Going on a safari can be a once in a lifetime experience, and one you don't have to put off until your kids are older. Living abroad gave us the opportunity to make it a reality, and we weren't going to skip it simply because our boys were 2 & 3 years old.
Planning the excursion can be stressful, but I hope my tips from the ultimate guide to African safari with toddlers will be beneficial in your packing and prepping.
Honestly, I highly recommend taking small kids on safari! The innocence and amazement of their experience is priceless. They aren't wrapped up in devices, taking selfies for social media accounts, constantly texting the entire time, or thinking the whole trip is boring. I would do this trip again in a hot minute, and here's why...
Planning a Safari with Toddlers? Here are Nine Crucial Tips to Help You Thrive in the Bush:
- Book a lodge with a kids camp, child care facility- This will allow you the opportunity to go on a game drive sans children, if you so desire. It's not necessary, but a nice option to have just in case. The place we chose had a unique Junior Rangers Program for the kids, and it was golden. They were to look for special things to check off while we were out. It was neat to watch them get excited and be proud of their little accomplishment.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH? I highly recommend, Khashana to assist. Friendliest, most knowledgable couple on the planet!
- Don't schedule every single safari offered- It's tempting to go on every scheduled drive, but it's difficult for little ones to keep up. And in reality, it's exhausting for mom and dad, too. It's typical to have two safaris included for the day. One at sunrise and one at sunset. Both are difficult on the tiny bodies. My eldest has always been up with (or before) the sun. But my youngest will sleep until 9/9:30 if I let him, so he had zero interest in getting up before the crack of dawn. Although, he was stoked once we were out in the bush!
- I stayed in the lodge with my youngest a couple of mornings, and likewise for the evening tour. The game drives can last 3-4 hours long, and sometimes it's too much for them to do two in one day. He and I ended up missing a couple of the tours, but I was okay with it. I knew we would all be better off for it. He got to rest, and it gave me a break. Yay for a moment of peace and quiet. Hubby and my eldest boy had a blast on a few of the safari tours alone. It's also amazing for them to have that special one on one time.
- Also vital to provide them ample time + a safe space to run around and get their energy out. Being in those game drive vehicles for hours on end with the expectation of silence and stillness is tough on little balls of energy. Build in time for them to let loose and be a kid.
- Make sure the car has blankets- They will come in handy for multiple reasons. Even in the summer months, it can be quite chilly during those early morning and late evening drives. Most of them start at 6am and 4pm.
It sounds scary, but blankets can also be great protection if you spot an aggressive animal. Naturally, one should be as quiet as possible. But a sudden movement could also startle the animal into pouncing towards the vehicle. Therefore, it's optimal to have the blankets for protection.
- Our ranger told us if the kids made a sudden movement and the lions spotted them, to throw the blanket over them immediately. It would deter their focus on where the movement was coming from.
- It's also a must to put them on the middle seats when you knowingly might run across aggressive animals.
My initial momma instinct freaked out. I mean, wouldn't you?! But everyone behaved - even the animals, so all was okay in the end. Whew!
I kept my wits about me, though, and all went smoothly. I explained to the boys they had to be very very still and quiet. Which, in my head I'm thinking, no way this is going to work. I explained how if I startled them, then they would get scared or cry, and how we wouldn't want to do that to the animals. They liked quiet and could hurt us badly if they felt scared.
- Prep the kids for what they might see- it's not uncommon to see a lion ripping apart and feasting on a wildebeest or the mood striking during mating season. Also discuss decaying carcasses and bones. Various things to consider when on safari.
Remember: Nature doesn't have a filter.
One of our most endearing experiences was crossing paths with Thandi a few times. This sweet rhino was the sole survivor of a poaching incident in 2012. Her horn may be gone, but her spirit and offspring are alive and well!
