All you may need to know before going on an African safari with kids

African Safari With Kids – All Your Questions Answered

In Africa, Traveling with kids by Jurga19 Comments

Are you thinking of going on safari with kids, but not sure what to expect? There is a common believe that safari and family travel doesn’t go well together. Let me tell you that it’s not true. I decided to write this post because of all the emails I get from readers asking me about taking their kids on safari. I hope this will help to answer some of your questions, ease your fears, and most important – show you that you can have an unforgettable African safari experience, also with young children.

We are in no way experts of traveling to Africa with kids. We are just a family who likes to travel, take the kids along, and share our experiences hoping to inspire others to do the same.

It just so happens that South Africa was our first far trip with all three kids. And so the twins went on their first safari game drive when they were just 2 years old. Our oldest was 4. A year and a half later, when our kids were 3, 3, and 5, we made a beautiful four-week road trip in Namibia. We attended as many sundowners and game drives as we possibly could, we made self-drive wildlife viewing trips, watched animals at the waterholes, and had so many unforgettable safari experiences with kids.

So here is some practical information you may want to know when planning an African safari with young children.

Safari with kids – all your questions answered

I have compiled all kinds of questions that I have received from my readers about taking kids on safari in Africa. If you don’t find an answer to your question below, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page, and I will try my best to help you out.

Everything you may want to know about going on an African safari with kids

 

1. Which African countries are best for safari with kids?

In my opinion, South Africa and Namibia are the best countries for families traveling to Africa. There are several reasons for this:

  • First, both countries have good wildlife viewing that is easily accessible. You can visit Kruger National Park or Etosha National Park with your rental car. This is not the case in most other African countries, where you need to have a guide/driver to visit national parks. Self-drive safari is always cheaper and it allows you to take kids of any age on safari.
  • Second, Namibia and South Africa both have very small malaria risk in certain periods. So you can take your kids on safari without having to take malaria pills. See question 4 for more information.
  • Third, both countries are relatively safe for an individual family trip. I say ‘relatively’, because, well, bad things can happen anywhere. As everywhere else in the world, you have to use common sense. We never felt unsafe anywhere in Namibia. As for South Africa, most places are completely safe, just be cautious around townships next to the big cities, like Johannesburg.

2. How old do my kids have to be to go on safari in Africa?

While most organised safari trips and game drives have various age restrictions, there is no age limit for self-drive safari. Our kids’ first safari experience was when they were just 2 years old. It was a guided game drive in a private game reserve on the Garden Route in South Africa. Here you can read more about our South Arica trip with young kids.

In Namibia, we could join several safari rides with a guide, but there were also other places that wouldn’t take kids under 6 years. Some others would allow young kids on safari rides, but would warn you from the start that they would not stop anywhere near the ‘cats’ (lions, leopards, cheetahs) with such young kids in an open vehicle.

If you are thinking of taking a longer safari trip with nothing but animal viewing for a few days in a row, you better check with the organising company what their policy is in regards to kids age. For Kenya or Tanzania safari trips, I think usually kids have to be at least 6 years old.

3. How many days do we need for safari with kids?

This will depend on the destination of your choice. In Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and many other African countries, the purpose of the whole trip is often nothing else but animal viewing. So you are in a safari vehicle for days and days in a row. Honestly, I think that these kind of trips are too long and too boring for young kids. Even most adults will probably have seen enough wildlife after 7 days, let alone children…

That’s why – again- South Africa and Namibia are excellent choices to take your kids on safari. Both countries have so much more to offer than just animal viewing, so you can combine safari drives with many other sightseeing possibilities. I think that 3-4 days of safari in a row is more than enough for any child. If you can add some variation to your trip and go watching animals every couple of days rather than a week in one go, you will have a much more relaxing and fun trip.

4. Can we go on safari with a 2 – 3 year old, 4, 5, 6 year old, and for how long?

I wouldn’t advise long safari trips with kids younger than 6. Here is a breakdown per age of what I think is best when considering safari with young kids.

