Swahili, is no longer limited to adventure-seeking adults and perhaps older teens. Family Travel Forum’s consulting division has tracked the increase in the number of safari companies catering to families with younger children. For generations, families were discouraged from bringing children under age 14 along on a safari. “They’re too young to wake up for dawn animal viewing,” was one complaint. “They can’t keep still in the Jeeps” was another.
Yet more robust demand has forced the industry to rethink its policies and make more options available. Safari companies such as those in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia are welcoming even toddlers into the world of the wild.
Family Safaris in Botswana & South Africa
Maniago Safaris (254 20 4449461/2), one of Africa’s leading travel destination management companies, has created kid-friendly safaris to include ages 4-12, as well as specialized trips in East Africa. One such excursion is to Stanley’s Camp, a 260,000-acre ground in the untamed landscape of Botswana. Activities allow children to camp outdoors next to hippos, and feed the wildlife while getting to know the elephants. Visitors can walk with the herd and even learn more about the Masai people indigenous to this location.
Two private lodges located within the famous Kruger National Park of South Africa are making efforts to welcome children by incorporating them into guided safari programs. The exclusive Savanna Lodge (27/13 751 2474) at Sabi Sands in Kruger National Park has lowered its minimum age from 14-years to 8. One of their private tent suites will accommodate children of any age, and the camp organizes two family game drives daily with, as they put it, "a drink and snack break" in between.
The Rock Lodge at Ulusaba (877/577-8777), the ultimate “Big Five” (leopards, lions, elephants, rhinos, and African buffalo) safari destination, is another private game reserve that has arranged family suites with plunge pools, a supervised Cubs Club for children of all ages (kids under 6 are free), and specialized game drives for children 6-years and up. Part of Sir Richard Branson's empire, there is no set program for the Cubs Clubs here; children enjoy activities such as treasure hunts and story time, and “Cubs cuisine,” with kid favorite dishes like pasta and pizza.
On the outskirts of Kruger National Park is Camp Jabulani (27 12 460 5605), an award-winning eco-luxury camp that grew after the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) rescued and nursed a baby elephant, Jabulani, back to health. The camp has a family-friendly villa, the Zindoga Presidential Villa, and a kids program, Team Tusker, for children under the age of 12. As parents enjoy their own safari experience, the youngsters will experience educational and exciting supervised activities twice a day. Unique and fun events include: dung throwing, bush cooking and baking, bug catching, African song and dance classes, bird watching and star-naming. And of course, the staple campfire stories, T-shirt making and arts-n-crafts are also available. Plus, all children (as long as they are accompanied by their parents) will have the opportunity to participate in Camp Jabulani's elephant riding experience.
Also based in South Africa, African Classic Encounters (212/972-0031) puts a kid-friendly spin on the African experience by naming the continent “nature’s theme park.” All safari programs are led by personal rangers and a skilled Shangaan tracker. Special family-oriented programs include a Walk with Baboons, a two- to three-hour guided hike to see troops of Chacma Baboons (the southern-most primates in the world) in their natural environment. Families can also whale-watch along the South African coastline and see the migration of 40-ton Southernright whales, or explore Boulder Beach to watch the jackass penguins, found nowhere else in the world.
The Mantis Collection (877/354-2213) boasts a variety of boutique hotels and game reserves across Europe, Africa and even Antarctica. In Africa, choose from the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve, Nkomazi Game Reserve, Jock Safari Lodge, and the Mpumalanga Game Reserve in South Africa, or their newer lodges in Rwanda. The reserves blend luxury accommodations, an award-winning regard for environmental preservation, and an African backdrop to view elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards.
Mantis guests with smaller children (4-years and older to participate in excursions) should opt for the child-friendly Shamwari Game Reserve. Their special children safaris offer a coordinator to discuss family activity options in regards to family size, children's ages, and weather. Children also receive a gift pack with plush toy, workbook, and surprises, and have their own children's menu for meals. The reserve also offers children their own culture experience through African bead making, clay making activities, face painting, star-gazing and African story-telling. Family excursions include trips to The Born Free Foundation Big Cat Rescue Centre, Shamwari Wildlife Hospital, and Shamwari Film Studio to capture your family's adventure on DVD.