THANDI'S STORY: Commemorating 8 Years Since Rhino Poaching
- Always have sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, jackets, and bug spray- The safari themed clothing and accessories aren't just for fun photoshoots. They are used in real life. Take the wide-brimmed hat, wind breaker type jacket, and slather on all the sunscreen. Like I mentioned before, the open plains can be very windy tricking you to think the sun isn't so strong. But holy cow! Your skin will be scorched come evening. I didn't find the bugs to be too bad while out on the game drives (mostly because the winds helped move them right along), but it's still good to have some spray on hand. Most likely your ranger will stop every now and then (especially if you aren't having much luck finding any animals) and the repellent will become your bff near stagnant water.
- Pack snacks and water- This is always a good rule of thumb when traveling with littles. BUT (and this is a big BUT) only bring them out when the ranger tells you it's okay. If you are anywhere close to an animal sighting, all food and beverage needs to be well hidden. Your ranger might even question your belongings prior to climbing inside. They are usually very kind and understanding individuals, and grasp the need to have snacks on hand for the kiddos. However, the ranger in charge might hold it for you while on the drive and place it in a safely locked cooler underneath the vehicle.
- Take photos & videos- This seems like a no-brainer. But while you're taking pictures of these amazing animals, don't completely forget about your littles. They can make sudden movements & noises to get your attention, which is not good for the animals you are trying to capture on film. It increases the chances for them to get scared or pounce closer to your vehicle out of curiosity in what has made that movement or noise. So keep a side-eye on them, whisper to them, touch their head or body once in a while to let them know you are with them.
- Hand over the reigns- did you bring binoculars? Give them to the kids, so they can see up-close as well. Let them take photos or videos, too! This is wildly fun for them and great to do if non-aggressive animals are around or none at all. Spot a giraffe? Let them film for a bit. The goofy smile that spreads across their face is worth it. Kids thrive on independence, and this slice of creative freedom will make them beam.
- ENJOY THE MOMENT- savor this precious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with your children! In some instances...put your camera down, snuggle your little one, and talk about what you are experiencing together. We saw giraffes, hippos, rhinos, wildebeest (we affectionately referred to them as Timon and Pumbaa), gazelles, lions, zebras, and even a monkey with a blue booty! The elephant families were my favorite. At a watering hole, we counted almost 30 of them grazing around together. The teeniest babies were the cutest and never left their momma's side. Special types of deer, fox, ostrich, and an array of wildly gorgeous birds.
WHERE WE STAYED: After much research, we chose Kariega Game Reserve for our safari experience as a family. It ticked all of our boxes, and we are incredibly grateful to the staff and our ranger, Craig, for the careful attention they took to our young kids.
Taking a safari is magical. To see these wondrous creatures up close in their natural habitat and not behind a gate or glass at a zoo is so so special. To share these moments with your family and make lasting memories is priceless! You may feel the need to not take a single moment for granted, but be smart about the journey. Rest when you or the littles are needing it, and you'll enjoy the quality of game drives over the quantity of them.
Everyone has their own reasoning for taking kids on safari at specific ages. It can be challenging at times, but we throughly enjoy experiencing the world through the eyes of our boys. They get excited about the littlest things and notice details we would normally glaze over. Young children have an innocence about them before cell phones, social media, hobbies, friends, and love interests take over. Mom and dad are their best friends, and they want to seize every opportunity with you! It's heartwarming to reminisce those moments.
Giraffes Can't Dance is one of the kids favorite books. While prepping our trip, they both repeatedly exclaimed how excited they were to see "Gerald." Once on safari, they would burst with joy about all the Geralds they saw... not giraffes- but Geralds. Cutest thing ever! The excitement captured in those videos would not be possible on the open plains in 10-15 years with teenagers.
Take advantage, friends! Plan those trips and take them now!
I hope my tips from The Ultimate Guide to African Safari with Toddlers was helpful for you!
Have you been on a safari tour? If so, where did you go? How long did you stay? There are other African countries I would love to venture through on safari, and I value your opinion. Let me know in the comments below!
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