5 Safari Activities Your Teens Will Love

It’s one thing to tote the tots along on your safari, and another to keep a brooding, smartphone-addicted teenager excited about a week, or longer, of quality family time with little-to-no Wifi access. Going off grid might have you both freaking out, but rest-assured, we have lots of amazing options to keep you all captivated in the present moment so that you never have to worry about being bored in the bush.

Here are five of our favorite activities that our teen clients and their families have raved about on recent safaris.

1. SAFARI WALKS

Encounter some of Africa's greatest wildlife on a walking safari. © Shenton Safaris in South Luangwa, Zambia

Encounter some of Africa's greatest wildlife on a walking safari. ©Shenton Safaris in South Luangwa, Zambia

Set out on foot with a Maasai guide to explore the African savanna, including fascinating insects, tiny elephant shrews, wide-eyed antelope, and more. Learn to track big game and decipher the mysteries of the tropical grassland. Find all the hidden treasures you would otherwise might miss in a vehicle.

Why teens love it: Walking is perfect for anyone with a short attention span. Teens can literally follow whatever piques their interest, stopping to investigate or keep moving to the next thing that catches their eye. Follow ancient tribal trails or riverine forests and high escarpments while gaining cultural insights from your guide. The extra space from mom and dad, plus sense of independence, will help keep your adolescent happy and engaged.

Need to know: Guided bush walks range from one to four hours, but some multi-day programs are slightly longer, up to six hours, broken up into morning and afternoon hikes, plus rests and lunch breaks. If you're looking for an intensive one-day hike, consider a trip to Samburu’s sacred Ol Lolokwe.

Where to go: Private conservancies are your best bet, but any country can offer spectacular options. Zambia is the original walking safari destination, pioneered by icons such as Norman Carr, Robin Pope and John Coppinger and capitalizing on the country’s less developed parks. Why wait for roads when you could get walking through the wilds as-is? Chinzombo is a top luxury option in the South Luangwa, offering great walking options, or Sarara Camp in Kenya for a rich cultural element. If you’re craving misty mountains, try gorilla trekking in one of these great locations!

RELATED: Remote Zambia On Foot

2. HORSEBACK RIDING

Exploring the Kenyan landscape by horseback. © Lewa Wilderness in Kenya

Exploring the Kenyan landscape by horseback. © Lewa Wilderness

Spend an afternoon cantering through dry riverbeds or across high ridges in search of your next adventure or spying buffalo through the trees. From knights and princesses to Wild-West-cowboys-meet-African-savanna, few things bring out the adventurous imagination like exploring by horseback.

Why teens love it: It all comes back to that itch for independence. Even with parents along for the ride, a horseback safari, like walking, can provide extra breathing room for your teen, who's still participating in family time in a liberating way. Another reason this activity rocks: You'll be surprised how close you can get to the animals. Vehicles may sometimes startle wildlife, but other animals generally won’t shy away from horses, resulting in some exceptional up-close encounters. These local horses, too, are used to mingling with herds of exotic creatures, like elephant and zebra.

Need to know: Outings typically last two hours in the morning or afternoon. Multi-day horseback safaris are also options for the more adventurous equestrians who don’t mind less plush accommodations. Beginners' lessons are likely available at your camp or lodge, though some properties cater specifically to the well-experienced rider for more intensive excursions.

Where to go: There are excellent horseback safaris across East and Southern Africa. The open plains of Kenya and Tanzania are home to great lodges, like Borana for experienced riders, and Sosian for a multi-day lodge-to-lodge horseback safari. Further south, we love Ant’s Hill and Ant’s Nest in South Africa, or The Desert Homestead Lodge to explore Namibia’s dunes.

RELATED: 8 Excellent Horseback Safari Properties

3. FLY CAMPING

Family breakfast al Fresco at Kichaka expedition in Ruaha Tanzania

Family breakfast al Fresco at Kichaka expedition in Ruaha Tanzania.

Sleeping in the bush under no more than a flysheet (traditionally a thin fabric pitched like a rudimentary tent) may be old school, but it will never go out of style. No walls separating you from the great outdoors or the star-studded skies here. Arrive on foot or by car late in the afternoon to your remote, overnight destination.

