Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Not sure if you should go on an African safari with kids? Think again. It just takes some planning, for both you and your kids to have the adventure of a lifetime.
I’ve been to Africa around 30 times: from Tanzania to Uganda, Madagascar to Benin. It’s my favorite continent, and I try to visit at least once a year. Ever since my daughter was born, I’d dreamt of bringing her on safari and share my love for Africa with her. She is now 7 years old, and have been on safari in Kenya, Swaziland and South Africa.
There is just something so special about safari, the awe of seeing wild animals so close, the warmth of the tribes met along the way, and the beauty of the African savanna — to share that all with my daughter was a privilege. For Kaleya, Africa was pure magic. She was mesmerised by the savanna and all the animals she saw.
For those who are thinking of going on an African safari with kids, I’m sharing details of where, when and how we planned our trip to hopefully help you plan your family adventure!
Table of Contents
- African Safari with Kids
- Where to Go on An African Safari with Kids
- Best Places For an African Safari with Kids
- When to Go on an African Safari with Kids
- How Old Should Kids Be to Go on an African Safari?
- Where to Stay on African Safari with Kids
- Best Family Safari Lodges in Africa
- Nairobi National Park, Kenya: The Emakoko
- Maasai Mara, Kenya: Sarova Mara Game Camp
- Diani Beach, Kenya: Baobab Beach Resort & Spa
- Welgevonden, South Africa: Ekuthuleni Lodge
- St Lucia, South Africa: Monzi Safaris Tented Lodge
- Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland: Mlilwane’s Rest Camp
- Tshelanyane National Park, Lesotho: Maliba Lodge
- How Safe Is It to Go an African Safari with Kids?
- Health and Hygiene Issues in Africa
- Food/Water in Africa
- What Activities to Do Beyond Safari
- Cost of an African Safari with Kids
- Packing for an African Safari with Kids
- Final Tips for Bringing Kids on Safari
- Inspired? Pin it!
African Safari with Kids
Where to Go on An African Safari with Kids
- Firstly, South Africa is one of the best wildlife destinations in the world, and chances of seeing the Big Five are very high. Some parts of southern Africa are free from malaria and safe to travel without taking any malaria medication. Malaria pills aren’t advisable for young kids under 5-6 years old. Even if they are, malaria medication can have a lot of side effects (which we experienced ourselves previously).
- Secondly, we’ve also driven in South Africa before and we know that this region is easy to get around on our own rented vehicle. We booked our rental car online from Discover Cars. For the entire two-week trip in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, it only cost us just US$250 including a toddler car seat and all the permits we had to pay to drive the car across borders.
- Southern Africa has better infrastructure than other parts of Africa, that means lots of supermarkets, restaurants and safari lodges that are good for kids. We ate really well in all three countries, with excellent three-course meals at the lodges and simple casual meals at service stations or restaurants.
Best Places For an African Safari with Kids
East Africa: Kenya and Tanzania
For Kaleya’s second safari, we chose to travel to Kenya. It’s one of the best places in the world to see the Big Five and it’s well known for the rich culture and tribal traditions.
Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are hands down the me of the best safari parks in Africa. In both national parks, it can be interesting to visit a Maasai village and learn how they live. Traveling Kenya with kids can be a lot of fun, thanks to the myriad of kid-friendly attractions in Nairobi.
However, most parts of East Africa are high-medium risk malaria areas and yellow fever vaccination is a requirement to enter the countries. Check for info on malaria and yellow fever risk on the CDC website. If you don’t feel confident traveling on your own, I recommend booking with responsible tour operators like Naturetrek that has years of experience in the region.
Southern Africa: Namibia & Botswana
Other parts of southern Africa, such as Namibia and Botswana, are also great for African safari with kids. Both have excellent infrastructure as well, and national parks with good wildlife watching opportunities.
Namibia in particular has diverse and outstanding landscapes, which make the trip more all the more interesting. Some fun activities include sandboarding on the Sossusvlei dunes, exploring the large clay pan of Dead Vlei, and meeting the Himba tribe.
