Travelling to East Africa and going on a safari is certainly a special and memorable experience for the whole family. Few places will get you this close to nature and show your children a world incomparable to what they know from home. That being said, I know from my own experience, that there are a few things, you should consider before going on a family safari in Tanzania.
What is the best age to go on safari with children?
I have two sons and took them on their first safari when they were three and six years old. We travelled in South Africa and what I learned is: if you go on safari with children this young, plan it carefully, weigh up the advantages and challenges and then plan your safari with someone who has ample experience travelling with very young children.
Going on safari in East Africa is all about wildlife and game drives and it’s spectacular and an experience of a lifetime – for everyone ten years and older. Every child is different, and there will be five-year-olds who love going on four-hour long game drives. But at that age, my boys would look at an elephant for ten seconds and then ask to move on.
Now my oldest is eight years old and on our last safari, he was much more receptive towards the wildlife around him, looking through the binoculars, studying the animals’ behaviour.
A safari in Tanzania does not come cheap; I wouldn’t recommend a family spending this kind of money when the children much rather build sand castles at the beach.
What is the best accommodation to stay at as a family?
We put together a list of what we think are some of the best lodges for families in Tanzania; have a look. There are a few general rules to consider: a pool is always a good idea. Children will have the time of their lives spending two hours in the pool.
Always make sure that you ask for interconnecting or family rooms.
If your child is a picky-eater, inform your travel consultant up-front, so the lodge can ensure to have enough spaghetti and tomato sauce on stock.
If you decide to stay at an unfenced campsite or tented camp – as it is quite common in Tanzania – sit your children down and explain that they are in the wild and that they mustn’t run around without checking their surroundings. Be aware, that you will have a 24/7 responsibility for the safety of your child. My oldest son is very responsible, but one day I was busy setting up our tent and the next second, I see him standing with his feet in the small river nearby. Hopefully, I thought to myself, he did check for crocodiles. I would recommend unfenced camps for older children only.
What should the itinerary look like?
The most important thing is to slow things down. I would advise to not move from one accommodation to the next day after day. If you plan to go on safari for seven days, stay three nights at the first and three at the second lodge. This way, you avoid long hours in the car and can cut a game drive short when necessary. You will still see plenty and plenty of different animals and varying landscapes and have time to thoroughly explore a park.
I would also advise to go on a private safari, not a group tour. You are more flexible. I don’t think it would be fun for a child to spend their trip sharing a car with five adults and strangers on top of it.
Activities should be integrated into the itinerary whenever possible. A canoe tour on Momella Lake, a waterfall-walk near Lake Natron or a visit to the poachers’ hide in Tarangire National Park. On a private safari, you’re much more flexible to incorporate these activities.
The most important thing is to have an experienced travel consultant by your side who knows how to create an itinerary that’s fun and relaxing for the whole family.
During the game drive
A family safari is only as good as the guide who accompanies you. The nature of this trip includes hours spent in the car, driving through national parks looking for wildlife. A good guide who is a family man at the same time will understand how to engage children, keep them occupied and interested. But will also give you and your family space to enjoy special moments together or ease moments of tension which every family goes through now and then.
If you have an only child, consider taking a travel buddy along. Where there’s two children, there’s no adult needed.
No matter where you’re in the world and what you’re doing, you know best that it’s always good to have a plan b up your sleeve. Bring a tablet to watch a movie, a phone and a deck of cards to play a game or a Kindle to read a book. It may not be the classic way to spend time in nature, but every mother and father knows that there is this one moment when you abandon all good intentions in exchange for half an hour of harmony. And that’s ok, even on a safari.
If your children are relaxed and easy-going, have travelled before and are adaptable, you will have the most wonderful time on a family safari, sharing bonding moments at the campfire, counting stars and hearing lions roar in the distance.
If you have any questions about family safaris in Tanzania or would like to start planning your family adventure, just get in touch!