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Family Safari in Africa

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 25 November 2015

Nearly everyone with whom I’ve swapped African safari stories vividly remembers their first encounters with iconic animals in the wild. Most of those people have been adults recalling younger adult days, but a few (more and more!) were kids when a prowling lion or ambling elephant wandered within easy view of their jeeps on the Kenyan savannah, in the South African bush or any of the other notable places where humans and great beasts commonly meet.

On a safari in South Africa

On a safari in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Austin Adventures

I have no regrets about having waited until my 30s to marvel at Africa’s wildlife wonders. I feel privileged to have done so at all. But I also secretly wish that I’d enjoyed at the life-changing awe of an animal encounter at an age when the wide-eyed wow factor was absolute, when it wasn’t immediately colored by fear, concern and even anger about poaching, trafficking in animal parts, and species extinctions. And so, to the best of my ability, I aim to bring that pure rush of discovery to my two little boys, who already can’t contain their admiration for nature’s majesty.

You may never have thought of an African safari as a realistic vacation option for you and your family. You may have pondered it, but dismissed it as too complicated, dangerous or expensive. You may have leaped the first few hurdles and then been overwhelmed. Whatever the case, we invite you to reconsider it by reading about the following companies and how they have changed the way everyone should think about family safari in Africa.

Understanding What “Family” Travel Means

“The key for families is developing trips only for families, not just putting the word in the description. We look hard at everything, from the accommodations to the activities,” remarked Dan Austin, President of Austin Adventures, a tour operator with luxury family adventures in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

The general sentiment is one echoed by all of the companies included here.

“Our aim is to provide the best family safari possible, providing opportunities for the attendees to experience as much as possible, to learn new skills and to understand better the wildlife and wilderness around us. We create long-term memories that will last for generations,” confirmed Tim Winkworth, the family product manager of Intrepid Travel, one of the world’s leading companies focused on responsible travel, small groups and very big adventures, including family holidays in Africa.

Mother and daughter with African statues on a family safari in Africa

Mother and daughter with African statues. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

“Our goal is to appeal to a broad audience of [family] travelers,” said Ryan Droegemueller, the product manager for Africa & Asia for the Globus family of brands, which includes Monograms and its independent vacation packages in Africa perfect for families.

There are, however, unique challenges to satisfying the interests and abilities of different age groups, especially when they travel together, sometimes three generations at a time. Those challenges require special consideration and, usually, special product reflecting an awareness of overlapping but distinct sensibilities. The best thing about the end result is how confident travelers can be in the quality and purposeful specificity of the product – family-focused tours truly suited to multigenerational family groups.

“Safaris work for multigenerational and intergenerational families. Private trips can be set up so there are activities that will appeal to everyone from age 8 to age 70,” agreed Jim Kackley, General Manager of Thomson Family Adventures, a specialist in adventures designed by families for families, including in Tanzania and South Africa.

Never forget, though, that “Kids are old enough to fully experience all that Africa has to offer and young enough to take it all in with wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm,” reminded Sarah Fazedin the business development director of Rothschild Safaris, founded by a Travel + Leisure-recognized family travel expert for safaris in Africa.

“Family safaris are such a joy to plan because we know that children’s eyes will be opened and their lives forever changed by what they see. Parents come back and tell us that their youngest are enthralled, teens drop all their pretense at cool, and the family truly begins enjoying each other again. That’s the magic of Africa at work,” enthused John Spence, President of Aardvark Safaris, one of the first safari companies to advocate family travel to Africa since it was set up in 1999.

A family on safari in Namibia

A family on safari in Namibia. Photo courtesy of Rothschild Safaris

Looking at Specifics

Even with experienced family-conscious trip mechanics on hand to take care of your every need, we know that travelers like to understand how the machine works so that they can be 100% confident a trip will fulfill their requirements. So we reached out to several of our members for a glimpse beneath the hood.

Here then are some of the critical details they take into account when designing their tours. All of the topics and opinions covered here have been brought up by well-practiced experts, so we believe that they should be core concerns you consider too.

Destination
“Some countries, like South Africa, may lend themselves to an easier time of developing family programs, but with effort, all countries have merit.”
– Dan Austin, Austin Adventures

“It’s key to choose the right countries. We find that South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia are great for kids of all ages because of the number of private conservancies that permit a huge range of activities. These are places where you can do more than go on game drives twice daily.
– John Spence, Aardvark Safaris

Accommodation
“While on safari, the choice of accommodations is very important. There is no chance to take a walk down the street or hop in a taxi to visit a site across town. Generally, the properties we feature accommodate children of all ages (with a few exceptions).”
– Ryan Droegemueller, Globus/Monograms

“The trick is knowing which safari camps truly welcome families and know how to engage and entertain everyone from age 3 to 93.”
– John Spence, Aardvark Safaris

Family guide at the Footsteps Camp in Botswana during a family safari in Africa

Family guide at the Footsteps Camp in Botswana. Photo courtesy of Aardvark Safaris

“I have a few favorites. One in particular that always jumps out at me is “Ants Nest,” a property we use in South Africa. It is a great lodge with no predators. This allows families to ride horses or mountain bike with giraffes, zebras and white rhinos, up close and personal.”
– Dan Austin, Austin Adventures