  • 2-3 year old kids: Half-day game drives, self-drive safari and wildlife viewing at waterholes. You can do this for several days, but don’t take a 2 year old on a 3-day safari experience with nothing else on the programme than wildlife viewing.
  • 4-5 year old kids: Half day to full day safari drives, either with your own vehicle or on guided safari tours. I would advice against a long safari trip with nothing else than wildlife viewing at this age.
  • 6-8 year old children: I guess it depends on your child, but most kids at this age should be able to sit still in a car for a day, and so a longer safari trip is possible. You have to be aware though that safari involves lots of driving and searching for animals, that is not always as exciting as the actual viewing of the animals.
Safari with young kids - all you may want to know before your African family trip

Even very young kids can join you on the open jeep safari rides

 

5. Is it dangerous to take young kids on safari?

As everything, if done with caution, safari is perfectly safe with kids.

For self-drives, remember to stay in your vehicle at all times. It’s not because you don’t see animals, that they are not there. Don’t make too much noise in the car when animals are nearby, and certainly don’t stick your arms outside the window, not even to take a picture.

For guided game drives with kids, you have to remember that you are in an open vehicle. Kids shouldn’t make noise, and the same rule applies here too – you shouldn’t stick your head or arms outside the vehicle. Follow the instructions of your guide.

6. What about malaria pills when going on safari with kids?

I can’t really answer this question, because we always chose to visit malaria-free areas with our kids up to now. I always read that malaria pills aren’t advisable for young kids under 5-6 years old. And since there are perfectly nice malaria-free areas to take your kids on safari, why would you take the risk…

We visited Kruger NP and Etosha NP in July (African winter), when malaria risk is very low. We used mosquito sprays with DEET, but that’s it. Southern part of South Africa is malaria-free all year round. There are several private game reserves in that area, and also Addo Elephant National Park is malaria-free. All perfect places for the first safari with kids.

If you are traveling to an area that has high malaria risk, make sure to talk to your doctor before the trip. For more medical information you can check this website of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. Here you can find medical advice for Namibia, South Africa, or search for the country you are traveling to.

7. Do we need any special vaccinations when going on safari with kids?

In most African countries you do need some type of vaccines, both for kids and for adults. Make sure to check medical information for the country you are visiting before the trip. Some countries require yellow fever vaccination, South Africa and Namibia – not (at the time of writing).

8. What to pack for kids on safari?

In one of my older posts you can find more information about going on safari for the first time, including a complete safari packing list. You don’t really need to pack anything special for kids on safari. Except – my best tip – pack one pair of binoculars for each child. It keeps them interested and engaged during the rides. Safari involves lots of driving and lots of patience. Binoculars is better than any toy. Just don’t waste your money on toy binoculars, there are plenty of affordable decent quality binoculars that kids can use.

If your kids can read already, it might be interesting to take a book or an African wildlife guide, so that they can look up in the book what kind of animals they saw, etc. But don’t count on doing much reading on the bumpy roads in Africa’s National Parks.

Always take a sweater on safari, mosquito spray, sunscreen lotion, a sun hat, and sun glasses. Leave all the toys at home, unless you are doing a self-drive safari, in that case pack whatever you would normally pack to keep the kids busy and happy in the car. Audio books do wonders!

9. Do we need to buy khaki colour clothing when going on safari with kids?

It’s popular to think that you need to buy a whole new garderobe in khaki colours when going on safari. But in most cases, it’s really not necessary.

It might not be such a good idea to go on a walking safari wearing a red t-shirt, but for self-drive safari in a closed vehicle colours don’t matter at all. After all, you are sitting in the car all the time.

For open-vehicle safari drives I would advise against bright colours, but then again – you don’t need to buy ten new t-shirts for every kid. Just pick the ones that are less bright and that’s it. If you buy one thing, then it might be wise to invest in a light-brown safari shirt with long sleeves. You can wear it several times, also over other t-shirts, it protects against mosquitoes, and also against the sun.

As for colours of sweaters and jackets. Our kids had very bright rain jackets that we packed for our trip to Namibia. I wasn’t going to buy three new jackets just for that trip. And you know what, the only time we needed those jackets was early in the morning or late in the evening, when it was dark, so the colour didn’t matter at all. If you are visiting Kruger in winter (July-August), you may need to wear a sweater or a jacket during the day as well. In that case it might be wiser to pack something in a light brown or dark colour. But you will see people wearing all kinds of colourful clothing on the game drives in Africa.

