The Safari Experts

Travelling with children in Africa


Taking your kids to Africa should be one of the most wonderful things that your family will ever do, on so many levels. As the image below shows, you can't please all the people all the time, but you can expect to have an overall experience which will be firmly etched on your memories forever.

In this section we try to provide a quick overview of the issues that relate specifically to travelling with children in Africa ...

We have been putting together family trips to Africa since 1999 and have managed to amass a good deal of knowledge and experience. Over the same period several of us have had children ourselves and have personally encountered many of the issues.

There are usually three issues which dominate the issue of travelling with children in Africa ... keeping them healthy, keeping them interested and expanding their horizons.

If you are thinking about taking your children to Africa, then the best thing to do is to contact us for a preliminary chat. If you can convey to us something of the dynamics of your family, the individual nature of each of your children and the ambitions that you have for your trip, then we will quickly be able to get the ball rolling.

Ages 0 to 1

The main issue here is health, with malarial areas generally tending to be ruled out, which essentially leaves parts of South Africa, Namibia and the Indian Ocean islands.

Additionally high temperatures tend to rule out certain times of year in those areas, since infants are less able to self-regulate their body temperatures.

Immediate access to good healthcare also needs to be considered, since even quite modest health problems can become serious quickly in infants.

In a nutshell we generally recommend either not travelling to Africa with infants or sticking to the more temperate areas of South Africa around the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and possibly adding a safari in Madikwe.

Ages 2 to 5

The discussion here is generally the same as for infants except that children of this age are more able to regulate their body temperatures, so high temperature areas are less of an extreme issue.

Furthermore they are more able to take anti-malarials, which can open up a much wider range of countries. We are not permitted to give medical advice these days, but we are able to give our own personal opinions on such matters. When it comes to exposing children to malarial areas, some of us here have waited until our youngest child is 5 or 6 years old, whilst others have started them at as young as 2. Of course many people bring up their children in malarial areas without taking any anti-malarial prophylaxis. It is a very personal decision, but one on which we would always err on the side of caution.

If you decide that you cannot visit malarial areas then refer to the area recommendations for infants. If you decide that you can visit malarial areas then refer to the area recommendations in the next section.

Many safari lodges, especially those in malarial areas, do not permit small children of this age range. There are exceptions in all countries, but especially in Tanzania North and Kenya.

Virtually all lodges which accept children in this age band offer very significant price reductions, usually in excess of 50% off the adult price.

It is essential that parents of all children operate a policy of leopard hour whilst on safari ... in which the kids must be constantly accompanied by an adult from an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise.

Ages 6 to 12

We assume that for children in this age range we can now include malarial areas, so depending on your inclination one might look at a safari in Tanzania North, Tanzania South, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia or Botswana.

Most safari camps accept children of this age, although there are some which start at 8 years and a few which start at 12 years. Most also offer significant price reductions on the adult price, especially for children sharing a room with parents.

The greater issue in this age group tends to be which activities the children are permitted to join. Many safari camps permit children to stay in the lodge, but not to join gamedrives unless a private vehicle is taken, at considerable extra cost. More dangerous or arduous activities they may not be able to join at all. Other camps are much more geared up for children and operate special activities designed for children, special game-drives, walks and other more specifically focussed activities. The danger of going too far in this direction is that it can all start to become a bit goofy, the presence of a 'kiddie club' is often an indication of this.

In this age range in particular there tends to also be a wide range in the behaviour and needs of the children from one family to the next. In some families children as young as five are well-behaved, trustworthy, able and willing to take part in the usual camp activities. In other families children as old as twelve are less suited to mix in with the regular adult guests and need more child-focussed attention. We are more than happy to cater for all types of children, although it is extremely important that you let us know about your children in advance, so that we can help put together a trip with the most suitable camps and lodges.

Ages 13 to 18

Virtually all areas, lodges and experiences are open to teenagers, although many camps in Botswana and Zambia in particular charge full adult price.

In this age group, parents tend to be particularly conscious of the fact that their children are changing and starting to become more distant. Families therefore tend to view these as extremely important trips ... both to make the most of what might be the last few occasions when the family might travel together, to reinforce family bonds and to expose youngsters to sights and cultures which will help to round their understanding of the world, possibly inspire them to become nicer and more generous people. A good trip to Africa can do this and we will work carefully with you to maximise the chances of fulfilling your particular ambitions in this area.

Ages 18+

There are very few lodges which do not treat an 18 year old as a full adult in terms of prices and rooming, so the only chance that you have in cutting costs is to share rooms and to head for safari areas where there are economies of scale result from filling a vehicle, ie. private guided safari in Tanzania North or self-drive in Namibia or South Africa.

The paragraph in the previous section about helping to round and develop young adults by exposing them to Africa is still valid for older offspring, although obviously at this age the dynamics do change somewhat.

Adults between 18 and 28 often come to Africa to participate in volunteer work, perhaps for several weeks or months, with their families joining them for a shorter trip either in the middle or at the end of their tour of duty. We often handle the family part of these trips, although we do not as yet get involved with the longer volunteer programmes. What we are building right now is a portfolio of locations where the whole family can include a shorter section of volunteer work, from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, which can be built into a regular trip. This can be a good way to get a little under the skin of Africa and expose your children to the pleasures of doing things for others!
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