Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by

Our family safari in South Africa was the best adventure we’ve had with our daughter to date. We’re sharing our experience here, for those who are thinking of going on a big five safari with your little one.

family safari in south africa

Africa has a special place in my heart — it’s my favorite continent and I try to go back at least once a year. Ever since my daughter was born, I’d been wanting to bring her to Africa and share my love for Africa with her. After much research, we decided to go on a two week trip to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho last summer.

But booking an African safari with kids wasn’t quite as easy as I thought. In fact, it took me some time to research and eventually find an ideal safari lodge that would accept kids.

For safety reasons, most game reserves and national parks in South Africa have age restrictions — 6 is usually the minimum age. Also, many major national parks in Africa are in malaria zones — that usually doesn’t stop us, but this time we had to consider our daughter’s health. Malaria pills aren’t advisable for young kids under 5-6 years old so we had to narrow down our options.

We were very glad to have found Ekuthuleni Lodge for our family safari in South Africa. It was perfect for kids in every way — here’s why.

family safari in south africa - ekuthuleni lodge

A Family Safari in South Africa

Meaning “place of peace”, Ekuthuleni Lodge is located in the heart of Welgevonden game reserve, which is a malaria-free area. It’s just a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, making it a very convenient stop on our 2-week South Africa itinerary.

After spending just two days in Johannesburg decompressing and visiting some sights, we breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived at the bush and were warmly welcomed by Jonas. He met us at the park entrance at noon and introduced himself as our guide and ranger.

Before hopping onto our safari jeep for the ride to the lodge, Jonas handed us ice cold beer, snacks and a blanket — we knew then that we were in for an amazing experience.

African Safari with Kids: My Complete Guide

family safari in south africa

Our Kid’s First Safari Experience

It didn’t take long to see our first animal. Just minutes after starting through the reserve gates, we spotted a warthog. And another. Then another!

Kaleya could hardly contain her excitement — it was after all her first time seeing an animal in the wild. It was really special seeing her eyes light up and her mouth opening in awe at the sight of an elephant just a few feet from our jeep.

On the short drive to the lodge, we spotted warthogs, impalas, elephants, zebras and even rhinos. Jonas made sure to point out animals even though it wasn’t technically a game drive, and he was patient enough to explain interesting facts slowly to our little girl. That was something I really appreciated about Jonas.

During our stay at Ekuthuleni, we did several games with Jonas and got to know him better. We loved hearing exciting stories from his years of experience tracking wildlife in Welgevonden game reserve. He had been working here even before Welgevonden became a game reserve. And we could see his love and dedication to the wildlife here — his eyes sparkled each time he spotted an animal.

family safari in south africa - this was how close we got!

family safari in south africa - rhinos

family safari in south africa - warthog

Welgevonden: Perfect for Wildlife Lovers

Welgevonden game reserve far exceeded our expectations, especially in terms of wildlife sightings. I had been to South Africa three times prior to this, and I knew I didn’t want to go to a crowded and touristy national park like Kruger. Welgevonden was exactly what we were looking for.

The private game reserve is home to over 50 different mammals, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant). We also saw plenty of hippo, kudu, giraffe, zebra, warthog, cheetah, honey badger, and many bird species. The reserve also has one of the largest populations of white rhino of any of Africa’s private reserves — we did see plenty, which is a great sign of the work they’re doing against poaching!

The 37,000-hectare reserve first became a conservation area in 1993 — a number of private farms were consolidated and internal fences removed, returning this amazing area to its original natural state. The restricted number of vehicles allowed in the park and the fact that the animals have never been hunted means that the they remain largely unintimidated by humans, allowing for particularly close and personal encounters.

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family safari in south africa - lioness

A Family Safari in South Africa —  Staying at the Ekuthuleni Lodge

family safari in south africa - hippo

Game Driving with Kids

At Ekuthuleni Lodge, every guest is entitled to two daily game drives: one in the early morning at day break and another in the evening that includes sundowner drinks. These are the times when animals are most active and chances of seeing wildlife are the highest.

Typically, kids under six aren’t allowed on game drives. But they made an exception for us, since there weren’t other guests joining us on the game drives. Jonas also saw that Kaleya could follow the rules (children have to keep quiet on game drives so as not to disturb the animals).

