Africa offers the best family holidays – you just can’t beat a bit of safari and beach. Enjoy close encounters with wildlife, nights around the camp fire, sleeping under canvas in the African bush, animal tracking, conservation visits and a whole host of activities from horse riding, boating, night drives, walking and whale watching to snorkelling and beachcombing.
Still not convinced? Practicality is on Africa’s side too…
There’s very little time change to deal with – from the UK you’re looking at 1-3 hours time change so you can hit the ground running and not return to the UK 2 weeks later feeling totally spangled.
Easy access – Kenya is only 8 hours away on a direct flight from London.
Stimulation – fresh air and lots of new exciting experiences ensures no one nods off on this holiday.
Value for money – a safari is likely to be one of the most expensive holidays you’re ever likely to enjoy. However, it’s worth pointing out that most safaris are all-inclusive so you’re looking at a ‘holiday spend’, which you can budget for, rather than a holiday framework.
If Africa is firmly on your family holiday wish-list, you may be interested in the following suggestions:
Where should we go?
East – Kenya would be my top pick for a family safari. It’s easy to get to and relatively compact to explore. There’s amazing density and diversity of wildlife, contrasting landscapes, good family-friendly accommodation options and the people are wonderful.
South – South Africa is a brilliant family holiday destination and one of the best value destinations in Africa because of the exchange rate with the Rand (currently about 19 to the Pound). You can see the Marine ‘Big Five’ as well as the Safari ‘Big Five’. Many families with young children ask us about malaria-free safari destinations – the Cape coast of South Africa is the perfect option with the Eastern Cape game reserves all malaria-free. Madikwe near Johannesburg is also a ‘Big Five’ option and malaria-free. These areas combine well with exploration of the Cape (Cape Town, Winelands, Garden Route) or with a beach break in Mauritius depending on the time of year.
If you have older children and are looking for more adventurous options then Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all wonderful. See our Family Safari page for further info and ideas.
How long should we go on safari for?
3 nights is an ideal minimum length of stay in any one camp/lodge – 2 nights tends to feel a bit short in our experience. If you’re keen to stay in more than one camp, try combining different areas of a reserve or different styles of accommodation, for example, 3 nights in a mobile camp with 3 nights in a permanent camp in the Mara.
After a week or so on safari, most people are ready for a lie in… combining 5-7 nights on safari (across one or two camps) with 5-7 nights on the beach, river or lake shore works really well.
Fly-in or Drive-in? There are pros and cons to each…
Driving -In Tanzania the Northern Circuit lends itself to exploration with private 4×4 and driver/guide – this is a very flexible and economical way to travel for a family and also gives you a chance to see the country in more depth as you pass through villages and communities. However you need to consider time in the vehicle overall – you will be driving between destinations and you’ll also be bumping around in a vehicle for your safari so this may be too much vehicle time – you may prefer to fly and transfer. Drive-in safaris tend to be restricted to visiting national parks rather than private conservancies which means staying to the main tracks and not going off-road.
In South Africa and Namibia you can self-drive, however when on safari (e.g, Etosha) you have the option to park your hire car and join guided drives offering an ideal balance.
Flying – if you fly into a private conservancy you can enjoy a wonderful bird’s eye view of the landscape and you are able to maxime your holiday time. There are other significant benefits – you can off-road, usually in custom 4×4 vehicles, and this helps you get much closer to the wildlife. You can also enjoy extra activities like bush meals, sundowners out on the plains, walking and tracking and you are not restricted to being on safari only between sunrise and sunset (as you are in a national park). It is a more expensive option, and there are luggage restrictions (15kg max in a soft sided bag). Flights are often operated in small 12 seater prop-planes, landing on remote and rough airstrips, so not ideal for those nervous about flying…
You can combine flying and driving for a more balanced itinerary. For instance we will sometimes give clients the option to drive in one direction and then fly back to save time/long journeys.