Botswana has the stunning Okavango Delta, where you can the unique experience of watching hippos and crocodiles on a mokoro (wooden canoe). However, the central and north-west regions of Botswana (including the Okavango) are low risk malaria areas.
On my first trip to southern Africa, I joined this epic 21-day Southern Africa overland journey with G Adventures and had the time of my life with an incredibly fun group! I’ve traveled many times with G Adventures (to Brazil, Mongolia, Antarctica and many more) and always had a great time. If you’re looking for a private tour, Far & Wild Travel has tailor-made safaris that are custom designed for those traveling with kids.
West Africa: Senegal
West Africa isn’t typically good for game drives, with the exception of Senegal. Bandia Wildlife Reserve, close to Dakar, is the best reserve in the country and it’s home to some big game. Senegal travel is easy and interesting as there are lots of colonial towns and cultural spots to visit in the country.
When to Go on an African Safari with Kids
The best time to visit southern Africa is June to September, the winter dry season. During this period, there is less vegetation and animals are more concentrated around rivers and waterholes, making it easier to spot them. There are also fewer mosquitos. However, it can get cold in the evenings during this time of the year. That means you’ll need to bring a winter/down jacket for game drives at sunrise and sunset.
In general, winter is very mild in South Africa, Swaziland and even mountainous Lesotho. Temperatures in the lowlands range from 12 to 25 degrees Celsius, and in the mountains from 3 to 10 degrees Celsius. We mostly wore t-shirt and shorts or cargo pants during the day, and added on a light jacket at night. The only time we wore our thick winter jacket was on the evening game drives, when the wind was lashing at us on the open safari jeeps.
It is the same for East Africa: the best wildlife viewing months are from June to October. The wildebeest migration usually reaches the Masai Mara in July and remains until October when they move back to the Serengeti in Tanzania.
How Old Should Kids Be to Go on an African Safari?
This is the biggest concern for most parents as there’s not much point in traveling Africa if your kids aren’t allowed to go on safari.
In southern Africa, many safari tour operators and lodges won’t take kids under 6 years on game drives. This is not the case in East Africa. Most tour operators have no age limit in Kenya and Tanzania, so kids of any age are allowed on game drives.
At 3 years old, Kaleya was able to spot animals and enjoy the thrill of it. She was always super excited at the start of each drive, but would eventually lose interest and fall asleep. We traveled Kenya when she was 4.5 years old, and she was then able to point out animals and stay interested throughout the game drives!
Where to Stay on African Safari with Kids
In Africa, a lodge isn’t just a place to sleep — it’s where you’ll be doing your game drives, other activities, relaxing and spending all your time at. It’s important to find one that has plenty of activities to keep you entertained.
In South Africa, many safari lodges have a minimum age requirement—typically 6 or 8. You’ll be surprised by how many lodges that don’t take young children.
Don’t look for a lodge that just accepts kids but one that actually welcomes them and offers activities to keep them engaged and entertained. There are some things to consider when choosing a lodge:
- Is it a fenced property? Kids aren’t allowed to wander on their own in an unfenced lodge.
- Is it safe for kids? Certain lodges have open decks that plunge a few meters beneath.
- Do they have kid-friendly facilities like a pool or game lounge?
Best Family Safari Lodges in Africa
Here are the lodges that we stayed at and highly recommend to family travelers:
Nairobi National Park, Kenya: The Emakoko
The Emakoko is a beautiful lodge located just a 15-minute drive from the park’s east gate. It is surrounded by vast savanna and secretly ensconced in a steep valley. We felt like we were deep in the wilderness, even though we were just short drive away from Nairobi. Our spacious family cottage was huge and perfect for the three of us. Read our full review of The Emakoko.
Maasai Mara, Kenya: Sarova Mara Game Camp
We found a great deal online for Sarova Mara Game Camp and paid around $400 in total for our 2-night stay. It was definitely a good deal as the big-scale family lodge had tastefully designed luxury tents that were big and spacious. It’s definitely a great place to stay for a Kenya family safari as there were many other families besides us. The lodge also had a swimming pool and good restaurant with international food.
Diani Beach, Kenya: Baobab Beach Resort & Spa
One of the best hotels in Diani Beach, this all-inclusive resort is right on the beach and features a 3-tiered pool. Thatch-roofed villas are designed around landscaped gardens. It also has a few restaurants and evening entertainment.
