An African safari will have the kid’s wide eyed – everything from the Big Five to the smaller animals including the leopard tortoise making this a holiday like no other. Leading adventure specialist, Acacia Africa has included a range of family friendly small group safaris in their 2016 brochure, many of the itineraries allowing teens and even tweens to get off the beaten track. Families might be enjoying a mokoro safari on the Okavango Delta, encountering one of Africa’s many tribal cultures on a village visit, exploring the bush on a 4X4 game drive or learning about conservation on a visit to a non-profit project.
An intimate way to travel, between eight and 15 travellers can be found on any one trip – those with kids in tow, joined by couples, singles and senior travellers. Often covering more than one country and going overland rather than by plane adds to the excitement, children connecting the dots between destinations.
Karin Bradbury, a recent traveller to Southern Africa comments “I think travelling as a family is of great benefit. The kids get to see that their little world at home is only one part of a much greater world, and adults can benefit from travelling with children because children tend to ask questions on things adults can completely miss. They make us look at travel from a different angle. I think it was quite an eye opener for the children to see that there are people who really do still live in huts made of sticks, mud and straw.”
The long distance journeys also come with their own surprises. Karin comments, “We spotted lions at the side of the road one morning while in Botswana. We were just driving along and not on any kind of game drive. The early sunlight falling through the grass and onto the lions was magical.”
So, if you’re thinking of bringing the kids to Southern or East Africa read on, as we asked Arno Delport, Sales & Marketing Manager at Acacia Africa to give us his pick of family safari destinations for 2016 and his top tips for family travellers.
Let them pole their own mokoro in Botswana: Proof that the 4X4 is only one of the ways to see Africa’s wildlife, in the Okavango Delta, the kids will travel by mokoro (or traditional dug out canoe). The UNESCO World Heritage site’s watery channels offer younger safari goers the chance to get closer to nature; frogs, fish and dragonflies, plus a wide variety of birdlife from bee-eaters to kingfishers inhabiting this reed filled paradise. Well suited to teens, children might also have the opportunity to navigate the mokoro through the shallow waterways with assistance from expert local guides. Best explored in the winter months, June to July is the ideal time to travel.
Max up the animal experience in the Mara: One of the world’s most renowned wildlife specatcles, the annual migration in the Masai Mara also falls over the main summer school holidays. From July through October, roughly 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 gazelles make their way across Kenya’s best loved game reserve. The destination is geared up to families with younger tweens so parents will be able to choose from a good range of mid-end accommodation. While not home to the Lion King, much of the movie based on neighbouring Tanzania, this is one of the best locations to see the Big Cats as this is where the BBC Big Cat Diary was filmed.
Kid-scape to less well travelled climes: Zimbabwe is a rising star on Africa’s travel circuit and this up and coming destination should be on every families hot list. Enjoy some of the most breathtaking game viewing in Southern Africa on a game drive in the Hwange National Park and experience a heart racing walking safari in the Matobo National Park – one of the top locations to spot rhino on the continent.
Family travel tips
On safari: You should expect early starts of 5am as the wildlife are more active in the mornings. Choose binoculars with a lesser magnitude and a wide field of view so children can follow the game as they move across the open savannah. A world away from Disney, a game of “I Spy” is a good way to keep the younger ones amused if you are still waiting to spot the Big Five.
Pack wisely: You can expect pleasant daytime temperatures of mid to late 20s-degrees Celsius during the African winter, however, the evenings and mornings can be quite cold so pack warmer clothing. Light breathable, layered cottons are best. Bright colours should be avoided.
Time your trip: Older safari goers might be excited by the thought of a whole seven days of game driving, but the same can’t always be said for the younger set. Shorter three of four day trips might be better for tweens. If you’re heading for Kenya, why not add on a few extra days in Nairobi? Known as Africa’s Wildlife Capital, the city’s Nairobi National Park is the only one on the continent where you will be able to see big cats, rhinos and skyscrapers in the same view finder. This location has plenty to keep the kids occupied. Watch orphaned baby elephants take their daily mud bath at the David Sheldrick Foundation (located with the park’s boundaries) or kiss a giraffe at the Giraffe Centre.