family safari africa

Top 10 Tips for Safari With Kids

family safari africa

On family safari in Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa while filming Travel With Kids

Safaris can be an amazing adventure for families. To date, all the safaris I have taken in my lifetime have lived up to every expectation I had as far as wildlife goes…fighting rhinos, elephants chasing off hippos, lions treeing a leopard, massive antelope migration…the list goes on. When our sons Nathan and Seamus were 9 and 11, we filmed Travel With Kids South Africa and Travel With Kids Botswana and learned a few lessons about safari drives with kids.

1. It can get cold! When you travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer – as many families do – keep in mind that is winter in Southern Africa. Pack plenty of layers. Most safari drives leave very early in the morning and stay out well past sunset to catch the animals in their most active state and the air can be quite crisp at that hour. Hats, scarfs and gloves and a nice warm jacket will help keep the little ones warm. Most lodges will also supply blankets, and sometimes hot water bottles, for the drive as well.

2. Separate youngsters. The last thing you want is to be stressing about whether your child is ruining someone else’s safari. Many lodges offers family game drives for parties with younger kids (under 6 or so depending on the child) or you may want to think about a private jeep. When you are out on your own, or with other families with kids, you can let your kids “ooh” and “ahh” at will and ask as many questions as they want without worrying about disturbing the other passengers. As I mentioned Nathan and Seamus were 11 and 9 and were just fine on the regular game drive – we even did a few short walking drives.

Lions Sands kid safari

Seamus spies a lion in Lion Sands, South Africa

3. Listen to your guide. Remember, your guide is the expert. If he tells you it’s not safe to stand, don’t push it. Many times predators such as lions will not take notice of a safari vehicle (because they are used to having them around) unless someone changes the shape of the wehicle’s outline by standing up or leaning out. Be sure to talk to your kids about this ahead of time. Also, if your guide recommends only seeing certain animals with young kids (usually toddlers/babies); stick to his recommendations. If you really want to see something else, ask your lodge about babysitting services while you join the regular drive.

african safari photo

11 year-old Nathan taking a picture of a nearby elephant

4. Let the kids bring their own camera. Kids enjoy getting that perfect animal pic just as much as adults. It keeps them engaged with the animals and watching their every move. Plus, they will have amazing memoirs of the trip. We let Nathan and Seamus each bring their own camera (small, cheap digital cameras) so they could know who took which pic and didn’t fight over the camera, but another way to handle it would be give each kid their own SD card or take a picture of their name or face before they start their turn with the camera.

5. Make the kids bring a journal. Beyond just taking a photo, have the kids bring a journal out on the drive with them so they can log all the animals they see and any interesting facts they learn about them. It’s amazing what you can’t recall once you get back to the lodge, so be sure to write it down! I also have the kids bring a sketch pad and draw or color the animals they see.

6. Bring a reference book. There are some great kid-friendly safari animal guides out there. Not only will it help the kids learn about the animals they are seeing it will also focus their requests on which animals they would like to see. Many of the safari animal guidebooks also include a log to jot down which animals you see (see #5)

This is a fun one:

This has good reference information about animals:

7. Bring binoculars for each child. Even if they are a cheap pair – the kids will love looking through them on the game drive. And they won’t fight over the one good pair (and I do recommend you bring one good pair for Mom and Dad – and occassionally to share with the kids) or hog the guide’s binoculars.

Botswana family safari

Kids with guide Paul on Ker & Downey Young Explorer’s Program

8. Encourage the kids to ask questions. The safari guide’s are a wealth of knowledge and they have fabulous stories to share. And they tend to be more forthcoming when they are teaching kids about their world. Nathan and Seamus asked tons of questions and got to know the guides really well. Other passengers seemed to enjoy the kids’ questions and often said, “I never thought to ask that”.

family safari african animal tracks

Comparing kids’ hands to lion tracks

9. Learn the tracks. If you can, ask the guide to teach your kids about animal tracks/scat on the first day. That way when you are on a long drive, the kids can feel they are part of the process by pointing out tracks or other signs of animals.

10. Be prepared for long periods of seeing nothing. Although there is a lot to see out on a game drive, these are wild animals you are seeing and thus unpredictable. There will be times that you drive for what seems like hours before seeing something. This is when a reference book comes in handy.

Our safari with kids this past summer was in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa, Lion Sands, South Africa, Chobe National Park, Botswana, Shinde Camp, Botswana, Khwai Tented Camp, Botswana. The trip was arrange by DSA Vacations, run by a South African man who lives in the United States with his own children and has much experience taking them on safari.

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