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Tips for Family Safaris in South Africa

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Niarra Travel

Visiting South Africa for a family safari is an incredible opportunity to create lasting memories whilst educating and exposing your kids to the wonders of the wild. However, it can be a little daunting navigating the many options available, especially if you are travelling with family members with different ages, needs and interests.

Here are some top tips to guide you in planning a child-friendly safari to South Africa.

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Where To Go On a Family Safari

The diversity of South Africa means you are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to spectacular private game reserves and national parks. When considering which might be the best safari in South Africa for your family, there are a few factors to take into consideration.

Depending on the ages of your children, you may prefer to avoid reserves like the Kruger National Park due to the malaria risk, and rather opt for the Waterberg, Madikwe, Pilanesberg or Eastern Cape Reserves. All of these reserves offer a fantastic wildlife experience, with all of the Big 5 and herds of impressive herds of antelopes, giraffes and others species like hippos and crocodiles. In particular, the Waterberg, Madikwe and Pilanesberg reserves are all within easy reach of Johannesburg, the main international air hub into South Africa, making travel here logistically easy, even for families with young children.

If your family is happy to take anti-malaria medication, then the Kruger and Sabi Sands private reserves are hard to beat for Big 5 and predator spotting. An important point to note is that the lodges can also have very different rules for different ages, so you need to be sure where you book is the perfect fit for your family.

Bear in mind that some reserves don’t allow children under 16 on walks, or children under 6 on game drives. Some have robust electric fences around their camps, whilst others allow wildlife to roam free and you need to be escorted to your rooms by your ranger at night.

Kapama Southern Camp Kruger leopard

When To Go On Safari

It may be that you are tied to travelling within the school holidays, but it is also worth looking at other factors when scheduling your trip.

While December to March tends to be peak season for Cape Town, the best time for a safari is actually over the dry, cooler winter months of July and August. If you are visiting the Kruger or the Zululand reserves, it is better to go in the dry season when the bush is less dense and the risk of malaria is much lower.

Northern Kruger Pafuri Tented Camp Lanner gorge

Before You Go

Get your children excited about the safari by involving them in the planning process. Allow them to research the animals they may encounter, participate in choosing which activities to add to the itinerary, and even help with packing. This not only builds anticipation but also fosters a sense of ownership and excitement about the trip.

Packing for a safari – and avoiding overpacking – is a fine art. Make sure to bring safari-appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions, including lightweight layers for hot days and warmer attire for chilly mornings and evenings. Don't forget essentials such as sunscreen, insect repellent, hats and comfy walking shoes. Take a medical kit, and bear in mind that if you are going in any small planes, luggage weight can be restricted and must be a small, soft-sided bags.

Some countries in Africa require children to travel with extra documentation. Be sure to check if they will need to show their unabridged birth certificates, that you all have enough blank pages in your passports and sufficient validity. If both parents are not accompanying, travel consent forms may need to be completed.

A game drive on a safari honeymoon in Africa

What to do on a family safari

Before setting out on game drives, familiarise your children about bush etiquette. Teach them to remain quiet and patient while observing animals and to respect their space. Encourage them to ask questions and engage with their trackers and safari guides to enhance their learning. Don’t forget to pack binoculars and cameras!

Try to step a little out of your comfort zone and include a few activities that you would never try at home. Take the kids on quad bikes, head out on a hike or boat trip, try the zip line or bungee jump – and encourage your kids to immerse themselves in the local culture and engage with the people they meet. Eat local food, visit a rural school, and then get them to document their safari experiences through journaling, sketching or photography.

It’s also better to keep things simple and try not to fit in too much on your itinerary. Combining too many places is exhausting, especially when you need to repack suitcases for every child and move every few days. Children generally don’t enjoy multiple flights and long car journeys. Embrace the idea of slow travel and linger a little longer in each destination. It’s not only better for your carbon footprint, but you will have more time to immerse yourself in each place and truly enjoy it.

Most importantly, relax and embrace your adventurous spirit. The best, most cherished memories are often created by unexpected discoveries, unplanned activities or those spontaneous moments when things don’t go to plan. Allow for some downtime and don’t over-commit so that you get home needing a holiday from your holiday!

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The Best Family-Friendly Safari Lodges in South Africa

At Niarra we plan a bespoke trip for each and every family, selecting accommodation options that perfectly suit your dream safari holiday plan. However, we have a few favourite lodges that we recommend time and time again.

Morukuru River House – Madikwe

If you are a larger family or perhaps taking along the grandparents, Morukuru River House provides a perfect option in the form of its three-bedroomed exclusive-use villa. This home-from-home comes with its own chef, butler, guide and tracker so your schedule is completely down to your personal preferences. The children will love the swimming pool and boma area, where most meals are enjoyed under a dome of stars.

Activities include Big 5 game drives for all ages, bush walks for over 16s or a stroll through an enclosed 100-hectare area where safer game can be enjoyed by the entire family. They also arrange fun activities like cooking classes, fishing expeditions or getting involved in conservation projects.

The Motse

The Motse at Tswalu offers three two-bedroomed family suites, surrounded by gorgeous deck from which to soak up the Kalahari views. Families will love the outdoor heated swimming pool.

Each legae, or suite, in the village of nine has its own guide and vehicle, so the whole experience is at your own pace, be it a game drive, walk or even a horse-riding safari (all ages). Children are encouraged to enjoy the Junior Ranger Programme, where young guests are given a backpack with all the guides and tools they need to learn about the Kalahari.

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is situated within the wider Sabi Sand Game Reserve. In addition to its normal suites, the lodge has a pair of two-bedroom villas with private swimming pools as well as the expansive Madleve Deluxe Suite.

There are two swimming pools and decking areas which overhand the Msuthlu riverbed, while the lounge and bar area are warm and inviting. The EleFun children's centre offers a range of environmentally themed activities, including hands-on ‘edutainment’ for several distinct age groups, supervised by qualified childcare professionals.

Phinda Mountain Lodge

Working in partnership with local communities for over three decades, Phinda is widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful blueprints for ecotourism. There are six beautiful &Beyond lodges to choose from in the reserve, but one of our favourites is Phinda Mountain Lodge, known for its hilltop vantage point with breathtaking views over the Ubombo mountains and the rolling valleys of Zululand bush.

The reserve itself extends over 280 sqm and is home to all the Big 5. Mountain Lodge offers 16 suites including three lovely family cottages and the exclusive family suite, all with spacious verandas and plunge pools.

Karoo Lodge, Samara

Samara is a wonderful success story in rewilding the Great Karoo. Karoo Lodge offers two standalone Karoo Family Suites, located a short distance from the main homestead to give families a little more space and privacy. There's also a separate family suite with two interleading bedrooms.

Activities include the usual game drives and walks but also cheetah tracking, mountain biking, sleep outs under the stars, fly camping and conservation experiences. Children will have the adventure of a lifetime enrolled in the Samara Cubs Programme or Adventure Club, jam-packed with fun activities and inspiring educational experiences, from toddlers to teens.

A family safari promises adventure, learning and the opportunity to disconnect from gadgets and reconnect with nature and each other against the backdrop of the Rainbow Nation. If you are ready to start planning your South African family safari, simply get in touch with our team on +44 (0) 20 3821 5994 (UK), +1 (833) 215 9353 (US), or at explore@niarratravel.com.

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