When you think back to your best childhood memories, inevitably one of your most treasured memories will stem from a family holiday. But can you really take your young ones on an African safari? The answer is an emphatic yes! It does require some planning but can turn into an enriching family experience which your youngsters will remember for the rest of their lives. You never know, they might even grow up to become conservationists or vets.
We asked our travel consultants (6 out of 7 happen to be mothers) to recommend their best picks of child-friendly safari lodges and hotels which are safe, and have plenty of activities to keep your youngsters entertained whilst teaching them about the African bush, predators and indigenous herbs and plants.
What better way than to take some time out and relax, whilst your little monkeys are in the capable hands of professional rangers who will teach them how to identify and track animal spoor, gain an understanding of the laws of nature and help with conservation programs.
1. Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
One of our top recommendations for a family-friendly safari is Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, located in the environs of the Kruger National Park. This flagship lodge has been set up especially with families in mind and boasts the Elefun Centre, a facility to nurture children’s understanding and appreciation of nature. The experienced staff run junior tracker programs for wannabe mowglis and junior ranger programs for pre-teens, perfect to keep your kids entertained whilst you relax with a pampering spa treatment. Skilled rangers take your kids on tailor-made bush walks and game drives to explore the incredible variety of bugs, birds and wildlife that live in the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve. Activities range from arts and crafts afternoons, scavenger hunts and blindfold adventures.
2. Lalibela Mark’s Camp
We love Lalibela Mark’s Camp for young families because of its location in the malaria free Eastern Cape. What’s more, it’s easily accessible from the Garden Route and Cape Town. The camp is set up accordingly with its big family-sized chalets, safari vehicles that have been adapted for children, a fenced-in camp with two pools, as well as services such as baby-sitting, a full program of activities, arts and crafts for children and a kiddie menu.
3. Shamwari Game Reserve
Shamwari Game Reserve is one of our favourite family safari destinations for a number of reasons. Also located in the malaria free area of the Eastern Cape, it offers six lodges with options to suit all budgets. We recommend booking the colonial-style Riverdene Lodge with inter-leading luxury rooms, a supervised playroom and rim flow pool, as well as a jungle gym and rolling green lawns perfect for the little ones to run around on. There’s a child co-ordinator to talk you through activity options for your man-cubs, excursions to the Born Free Centre, Shamwari Wildlife Hospital and Big Cat Rescue Centre. The reserve is also home to the Shamwari Film Studio, which screens ‘Shamwari – A Wild Life’, a series that recently aired on Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet. Other activities to keep your youngsters entertained include African bead making, face painting, clay making, star-gazing and African story-telling. The reserve itself is 24 years old and well stocked with big predators and an abundance of wildlife.
Londolozi is legendary! It is one of the most well established and best loved game reserves in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. If budget is not too much of a concern, it is the perfect setting for families to bond and share once in a lifetime wildlife experiences. We recommend staying at either the Founders or Varty Camp, where you will find the Cub Den which features Land Rovers to ‘drive’, a fish pond to splash around in, various campout tents and an educational centre. Book your older children into bushveld excursions which are run by expert rangers and include fun activities such as catching insects, bird watching, spoor identification, African dance, candle making and drumming. Parents, meanwhile, can go on game drives to get extraordinarily close to the Big Five or relax in the beautiful surroundings.
5. Mala Mala Main Camp
We love Mala Mala Main Camp as they welcome all ages, including teddy bears and pet dinosaurs! Children between the ages of 4 and 12 receive a Mala Mala backpack on arrival which includes items such as a compass, thermometer, interactive animal check-list and colouring books. The experienced rangers teach youngsters an appreciation of the African bush as well as basic bush survival skills, advice on how to spot the warning signs of dangerous animals, how to track animals and identify their droppings. The camp itself is the perfect blend of bush lodge and luxurious accommodation, complete with pool, sizeable rooms, babysitters and a menu to cater for all tastes. Best of all, you’re right in the heart of some of South Africa’s best game spotting territory!
A note on malaria
Whilst many of Africa’s game parks are situated in areas that are not malaria free, South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Madikwe and Waterberg regions are malaria-free game reserves that include the Big Five. Fortunately malaria is less prevalent during the cooler months (May to September) when the Kruger National Park and Northern KwaZulu Natal become lower risk. Prophylactics (tablets taken as part of a course during and after your stay) are an effective deterrent, along with anti-mosquito bite precautions (deet-free sprays and repellents) and nets. Children under the age of 5 cannot take malaria prophylactics, and so we advise that you only travel to the malaria free reserves in the Eastern Cape, Madikwe and Waterberg areas.
For a memorable wildlife experience, special bonding time and photo opportunities for you and your children to cherish forever, come and discover the magic and mystery of Africa together, as a family.