I had the privilege of venturing on my first African safari at the tender age of 8 and have been back every year since. Being part of a wildlife mad family, I was taken camping in the Indian jungle before I could walk and though I know this probably isn’t for everyone, I can completely comprehend the joy and excitement associated with introducing young children to the wonders of the bush or jungle. Going on a safari with your young children can create everlasting memories and instil a profound appreciation for nature and wildlife which can, in cases such as my own, be life-changing. Here are some of my thoughts, tips and considerations to ensure a thoroughly enjoyable and safe safari experience for you and your children.

Why go on a Safari with Young Children?

1.      Educational and Unforgettable Experiences:

Safari adventures provide an exceptional opportunity for children to learn about diverse animal species, habitats, and conservation. Witnessing wildlife in their natural environment leaves an enduring impression on young minds and is a great chance to bring to life things they’ve only read about in books, seen on TV or learned about in school.

2.      Bonding and Quality Family Time:

Safari trips allow families to bond and relish precious moments together, away from the distractions of modern life. Shared experiences in the bush foster strong family connections and create cherished memories. I remember being a child and hearing my parents talking to friends about things that happened on safaris and feeling that I was able to be a part of an ‘adult conversation’.

3.      Thrills and Excitement:

The sheer excitement of spotting wild animals, listening to their calls, seeing their tracks and observing their behaviours up close is an adventure that will captivate the imaginations of children. Each day on safari brings new surprises and exhilarating encounters that they will remember, probably even longer than you will.

4.      Cost Savings:

Another advantage of going on a safari with young children is that the rates for children are generally cheaper than those for adults. Most safari destinations offer discounted rates for children, making it a more affordable option for families. It’s an opportunity to embark on an incredible adventure without breaking the bank. The age at which prices increase sometimes varies from place to place so it’s worth doing your research or speaking to someone who knows which destinations price well for kids of a particular age.

5.      Exposure to Different Cultures:

Many safari destinations provide opportunities to interact with local communities, allowing children to learn about different cultures, traditions, and ways of life. Engaging with the local people, participating in cultural activities, doing school visits and gaining insights into their customs provide valuable educational experiences and promote a broader understanding of the world. It can give your kids a different perspective and outlook that they probably couldn’t get at home.

What should I be considering?

1.      Age and Attention Span:

While children of most ages can enjoy safaris, it’s important to consider their attention span and readiness. Younger children may have shorter attention spans and may not fully appreciate the experience compared to older ones. Also, children must be obedient and able to understand ‘the rules’, so that you are not constantly stressing over their whereabouts and safety. Some camps may have age policies – Their websites may say “no kids under age x”. I am often able to discuss this with the location and agree alternatives such as a special vehicle for game drives.

2.      Safety Considerations:

Like any environment, the bush poses certain risks, so prioritising the safety of your children is paramount. Adhering to guidelines provided by safari camps and ensuring proper supervision (some destinations will help with this) are essential. Some camps may have age restrictions for specific activities, so it’s advisable to research and select child-friendly camps accordingly (also, see my blog post on fenced and unfenced camps).

How do I plan a perfect safari with young children?

1.      Choose the right places:

Opt for destinations that offer child-friendly activities, accommodations, and experienced guides who are adept at engaging with children. Some destinations even offer specialised programmes tailored for families. Some locations have board games and books for children and others have good internet access. Some places offer “baby sitting” My experience is that some guides are particularly good with kids and I try and get them assigned to families with children.

2.      Consider the accommodation options:

If you are travelling with very young children, you will want them near you. Some locations offer triples as standard and the space is large enough to add in another bed. Other camps have large family tents which are in effect two tents that are interconnected. There are many different combinations offered by different locations that can make a real difference. Do you research to find out which destinations will offer the perfect arrangement for your family.

3.      Craft a Well-Balanced Itinerary:

Combine exhilarating game drives with other child-friendly activities like guided bush walks, cultural visits, or birdwatching to keep your children engaged and entertained throughout the trip. I often include at least one destination with a pool, as this can be a good chance for your youngsters to let off some energy.

4.      Pack Thoughtfully:

Remember to pack essentials such as sunscreen, insect repellent, hats, comfortable clothing, and the right footwear for everyone. Don’t forget to bring binoculars and perhaps a basic camera (in addition to your own) so your kids can capture their precious safari memories and have something to do on drives.

5.      Embrace Flexibility:

Bear in mind that young children may have varying needs and energy levels. Plan for breaks, snacks, and downtime to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience for the entire family. Some kids are terrible in the mornings and some can’t stay awake past a certain time. Different locations have different rules – some of the lodges and camps are more rigid about game drive times and length It’s worth trying to get an understanding of what is likely to be involved and then deciding if your kids will be able to work with that. When curating a safari with young children I suggest a destination with a less regimented approach to activities and timings as sometimes it is easiest to plan activities around your kids and their routines (but don’t tell them this!).

6.      Understand special offers:

I am presently booking a safari for a family with young children. I know that one of the chosen destinations often has a “children go free policy” for certain months of the year but it has not yet been advertised for next year. I spoke with the camp manager and have held off doing the booking now as this policy will be in place very soon, saving quite a bit. Places have different special offers and it’s good to know what is likely to be announced.

In summary

Introducing young children to the wonders of a safari is a gift that will leave an indelible mark on their lives. So many people approach me, having been on a safari themselves as a child, and now wanting to provide the same experience for their own children. By considering the pros and cons, taking necessary precautions, and planning meticulously you can create a safari adventure that is both safe and filled with excitement for your whole family. Witnessing the sheer wonder on your children’s faces as they observe the majesty of the animal kingdom and learn about different cultures is an invaluable reward that makes every effort worthwhile. With the added advantage of cost savings for children, a family safari becomes an even more attractive option. Your family’s safari adventure will forge cherished memories that will be treasured for generations to come.