When going on safari as a family there are a number of challenges worth keeping in mind – not least of which will be cost! Here are few more considerations worth noting:
Minimum age restrictions
Be aware that although most safari camps and lodges welcome children of (nearly) all ages, some have a minimum age restriction of anywhere between 4 and 12 years.
If you are booking through an Africa Travel Specialist this will be one of the aspects taken into consideration when selecting the appropriate accommodation…but if booking direct you must be sure to check the relevant child policy with the camp/lodge.
Age restrictions on activities
Not all safari activities are open to children of all ages, for example, gorilla trekking and white-water rafting have a minimum age of 15 years. Walking is another that can vary according to the camp/lodge’s discretion (and may relate to the prevalence, or otherwise, of dangerous game. You may need to exercise your parental discretion when it comes to activities like walking, and canoeing or mokoros for that matter – this is an area of personal preference (and apprehension tolerance).
If you have teenagers, a few planned adrenalin-inducing safari activities may be just what is needed to keep them focused (and enjoying themselves.
Discounts for children
In terms of pricing, most safari camps/lodges consider anyone over 12 years of age to be an adult – not to be confused with minimum age restrictions or age restrictions that might apply for specific activities (as mentioned above).
So children over 12 years of age are generally charged as adults. Very few safari camps/lodges offer discounts to children over 12 years, and even children under 12 years would need to be sharing with an adult to receive a discounted rate.
Children’s activity programs
Many safari camps have now developed children’s activity programs and some even have a dedicated guide for families.
For the ages of 4 to 8 years these programs mostly consist of a guide who takes the children under their wing, entertaining them with a range of activities around camp (including story-telling, painting/drawing animals, birding and bug collecting amongst others) – keeping an eye on them while the parents go on a game drives or other activity. This can then develop into short bush walks (or "poo walks" during which they help the children collect pods, feathers, insects and leaves, and teach them to identify different animal spoor and droppings) and game drives.
Most parents would like to share the many wildlife experiences with their children – especially when the children are a little older (8 to 12 years) and able to fully appreciate going on a game drive or walk. To this end it may be an idea to request a private vehicle if it appears that the camp (or your agent) has not already considered this. This way you are not infringing upon other guests and can return to camp when the children have ‘had enough’.
In many cases, families with younger children will be required to book a private game drive vehicle (and guide). This will add to the cost and is something you should be aware of (and discuss with your Africa Travel Specialist).
Depending on the ages of your children, the camp/lodge may require one adult to sleep in the same room/tent with the under age child (or children). This is a safety measure to avoid the situation where young children might wander out of their tent or react badly to a situation where an animal might approach the tent (or be attacked).
Babysitters are often available to allow the parents to take a few hours out to enjoy an evening meal together without the kids.
Meals and meal times
Another aspect worth clarifying, when you arrive at a new lodge or camp, is the question of meals and meal times (for younger children particularly). Advise the manager of your child’s dietary requirements and try to work out suitable meal times that fit with your child’s, and the camp’s, routines. Some camps, although able to arrange earlier meal times for your children, may then require a parent to be with the children when they go to bed (for safety reasons).
Most importantly, you should take heed of issues of safety as prescribed by the lodge/camp regarding walking/running in camp, and ensure that your children are aware of the restrictions (and that you keep an eye on their movements). Many camps are unfenced and you may need to take special care to keep a closer watch on your younger ones.
Many safari camps and lodges have swimming pools, so if your child is not a confident swimmer, do take the time to check that you are comfortable with the access to the swimming pool (pool fence) and accompany them if they want to swim (swimming is at your own risk).
Some general precautions on safari for children (and parents) include taking extra care with regard to the hot African sun – hats and sunblock are a must on drives and walks. Mosquito repellant and ‘covering up’ areas of exposed skin in the early evenings is a warning that should also be heeded in malaria areas. And be sure to explain to your children about drinking only filtered or bottled water.
Please try to keep in mind that most safari lodges and camps place a strong emphasis on peace, tranquility and getting back to nature! This may not be your children's style! An 'adults' safari is really not suitable for many young children who often become bored and act up! Please keep in mind that it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that their children do not infringe upon the enjoyment of other guests.
Further note: New rules on anti-child trafficking may soon require parents to provide airlines and immigration officials with, in addition to their passport, an Unabridged Birth Certificate (showing the particulars of both parents) when exiting and entering ports of entry for any accompanying children under the age of 18 years. This will apply even when both parents are travelling together with their children. When children are travelling with guardians, these adults will be required to produce affidavits from the parents proving permission for the children to travel. Airlines will be been given instruction not to allow clients to board without the necessary documents. Keep an eye open for announcements regarding this (South Africa specifically will be introducing such requirements through the year).
© Patrick Brakspear, African Encounter