Ever thought about taking the family to Africa? If you simply go online and find a place that looks nice to go on safari, you’ll be surprised to find that little or no mention is made of children being welcome or not. It’s sadly generally the case that most game reserves do not welcome children of any age (and by ‘child’ we mean any person up to 12 years old).
This can be a little exasperating because of course one of the main reasons to come to Africa in the first place is for the game viewing and of course, all children love animals! So many couples wrongly assume that they have to do one African trip without the kids and then another with them.
Most private game reserves are reluctant to take children on game walks or game viewing expeditions because of the insurance risk to them if something goes wrong. The theory is that small children have the potential to run in the direction of things they find interesting (not a great idea if that thing happens to be a lion) or to stick their limbs outside of the vehicle they are travelling in (most game viewers are open-sided).
Let’s start with the good news: going on safari with children is not as difficult as is often assumed!
‘Safari’ is a big term and there are lots of ways to go about them. There are also several examples of game reserves where there are no predatory or potentially dangerous animals at all. So these reserves do not have elephant, lion, hippo, or crocodile or but they do have giraffe, kudu, impala, rhino, buffalo (even though rhino and buffalo are considered two of the ‘Big Five’). This means that you can have a very enjoyable safari trip seeing these large animals with your children and fully appreciate the animals together as a family. A great example of this would be Oceana, which also just happens to have 7km of private beach to enjoy and a swimming pool! This is unusual as most reserves have little to do for children other than the game viewing activities. There are no dedicated child-friendly services, however, so you are expected to enjoy everything the reserve has to offer together.
Sticking in the Eastern Cape, consider Kwandwe Game Reserve: a child-friendly game reserve with lion, hippo, elephant and leopard. Children are taken very seriously here and are offered a kit when they arrive to start their ‘Ranger in Training’. The kit has a magnifying glass and a book to help with identifying animals. There are daily treasure hunts as well as their ‘kids only’ game drive where the children are taken by rangers to find giraffe, zebra, monkeys and warthog.
Further afield at Victoria Falls, you can stay at the Victoria Falls River Lodge right on the banks of the Zambezi which is positively geared towards welcoming children. Not only does the youngest child stay for free (yes, you read that correctly), they have child-specific activities like their Junior Discoverer’s Drive (a game drive with only children onboard) and Fables by Firelight (stories of the African bush told round a camp fire at night).
There are many examples like this: you just have to know where to look. We’d be very happy to suggest other family friendly safari options in private reserves all over South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. The selection here is only to see the range of what is possible.
Don’t forget that there is a big difference between a nature walk or drive and a game walk or drive. Game reserves offer game drives, i.e. seeing large animals in a restricted area. However nature walks can be undertaken on farms and large country estates and of course there is no restriction on which animals can arrive and leave. There are several places, such as the Bartholomeusklip Guesthouse in the Western Cape that are situated on working farms in the middle of nature reserves that conduct guided nature walks on the estate and through the farm. Thus, your children get to experience the two worlds of agriculture and nature at the same time.
Remember that there is a big difference between a private game reserve, private lodge/bush camp and a public game reserve. You can self-drive through most public game reserves, like Greater Addo, Kruger Park, etc. on tarred roads and there is no restriction on the age of children allowed in the car. Obviously you have to bear in mind that you are in a game park so you cannot stop, get out of the car, wind the window down, etc. However, it is possible to overnight inside the parks in secure accommodation and often for considerably less than you would pay for a private lodge/reserve.