All you may want to know about taking young children on safari in Africa

Clothing doesn’t really matter that much on safari, but try to avoid very bright colors

 

10. What kind of shoes to pack for kids on safari?

It doesn’t really matter what kind of shoes you or your kids wear, as you will be sitting in the car all the time anyway. I would advise to wear closed shoes at all times if you are going in an open vehicle. It can get really cold during early morning and sunset game drives.

11. What if my child has to go to a bathroom during a safari drive?

In some areas this may be a problem, yes. If you know that you are going to drive in an area where it’s forbidden to get out of the car, make sure that the whole family goes to the bathroom before you leave. And plan some stops in the rest camps along the way. For example, in Etosha NP, there are some fenced picnic areas with toilet facilities, and they are indicated on the map of the park that you get at the entrance. Plan a bathroom stop every two hours or so. And always make your kids go to the bathroom when you can, even if they tell you they don’t have to.

Having said all this, I know that sometimes kids ‘just have to go’. In a way, it’s easier with young kids who still have diapers. Ours were at the difficult age (3) when we were in Etosha. At one moment we just stopped and let our son pee through an open door of the car, while we were watching the area to make sure there were no animals nearby. Once again, animals can be very well camouflaged, so try to avoid toilet stops in dangerous areas.

Lions at Okaukuejo waterhole in Namibia

Animals can be extremely well camouflaged – I only saw these lions when they started to move

 

12. What about food – can we take snacks on safari?

Most organised safari trips have some kind of a meal foreseen. Usually, the guide will stop the vehicle in a safe area, set the table outside, and you will have an unforgettable meal in an African savannah. Most guided safaris will include water and other drinks too, but you should always take some water with you, and I would definitely take some snacks for the kids. There is nothing worse that a tired, bored hungry kid, isn’t it. Favourite snacks can be a life-saver during long safari drives with kids.

Our picnic lunch in an African savannah on a Himba tour in Northern Namibia

Our picnic lunch during a safari ride in Northern Namibia

 

13. Are there better ways to see African animals with kids, than sitting in a dusty vehicle driving on the bumpy roads for hours?

As a matter of fact, there are. But you will need to do some research before the trip. One of the best ways to see African animals is by visiting waterholes or rivers. Some lodges, hotels, or rest camps have beautiful waterholes with lots of animals visiting them during the whole day. Some others might have a waterhole where you hardly ever see any animals at all. And many others don’t have waterholes at all.

One of the best waterholes we came across during our trips in Africa is Okaukuejo waterhole in Etosha National Park in Namibia. Animal viewing was so good there, that we stayed by the waterhole the whole day, in the evening, and also at night. It’s by far the most luxurious way to see safari animals with kids! They could even go to a nearby shop and get some ice-cream to eat while watching hundreds and hundreds of animals. The best part is that Okaukuejo rest camp is a government-run place and the prices are really reasonable.

Another place that has a really good active waterhole is the Old Traders Lodge in Erindi private game reserve (also Namibia). Staying at the lodge is quite expensive though, but day visitors can sit on the terrace and watch the waterhole too. Still, if your budget allows it, I would advise to stay at least one night in Erindi. It’s one of our favourite lodges in Namibia, and no, this mention is not sponsored.

I am sure there are many more lodges that have good waterholes with plenty of wildlife viewing. So do some research and you might be rewarded with the most unforgettable experience!

If you are driving around a national park looking for animals and your kids get tired or car-sick, why not take a break and stop by the river or at any waterhole you come across. If you just sit and wait, you might see more animals than by driving around and looking for them.

Best place to stay in Etosha Namibia is Okaukuejo Camp

Wildlife viewing at a waterhole

 

14. How expensive is it to go on safari with kids?

As with any trip, the cost can be just as low or as high as you want it to be. As I said, one of the cheapest ways to go on safari with a family is by doing a self-drive road trip in South Africa or in Namibia. Flights, rental car, and hotels is all you need. Park entrance fees are usually very reasonable, and often free for kids. Here you can find best accommodation deals for visiting Kruger NP, Etosha NP, and Addo Elephant NP.

