16 Jul When are kids old enough for an African safari?
It was approximately two minutes after we’d driven through the final gate with signs warning, “Keep all windows closed. Do not stop vehicle beyond this point. Do not turn around,” when the oldest of our two daughters announced, “I need to go potty.” With at least an hour’s drive ahead of us through wild beasts from four continents, this awkward situation taught us two important lessons as parents. First, traveling with children once they’re out of diapers is not necessarily easier. And second, it would be a while before we were ready to fly to the opposite side of the earth and undertake a true safari with our children.
But when exactly are kids old enough to go on an African safari? Many tour operators recommend waiting until kids are least 8 or 9 years old in order to fully appreciate the experience and have the stamina—and sit-still-in-silence waiting skills—sometimes required to do so. But as I dug a little deeper, I discovered that’s not the complete answer. What matters more than a child’s age is the safari itself.
If you’re considering a first-time African safari for your family, be it with toddlers, tweens, teenagers, or any combination of those, it’s essential that you work with a tour operator that knows and understands families. With a well-chosen and thoughtfully planned safari, families with kids of any age can enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
Here are four key factors to consider as you search for the “best-fit safari” your family:
1. Age Restrictions and Accommodations
Many African safari lodges or camps require guests to be at least 8 years if not 12 years old. Tour operators that contract only with these lodges simply won’t be able to accommodate families with younger children. But if your dream family safari includes at least one child less than 8 years, know that Backroads, Bushtracks Expeditions, GeoEx, Micato Safaris, and Natural Habitat Adventures all offer family-friendly safaris that can accommodate younger children. In fact, Bushtracks works with several accommodations that have no minimum age restrictions at all, and you can use their “Youngest Traveler Age” search filter to help learn more about lodging options for your family.
2. Group Size
Many safari operators take groups of 20 to 24 people, but smaller is better when safariing with young children. With smaller groups—especially those geared specifically toward families, it’s much easier to pace the trip to the energy levels and attention spans of children, and to work in enrichment activities they’ll enjoy as much as the adults do. Micato Safaris’ Family to Family Safari in Kenya and Natural Habitat Adventures’ Family Botswana Safari are each limited to no more than eight travelers, so if you’re planning a family safari with the grandparents or extended family, you may even find yourselves on your own private tour. Families who prefer to arrange their own private/custom tour can also do so with most of the operators included here.
It’s also much easier for small people to see out of the windows when there are fewer people in the vehicle, and considering how much time you may spend driving on your safari, that can make a tremendous difference in your entire family’s experience. For its Private Custom Tanzania Family Safaris, Natural Habitat Adventures uses custom-designed vehicles seating only 4 to 5 passengers, and each passenger has his own window seat.
3. Adventurous Activities
Even when the safari lodge welcomes wee travelers, some safari activities may have their own age requirements. For African safaris that include horseback riding, biking, walking excursions, and canoeing activities, many times kids must be at least 12 years old (if not older) to participate. For Backroads’ South Africa and Botswana Family Multisport Tour, children must be at least 8 years old for the tour because of the accommodations, but they must be 12 years to participate in the mountain biking activities on the trip. In that case, younger kids and those who don’t wish to bike it can simply ride in a vehicle instead. But on some trips, such as the O.A.R.S. Zambezi River and Botswana Safari, portaging rafts and daring class IV rapids are a necessary part of the package, so all travelers must be at least 16 years of age.
4. Family-Friendly Pricing
Safari tour operators approach pricing in different ways, and even within the same company rate structures may vary based on the destination, the season of travel, or the ages of children sharing accommodations with two adults. Some of GeoEx’s family safaris, which are exclusively private tours, provide child discounts during the “green season.” Natural Habitat Adventures offers a discount for children 12 years and younger going on its Botswana Family Safari; and for its Private Tanzania Family Safari, it offers a discount for kids 15 years and younger, with an even deeper discount for children under 12. For its South Africa and Botswana Family Multisport Tour, Backroads offers tiered discount rates for children 17 years and younger with the deepest discount for the youngest travelers at 75% off for travelers not yet 3 years old.
To explore more family-friendly African safari options, use The Adventure Collection’s search filter options for Africa and select the Travel Styles option for Family.