Welgevonden, South Africa: Ekuthuleni Lodge
This intimate luxury safari lodge is located in the malaria-free Welgevonden Private Game Reserve, just a 3-hour drive from Johannesburg. The small-scale lodge has fantastically designed family-friendly bungalows that sleep up to four. It’s the perfect spot for those going on an African safari with kids. We loved having breakfast on the deck, watching animals drink from the waterhole before us, relaxing next to the swimming pool over looking grassy plains, and going on a game drive at sunset. Read my detailed review.
St Lucia, South Africa: Monzi Safaris Tented Lodge
Accommodation is in luxury tents that are fully-equipped with a big double bed, sofa, and well-designed bathroom. You’ll find an excellent kitchen, braai area and two swimming pools and lots of lounging space. There’s a cool and young vibe at the lodge that I like. Unlike the other lodges we stayed at, this tented lodge is located in the town of St Lucia, walking distance from restaurants and tour operators. The lodge can arrange hippo boat trips on the St Lucia Estuary and game drives in Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park.
Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland: Mlilwane’s Rest Camp
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is excellent for families with young children, as there are lots of outdoor activities organized for kids in mind. We stayed at the Lontweni self-catering rondavel that’s great for a family of 3, with a fully-equipped kitchen and outdoor braai area. We loved seeing antelopes and warthogs roaming right outside our door. There are no predators so kids can wander.
Tshelanyane National Park, Lesotho: Maliba Lodge
As the first and only five-star hotel in Lesotho, Maliba Lodge is an outstanding mountain retreat for those who truly want to escape. It is located in high altitudes of the pristine Tsehlanyane National Park. There are lots of hiking trails crisscrossing the area; the hotel also organizes community tours and pony treks. We thoroughly enjoyed the community tour and had fun riding the Basotho pony up to the blackpool. The lodge also has a kids’ club for young children. Read my detailed review of Maliba Lodge Lesotho.
How Safe Is It to Go an African Safari with Kids?
In terms of safety, there really isn’t much to worry if you’re spending your time on safari in the African bush. The crime-ridden areas are in big cities like Johannesburg, Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. Try to avoid the big cities and stay in the outskirts or airport area.
Beyond the big city, it is generally very safe in the national parks and nature reserves. You might be worried about your kids’ safety on safari after seeing videos of cheetahs jumping onto safari jeeps, but such things rarely happen. Animals usually prefer to keep their distance from human beings. As long as we don’t disturb the wildlife, they won’t disturb us.
Driving in southern Africa is also relatively easy and straightforward. The roads are good, though certain stretches may have lots of potholes. We booked our rental car online from Discover Car Hire. For the entire two-week trip in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, it only cost us just US$250 including a toddler car seat and all the permits we had to pay to drive the car across borders.
Health and Hygiene Issues in Africa
The bigger issue is health and hygiene due to the malaria and yellow fever risks in Africa. Certain areas in southern Africa such as Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta are malaria zones. There are a few suggested vaccinations and medications for southern Africa, but none are mandatory.
Kenya and Tanzania require the yellow fever vaccination. Suggested vaccinations include meningitis, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and cholera. Most of East Africa are high-risk malaria areas, so be sure to get malaria medication at home before your trip. You’ll need to start taking it a few days before your trip and continue for a few weeks after the trip.
Don’t leave this until the last minute. Check the CDC website to see what vaccinations you need before you book the trip. Make sure your kids are up to date on all their vaccines. Some shots come in a series, so you will need a few months before departure to get them done. You’ll need a proof of vaccination before entering Kenya and Tanzania.
Food/Water in Africa
We bought a big 5L drum of water at our first day, and it lasted the whole trip. The mineral water was also used for Kaleya to brush teeth with. Food wise, we ate very well in the safari lodges we stayed at. Most safari lodges include all meals and game drives with the stay. While on the road, it was definitely easy to find affordable, hygienic food in Kenya and South Africa. We also found supermarkets in Nairobi and Johannesburg to stock up for the safari.