You can also opt to do an organised day game drive, in combination with the self-drive safari. This is what we usually do. Price of these game drives depends on location and duration, and also if you are sharing the vehicle with others. It’s usually somewhere between 20 EUR/pp for short shared drives to 50-80 EUR/pp for shared full-day drives, to maybe 100-120 EUR/pp for private day drives. Here you can find some organised trips for Kruger NP, Etosha NP, or Addo NP. It will give you a good idea of the cost.

The good news is that very often kids under 6 travel free (if they are allowed). Older kids get discounts. We were often lucky to pay a shared rate for just 2 adults and have the whole safari jeep to ourselves. This is not guaranteed (unless you pay the higher rates for a private trip), but from all the game drives we did, we only had to share a jeep with another family once. While most other vehicles departing at the same time usually had 8-12 passengers, we had the luxury of a private game drive for a very low price. You see, traveling with kids has some benefits.

If you are thinking of booking a private safari with a guide/driver in Kenya or Tanzania, then it can quickly cost you 2-3,000 EUR/week/person and more. On the other had, everything is then organised and arranged for you.

Do you have more questions about taking your kids on safari?

So, these are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about taking young kids on safari. My intention is to update this post with any other questions/answers in the future. So don’t hesitate to let me know if I left something unanswered. You can do so by leaving a comment below. If I don’t have an answer, fellow readers might be able to help you out, so don’t hesitate.

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Safari with children - all your questions answered

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African Safari With Kids – All Your Questions Answered was last modified: September 29th, 2017 by Jurga

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Comments

  1. These are great tips! And I love that you take your kids to so many exciting adventures!!

    1. Author

      Thank you Ari. I wish we could do this more often – take the kids to Africa. It’s such an amazing continent, also because it managed to stay more authentic with fewer tourists than anywhere else we had been…

  2. It’s funny reading this as growing up in Africa we just went on game drives so I didn’t even think about all these questions people visiting Africa for the purpose of seeing the animals would ask! I think it’s an invaluable opportunity for children to see animals in the wild and if people have the opportunity one they should definitely take! Although I have visited game reserves in Zimbabwe and Botswana as well as owning a timeshare in a reserve in South Africa I have never been to Namibia! I will have to remedy that Jurga as your posts about Namibia are fantastic! Great post and I hope it encourages more people to consider taking their children to see animals in their natural environment!

    1. Author

      Tank you, Tracy. It’s so true indeed that when you grow up in a place like that you take it for granted. Whereas to someone who has never been there it might seem so difficult to reach. You wouldn’t believe the amount of questions I get from people about taking their kids on safari. So I thought this information will help to clear up many misconceptions and also give people practical tips and very concrete ideas of where and how to actually go on safari with young children.

  3. Great post that clears out any misconceptions. A lot of people do not travel to such countries after having kids. I went to South Africa and confirm that going with kids is absolutely safe. Surely better thank taking kids to zoos..I hope I can make it to Namibia soon as well 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks for your feedback, Lenise. And for sharing your experience. It’s not secret that we love South Africa, so I might be biased when recommending it to others. On the other hand, I still have to meet one person who has been to South Africa and didn’t fall in love with the country…

  4. This is a really thorough and informative post! I would have loved going on a safari when I was a kid. I’m sure it would be an unforgettable experience for the whole family. This is maybe a bit random, but I saw you mentioned sundowners. My boyfriend and his family are originally from South Africa but have lived all over the world. Whenever I travel with them, his mom likes to put together drinks and appetizers to have outside as the sun sets. I love this tradition that she calls sundowners. I never realized it was from where she grew up, since she has lived all over the place and picked up traditions from everywhere. Good to know!

    1. Author

      Sundowners is a huge thing in Africa, Erin! It’s one of my favourite parts of the trip, some of the best memories.

  5. What an amazing resource! An African safari is something we’d love to do someday, but I have to admit, it feels like a daunting trip to tackle with so many choices. I will refer back to this when the time comes. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Planning an African Safari is not more complicated than planning any other trip, Dianne. Just go for it 😉

  6. This is such a great post! I really want to go on safari, especially now that we have a kiddo to share such an experience. Great tips and I can’t wait to plan our own trip. Any recommendations on where to stay with really young kids (2-3)? Sorry if I missed it!

    1. Author

      I would look for malaria-free areas with such young kids. As for hotels, there are plenty of choices in all price categories.

