West Africa is an ideal destination for safari lovers and brave adventurers, but visiting this wild land with kids onboard is quite different than exploring it on your own. Before heading out for the trip, you need to research health precautions and necessary immunizations, educate both yourself and your kids about the destination, decide which sites to include in the tour, and which activities your family can engage in without risk. Here are a few basic considerations and suggestions which you should bear in mind when planning your trip to Africa’s western regions.
When traveling to West Africa with children, you should warn your kids to avoid touching bugs and feeding animals. This is probably the toughest lesson to get through to them, but it is extremely important because you never know what infection they may contract on the go. Also, washing hands regularly is a must for both kids and adults, as is sticking to bottled instead of tap water. When packing for the trip, assemble a first-aid kit with antibiotics, band aids, bandages, sterile strips, gauze, tweezers, scissors, thermometer, insect repellent, prescription drugs, antihistamines, allergy medications, broad-spectrum sunscreen with high SPF, rash ointments, and fever remedies.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advise parents visiting Africa to have themselves and their little ones immunized at least six weeks before the trip. The list of pre-trip vaccines varies based on destination country, but as a general rule, immunizations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, meningitis, polio, malaria, ebola, and yellow fever are required in most West African countries. For more information on required vaccines, consult the family physician or check CDC immunization guidelines for individual West Africa countries.
Food and drink
As for West Africa food and drink precautions, parents should be very cautious about the local menu as certain dishes contain zesty spices that may cause stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, or vomiting in kids. If possible, do not eat heavily seasoned and fried foods, and wash groceries thoroughly before cooking them. Although food off street stalls does taste great, try to avoid it as cooking conditions in this part of the world are not always compliant with Western food safety standards.
Children’s books on West Africa
To help your little ones get a better idea about the destination before arrival, bring along a few West Africa-themed books to keep their minds busy during the flight.
Here are a few cool books that are both fun and informative about the ways of West Africa.
- Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale, by Verna Aardema (age 4-8)
- The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales, by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst (age 4-8)
- The Fire Children: A West African Folk Tale, by Eric Maddern (age 4-8)
- Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali, by David Wisniewski (age 4-8)
- The Hatseller and the Monkeys, by Baba Wague Diakite (age 4-8)
- Traditional Stories from West Africa, by Robert Hull (age 7-11)
- Indigenous Peoples of Africa – West Africa, by Tony Zurlo (age 9-12)
- The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories, by Harold Courlander (age 9-12)
- Ancient West African Kingdoms: Ghana, Mali and Songhai, by Mary Quigley (age 10-14)
- Tales from West Africa, by Martin Bennett (mixed ages)
Places to see
West Africa is a paradise for kids, so you will not have any major problems picking a destination that offers family-friendly leisure programs. Here are just a few suggestions as to which sites you and your kids may want to see during your exploration of West Africa.
The capital of Ghana, Accra is one of the most colorful cities in West Africa, and families visiting the area should definitely check out local beaches such as Labadi, Bojo, and Kokrobite. Little adventure lovers will appreciate a trip to Aburi Botanical Gardens, Wheel Story House, and James Town Lighthouse, and if you decide to take them shopping, try Accra Mall, Marina Mall (which has its own playground!), and Makola Market. If you cannot find decent family accommodation in Accra, you can always rent a house in Spintex: the neighborhood is close to the Accra Mall, and it features a few playgrounds so your little ones will always be safe and in your eyes’ reach.
Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia
A private woodland reserve in the heart of Kombo Central District, Makasutu Culture Forest extends across 1,000 square kilometers of riparian forest, mangroves, and savannah. Makasutu is a perfect place to join a wild safari and see various lizard and bird species, baboons, colobus moneys, mongoose, and crocs. Dedicated to ecotourism and preservation of biodiversity, the reserve features whole-family tours and numerous programs for children, so your kids will never feel bored during the holiday.
Zoo Nationale d’Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Do not miss a chance to visit the zoo during your visit to the Ivory Coast! In Zoo Nationale d’Abidjan, your family can see elephants, lions, monkeys, crocodiles, chimpanzees, leopards, civets, hyenas, turtles, ostriches, and other wild creatures native to the region.
Mauritania Sahara, Mauritania
Mauritania is a great place to embark on a daring safari of the Sahara Desert with your family. Here, your kids can ride a camel, visit local schools, try delicacies with dates and exotic jams, and explore sand dunes and desert forts during a guided tour.
Gurara Water Falls, Nigeria
An impressive waterfall perched in the midst of the North-Central Nigeria, Gurara Falls looks its finest after heavy rains. In the rainy season, the two main river streams rush down across the 30 meter-high cliffs face spanning across 200 meters, giving off a misty curtain of water drops. The waterfall is also a great spot for bird-watching, but if you want to dip in the pool below the falls, try visiting the area in January, when the water levels are low.
Are you ready for your West African adventure? Prepare well ahead of the trip, make sure your family follows basic safety standards, and take a bold plunge in the lap of Mother Nature. Your kids will never forget the trip, and neither will you: just sit back and enjoy the view!