Family Safari: Expert Answers to The Top 24 Questions About Africa

Thinking about planning a family safari to Africa? We whole-heartedly support you! Taking your kids on safari could be the highlight of their childhood, and we make pulling it off easier than you ever thought possible. (Discover how in this mom’s firsthand account of her Kenyan safari with three young kids: This Family's Amazing Safari Will Make You Want to Plan Your Own.)

We’ve rounded up answers to 24 of your most frequently asked questions about a safari with kids. For a deep dive into what you can expect on your family safari with Extraordinary Journeys, check out How To Safari With Kids: 5 Amazing Destinations For Your Family.

two young boys watch an elephant directly outside the window of a sitting room with a couch, coffee table, end table, and lamp.
An elephant stops in for a visit in Botswana © Shaun Malan for Machaba

Preparing for Your Family Safari

1. Which African countries are best for a safari with kids?

South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana all top our list. Read more about what makes these destinations so special for a family safari in How To Safari With Kids: 5 Amazing Destinations For Your Family. For stunning landscapes and a truly unique desert experience, Namibia might also be a good fit for you.

2. When should we travel for our family safari?

Depending on the age of your kids and your particular preferences, there’s likely a destination in Africa for you just about any time of the year. For fewer crowds and more value for your money, we often recommend traveling during the shoulder season. If you plan to celebrate the holiday season on safari, you’ll likely need to book at least a year in advance. For a month-by-month overview of what to expect and when, check out this blog post.

3. How old should my kids be to go on safari in Africa?

We can find a safari for just about any age group.

Some safari camps and lodges have a minimum age limit of 12 years. For others, the limit is six years, and some even offer free accommodation for children five years and younger.

We know what is best for every age group. For expert advice on the best family safari for the age and stage of your kids, check out this piece from our Safari Specialist Lara Ray who has taken her own children on multiple African safaris: Ask the Expert: The Best Family Safaris for Every Age Group.

Kenya tends to offer more options for all ages because so many properties are family owned. They’re used to improvising and adapting your safari to make it work for everyone. We also love Somalisa Acacia in Zimbabwe, and in Botswana, we recommend the Young Explorer’s program at Footsteps Camp.

It’s important to note that even at the most inclusive properties, some safari activities are not suitable for younger children, including walking safaris, gorilla and chimp trekking, canoeing, or horseback riding.

If your kids are in their teens, you will encounter fewer age restrictions, but be sure to ask us in advance!

4. What about preschoolers or kids under age six?

In general, we recommend waiting until your children are between six and eight to take them on safari, as they’ll get more out of the interactions with the guides and have better stamina for game drives and the like.

You know your child better than anyone, though, so that’s not to say you shouldn’t bring your precocious five-year-old! Our Safari Specialists can help determine the best fit for your family, whatever your child’s age.

It’s also worth noting that many properties can arrange for a “child minder,” or nanny, to look after your young children during activities suited for adults and older children.

beside their guide, three small children stand atop the hood of a safari vehicle in a green field, watching giraffes
Giraffe spotting with a guide at Phinda © Phinda

5. How many days do you recommend for a safari with my family?

Children love safari if they have the right guides and activities. We often book families for safaris lasting at least seven days, and even after 10 days, many children continue to have an amazing time (and don’t want to go home!). Remember, your kids will be so busy discovering new things and loving the experience that it’s not likely they’ll get bored or even tire of the trip before you do!

6. What is the most common mistake people make when planning a family safari?

In an effort to keep travel costs down, many families are accustomed to the DIY approach. While that may work for plenty of other locations all over the world, we strongly discourage going that route with a safari, especially one involving your entire family.

Planning a safari on your own is extraordinarily time consuming.

You might consult dozens of websites and spend anywhere from 15 to 40 hours researching and planning a single vacation. And that's just your average vacation. Consider the complexities of a safari: remote locations, park permits, vaccinations, visas, transportation, lodging... The Extraordinary Journeys team collectively spends 20-100 hours per trip, and they're the experts.

Your time is precious, especially as a parent. And the logistics of planning a safari can be a nightmare if you don't know what you're in for. Doing it on your own could easily eat up 100+ hours of your life. Our Safari Specialists do all the legwork for you. And you easily get 100 hours of your life back.

Beyond the time involved, we cannot overstate the importance of our experience, connections, and relationships with the properties and operators with whom we partner. We add value, peace of mind, and exclusive access to every one of the safaris we plan.

