|Cultural Immersi on can be just one of the experiences on a family safari. Riding camelback is another.|
African safaris may not seem like the most obvious choice for a family vacation, but if you know the right places to go to and the right hotels (or game reserves) to stay in, moms, dads and kids alike can have a terrific experience. We reached out to several safari specialists for their recommendations on where families should go.
Where to Go, Where to Stay
One of the most important things to keep in mind when booking a family safari vacation is making sure the destination is in a malaria-free zone. Fortunately, there are plenty of options. Jim Holden of African Travel recommends Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Pezula Resort Hotel, and Bushman’s Kloof in South Africa’s Cape (all malaria-free), and Kapama Private Game Reserve near the Kruger Park (lots of activities for younger guests). In East Africa, look into Borana Ranch and Safari Lodge, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—where Prince William proposed to Catherine Middleton)—in Kenya’s Laikipia area, and Ol Malo House in the north. In Tanzania, he recommends Campi ya Kanzi.
|Wild Life viewing creates amazing memories for the entire family.|
David Herbert of Great Safaris advises only bringing kids aged 10 and older on a safari, and suggests choosing a lodge that has a sturdy fence to keep out any “unwanted guests.” South Africa and Kenya have better facilities for children, he says, and recommends Singita properties like Boulders Lodge and Ebony Lodges and the Fairmont Mara Safari Club in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Tanzania and Botswana are good for teenagers, he says.
Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris, also points out the need for infrastructure at the destination that is good enough to guarantee safety while traveling. He recommends the new Singita Explore mobile camping option in Tanzania’s Serengeti (good for children 12 and up), which brings families right up to the giraffes, zebras and wildebeest of the wild. In Botswana, the Okavango Delta offers game-viewing by canoe, elephant, helicopter and, of course, safari vehicle. (Families looking for some exercise can also go hiking on the delta.) Likewise, Camp Jabulani in Heodspruit, South Africa, has elephant-back safaris and a great program for kids called Team Tusker. Like Holden, Pinto also likes Grootbos, which organizes “seaside safaris” (think whale watching, shark cage-diving, and horseback riding on the beach). What makes it great for the younger set? Kids can play on a farm with ducks, rabbits and ponies; dine on an extensive children’s menu; and go on organized treasure hunts.
Ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, provides great game-viewing on horseback, hiking, biking, elephant-viewing from a special hide and tracking with bloodhounds. The star beds are also great fun for the young (and young at heart!).
Marcia Gordon of Extraordinary Journeys keeps Africa in the family: Her daughter (and co-worker, and one of sister publication Travel Agent’s Top 30 Under 30) Elizabeth was born in Kenya. As such, she has firsthand knowledge of how families can get the most out of their time on a safari.
Look for swimming pools at any hotel or lodge, she says, as they can keep kids occupied while parents get some rest. She also advises including villas and private homes for at least part, if not all, of the program. Mara House and Accacia House are good options outside of the Maasai Mara—but should be combined with a camp closer to the main park. (They have a great deal of game, but it is not as easy to see as it is in the more traveled areas.) What makes them unique is their longstanding relationship with the local Maasai community, which lets families interact with the people and learn about a very different culture.
|Ol Malo in Kenya offers intimate connections with local Maasai villagers.|
For camps with good children’s programs, Gordon recommends Samburu Intrepids and Mara Intrepids and Mara Safari Club.
Another favorite is Elsa’s Kopje, due to the interesting topography with lots of great kopjes (rock outcrops) to climb. When not rock climbing, children can watch the cute hyrax found everywhere. Rooms work well for families, as all of them have extra room, space and beds.
Gordon feels that the ultimate family vacation is a few days (or weeks) at the cottages at Singita’s Sasakwa Lodge, where every family can get its own villa. While all the villas do not have kitchens, meals can be delivered. When not touring the Serengeti, families can pennis, ride horseback or just unwind in the spa. The nearby Faru Faru Lodge (also part of Singita Serengeti) has what Gordon calls “a mad biologist air” to it that will bring out the inquisitive child in adults and youngsters alike.
Driving tours can be a good option for families in East Africa. Advise your clients to keep travel days short, make sure there are plenty of breaks and stay in each place for four to six days.
Gordon also picks Zambia as a great family destination with some good private villas. She recommends Chongwe River House and Luangwa House, each of which has its own specialist guide who can help keep kids interested and involved. At Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls in Zambia, Sussi & Chuma has a little family house, and Tangala House is also a good option for families.
|Singita Sabi Sand’s Ebony Family Suite is ideal for reconnecting as a family.|
Good to Know: Many camps and lodges have age limits for kids, or restrict certain activities to certain ages (for example, no kids are allowed on gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda).