If you’re reading this post you must wondering if it’s okay to take your children with you an African Safari before you start planning. Well, don’t believe what they tell you out there. Take your kids along and experience this magnificent continent.
So here is some practical information you may want to know when planning an African safari with young children. If you don’t find an answer to your question below, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page, and I will try my best to help you out.
Our trips cover East Africa—Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania and they’re great countries for families traveling to Africa. There are several reasons for this:
First, form Kneya all the way to uganda, there’s good wildlife viewing that is easily accessible. You can visit Masai Mara National Park or Queen Elizabeth National Park with your rental car. This is not the case in most other African countries, where you need to have a guide/driver to visit national parks. Self-drive safari is always cheaper and it allows you to take kids of any age on safari.
Second, they have very small malaria risk in certain periods. So you can take your kids on safari without having to take malaria pills. See question 4 for more information.
Third, the East African countries are relatively safe for an individual family trip. I say ‘relatively’, because, well, bad things can happen anywhere. As everywhere else in the world, you have to use common sense. We never felt unsafe anywhere in Uganda. As for Kenya, most places are completely safe, just be cautious around townships next to the big cities, like Nairobi.
While most organised safari trips and game drives have various age restrictions, there is no age limit for self-drive safari in East Africa.
In Kenya, you could join several safari rides with a guide, but there are also other places that can’t take kids under 6 years like the tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Kibale Forest National Park. Some others can allow young kids on safari rides, but they may warn you from the start that they should not stop anywhere near the ‘cats’ (lions, leopards, cheetahs) with such young kids in an open vehicle.
If you are thinking of taking a longer safari trip with nothing but animal viewing for a few days in a row, you better check with the organising company like Hitch A Hike Adventure what their policy is in regards to kids age. Usually kids have to be at least 6 years old.
This will depend on the destination of your choice. In Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and many other African countries, the purpose of the whole trip is often nothing else but animal viewing. So you are in a safari vehicle for days and days in a row. Honestly, I think that these kind of trips are too long and too boring for young kids. Even most adults will probably have seen enough wildlife after 7 days, let alone children.
That’s why, again, East Africa is an excellent choice to take your kids on safari. The countries have so much more to offer than just animal viewing, so you can combine safari drives with many other sightseeing possibilities. I think that 3-4 days of safari in a row is more than enough for any child. If you can add some variation to your trip and go watching animals every couple of days rather than a week in one go, you will have a much more relaxing and fun African trip.
I wouldn’t advise long safari trips with kids younger than 6. Here is a breakdown per age of what I think is best when considering safari with young children.
2-3 year old kids: Half-day game drives, self-drive safari and wildlife viewing at waterholes. You can do this for several days, but don’t take a 2 year old on a 3-day safari experience with nothing else on the programme than wildlife viewing.
4-5 year old kids: Half day to full day safari drives, either with your own vehicle or on guided safari tours. I would advice against a long safari trip with nothing else than wildlife viewing at this age.
6-8 year old children: I guess it depends on your child, but most kids at this age should be able to sit still in a car for a day, and so a longer safari trip is possible.
You have to be aware though that safari involves lots of driving and searching for animals, that is not always as exciting as the actual viewing of the animals.
As everything, if done with caution, a family safari is perfectly safe with children.
For self-drive safaris, remember to stay in your vehicle at all times. It’s not because you don’t see animals, that they are not there. Don’t make too much noise in the car when animals are nearby, and certainly don’t stick your arms outside the window, not even to take a picture.
For guided game drives with kids, you have to remember that you are in an open vehicle. Kids shouldn’t make noise, and the same rule applies here too – you shouldn’t stick your head or arms outside the vehicle. Follow the instructions of your safari guide.
I would like to assume that malaria pills aren’t advisable for young kids under 5-6 years old. There are perfectly good malaria-free areas to take your kids on safari and we can help you look deeper into that.
Malaria transmission occurs in most game parks. Most infections are caused by Plasmodium falciparum, and all P. falciparum in sub-Saharan Africa should be considered chloroquine-resistant according to the CDC.
Safari activities often include sleeping in tents and observing animals at dusk or after dark, sometimes near water holes, all increasing the risk of being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Preventive medication and personal protection—wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellents, and sleeping under permethrin-impregnated mosquito netting—are essential.
Observing recommendations to prevent malaria helps minimize the risk of a host of other diseases spread by insects (see CDC’s Chapter 2, Yellow Fever Vaccine & Malaria Prophylaxis Information, by Country, and Chapter 4, Malaria).
In one of our older posts you can find more information about going on safari for the first time, including a complete African safari packing list. You don’t really need to pack anything special for children on safari. Except one pair of binoculars for each child. It keeps them interested and engaged during the rides. Safari involves lots of driving and lots of patience. Binoculars is better than any toy. Just don’t waste your money on toy binoculars, there are plenty of affordable decent quality binoculars that kids can use.
