There are family vacations that are all-out fun and relaxing. There are some that are fun, but also educational and mind-expanding. And then…there are the trips that are fun, include a bit of relaxing and can change your child’s life. Going on safari is one of them.
That said, when it comes to safaris, there is no “one-size-fits-all.” So where do you start? Where should you go?
The interview below is with Yvette De Vries, an Africa travel specialist. Yvette was born and raised in the Stellenbosch winelands of South Africa and has traveled extensively throughout Africa.
FarewellTravels: For starts, is there a perfect age for kids to go on safari?
Yvette De Vries: I’m afraid there’s not one blanket answer to this. Some kids can get a lot out of a safari at age 6; others might be too restless at age 14. In general though, the camps will have families go in private safari vehicles. Parents are really the best judges of whether their kids are ready for such trips.
FarewellTravels: What would you say is a good “starter” country for a family safari?
Yvette De Vries: Two countries come to mind right away—South Africa and Tanzania. In South Africa, it’s easier to build in other bells and whistles that appeal to children such as exploring the attractions of Cape Town and seeing the penguin colonies nearby. Tanzania is also a good choice by virtue of its geography and infrastructure. It is relatively affordable to enlist a private driver-guide to take your family from camp to camp, and on game drives. These guides also become a big part of the experience, forming a bond with your family. My clients often come back waxing poetic about their guides. One bright young boy raved about learning Swahili phrases with his guide, Nixon, while another family shared the universal language of a game of soccer with their host.
FarewellTravels: In an effort to break up the game drives, what other activities would you recommend for families?
Yvette De Vries: There are lots of other stimulating experiences in South Africa. For example, you could add a beach excursion to The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands. There your children can blow off steam, but at the same time learn a great deal about the environment and marine wildlife (there are dunes, coastal reefs, canyons, mangroves, turtles, whales and dolphins among others). In Tanzania, you can visit a local village or marketplace, even a local school, providing an excellent cultural experience for your children as well as the local children.
FarewellTravels: Do kids get bored after awhile? Any suggestions for avoiding this?
Yvette De Vries: I never heard a family say their child was bored on a trip to Africa. I do recommend staying at lodges that are more accommodating to children. Some have special children’s activities such as Poop Walks, where the kids collect and identify all different varieties of dung. It’s silly, but kids get a real kick out it. Since game viewing from a Land Rover is a rather sedentary affair, kids may get cranky and need to burn up their physical energy, so it’s smart to stay in places that have swimming pools. I also think it’s important to make sure your children get enough rest. The morning game drives are early—as early as 5 am. While you may be tempted to let your kids stay up late sitting around the fire under the night sky, you don’t want them cranky and exhausted by 7 am.
FarewellTravels: How can you best prepare your child(ren) for a safari?
Yvette De Vries: Books (literature, not just guidebooks) and movies are the easiest way. Of course, there are so many and not all are age-appropriate. Best to ask your travel professional for his/her recommendations based on your child’s age.
FarewellTravels: Anything else you think could enhance a family’s safari?
Yvette De Vries: Encourage your kids to keep an open mind. You will meet people from all over the world in Africa. It is one of the great pleasures of going on safari. By sharing meals and chatting with other guests between game drives, you'll also find you've learned more about the rest of our world.
Another thing I feel is of utmost importance is working with your travel professional to ensure you get the right guides along your route. Not only are guides responsible for your safety and comfort, but they give greater meaning to your game viewing, the safari experience, and ultimately your memories of Africa!
Photo credits: Courtesy of African Portfolio