A safari is truly the stuff of which travel bucket lists are made, inviting you into a fascinating world that delights and excites again and again. A rewarding experience at the best of times, it becomes even more so when you share it with the whole family. The natural arena of the bush usually ends up being the best kind of classroom, instilling in kids a respect and love for the environment and its beautiful wildlife. Be prepared for your first safari adventure with the young ones with this easy-to-follow list of tips.

Choose the right lodge

This is probably the most important aspect of planning your safari – it’s vital that you pick a lodge that is family-friendly and welcoming to your kids. Not only should the accommodation itself be suitable (family tents work well, for example), but the staff should also be used to dealing with little people. Try to avoid deciding on a lodge that is geared towards honeymooners and large groups – it’s the smaller, more intimate lodges that are usually more conducive to your needs as a family.

Remember: There is a difference between a family-friendly lodge and one that offers specifically catered-for-kids programmes. Don’t fret though – we can advise you accordingly.

You’ll also need to consider location as not all destinations are malaria-free (a must when traveling with kids). Reserves such as Madikwe and those in the Eastern Cape (such as Addo Elephant National Park) are ideal. The Kruger National Park can also be suitable although there are only a handful of kid-appropriate spots, plus it’s a more high risk malaria area.

Manage those expectations

Whilst deciding at which age to take your kids on safari differs from person to person (we recommend seven years and upwards), you know them and their interests best. It’s a good idea to prepare your kids as much as possible beforehand by talking to them about patience, the basic rules on a game drive and that they’re more than likely going to have to wait to see the game they want. You can turn the waiting and anticipation into a game, but do come prepared for if/when they lose interest. Lastly, if they fall asleep, let them sleep – it’s far better than waking them and then having to deal with a fussy grump.

Pit stop: Be sure your kids visit the loo before heading out – nature calling out in the bush isn’t always the easiest/safest situation to deal with, especially when it comes to children.

Game drive tools are a winner

This leads on from the previous point: come prepared! Not only should everyone come bundled up (it tends to be rather chilly at the beginning of morning game drives, and towards the end of evening ones), but you should also bring some great resources along that will help keep the kids occupied and happy. Checklists are always a crowd-pleaser and are a great way to get the little ones involved. Tell the game driver to mention ticking an animal off the list every time one is seen – kids will love the thrill of the competition! Guide books are also fun, as can be paper and crayons used for drawing what the kids see. Snacks are essential too and glow sticks are always a hit for evening drives (just check beforehand that it’s ok with the driver).

Cut out the crackle: When it comes to snacks, make sure there’s nothing you take along that will make too much of a noise when either opening or eating. Rather remove foods from packages beforehand and place into little containers that are for easy for little hands to open and hold. Dried fruit, nuts, sweets and biltong always go down a treat.

Each to their own (camera)

Kids experience things differently to adults and a fantastic way to keep them engaged and excited about being in the bush is by giving them each their own camera – it’s really as easy as buying a few disposables. This way, you not only avoid possible bickering over just the ONE camera, but you also give them the opportunity to capture things through their own lens in their own way. It will make them feel more involved and you never know you may just discover you have a blossoming photographer or two on your hands.

Get a private game vehicle (if the budget allows)

This can be a sure-fire way to remove most of the stresses that come with taking younger kids on game drives. For one, you won’t have to deal with other lodge guests potentially getting irritated out on drives and, more importantly, you’ll also have more control in that you can decide the length of the outings. When you see the kids starting to lose interest and get niggly, you can simply call it a day. If you get a private guide too, you’ll also find this quite beneficial as most likely they will form a relationship with you and your children, making for smoother runs and everyone generally being happier overall.

Useful tip: Sometimes when you choose to rent out an entire lodge exclusively for you and your family, it will come with a private game vehicle as well as a guide. The lack of strangers can prove an easier way to keep things more contained, the kids happy and you more relaxed. Ultimately, this will depend on the kind of budget you’re working with though.

Mix it up

The rigidity of a game drive can become a bit much for kids after a while, so it’s helpful to introduce other fun activities into the daily routine – these are usually still about exploring the bush and surrounds, but are done in a different way. Find out about activities such as guided bush walks, horse-riding safaris and cultural excursions. Of course there will be age limitations with regards to activities, so be sure to ask about who can participate in what before you arrive.

Some places: Offer activities created especially for kids such as kid-only game drives, fun in the kitchen and creative tasks. They’re not all related to wildlife, but are fun for them nonetheless.

Consider combining beach and bush

The first time you take the kids on safari can be overwhelming for everyone, so depending on who you’re dealing with, it can be worthwhile either easing into things by going for a shorter period of time, or by combining your bush adventure with a few days on the beach. The relaxing and care-free atmosphere of the coast can be the perfect complement to the structured nature of a safari. This way, you also get the best of both worlds: fun in the bush and fun in the sun.

Pack as minimally as possible (yet still take all the essentials!)

This is very much a balancing act but the more safaris you go on with your family, the easier it will become. As mentioned, it can be freezing in the early mornings and evenings so warm apparel is a must – things such as a cosy jacket, beanie, scarf and gloves should be on the list. During the day however, temperatures can soar, so you’ll also need some of the usual summer outdoor essentials like t-shirts, shorts, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and even a swimming costume (for lodges where there is a pool). You also never know when the rain may fall, so be sure to pack in a rain jacket or poncho for when the heavens open. Remember to avoid bright colours – stick to neutral tones if you can as these blend in better in the bush.

Don’t forget: Mosquito repellant to keep those pesky mozzies at bay!

Taking kids on safari may require some tweaking to the itinerary, but it’s still bound to be an experience to remember for all. There’s nothing quite like seeing the look on your child’s face the first time they see an elephant or a rhino… So if you feel like your kids are ready to head out into the wild, a safari should be your first and only port of call – trust us, you won’t regret it.

At Portfolio journeys, we know all the ins and outs of going on safari, whether it’s one with the entire family or something more luxurious and romantic for just the two of you. We can advise, plan and book your entire itinerary for you, from start to finish – all you need to do is connect. The wild awaits!