If your kids can read already, it might be interesting to take a book or an African wildlife guide, so that they can look up in the book what kind of animals they saw, etc. But don’t count on doing much reading on the bumpy roads in Africa’s National Parks.
Always take a sweater on safari, mosquito spray, sunscreen lotion, a sun hat, and sun glasses. Leave all the toys at home, unless you are doing a self-drive safari, in that case pack whatever you would normally pack to keep the kids busy and happy in the car. Audio books do wonders!
It’s popular to think that you need to buy a whole new garderobe in khaki colours when going on an African safari. But it’s really not necessary.
It might not be such a good idea to go on a walking safari wearing a red t-shirt, but for self-drive safari in a closed vehicle colours don’t matter at all. After all, you are sitting in the car all the time.
For open-vehicle safari drives I would advise against bright colours, but then again – you don’t need to buy ten new t-shirts for every kid. Just pick the ones that are less bright and that’s it. If you buy one thing, then it might be wise to invest in a light-brown safari shirt with long sleeves. You can wear it several times, also over other t-shirts, it protects against mosquitoes, and also against the sun.
As for colours of sweaters and jackets, the only time they’ll need them is early in the morning or late in the evening, when it is dark, so the colour doesn’t matter at all. If you are visiting Murchison Falls in winter (July-August), you may need to wear a sweater or a jacket during the day as well. In that case it might be wiser to pack something in a light brown or dark colour. But you will see people wearing all kinds of colourful clothing on the Safari game drives in Africa.
Clothing doesn’t really matter that much on safari, but try to avoid very bright color
For shoes: it doesn’t really matter what kind of shoes you or your kids wear, as you will be sitting in the car all the time anyway. I would advise to wear closed shoes at all times if you are going in an open vehicle. It can get really cold during early morning and sunset game drives.
In some areas this may be a problem, yes. If you know that you are going to drive in an area where it’s forbidden to get out of the car, make sure that the whole family goes to the bathroom before you leave. And plan some stops in the rest camps along the way. For example, in Masai Mara, there are some picnic areas with toilet facilities, and they are indicated on the map of the park that you get at the entrance. Plan a bathroom stop every two hours or so. And always make your kids go to the bathroom when you can, even if they tell you they don’t have to.
Having said all this, I know that sometimes kids ‘just have to go’. In a way, it’s easier with young kids who still have diapers. Once again, animals can be very well camouflaged, so try to avoid toilet stops in dangerous areas.
Most organised safari trips have some kind of a meal foreseen. Usually, the guide will stop the vehicle in a safe area, set the table outside, and you will have an unforgettable meal in an African savanna. Most guided safaris will include water and other drinks too, but you should always take some water with you, and I would definitely take some snacks for the kids. There is nothing worse that a tired, bored hungry kid, isn’t it. Favourite snacks can be a life-saver during long safari drives with kids.
As a matter of fact, there are. But you will need to do some research before the trip. One of the best ways to see African animals is by visiting waterholes or rivers. Some lodges, hotels, or rest camps have beautiful waterholes with lots of animals visiting them during the whole day. Some others might have a waterhole where you hardly ever see any animals at all. And many others don’t have waterholes at all.
On place that has a really good active waterhole is the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabteh National Park staying at Mwey Safari Lodge. Staying at the lodge is quite expensive though, but day visitors can sit on the terrace and watch the channel too. Still, if your budget allows it, I would advise to stay at least one night in Mweya. It’s a top choice for a safari in Uganda.
I am sure there are many more lodges that have good waterholes with plenty of wildlife viewing. So do some research and you might be rewarded with the most unforgettable experience!
If you are driving around a national park looking for animals and your kids get tired or car-sick, why not take a break and stop by the river or at any waterhole you come across. If you just sit and wait, you might see more animals than by driving around and looking for them.
As with any trip, the cost can be just as low or as high as you want it to be. As I said, one of the cheapest ways to go on an African safari with a family is by doing a self-drive road trip in Uganda. Flights, rental car, and hotels is all you need. Park entrance fees are usually very reasonable, and often free for kids.
You can also opt to do an organised day game drive, in combination with the self-drive safari. Price of these game drives depends on location and duration, and also if you are sharing the vehicle with others. It’s usually somewhere between 20 EUR/pp for short shared drives to 50-80 EUR/pp for shared full-day drives, to maybe 100-120 EUR/pp for private day drives.
The good news is that very often kids under 6 travel free (if they are allowed). Older kids get discounts. You may get lucky to pay a shared rate for just 2 adults and have the whole safari jeep to yourselves. This is not guaranteed (unless you pay the higher rates for a private trip). While most other vehicles departing at the same time usually have 6-8 passengers, you can have the luxury of a private game drive for a very low price. You see, traveling with kids has some benefits.