  7. Hi Jurga, this is a great post! We just returned from 2 magical weeks in South Africa. We are a family of five with 3 kids, aged 12, 12, and 4. We spent a week in the Kruger doing self drives. We stayed in the park at 3 rest camps: Letaba, Skukuza, and Berg-en-dal. It was absolutely fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone. We flew to Cape Town for our second week and explored Cape Town and the surrounding area. We stayed in Arniston for a few nights and in Simon’s Town, right on Boulder’s Beach, for the remainder of our week. We all were sad to leave South Africa. It is a beautiful country!!

    1. Author

      Sounds amazing, Jenn. Lucky you! South Africa is stunning and you seem to have chosen the very best places to visit. Kruger is a must, but Cape Peninsula and the Garden Route are my personal favourites!
      Thanks for sharing your experience here – I am sure it’s very helpful for other families planning a trip to South Africa.

    2. Hi. Wondering how the weather was!? We are planning to go for my 50th, with our kids who will be 9 and 11. Concerned that it’s winter end June/early July. Looking at beautiful camps in South Africa and then head to Cape Town. Also is there enough to do in Cape Town w kids? Thx so much

      1. Author

        Hi Sue, the first time we visited South Africa we went in the same period – first two weeks of July. In Kruger it was cold in the morning and we needed a warm jacket for safari rides, during the day it was sunny and warm enough to just wear a sweater. In Cape Town it was really cold and windy, I even bough a fleece hat and gloves. Garden Route (Knysna and so) was really nice, also mostly ‘sweater weather’. 🙂 Prepare for cold, rain, and wind and if you are lucky you’ll have sunshine.
        As for things to do in Cape Town with kids, there’s plenty. Visit a market, go to aquarium, check out the colorful Bo Kaap area, etc. But don’t stay in town all the time – go to Simon’s Town to see the Boulders Beach penguin colony, visit the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens (really worth it), drive the scenic roads, if the weather is nice head to the top of the Table Mountain…
        Enjoy it! South Africa is amazing in any season.

        1. Thank you so much. Do you think we are better off in December? Seems weird in summer in USA to go to cold and not be able to swim etc. just easier for us early July with kids home. What is the garden route also? Thx so much!!

          1. Author

            Hi Sue, it’s not easy to give you a straightforward answer.
            For Kruger park July is just great. It’s dry season which means it’s easier to see animals (less vegetation, and they come looking for water), and there are practically no malaria mosquitoes.
            For Cape Town July is not the best time since it’s winter. December is hot and very popular, and also very expensive and busy around Christmas/ New Year. In my view also not ideal, but if you are looking for sunshine and beach, then December is great.
            Garden Route is a beautiful area between Port Elizabeth, past Knysna, and in the direction of Cape Town. We spent two weeks there with kids, here you can find our itinerary. It’s a beautiful are to visit with children since you can see monkeys, ostriches, whales, dolphins, penguins, all kinds of birds, and also safari animals. We visited in July and also in November, and both times it was just beautiful there.
            Depending on how much time you have for this trip, in July you could just choose to stay in Kruger and North of the country, maybe combine with Victoria Falls… If you decide to do both – Kruger and Cape Town, here is our itinerary to give you an idea of what can be done. We did this trip in July in two weeks and it was really nice introductory trip to South Africa. I don’t have our itinerary on the blog (it was so long ago), but we started in Johannesburg, drove to Hazyview straight from the airport, then spent 2 or 3 nights there. Visited Panorama Route and Kruger. Afterwards we drove through Kruger and Swaziland to St. Lucia, afterwards to Drakensbergen, then Durban. From Durban we flew to Port Elizabeth. I think we drove straight to Knysna from there. We spent 3 night in Knsyna if I recall well and visited all kinds of places nearby from there. Then we drove past Cape Agulhas, Hermanus, to Cape Town. It was a bit rushed, but in 17 days we got to see the best of South Africa, and loved it so much that we returned again, and would go back without hesitation, any time of the year. I’m not suggesting you do the same, but this gives you an idea of what you can do in 2 weeks.
            Hope this helps a bit.

  8. Thank you so much. I think I am just scared of the Cape Town weather now, but it seems all other areas can be nice weather. Maybe I can do capetown briefly (2 days) deal with it and move on 🙂 You are so helpful. Thank you

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