Planning a safari for the first time can be overwhelming. Not only do you have multiple countries to choose from, there are so many options even when you narrow down which country you want to visit. This post covers my best tips for taking kids on Safari in Africa. I have provided as much information as I could come up with after three safari experiences covering Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Each was a little different: one was trekking-based, one was a fly into a lodge experience and one was overlanding. By the time you get to the end of this post you should be well equipped to take your family on safari in Africa!
1. Pick a Month, a Country, or a combination of both
Choose the time of year then narrow down your country choices based on the best time to visit, or whether you want to visit in off season etc. We chose to visit in high season to see the wildebeest migration in Tanzania knowing that meant prime prices. If budget is an important factor, you may wish to visit in the shoulder season.
If the time of year is flexible, decide which country you want to visit or which animals you want to see, and then make sure the time of year you visit aligns with your travel needs (budget etc). For example, traveling to Tanzania can be about 30% cheaper in the shoulder season. When booking a safari for a family, this can make a big difference.
2. Decide Whether you are Overlanding or will Fly into a Lodge
There are two very different types of safari experiences. Overlanding and changing hotels every few days to maximize seeing different places or staying in 1 hotel for 5-7 nights and getting a deep dive into one specific park. There are pluses and minuses to BOTH choices.
When overloading you will have a day or two at each park before moving on to the next. This offers the opportunity to see varied landscapes and animals. For example, in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, you will likely see a lot of monkeys and birds and a forest-type landscape. Once you get to the Serengeti, you will see different animals completely!
The upside to overlanding and seeing several parks is that you cover more ground and see more of the country. You can also do this by flying from park to park BUT again that is a little different as well. With overlanding you will likely have the same guide for the entire trip, which gives you the great opportunity to get to know a local in the country you are visiting.
The downside that I have experienced with overlanding is that you often only have ONE day in the park depending on how long your trip is. For example, on a recent 8 day safari in Tanzania, we visited 4 parks over the 8 days and had one day in Ngorongoro crater. That meant we only had one chance to catch the animals that called the crater home (Rhino for example). This can be negated by having a longer trip, but if you want to see a lot of the country, it typically means moving around the country quite quickly. The other downside is changing hotels multiple times, which means packing and unpacking luggage and not having much time to get to know local staff.
When you have a fly in (or drive in) experience and stay in the same accommodation for 5-7 days (or more even) there are several chances to explore the same park. While in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, we ticked off our last animal on the big 5 (the rhino) on our last evening drive before departure. He had been elusive the whole week and having multiple days in the park meant that we could search with intent, for example after seeing a lion, we would specifically go to an area frequented by a leopard or cheetah for example. On our last evening drive we only took a quick look at a lazy female lion before moving on, the rhino was the target. And we were successful! But if we had only had 4 days there, we would not have seen him!
Another benefit to this type of travel is that the guides at the lodges work in the same park all the time. They get to know the local animals very well and where they spend time (a lion pride for example). It meant that game drives were quick and it was easy to spot animals. When overlanding, the guide needs to be an expert on the whole country and multiple parks and can spend time “looking” where a lodge guide goes out almost every day and knows where he saw a specific animal the day before. We found that our drives were shorter (morning for a couple of hours or afternoon for a couple of hours etc) and we had fewer full day drives compared to Overlanding from park to park where we would have a morning game drive en route to our next accommodation.
3. Research Tour Companies
I suggest getting a couple of quotes from tour companies when you are planning your first safari. There are hundreds of local companies that will have a presence in your country. They are a middleman who typically are experts in certain parts of the world. They are great when it comes to paying for the trip as you can easily pay by credit or debit card etc.
I personally try to keep my money in the local country as much as possible and like to look for a local tour company in the country I am visiting. I make sure they have good reviews and a good presence in the country. The complication with this is that it is common to have to wire your payments to the tour operators to their local offices on the other side of the world. More and more these companies take credit cards but expect to pay up to 5% surcharge.
Whether you choose a tour operator in your country or travel agent or go direct to a local safari company, you can discuss your needs and wants and customize your trip as much as possible.
Most high end safari experiences are private, if you are looking to save money, look for a group tour. They exist with the major group tour companies (Intrepid & G Adventures etc). On my last family safari, I went with my youngest son and a friend and her son. Having the 4 of us meant the cost of the guide and vehicle was split by 4 rather than two. That was a great way to make it a bit cheaper for both of us (and the added bonus of traveling with another family). If your family or you are a couple, consider finding a friend to go along. Groups of 4 work great for safaris.
4. Check for Age limits
Most private tour companies are able to be accommodating, but group tours are likely not. Also certain permits (like chimp tracking and gorilla trekking in Uganda require proof of age. You have to be 15 years old to do the gorilla trekking!)
When you are planning, make sure your accommodations and activity providers are well aware of your children’s ages. Any good tour company will ask right away and plan accordingly.
5. Manage Your Expectations
This is my number one tip for all families. The most common thing I hear is, how do I relax on vacation with a toddler? The answer. You Dont. It is parenting in paradise as I call it. If you are looking for a vacation, this is not going to be it. You will be with your kids 24/7. Make sure your expectations are managed.
Even with my kids, they want wifi to play games in the evenings or to call their friends. Make sure what you want aligns with what they want also! It is the best way for the trip to go smoothly!
Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.