7. How much does a family safari cost?

We work with you and your desired budget to deliver a safari perfectly tailored to your family’s needs and wants.

Thanks to long-term relationships with properties and operators across Africa, we’re able to provide you connections, access, and value that you simply won’t find anywhere else, especially online.

For family safaris in particular, there are a number of ways to maximize your budget and get incredible value from your investment, including

  • camps and lodges where kids stay free (see #8 below),
  • traveling in the shoulder season or low season,
  • opting for barefoot luxury-style properties over ultra-luxe accommodations, and
  • combining several days on safari with a few days exploring a city like Cape Town (the best of both worlds!).

For a more detailed overview of the sort of investment you can expect to make on a safari, in general, check out this blog post.

three small children stand beside their guide and observe two elephants across a watering hole
Children on safari at Lewa © Lewa

8. Will we have to pay full price for our kids to safari with us?

Not if you don’t want to! There are countless properties that offer accommodations free of charge to children under the age of five or six, provided they share a room. Many of these properties are located in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Additionally, most properties offer a special rate for children under age 16 if they share a room. Even better, we know of some camps in Tanzania that extend reduced rates to children as old as 21 years, provided they share a room.

Here are a few properties to consider where kids stay free if sharing a room:

Pro-tip for families traveling in 2020:

Ulusaba in South Africa is offering an amazing family special. From January 15 to December 21, one child age 0-11 can stay at Ulusaba Rock Lodge for free (a savings of about ZAR 7,500 per child per night)!

This includes:

  • A luxurious room or suite at Rock Lodge
  • All meals including tailor-made child-friendly menus plus milk and cookies before bedtime
  • All drinks including a top-quality wine list and fine champagne for the adults
  • Twice daily game drives
  • A daily walking safari (weather dependent)
  • The contents of your mini-bar, refreshed daily
  • Complimentary wireless internet
  • Children’s books, games, safari goodies, family activities, and a few more surprises!
a guide holds one small child as two others climb down the edge of a rocky stream with boulders and ferns behind them
Children with their guide at Ulusaba © Ulusaba

9. Will we need visas to go on safari?

Every member of your family will need a passport to travel to Africa. And depending on your destination and the length of your stay, you may need visas. Your Safari Specialist will let you know the necessary requirements well in advance and will work with you to get all the documentation you need.

10. How far in advance should I start planning my family safari?

We recommend six to nine months in advance. For peak-season travel, allow closer to a year.In South Africa, that’s anytime between November and February. Anywhere else, that’s July through September.

If you’re planning a safari over the winter holidays, know that Christmas time is busy everywhere and we even seeing people booking 18 months to 2 years out. For the best accommodations and bookings, we recommend you get in touch with us a full year out from your desired travel dates.

11. Which books or movies can you recommend to help us prepare for our family safari?

Extraordinary Journeys CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Gordon recommends:

12. What should we pack for a safari with kids?

While neutral, earth-tone clothes are recommended (as are layers!), don’t feel like you need to go shopping for an entirely new wardrobe just for your safari. Check out our complete packing guide here: What to Wear on Safari.

a boy in a yellow shirt sits atop a safari vehicle beside his guide/tracker as the two examine a book
Learning about safari from a tracker at Morukuru © Morukuru

Health & Safety Concerns

13. Is it dangerous to take my kids on safari? What about the younger ones?

In the right camps with the right guides, it is safe to take your younger children on safari. Our Specialists can build the perfect itinerary for your tiny adventurers!

14. How do the properties you work with minimize health risks or illnesses?

Every property we partner with boils the water and uses best practices to mitigate risks. If you were to get sick while visiting, the lodges are well-equipped with most of the medicine and first aid you’d need to make a quick recovery.

15. What if one of us gets ill while on safari? How will we get to a doctor?

Within East Africa, AMREF Fying Doctors, is an incredible resource should someone in your family need access to more involved medical care.

We can organize an evacuation from pretty much any part of Africa. Both Nairobi and Johannesburg are huge health hubs with amazing doctors and hospitals.

Fun fact: did you know that the first successful heart transplant was done in South Africa?

Regardless of destination, we recommend that all our clients purchase travel insurance. This should include an emergency medical evacuation policy which would pay for evacuation to the United States if needed.