Activities
“We know that kids are hardwired for adventure. Whether they’re in their own backyards or traveling the world, it’s just one of the many ways in which they learn and grow. At home they build dens, catch bugs and camp in the yard, but on a family safari in Africa, they raft, track animals, and fly-camp beneath the dazzling star-laden sky – absorbing every nugget of knowledge as they go.”
– John Spence, Aardvark Safaris

“We find that children enjoy many of the same activities that adults enjoy while on safari, from visiting local villages/schools to experiencing new cultures to animal orphanages that offer the chance to see the animals up close and learn about conservation efforts.”
– Ryan Droegemueller, Globus/Monograms

“One thing we really encourage and like to do is make sure all travelers, but especially families, get the complete experience. There is so much more than wildlife. There are the people and the vast cultures. Get out and meet the real people of Africa. Then of course is the history beyond apartheid (but that is a key piece of the puzzle).”
– Dan Austin, Austin Adventures

“Provide rafikis (Swahili for friends) to work with the kids for groups of 8 or more. They fill in the free time in vehicles, planes and around meals with other activities. Friends-across-borders meetings with pen pals are great to expand our global understanding of one another.”
– Jim Kackley, Thomson Family Adventures

“Even the most animal-focused kid will get tired of sitting in a vehicle. Fishing, crafts, poking sticks into baboon spider holes to watch them cling on as they’re pulled out, making their own traditional bows and arrows, spear-throwing with sticks, beading, making plaster footprints (lion paws are HUGE), helping to bake bread and cookies in the camp kitchen, identifying spoor and learning how to track creatures great and small, setting up overnight camera traps and watching the film the next day – these are just a few of the memorable things kids can also do on a well-designed safari. And this kind of variety takes a family safari from good to great and from just another vacation to the best trip ever!”
– John Spence, Aardvark Safaris

Kids drumming with locals in South Africa

Kids drumming with locals in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Austin Adventures

Planning and Cost
“We’re often asked ‘what’s the best age to take kids to Africa?’ In my personal opinion, there is a sweet spot between the ages of about 9 and 15. During these years, children are easy travelers, the experiences will dramatically shape their world views at a very formative age and African travel experiences can directly correlate to what kids are learning in school for maximum impact.”
– Sarah Fazendin, Rothschild Safaris

“Increase the number of nights in each location and reduce the number of hotel movements. It makes it easier on everyone. If at all possible eliminate one-night stays at lodges or camps except at the beginning of the trip.”
– Jim Kackley, Thomson Family Adventures

“Beyond sleeping, all meals and leisure time are at the lodge/camp so we focus on offering a range of accommodations to fit every budget, from very comfortable lodges to high-end tented camps. Not everyone can stay in luxury properties, so we are proud to create attainable African safaris that appeal to a wider population.”
– Ryan Droegemueller, Globus/Monograms

“When families book safaris, they often want to make sure that there are other families on board with children of similar ages to their own. Pairing families with kids the same age is something that we do all the time and have seen the great results that come with it.”
– Jim Kackley, Thomson Family Adventures

“Having great guides who don’t just tolerate but really embrace children and staff in camp, and who adore curious little minds also allows plenty of time for parents and grandparents to relax between activities”
– John Spence, Aardvark Safaris

“Having trip insurance is critical. Safaris are an investment and protecting that investment is very important because you never know what may happen in the months leading up to a trip.”
– Jim Kackley, Thomson Family Adventures

Planning Resources and Sample Trips


Thomson Family AdventuresThomson Family Adventures

* Tanzania Family Safari
* Tanzania Active Safari for Families with Teens

Visit here for more about travel with Thomson Family Adventures.

 
 
 
 


Rothschild SafariRothschild Safaris

* South Africa with a Twist
* Kenya with a Twist: Your Family Safari Adventure

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Rothschild Safaris, including country-specific information. For more about family travel, this page includes links to important planning considerations.

 
 
 


Intrepid TravelIntrepid Travel

* Tanzania Comfort Family Safari
* South Africa Teenage Safari

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Intrepid Travel, including further links to specific information about each destination country.

 
 
 


Globus Family of BrandsGlobus/Monograms

* Kenya Private Safari
* Tanzania Private Safari

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Monograms, including the ability to book hotels, air and excursions and more all in one place.

 
 
 


Austin AdventuresAustin Adventures

* Namibia Family Safari: Etosha to Sossusvlei
* South Africa Family Safari: Cape Town to Limpopo

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Austin Adventures, including advice about the best time to travel and how to prepare, as well as insider tips.

 
 
 


Aardvark SafarisAardvark Safaris

* Botswana’s Family Highlights
* Kenya Off the Beaten Track

Visit here for comprehensive information about travel to Africa with Aardvark Safaris. Also of interest is their safari suggestion wizard and a 64-page, full-color Insider’s Guide to African Safaris that covers everything from accommodation in Africa to zebras along the Zambezi.

 
 
 


Abercrombie & KentAbercrombie & Kent

* Family Tanzania Safari
* Family Kenya Safari

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Abercrombie & Kent. Also review their luxury family adventures and tailor-made family safaris.

 
 
 


Journeys InternationalJourneys International

* Karibu, Tanzania! Family Safari
* A Million Animals, A Multitude of Friends

Visit here for more about travel to Africa with Journeys International. Also review their Journeys for Families.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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adventure travel, Africa, animal conservation, Botswana, Eastern Africa, family travel, game reserves, Kenya, Namibia, national parks, opinion, personal experience, safaris, South Africa, Southern Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe,

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