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African Safaris with Kids
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African Safaris with Kids

Lions in the wild


Photo by Seasons in Africa

Safari, the word for journey in Swahili, brings to mind thoughts of adventure and wildlife. Whether you picture yourself roaming the bush in an open vehicle, walking through tall grass to get up close to the animals or envision an exotic escape at a luxury safari lodge, taking the children need not be as daunting as it sounds. Wildlife safaris offer families the opportunity to experience wildlife in its natural habitat, nurture a love and appreciation for nature, and connect with the kids. Spotting lions at a short distance and in their natural habitat is a fascinating experience. And lions are just part of the fun. The quantity and variety of animals will impress even the wary.
Getting Started
Before you scour the web or wade through travel brochures, outline your trip priorities. Once you've established a budget, define the type of adventure you are seeking as well as the experience you are looking for. You will want to consider the age of the kids, their interest in nature as well as their ability to sit still and follow rules set by a safari guide. Understanding your child may be more important than knowing the age limit set by the safari camp or lodge.
The Right Trip
Guided or self-drive safari? Tented camp or luxury safari lodge? Jeep safari, elephant trek, bush walk, hot air balloon ride or canoe trip? While nearly all of the above are suitable for families traveling with children aged 12 and up, not all safari activities are appropriate for young children and many lodges and camps have a set minimum age. Select a lodge and activity that is appropriate for the entire family. Find out if a child sitting service or children's program is offered for kids that choose to stay behind. A young child may not want to participate on every game drive! Many lodges carefully interview young children to determine suitability; allowing small kids to participate on a game drive may be at the discretion of the manager. When choosing a vehicle, keep in mind that open land rovers provide for broader viewing than a minibus and 4-wheel drive cars may be necessary to navigate park roads.
Plotting your Route
The best time of year to view wildlife is during the cool, dry season when vegetation is thin and animals congregate at the few remaining water holes making them easy to spot. Wildlife viewing is best in the early morning and late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler and wildlife is easier to spot. While this means that the whole family has to be up and ready by 5 or 6 am, spotting animals is so exciting that even the sleepiest in the bunch are likely to accept the change to his or her biological clock and fall in step with the rhythm of the bush. Still not convinced? Early morning game drives last only a couple of hours, and usually end with a reward: a huge breakfast and plenty of time to relax.
Packing Tips
Equip each child with a camera and binoculars as well as a regional checklist to mark off all wildlife sightings. Pack neutral colored clothing (bright colored clothing can disturb wildlife and white shows dirt), hats, sunglasses, and sun block for the entire family. Plan to dress in layers, while early morning and late evening game drives can be quite cold by mid-day it is likely to be quite warm if not hot. Don't forget to include a regional field guide and plenty of film; the nearest shop is likely to be a considerable drive from the game park. On game drives, carry more film than you expect to use.
  • Safari Packing List
Health & Safety
You need not expose the kids to malaria or other infectious diseases to enjoy a wildlife safari and see the African big five. Several wildlife parks and private game reserves are located in areas that are malaria-free. What's more, many smaller reserves, particularly in South Africa, are located near tourist attractions and may have unique offerings all their own. Families planning a safari in a remote destination will want to assess the health risks in advance.
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