Why teens love it: This is the ultimate escape. Get away from cars, people, social media, and any sign of any other humans (outside of your group) when you head off to Africa’s isolated corners for a night of camping like you’ve never experienced. This activity is best for the adolescent looking for some Indiana Jones-type adventures with nature…sans stealing ancient artifacts. Read why EJ specialist Emily Cottingham recently came home gushing about her night fly camping in Tanzania!

Need to know: If you’re really leery of bugs or sleeping near big animals, like hippo, you might be too stressed to enjoy the magic of this experience. Talk to our safari specialist to make sure this is the right activity for you.

Where to find it: Serian is a perfect option in East Africa’s top location, the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. For something a little more arduous that gets you off beaten path, follow Kenya’s Ewaso Nyiro River, four to five hours from Sasaab, arriving to a campsite deep in the Samburu wilderness.. Also, Zambia makes a great choice for heading out with your guide and tracker with only your bedroll and a mosquito net.

RELATED: Exploring Tanzania with the Family

4. ATV QUAD BIKING

Set out across the salt pans, desert sands or grassy landscapes of Botswana by way of an ATV tour. © Natural Selection

Set out across the salt pans, desert sands or grassy landscapes of Botswana by way of an ATV tour. © Natural Selection

Tear across Botswana’s lunar salt pans or cruise Namibia’s desert-scapes in a rough-and-tumble 4x4. Classic game drives aren’t the only way to have four-wheeled fun on safari; take off for a sunset ride with your guide and off-road wherever adventure takes you.

Why teens love it: If your youngin' has been begging to get behind the wheel, you can finally give him or her free rein across Africa's endless dramatic landscapes. Quad biking is best suited to wide open expanses with sparse vegetation, promising a whole other type of escape for a day-dreaming teen. It’s also a great way to speed things up with a little adrenaline rush, and exert some of that rambunctious energy outdoors.

Need to know: Age restrictions vary by country and camp, though 16 is a common base age. In much of Botswana, ages 12+ are welcome to get behind the wheel of ATVs, provided they get the approval from camp management and parents—so no unruly behavior, kids! Traveling with little ones with you, too? Children under 12 are welcome so long as they ride with an adult.

Where to find it: Botswana and Namibia are the best destinations to hit the open road. Consider Jack’s Camp and San Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans or roam the red dunes of Namibia from Sossusvlei Desert Lodge or into private wilderness reserves at Little Kulala.

5. CULTURAL INTERACTIONS

See Africa from a different perspective by coming face to face with Masai and Samburu cultures. © Saruni Samburu Warriors Academy

See Africa from a different perspective by coming face to face with Masai and Samburu cultures. © Saruni Samburu Warriors Academy

Enter a world few encounter and become part of ancient traditions. Spend an afternoon leaping with Maasai warriors to compete for the highest jump, or learning the Samburu women’s traditional methods of beautiful, vibrant beading to take home with you. Stretch your legs around the rugged terrains of Botswana’s Kalahari Bushmen, tracking prey in the wild, exploring hidden caves and their paintings, or soaking in the enchanting stories and folklore told for millennia beneath the African sky.

Why teens love it: Specific cultural visits can turn ancient traditions into hands-on survival skills training. Your guide can teach your teen how to start a fire from scratch, the difference between poisonous and healing plants, how to craft bows and arrows from natural materials, and weave their own home from surrounding grasses. It’s all about personal, face-to-face engagement, moving around, asking questions, and embracing the unknown. Activities can cater to interests ranging from daily life around a ranch, warrior training, medicinal walks and storytelling to metalworking, hunting, jewelry-making and more.

Need to know: Chances are you and your kids haven't encountered lifestyles or conditions quite this different before. Let those differences fuel friendly conversation. Questions are good, we promise.

Where to find it: The number and quality of options is a real strength of East Africa. Some of our favorites in Kenya and Tanzania include Ol Malo, Chem Chem Lodge, and Sarara for intimate, authentic encounters. For something a little offbeat, base at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and spend a day with the Hadzabe people of Lake Eyasi. Serra Cafema is a good choice to seek out Namibia’s nomadic Himba, or delve into the Bushmen lifestyle at Camp Kalahari.

Plan Your Visit

Call or email us today to begin planning your teen-friendly, family safari!

RELATED: Hands-On East Africa Safari

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Marcia Gordon