16. What about malaria? Should my kids take malaria pills before a safari?

For both adults and kids, malaria is easily preventable by taking a prescribed antimalarial pill. Even babies over 11 pounds can take Malarone. We definitely recommend consulting with your pediatrician (they’ll follow CDC guidelines) to determine the best course of prevention.

But maybe you’d rather avoid contact with malaria altogether. We certainly understand! For absolute peace of mind, you might opt for destinations free of malaria, all of which happen to be in South Africa (including the ever-popular Madikwe Game Reserve). Check out Our Top 7 Malaria-Free Safaris for all the details on our favorites.

17. Which vaccines should my family get before a safari?

Our Safari Specialists keep up-to-date on the latest recommendations from the CDC. Depending on your destination, you may need a yellow fever vaccination (and accompanying certificate of vaccination).

What to Expect on Your Family Safari

18. What will we eat while on safari? Can my kids be accommodated if they’re picky eaters or have food allergies?

Yes! Camps are extremely accommodating. You may even cook with the chef!

a guide, a chef, and two small girls in chef’s hats stand at a kitchen counter strewn with cookie cutters and rolling pins, cooking
Hands-on time in the kitchen with the chef at Kwandwe, South Africa © Kwandwe

19. What if my kids get hungry? Are snacks provided on game drives?

Yes! Your guides will ensure you have all the food and water you need for your hungry, growing adventurers.

20. What happens if my child needs to use the bathroom while on a game drive?

Think of it like camping. If your child needs to go to the bathroom, your guide will find a safe spot to do so, and an adult will accompany them. Usually, kids take care of their business right behind the vehicle. Remember, there is no one out there but the animals, and they certainly don’t mind!

21. What if my kids get restless or uncomfortable? Is a game drive vehicle the only way to see wildlife on safari?

No! Depending on where you stay, we can arrange interactive walks, camel rides, community visits, and more. There is so much to do. For children under 12, we do recommend a private vehicle so you can return to camp earlier.

Another good idea is to book properties with swimming pools so children can play after lunch, prior to the afternoon game drive.

a boy and a girl splash and play in a turquoise pool with a lodge and a canopy of trees in the background
Playing in the pool at Sirikoi © Sirikoi

22. Besides game drives, what sort of activities we can do as a family?

The options are endless! Depending on the age of your children, they might enjoy walking safaris, boating or canoeing (usually for ages 12+) hanging out near a waterhole (where the wildlife come to you!), helicopter safaris, gorilla trekking and chimp trekking (usually for ages 16 and up), participating in Footsteps Camp’s Young Explorers program and more!

a teenage girl throws a spear as two Samburu guides in colorful wraps and beaded jewelry look on
Learning to throw a spear with the Samburu at Sasaab Lodge © Sasaab

23. Where can I go if I want my kids to be exposed to local cultures and traditions? Can we visit a local village and meet the community?

We absolutely encourage your family to meet and interact with local children and their communities. If you place a priority on authentic connections with the local community (and the chance to make a positive impact while you’re at it), check out this piece: How To Meet the Community & Make a Difference on Safari.

in the bush, four members of a local tribe share their culture and knowledge with a curious young girl in a dress and sun hat
Immersive, hands-on learning like this fosters confidence, curiosity, and empathy © Natural Selection

24. What about combining our family safari with other things?

Depending on your family’s unique interests, we can plan an itinerary involving so much more than game drives!

There are some great cultural activities, opportunities to hang out with kids in local communities, and history tours in Johannesburg. Or if your family loves the water, try a marine safari at one of these amazing diving destinations! We can also incorporate some time in a city like Cape Town, home to a host of fantastic tours for every type of traveler.

Just to Recap…

We’ve answered 24 of the most common questions about how to plan for a safari, how to stay safe and healthy while you’re on safari, and what you can expect while on safari with your family.

If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please call or email us, and one of our Safari Specialists will happily answer any questions or concerns you might have about your family safari.

Start Planning Your Family Safari Today!

Ready to start planning your own incredible African family safari? Whether you’re a group of four or fifteen, we make the process stress-free and enjoyable. Call or email us today to explore your best options for a safari holiday you and your kids will never forget!

Then, start packing that suitcase because we’ve got all the details covered.

CONNECT with your personal travel expert.

Have you started planning your safari on your own? Are you totally overwhelmed with all the information out there? Let us help you cut through all the conflicting information online and start planning a safari that is completely tailored to you. Get in touch with us and we can discuss your travel passions and help you begin the planning process for your dream safari.

CONTACT US
Elizabeth Gordon