Framework for a family safari to Kenya
Nairobi – 1 night
Most trips require an overnight in Nairobi at the start or end because of international flight schedules – don’t waste this time in an airport hotel but get out and explore. You can stay at a lodge in the national park and enjoy game viewing (very easy to access from either airport) or visit the Sheldrick Trust and/or AFEW Giraffe Centre. We can organise all this for you.
+Safari – 3 nights plus
3 nights per camp is the minimum time we would suggest on safari.
If budget and time allows it’s fantastic to combine a couple of contrasting areas. After around a week on safari, unless you are a real safari addict, you may start to long for a lie in so we think 5- 7 nights is the optimum amount of time giving you plenty of chance to see and experience as much as possible.
If it’s your first trip to Kenya we’d recommend including the Masai Mara, for example a 5 night fly-in to the Mara with time on the beach afterwards keeps things simple. Conveniently there’s a flight from the Mara to Diani Ukunda airstrip (without going back to Nairobi).
+Beach – 4-7 nights
A few days on the coast is a perfect extension to a safari. Kenya offers several options. We love Diani and Msambweni, south of Mombasa. We also like Watamu. Lamu on the north coast is also very beautiful.
You can visit Kenya year-round. The optimum (and most expensive) time to visit Kenya is during the long school summer holidays of July/August. Also a good time to visit is the Christmas and half term holidays (Oct, Dec, Feb). If Easter is early you can get a trip in during late March/early April (one of our favourite times to go because it is so quiet – this is also the most affordable time of the year) but the long rains tend to arrive in April and last through much of May so this is something to be aware of. The arrival of the rains is increasingly unpredicatable. One of my best ever trips to Kenya was at the end of May – everything was lush and green following the rains, there were hardly any other visitors and there were many cubs and other young animals around.
Framework for a South Africa family safari
Kruger & beach – time on safari + a week in Mauritius (this combination usually requires 1 night at a Johannesburg airport hotel due to schedules). Alternatively you can fly or take a road transfer across the border to Mozambique for time on the beach. Optimum time for this type of trip is May to October.
Family Caper – 10-14 day self-drive trip exploring Cape Town, winelands, the Garden Route and a safari in the Eastern Cape. Optimum time for this is October to April. You can expect wild beaches, the chance to spot whales from the coast, boat trips, characterful and small boutique style accommodation and a grand finale in the Eastern Cape on safari.
There are plenty of other exciting family holiday options in Southern Africa – how about Zambia and Malawi, or Zimbabwe and Botswana?
Things to consider
- Rooms – look for family units/tents – it can be a bit intimidating if it’s your first time staying in a safari tent so where possible we recommend family units so that all the family can be accommodated together. If you hear a lion roar in the middle of the night it’s good to be together and share the experience.
- Camps with swimming pools are great for families, inviting relaxing time after breakfast/brunch or before the afternoon drive.
- Depending on the season you may prefer properties with air con.
- Some camps offer special ‘Little Warrior’ or kids’ programmes as well as kids meals and even babysitting so please do enquire depending on the age of your children.
- Vehicles – it is usual for you to share game drives with other guests in the camp vehicles. Some camps offer exclusive vehicles for a supplement – please enquire. Some camps insist that families with young children (under 7) book an exclusive vehicle. Most vehicles seat 6 guests but it does vary from place to place.
- Age restrictions – many camps/lodges have a minimum age of 7 years so please check with us if you are travelling with younger children. We do have some camps that have discreetly fenced boundaries which might be safer for families with young children rather than those which are completely open. Camp staff (known as Askaris in East Africa) accompany you to and from you room after sundown.
What does it cost?
Cost depends on a whole range of factors including time of year you travel, how far in advance you book, availability, number of people travelling/ages of children in your family, destination etc Your preferred style of safari and length of stay will also impact spend. £4000+ per person is a realistic budget.
More inspiration and suggested itineraries at realafrica.co.uk