Thinking about going on a safari with young kids? Looking at a safari in Africa but wondering what age is right? We just returned from a safari in Tanzania with our kids (ages 5 and 6), and I’m excited to share what we learned with you.
Mapping Out Your Trip
First on the list? Mapping out when you’d like to travel and where you’d like to go. We chose Tanzania for ease of access (there is a direct flight from Oman to Zanzibar and a quick hop to mainland safari from the island) and animals in the region. Within Tanzania, we chose a park (Selous Game Reserve) that had a good concentration of animals, but without the expense of the Serengeti. We also visited during a shoulder season (February, late summer in Tanzania) to cut down on costs. Rainy season often makes the parks difficult to access, and high season means higher prices and more crowds. We were willing to make the trade off for cost savings and deal with the warmer weather. You’ll also want to decide how long you will make your trip. We thought two full days would be enough for our kids, and elected to spend the rest of the week exploring Zanzibar. If your kids have a longer attention span, or you are planning on this being your only safari, you may choose to come for longer or spend a few days at a few different parks. Reflecting back we maybe could have done three days, but our kids wouldn’t have handled much more. What is thrilling on the first day gets to be old hat by the end of the second when you are 5.
Choosing a Provider
Next up? Decide what type of safari you want (luxury, moderate, budget), and find a provider that specializes in that type, along with catering to families with small children. Some parks and companies set minimum ages, so this will be key in your decision. We chose a moderate track, wanting accommodations that provided something in between tent camping and luxury lodge. Three different providers came highly recommended by friends who had been on safari before- Auric Air, Coastal Aviation, and Remote Recreation. Coastal Aviation is the big name in the area, but we had difficulty getting responses from them via email. Auric Air was very responsive and accommodating, so we booked through them. Remote Recreation had excellent plans, but specializes in longer trips than we had time for this go round. There are many many many other options, of course, just make sure you research them and talk to someone who has used them prior. Our package included accommodation, meals, game drives, river safari, and flights for around $600 per person. We used travel hacking to pay for our flights to Zanzibar as well as our Zanzibar accommodation, making the trip within reach with a short planning/saving period.
Packing for Safari
Depending on location, you’ll want to make sure you receive the proper vaccinations and medications. We already had our typhoid vaccination from prior trips, and for Tanzania just needed anti-malarials. We took Malarone, as out doctor recommended it as a gentle option, and none of us had any issues with strange dreams or nausea. Here are some of the things we packed for safari that were useful:
- Mosquito Repellent (we chose one with Picaridin)
- Motion Sickness Medication, Ibuprofen
- Blank notebooks and colored pencils
- Old phones as cameras for the kids
- Bandaids, Antiseptic spray, antibiotic ointment, and other first aid items
- Hats (wide brim, neck coverage- I LOVE these hats!)
- Wide range camera lens and DSLR
- Scarf (to cover your face in case of open vehicle and dust)
- Lightweight pants and long sleeve shorts (convertible ones preferred)
- Casual outfits for evenings at the lodge
- Pocket Genius Animals and Mammals
If you’ll be taking the small plane into the reserves, pack in a duffle over a suitcase. It fits in the plane easier and is much appreciated by ground staff. Our lodge (Selous Kinga Lodge) was more than comfortable and provided mosquito nets, so no need to pack those.
On the Ground
We did both open and semi-open vehicles and a boat. While I thought I would prefer the open vehicle, the semi-open was better for young children, in my opinion. You get a bit of protection from the branches and sun, plus more support around the kids for the bumpy drive. The open vehicle had lap belts, but still made me a bit nervous, and bugs were constantly flying off the branches onto those in the front as we bumped them. Speaking of vehicle, do ensure it’s only your family in the vehicle. In India we did a group safari and it was much more stressful with kids in tow. When it’s a private tour you can stop for as many potty breaks (behind bushes, fyi) as needed, and your kids can ask all the questions they want. You’ll want your kids to be old enough to handle the long day, stay reasonably quiet while looking at/waiting for animals, and be able to handle themselves in a seat during the ride.
Prior to the drives we had made a list with each child of animals they wanted to see, and they both enjoyed checking them off as we went. I had anticipated them using the notepads during wait times, but honestly there weren’t a ton, which I think was due to the shorter timetable of our stay. If you are going on a longer safari, be sure to prepare for down time in the vehicle. They were plenty entertained with the wildlife, cameras, and binoculars. They did enjoy having the Pocket Genius books to refer to as we saw things. Our six year old proudly exclaimed that hippopotamus means “river horse” on our river cruise and the guide was quite impressed. Thanks, tiny books!
It’s also important to set expectations at the beginning. Our guide told our kids that this wasn’t a zoo, so we don’t know for sure where each animal would be. He explained it was like a game, and for each animal we find, we get a point. We were trying to win, but it doesn’t always happen each day. This helped them enjoy the search a bit more, rather than expecting to pull right up to each animal.
I hope that give you a decent overview for planning your own trip. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! Questions? Feel free to ask me!
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