Family Safaris in Kenya
As the originator of the safari as tourism movement, Kenya holds a special place in the hearts of many animal lovers. Almost any African tour operator can arrange a safari for your family in Kenya, but there are noted guides who specialize in customizing a safari to a multi-generational group, providing private trackers, planes and lodging for a big price tag. John Stevens Safaris (+263 4 494313), run by John and his wife Nicci — who handles logistics — from their base in Zimbabwe, is one of the continent's pre-eminent private guide services. Notes world traveler John Levy, "We had one of our greatest family adventures with John who took us through the wilds of Botswana. I cannot overstate what a fantastic experience this was for all of us, and we are eager to return." The extended Levy family safari included 17 family members ranging from 7 to 83 years of age. With two decades of tracking and living amongst the continent's wildlife, we found John to be a remarkable storyteller who leaves his mark on visitors of any age.
In Kenya, the well regarded Governors’ Camps (254 (20) 273 4000) are welcoming families with a flexible “do-it-your-way” safari set up. Basically, this program offers three drives per day with your own vehicle, a hot air balloon safari, walking safaris with a guide, and the opportunity to visit a local school for Maasai children. Using facilities at the six Governors’ Camps properties (voted Best Hotel in Kenya by Travel + Leisure magazine), families can have their own sleep-and-dine tents with 8 beds and a verandah for game viewing. Smaller family tents sleep up to two adults and three kids. The company provides childcare for parents who want to dine alone, and guarantees that kids who want to pitch their own tent will be assigned a night watchman to stand by.
Maniago Safaris (254 20 4449461/2), who cater to ages 4-12, are based in Kenya. They specialize in family programs to Giraffe Manor, outside of Nairobi and work closely with the recreation staff of Heritage Hotels (254/ (20) 44 6651, 303/993-7906). The luxury hotel group is considered a leader in youth programs and offers a variety of family and wallet-friendly safari programs to make your trip to Africa the family vacation to remember.
The Adventurers Club (ages 4-12) exposes children to the magic of Africa with activities such as making plaster casts of Big Cat tracks from the real thing, planting trees and learning about deforestation, and catching and studying butterflies, the program features a “bush school.” This unique opportunity allows children to learn about the bush through excursions to historical sites, conservation work, and cultural and sporting exchanges with local Maasai and Samburu communities. The activities are run by famed Kenyan naturalists, who are each assisted by highly trained counselors responsible for the care and wellbeing of the younger children. All Adventurers staff have undergone specialist 1st-Aid training, and most speak at least two European languages.
The focus of the Young Rangers Club for teen guests is conservation education, community interaction, and practical ‘bush skills.’ It aims to educate teens about the importance of Africa’s wilderness and tribal cultures, and the need to preserve both for future generations. Participants are encouraged to join in special fly-fishing and camping expeditions (available to Loita Hills in Maasailand or to the summit of Samburus’ sacred Mount Olokwe).
Family Safaris in Zambia
Robin Pope Safaris (260/216 246 090/091/092 ) welcomes families at several different facilities in Zambia including Nkwali Camp and Luangwa Safari House (7-years and up), Robin’s House (children of all ages), and Tena and Nsefu Camps (age 12 and up). (Bush camping is suggested for ages 16 and up.) These unique camps boast impressive collections of lion, leopard, buffalo, hippo, elephant, giraffe, and more than 400 species of birds that will dazzle families and children. Each camp sleeps 14 people or less to ensure an intimate setting and individual attention. Children enjoy watching the animals playing, eating, and hunting on game drives. And on guided nature walks, families can learn how to identify animal paw prints and droppings, just like authentic bushmen.
Children delight in visiting native children at their school in the Kawaza Village and learning about local customs and culture. The Robin Pope Safari also keeps families entertained after a long day of exploration with safari packs featuring fun quizzes and puzzles. To keep the family-bonding going all safari long, lodges also provide books, games, cards, swingball, paints, sandbox, nearby swimming pool, kid-friendly meals, cookie-baking, and collecting eggs from the hen house. Parents looking to steal a moment to themselves can also arrange for childcare.
Whether families are traveling for a glimpse of the “Big Five” or just looking for a memorable experience, with more safari companies catering to the younger generation, Africa may soon become a more mainstream — and affordable — family destination.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.