Eric Stoen has traveled to Africa five times, both with and without kids. We asked him for his top tips for taking kids on an African safari. 

Planning an African Safari with Kids

I love everything about being on safari! From the animals and scenery to cultural interactions to post-safari drinks overlooking the savannah, it’s a perfect way to spend a vacation. After several safaris without kids, we took for granted that we could bring the kids along and have an equally amazing time. And we did—to some extent. But we also made some mistakes. Here are my top five tips for taking your kids on an African safari, based on experience!

RELATED: 11 Awe-Inspiring Animal Photos to Make You Want to Safari

Go Where the Animals Are

Africa is filled with amazing parks, from Kruger National Park in South Africa to Hwange in Zimbabwe, from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara, and many in between. The parks don’t move, but the animals do. So whenever it works to fit a safari into your vacation schedule, research where the animals will be during that period and plan accordingly. Want to see the great wildebeest migration? The wildebeest are constantly moving between Tanzania and Kenya, generally furthest south in February and up north in August. Or schedule your vacation based on the optimal conditions for the animals you’re most interested in. Want to see elephants? They’re a lot easier to find during the dry season, when they stay close to water sources.

Safari tips - Watching the wildebeest migration near Lake Ndutu, Tanzania (in February)

Watching the wildebeest migration near Lake Ndutu, Tanzania (in February)

Safari tips - Elephants near Lake Ndutu

Elephants near Lake Ndutu

Go for the Right Length of Time

Given that we were traveling from California all the way to Africa, I wanted to go for as long as we could, using a one-week school break and then taking the kids out of school for a week, and visiting five parks: Ngorongoro Crater; Lake Ndutu; the Serengeti; Masai Mara; and Amboseli. It was too long. The first time the kids saw a giraffe, elephant, zebra, lion, cheetah, etc… was amazing. But the 15th time wasn’t as special. An optimal safari length (from our experience) is closer to 10 days. And we could have visited three parks instead of five – although we had amazing, unique animal experiences in each of them, so it would be difficult to pick which three.

Safari tips - It was only my son and I on some of our game drives at the end, as my daughters opted out and my wife stayed with them. We had the lions to ourselves!

It was only my son and me on some of our game drives at the end, as my daughters opted out and my wife stayed with them. We had the lions to ourselves!

Plan Downtime at the End

After more than 80 hours in safari vehicles over two weeks, including game drives and journeys between parks, we finished our trip with two days at Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor. It was an amazing experience—especially breakfast with giraffes—but in retrospect our kids would have appreciated a few days at the beach even more. If I was a planning another two-week trip, I’d schedule no more than 10 days on safari, and then have three nights in Zanzibar at the end—still cultural, but relaxing and tropical.

Safari tips - The kids loved getting out of the safari vehicle and running around (whenever it was safe to do so!)

The kids loved getting out of the safari vehicle and running around (whenever it was safe to do so!)

Safari tips - At Giraffe Manor at the end of our family safari

At Giraffe Manor at the end of our family safari

Research Medications and Immunizations Far in Advance

This is one of those times when you should learn from our mistakes! I already had all of my immunizations from previous trips to Africa, and my wife had most of hers, but our kids didn’t yet have meningitis, typhoid or yellow fever vaccinations, and we didn’t think about it until a few days before we were leaving. This led to several problems. First, the kids had to miss even more school to get vaccinated. Second, the typhoid pills had to be kept refrigerated … easy at home, but difficult on planes and on safari. And third, it’s not easy to get kids to swallow pills if they’ve never had to before. Start all of the health planning months in advance!

Safari tips - Having fun with our guide in Kenya's Masai Mara

Having fun with our guide in Kenya’s Masai Mara

Pack Light

Every national park is unique, and it’s worth visiting several parks during your safari. That means a lot of packing and unpacking. So don’t bring more than you need to! Pack a couple pairs of pants/shorts, some long-sleeve and short-sleeve safari-style shirts, a fleece or jacket for cool nights, a swimsuit, a few pairs of socks and underwear and a good pair of walking shoes and you’ll be set. It doesn’t matter if your clothes get dirty/dusty, and if you want to wash things, lodge sinks work well. The nice thing about safari clothes is that they dry fast. You’ll also need sunscreen, toiletries, medications, bug spray and maybe a flashlight, but even then you should be able to get by with small bags.

Safari tips - The kids' standard outfits. The green t-shirt came from our safari outfitter - another reason to pack light.

The kids’ standard outfits. The green t-shirt came from our safari outfitter—another reason to pack light.

Have you taken your kids on safari? What tips would you add to this list?

Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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