We didn’t have any health problems at all. Just practice common sense and you will be fine. Remember to pack anti-diarrhea medicine and rehydration pills in case of food poisoning (see my Family Safari Packing List).
What Activities to Do Beyond Safari
If you’re traveling with young kids, I advise against planning back-to-back game drives for more than three days in a row. Kids might be mesmerised at their first sight of lions sleeping, but it gets old pretty fast if they’re seeing animals everyday for two weeks.
In between wildlife safari, we added lots of activities including hikes in Mlilwane, a visit to a cultural village in Swaziland, a boat trip on St Lucia Estuary, South Africa, and a pony trek in the mountains of Lesotho. Our favorite activities usually involved meeting local communities.
Visiting Masai Villages
Maasai Mara is the land of the Maasai people, an ancient nomadic people known to be warriors. Maasai men were once expected to kill a lion to prove their strength and manhood. Recognizable for their red robes and beaded jewelry, the Maasai now sustain themselves with tourism and livestock. We arranged to visit a Maasai village through our driver and gave a donation of $50. The visit was definitely a humbling experience for our kid.
Beach Hopping on the Indian Ocean
Combining safari with the beach for example is a great way to break things up and make it more fun for the kids. We specifically drove to Durban on our way from Swaziland to Lesotho for some downtime on the beach. Durban is an excellent city to hang out with kids, as the coast is home to wide, windswept beaches and some of Africa’s best themed parks. Our stay at The Oyster Box (pictured) was exceptional as the hotel had family suites (with bunk beds for kids) and welcome packs for kids.
If you plan to go to Kenya or Tanzania, you can easily combine safari with beach trips to the island of Zanzibar, home to spectacular pristine beaches, or Mombasa along the Kenyan coast.
Cost of an African Safari with Kids
Many people have the misconception that an African safari with kids is very expensive. As with any trip, the cost can be just as low or as high as you want it to be.
What we did to save money was doing self game drives. Flights, rental car, and hotels were all we needed. Park entrance fees are usually very reasonable, and often free for kids. We paid around US$1500 for our return flights to Johannesburg, US$300 for our car rental including the permits and extra charges, and around $300 on petrol.
You can also join group safari tours in Kenya or Tanzania for anything ranging from US$500 to $2,000 per person depending on the luxury level. We did a 4-day camping safari trip in Kenya a few years ago for just US$500 per person. It was cheap, but it meant we had to join a group, sleep in tents every night and eat simple food that our cook prepared. That was fine with us when we were young backpackers, but not something we would do with our kid now that we’re older.
Packing for an African Safari with Kids
Avoid packing bright colored clothes for your kids — go for khaki and olive t-shirts and beige cargo pants. If you’re planning to visit in winter (like we did), bring a thick winter jacket and thin layers. Remember to take a jacket on safari, mosquito spray, sunscreen, a hat, and sun glasses.
The most important thing to pack for safari is a pair of binoculars as it’ll keep your kids interested and engaged during the rides. There are plenty of affordable binoculars you can buy online, including kids’ binoculars. Read my detailed safari packing list.
Game drives can run up to three hours long, and can sometimes involve a lot of driving and no signs of animals. We got Kaleya to take photos with our iPhone. You can also buy a kids digital camera and books on African wildlife so that they can look up in the book what kind of animals they saw, etc. Lonely Planet Kids have the best travel books for little explorers.
Final Tips for Bringing Kids on Safari
Game drives are typically at sunrise (around 6-9am depending on the time of the year) or sunset (around 4-7pm), which means young kids will probably be sleepy. We skipped the morning drives and only took sunset game drives, as we didn’t want to break Kaleya’s sleeping routine and we are not morning people anyway.
Lastly, remember (and remind your kids) that an African safari is very different from the zoo. Animal sightings are not guaranteed. You might witness a lion chase and hunt an impala or a big group of wildebeest crossing the river. Or you might not.
Hang in there and be patient — you and your kids might just be rewarded with some of the most amazing wildlife experiences of your life.
I hope you’ve found this article useful! An African safari with kids can be such an adventurous and rewarding way to explore the world with your little one. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below.
Inspired? Pin it!