A family safari vacation is easily the trip of a lifetime, but how do you make it happen? Researching and planning a family safari can be an enjoyable process, especially if you get your kids involved. Looking at pictures of exotic locations (and the people and animals that live there) can give anyone an enjoyable tingle of wanderlust.
Both online and in brochures and travel magazines, there’s a huge amount of information available, perhaps too much! That’s why it’s always a good idea to get expert advice from a safari specialist. Even if you’ve been on safari before, things change over time, and also between countries and even seasons.
While spontaneity is a beautiful thing, in the travel industry we believe that the most remarkable safari vacations are the best planned ones, and that’s especially true of family safari holidays.
What You Need to Know Before Booking a Safari
Vaccinations might be necessary
As a general rule, you should always check destination requirements for any recommended vaccines. A travel advisor can help you navigate the necessary shots for your trip, but common recommendations for African safaris include malaria prevention and a yellow fever vaccination (especially if you’re visiting a country in the yellow fever belt).
The likelihood of encountering mosquitos – and the diseases that they can carry – is an important factor in planning any trip to Africa. There are proven ways to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, including wearing long sleeves and pants at night, using insect repellent, and always sleeping under mosquito nets.
Better still, some of Africa’s best safari destinations are effectively malaria-free. There are various reasons for this, including climate (fewer mosquitoes outside of the rainy season means decreased risk). Higher-altitude destinations (such as Kenya’s iconic Masai Mara) tend to have far fewer mosquitoes, as do very arid destinations (like much of Namibia).
Some areas that are designated as ‘low-risk’ are effectively ‘no risk’. Although malaria has been recorded there, the last occasion was often decades ago. Much of South Africa is outside malarial areas including Cape Town and the Winelands in the Western Cape.
It’s also worth remembering that by virtue of being so remote, many wildlife destinations are very low risk in terms of malaria (although they do still have mosquitoes).
There are many malaria free safari areas if you’re looking to avoid the pesky critters. By choosing one of these destinations, you can enjoy greater peace of mind for you and your kids, and probably avoid having to take malaria prophylactics.
Work with a travel professional to help plan your family trip
Perhaps the most important part of African safari planning is choosing a travel professional who can answer all of your important questions.
Ideally, they should be someone you’ve established rapport with, who knows their stuff, and has recently traveled to the areas that you and your family are keen to visit. Whether it’s your first time to Africa or your twentieth, it’s helpful to have travel experts plan your trip.
Your travel professional should also be aware of the additional challenges – and rewards – of traveling as a family group, whether it’s two generations or three.
Simply put, you should employ the services of a professional travel team who understands the complexities of a family safari adventure. Someone who has been to the destinations you want to go to and can give you honest, up to date advice.
One company I recommend is Alluring Africa, a US based safari outfitter, who can be your Africa resource and design a personalized itinerary for you and your family.
How old should kids be for an African safari?
There are no hard and fast rules in terms of taking young children on a family safari holiday. That said, many lodges do have age limits for certain activities.
These tend to be non-vehicle activities (guided walks) or any activities on water. For many lodges, the minimum age for these activities is 12, although this can vary.
Always let your travel designer know the ages of everyone who will be traveling, so that they can recommend lodges that allow as many family members as possible to take part in all or most of the activities. Alternatively, they can look for properties that offer multiple activities so nobody feels left out.
One specific minimum age requirement is that visitors must be 16 or older to take part in mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda.
How long should you spend on safari?
When you are flying for at least 15-20 hours to get to Africa, we recommend a minimum of 7-12 days and no less than three nights in each destination. This gives you enough time to unpack, settle into the camp, and not feel rushed. Remember, this is a vacation!
We would recommend including fewer stops in your itinerary rather than more, and making the most of each place rather than feeling that you’re constantly in a rush.
How much does an African safari cost?
For a safari experience, it is recommended to have a safari budget from $1,000 – $2,000+ per person sharing, per night. This safari budget includes accommodations, meals, internal air transfers, and most activities.
Guests traveling with Alluring Africa tend to prefer smaller, intimate, and more exclusive properties which tend to be more expensive to operate, and this is reflected in the rates they charge.
Of course, rates vary greatly depending on the season and it’s possible to find better rates during low season.
If you are on a tighter budget, there are alternative options. However, to travel to Africa and to do it right – in a conservation-oriented and sustainable way – we have found that a budget of at least $850pp/day is required during peak season.
By traveling to Africa’s most iconic wildlife sanctuaries, you will be directly contributing to their long-term survival through paying conservancy fees ranging from $80 – 150 pp/day.
Other factors that can impact the cost of your African safari holiday are the time of year, the quality of the tour operators, and the standard of accommodation.
Additional factors that can increase the cost include optional extras such as private vehicles and scenic flights, as well as third party activities.
How do I find the best African safari lodges for families?
One of the factors to consider is security – not from crime, but in terms of feeling extra safe from the wild animals you’ve come to see. Some properties are fenced for complete reassurance (although it should be said that unfenced properties also have an exceptional safety record).
The increasing interest in family safaris in recent years means that many properties have added family rooms. Typically, these consist of multiple bedrooms with shared bathrooms and common areas. They offer the perfect balance between privacy and the reassuring proximity of parents.
