A weekend at the zoo usually reveals how kids are over-the-top-crazy about animals. As a parent, you can only imagine how much fun the kids would have if you took them for an African safari, where they would see more animals, roaming freely in their natural habitat, showing their wild behaviours such as long chases and hunts.
Well, the main question however, is whether this is a great or bad idea. To help you decide, we will look at issues that most parents should consider.
1. The Kid’s Age
Generally, parents are advised to refrain from going on a safari with kids below the age of 6, due to numerous logistical issues, and the fact that kids have a very short attention span. Unfortunately, kids are usually spread across ages in a family, and it is possible to find a 6-year old and 2-year old in the same family. Obviously, you would not want to segregate your children, but would need a workable safari plan.
In case there are 2-3 year olds in the family, ensure that it is a self-drive safari for convenience. Do half-day game drives, concentrating on water-holes where you are most likely to find most animals. To be safe, don’t take 2-3 year olds on a safari experience without anything else planned for the day.
4 to 5 year olds could manage a full day safari experience, either on your own vehicle or guided safari tours. You should however understand your child’s temperament before deciding on an option.
6 to 8 year olds are more mature and can tolerate sitting still in the car for a whole day. Again, this depends on your child’s temperament. Kids older than 8 years are usually easy to go on safari with.
2. Camp’s Policy On Kids
Not all camps accept kids. You therefore need to confirm with specific camps on their policy on kids. In Botswana, for example, some camps allow kids between the ages of 6 and 12 to attend game drives at the lodge manager’s discretion. Nature walks and canoe activities however, are limited to kids above the age of 16. Children below the age of 6 are not allowed to participate in lodge activities, but baby sitters are available during these periods, and meal times, at an additional cost.
In case a camp accepts kids, ensure that the tour operator or camp of your choice has a flexible daily schedule, as you might find it necessary to sleep much later or switch meal times.
3. Intended Activities
An active adventure safari is a great idea when you have teenagers instead of toddlers. A gorilla trek in Uganda, for example, is a great safari idea if you are travelling with teenagers, as participants need to be 15 years and older.
Other than a trek with the gorillas, you can engage in horseback riding, meeting native pygmies, canoeing and visiting local schools.
4. Availability Of Properties With Family Units
Going on a safari with kids calls for comfort in accommodation facilities as well. Your kids should enjoy the adventure, without sacrificing the feeling that they are home, at the end of the day. Properties that have family units are therefore the best choice if you want to have a great safari experience.
These properties should ideally have two bedrooms and two bathrooms because game drives start early and you need to speed up the process of getting ready by having multiple bathrooms and bedrooms. The kids also need space to play and hang out at the end of the day.
5. When To Call It A Day
Tired kids are the worst safari companions, calling for the need to understand when to call it a day. Usually, early mornings and late nights take a huge toll on them, therefore you need to consider other times of the day and limit game drives to about 2 to 4 hours a day.
6. The ‘Prey’ Factor
Small children usually look like prey to wild animals, prompting serious vigilance from their parents. Keep your children close and don’t allow them to step out of the vehicle. Additionally, always go for game drives in vehicles with windows, as opposed to open vans. This way, you can seal all the chances of your children trying to get naughty exposing themselves to danger, or wild animals trying to pull them from the vehicle.
7. Your Children’s Expectations
Your kids’ expectations of a safari can quickly turn from a great to bad idea, necessitating management of expectations by parents. Naturally, these kids know that once they go on a game drive, they will see all the animals they have heard are found in Africa. As they will find out however, a great game drive and safari experience calls for immense patience because it sometimes takes long hours to see big game, and it is not always possible to see iconic animals such as leopards and lions.
To improve the experience and manage the kids’ anxiety, buy books at the lodge’s gift shop that will serve as drive guides. You can then play a game with your kids, preparing a checklist and marking all the animals they will have seen in a day. This is not only fun, but a great learning opportunity, helping them identify less familiar animals and build an interest in them.
8. Children Activities Program
Although a safari is a great experience for kids, they still want the opportunity to behave like kids. This means that a safari without a children activities program is a bad idea. Many camps have now developed these programs and have dedicated guides for families. As a result, make this a prime consideration before settling on any camp.
In this program, children between the ages of 4 and 8 are assigned a guide who entertains them with a range of activities around camp, such as birding, story-telling, painting and bug collecting, among others. They can also go on bush walks where they can collect bird feathers, pods, leaves, and also learn how to identify different animal poops.
Daniel is currently the founder and CEO of DK Grand Safaris. When not on safari, Daniel is heavily involved in philanthropy sitting on the Advisory Board for many philanthropic organizations, including: Ecolife Conservation (USA), Cherkin Preston Foundation (USA), Brilliant Beauty College (Kenya), and many schools (as a Board of Trustee).