We aren’t usually early birds so we slept in and only went for game drives at sunset. Still, we felt that we saw a lot of animals and the schedule was perfect for us. Kaleya fell asleep towards the end of each game drive (which usually last 3 hours or so) — which gave us time to relax, enjoy sundowners and let our hair down.

family safari in south africa - safari with kids

family safari in south africa - zebras

Disconnect to Reconnect in the Bush

What I love most about staying at Ekuthuleni Lodge was how it allowed us to unplug, relax and spend quality time together. When we were not going on game drives, we spent the days watching animals from the outdoor deck, reading wildlife books on our patio, and relaxing by the pool together as a family. Without WiFi and other distractions, we managed to disconnect and reconnect with one another.

Each morning, we feasted on a big spread of breakfast right on the outdoor deck, which overlooks a sweeping, grassy plain. From our breakfast spot, we would see groups of zebras or elephants drinking from the waterhole before us.

family safari in south africa - breakfast

family safari in south africa - ekuthuleni lodge

Hotel Features

After that, we would lounge on the deckchairs just outside our family suite and read magazines or books. I had brought a safari-themed sticker and activity book for Kaleya — it was a great opportunity to teach her about animals and actually get to see them in real life.

We would also go for very short walks around the property. As the property is not fenced up and there are big animals in the reserve, it’s not allowed to walk beyond the perimeters of the property. But there were still short paths connecting the huts and trails around the property that made for easy and nice strolls. Along the way, we would see woodpeckers, spiders and interesting insects that fascinated Kaleya.

By the afternoon, we usually laid out by the pool or hang out at the lounge area where there’s a TV and lots of magazines. And after our long sunset game drive, we returned to the warmth of the lodge and sit by the indoor fireplace where dinner was served.

family safari in south africa - bar/lounge area

family safari in south africa - swimming pool

family safari in south africa - dinner

Stylish and Modern Design

Design wise, Ekuthuleni Lodge features elegant teak wood furnishing, authentic grass thatch roofs, and artwork of the African wildlife everywhere. There is a distinctive vintage safari flair in the main building that houses the dining room, that has been decorated with plush linen sofas, dark wood tables and refined porcelain.

Recent renovation work has given the lodge a completely new interior. Modern, minimalistic interior uses clean lines to give guests the experience of staying at a five-star hotel while in the African bush. The lodge has managed to retain its character and maintain the perfect balance between modern and rustic.

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family safari in south africa - main dining room

family safari in south africa - inside dining hall

Why It’s Perfect for A Family Safari in South Africa

Ekuthuleni Lodge has five suites which are housed in individual huts. Each of the five suites have magnificent views of the grasslands, giving a whole new meaning to nature at your door step.

We stayed at the family suite, a big and spacious hut with an additional loft area (on the upper level) that accommodates two single beds. Our daughter slept upstairs in her own bed, and that gave Alberto and I some space and time to ourselves as well. I absolutely love the design of the family hut — with a high ceiling and ceiling-to-floor balcony doors that open up to the vast plains. From our bed, we could see views of the sun rising above the grassy plains beneath. It was spectacular.

With only five suites (capacity of 10 people), the small scale of the lodge gave us the privacy we craved. Besides us, there was only a young family with a baby staying at the lodge. We socialized with them between meals and enjoyed their company, but the lodge was also big enough for us to have our own space.

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family safari in south africa - a suite

family safari in south africa - family suite at ekuthuleni

family safari in south africa - loft area for kids

Overall Review of Ekuthuleni Lodge

I cannot sing enough praises about this lodge — it has an excellent location in a malaria-free zone and wonderful kid-friendly facilities for bush-loving families. The staff are amazing and every single detail is well taken care of. Plus the Big Five are literally in its backyard. It’s the perfect base for those looking to do an African safari with kids.

Ekuthuleni Lodge is definitely a destination on its own and we cannot wait to return!

Details of Ekuthuleni Lodge

Prices for a family suite start from 5900 ZAR (or US$430) per night. This includes transfers from the park gates, all meals and two daily game drives (and sundowner drinks during the evening game drive). Only beverages are not included.

Service at Ekuthuleni Lodge is impeccable and they are particularly kind and patient with kids. They also serve excellent gourmet meals. Breakfast is a big affair, with a wide spread of healthy fruit and muesli platter along with European cheese and ham, as well as warm options like bacon, sausages and eggs. Lunch is casual and served on the outdoor deck, but still top notch quality and delicious. Dinner is always a three-course fine dining experience, served by the fireplace in the main dining room.

Check their website for more details.

Disclaimer: Our stay was hosted by Ekuthuleni Lodge, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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family safari in south africa