Better still, consider staying at private villas. They are effectively self-contained lodges with a select team of staff, and come with a private vehicle and guide. This means that you can have everyone under one roof, and it gives you complete flexibility in terms of activities, meals, and your daily schedule.
Private villas really come into their own for multi-generational travel. One of the effects of the pandemic is that we are all more and more aware of how important family is, and how we may unexpectedly have to go long periods of time without seeing relatives who live elsewhere.
As a result, we’re predicting that multi-gen family travel will become a huge trend as parents, kids and grandparents look for trips that bring the entire family together.
You can read more about our curated selection of the best safari lodges for families in our guide to the best safari lodges for multi-gen families.
Safety considerations for Africa with kids
The range of activities available at lodges is also important. Remember that kids may not always have the patience to spend hours on a game drive.
Instead, they may need more active ways to occupy their hands and minds. Some of the best we’ve seen include junior ranger programs that let kids acquire tracking and bushcraft skills while being watched over by experienced African wildlife guides. If it’s their first safari, we are sure they will love seeing the animals in their natural habitat.
With your kids kept busy elsewhere, you can enjoy the game drives in peace and then reconnect later and share stories over dinner or while enjoying s’mores around the campfire.
When is the best time to go on safari?
Choosing the best time to visit Africa depends a lot on the specific region or country you want to visit, and why. With the abundant, rich, and diverse climates and ecosystems Africa has to offer, there is always a good time to visit Africa. That said, some areas are better during certain seasons than in others.
Most travelers visit East Africa during the annual Great Wildebeest Migration from June to October each year, although off-peak season has benefits too, like calving season when you get to see lots of babies.
If seeing Victoria Falls at its most impressive and water activities (boat and mokoro excursions) are important to you, the best time to go is after the rainy season when the water levels are higher, April onwards.
The rainy wet season, or “green season” in southern Africa can be a great time to see young animals, migrating birds and flowers. It also tends to be a quieter time, so there are often great deals on lodge accommodation.
Remember that southern Africa’s seasons are the opposite to those North America, so when it’s Christmas in New York, you can enjoy the summer months in Cape Town. The city is buzzing and there’s a lot to do.
Common questions people ask about taking a family safari vacation
What do you eat on a safari?
You definitely won’t go hungry on safari. You can expect fresh fruit and vegetables that are properly washed. Most lodges either offer plated or family style meals.
If you have an allergy or specific dietary requirements, it can be helpful to let your journey specialist know in advance. Chefs in the lodges have a great deal of experience in catering to specific diets, religious requirements, and the like, and they’ll make sure you always have delicious meals and snacks.
Some lodges may serve traditional local ingredients as an option, including ranch bred venison.
What colors should you wear on safari?
Avoid white or light colored clothes as they show dust and dirt. Avoid bright colored clothing, as this can make you very conspicuous to the wildlife, especially on a guided walking safari.
We recommend packing neutral colors. Think khaki, light brown, green, and tan. Please note that many African countries ban wearing military style or camouflage clothing, so this is best avoided.
What can you not do on a safari?
There are generally very few rules on safari. The rules that exist are mostly common sense rules having to do with your safety and the well being of the animals.
The most important rule is to follow the instructions and advice of your guide – their knowledge and experience will add a great deal to your safari.
It’s important to never shout at, approach or try to feed wild animals. This can result in dangerous behaviors, and spoil the safari experience for others. It’s much more enjoyable to see their normal behavior, rather than try to influence it in any way.
You shouldn’t go for a walk or run or leave the lodge without a guide, and follow any other safety rules you may be told.
Other rules have to do with ensuring that everyone can enjoy the unique experience offered by a safari holiday. Don’t be selfish about special sightings, or too opinionated.
You’ll meet people from all around the world on safari, including people who may have different political views to you. They almost certainly don’t want to spend their safari discussing these!
Cultural sensitivity – such as following dress codes – is important on community visits and activities. It’s a respect thing.
Benefits of working with Africa specialists
The vast majority of safari vacations happen without a hitch. That has a lot to do with the excellent relations safari outfitters like Alluring Africa have with their partners on the ground.
In the highly unusual event of any mishaps during your itinerary, their service includes an emergency number which is manned 24/7. You are always a call away from expert advice and a network of resources both at home and in your destination country that can help to resolve the situation.
Alluring Africa takes care of all the paperwork. This includes visas, testing, transfers, charter flights, travel insurance, touring, and even restaurant reservations. Now that we are all living and traveling in the “new normal”, they can also advise on testing and vaccination protocols, and legitimate ways to minimize paperwork and any long waits.
Largely because of the pandemic, entry requirements to many countries are rather fluid these days, and prone to change. It can be very difficult to track of what documentation you need.
Throughout the pandemic, Alluring Africa tracked the dynamic situation across all the most important African safari destinations and kept in touch with their network of local contacts to understand and anticipate what may happen next.
With Alluring Africa’s advice, you can book your family safari vacation in complete confidence.
Kids Are A Trip has partnered with the safari experts at Alluring Africa. For help with your family safari, CLICK HERE and use my code KAAT to schedule a complimentary consultation and waive their $250 trip planning fee.