One of the new traditions I’ve started with my boys is taking them on their own trip each year. Just them and mom. It’s a fun way for us to bond and do something together. My kids have very different likes and dislikes so it also means less fighting as everything can be tailored for their personal tastes. You might remember last year I took M to Thailand. I hadn’t gotten around to planning K’s trip as he’s a pretty picky character. He wanted Disney and I am not a fan. By the time I priced a 4 day trip to Animal Kingdom my jaw was on the floor. As I scratched my head I thought, “I bet I could arrange a real safari in Africa for less than this…” Then I found an amazing airfare deal to Nairobi and went for it! So now it’s time for safari planning.
All I knew was that we would be flying into Nairobi and from there I was at a loss. So I reached out to Aardvark Safaris, a company I have seen on Twitter during #africhat, a regular chat held to discuss all things travel and Africa. They always struck me as a company who knew what they were doing and offered insightful advice and answers. So I reached out to Richard Smith who is one of the owners of Aardvark Safaris to ask him a few questions to help me and better help you when considering and planning a safari.
Safari Planning 101
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions Richard. I think the first question that a lot of parents have when thinking about going on safari with their children is about safety. What should parents think about in regards to the right age of children to make this sort of trip and what are some things they can do to keep safe during their safari?
“Is it safe?” is probably the first person many parents ask when they call. The fact they’ve called means their generally looking for reassurance rather than really burdened by the belief that all of Africa is unsafe. Telling them we plan a lot of family safaris every year and that I’ve taken my own kids to five African countries is generally enough to ensure they’re comfortable to keep the conversation going.
Animals are rarely the danger people think they are. Listen to your guide and don’t do anything daft and adults and children will stay safe. If they are under five years old children will have to show they can do as they’re told before they go on game drives. But there’s babysitting back at camp and lots of fun for the little ones if parents do want to take them to Africa younger than this.
We offer malaria free family safaris if people don’t want to take tablets and these areas probably mean no jabs either. In plenty of places you’ll see very few mosquitoes during most of the year anyway – in fact we often joke that there’s more bugs in Scotland in summer than most of the safari areas of Africa!
I know that when I first started thinking about going on safari I was overwhelmed pretty quickly. What are the top three tips you would share for someone who is starting to plan a safari?
1 – If you’ve not been to Africa, you probably don’t yet realise how big it is. Geographers will know the Mercator Projection and how it makes things nearer the poles look bigger on a map. Africa is much bigger than it looks on maps, while UK, USA and Australia aren’t as big. There’s a great map of the True Size Of Africa showing USA. China, India and most of Europe fitting into Africa fairly easily.
That’s a long way round to get to the fact distances are great and you shouldn’t try and bite off too much, particularly on a family safari. Generally stay in one country for your safari and at least three nights in each place to give two full days. If you are visiting a beach or perhaps Cape Town, feel free to go to a different country at that stage, but again make sure you stay long enough to enjoy it.
[bctt tweet=”Planning an African safari means knowing just how big the continent is! ” username=”@marocmama”]
2 – Don’t start planning your safari with the countries you want to visit. Better to get everyone to write down the things they want to see and the experiences they want to have. Then use these to plan the best place to go in Africa to achieve as many as you can.
As an example, certain countries make it much easier to combine safari and beach on a holiday. If beach is important to your family, perhaps you’ll want to pick one of these.
3 – Stay in safari camps and lodges that really understand children; ideally where the owners’ own kids have grown up and spent every holiday. This way the accommodation, meals and activities will all be suited to children and the staff will be used to having them around. You’ll find kids recognise when they’re welcome and they’ll be off on their own baking cookies in the kitchen or making moulds of footprints with one of the guides simply because they feel comfortable.
You’ve asked for just three but, if people want more, there are more tips in my article on Family Safari Planning.
That’s so true, especially the size consideration. I know our flight from northwestern Africa to east Africa is almost as long as it takes us to fly from Morocco to the US! After safety I’m sure most people want to know, “so what is this going to cost me.” Can you tell me a bit about the cost involved with a safari?
There’s no question a good family safari is one of the more expensive holidays you can do. Safari camps run very high service operations in remote areas. They pay high lease fees for the private areas they operate in, employ large numbers of highly qualified people (many behind the scenes), have a fleet of vehicles operating in harsh environments, and run conservation and community programmes to ensure there’s long term sustainability.
[bctt tweet=”What does the high price of a family safari in Africa actually get you? ” username=”@marocmama”]
In return for your hard earned cash you’ll get a lot though. You’ll fly between areas and all meals, drinks and activities are included in most luxury safari camps. Tips are generally the only additional expense you’ll have.
Small camps will host you as individuals; giving you the option of various activities rather than making you join others to do what they’re doing. You will also have just a few people on each vehicle when you go viewing wildlife; sometimes it’ll just be your family. All these things make an ok holiday into the ‘best family holiday we’ve ever done’ – something we hear time and again.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while traveling it’s that paying a bit more in situations when you’re a bit more out of your element or the natural conditions are harsher is really worth it! Now, an important question for me. Food! What is the food situation on safari and can parents who have picky eaters make it work?
There’s as many picky adults as children, but it’s not a problem on safari. Food is so much better than most people expect and I wrote a blog on Safari Cuisine. In fact the biggest problem for most is coming home having gained a significant amount of weight!
Typically menus are posted in advance for the following meal. Requests for alternatives and intolerances are happily accommodated, often more easily than would be the case in a big city restaurant. Since chefs are operating in remote areas, and possibly only getting resupplied every so often, it never harms to offer information about your likes and dislikes in advance. That way the camps can make sure they’re ready with the right ingredients and perhaps even discuss ideas for menus with you in advance.
[bctt tweet=”Will my picky kids go hungry on an African safari? Chances are…NO! ” username=”@marocmama”]
Now that we’re certain to have full bellies what about sleep. What should parents know about the sleeping tents/lodges when on safari? What are the options available?
Family friendly lodges and camps will generally either have rooms big enough to sleep parents and kids, or family rooms with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom.
If parents want to put their children to bed and eat supper later, a babysitter can sit on the verandah while they enjoy their meal.
Are there any instances you can think of where it’s better to spend a bit more money and vice versa?
We can give advice on how to fit a family safari holiday within a prescribed budget. Certain times of year are high season and avoiding those already helps save money. Some countries are more expensive and we’ll either advise avoiding those, or suggest ways they can be explored more cheaply eg. Mobile safaris are an excellent value way for families to go on safari in Botswana, one of Africa’s most expensive places to holiday.
Overall there’s probably a level below which it’s not worth the compromises. At this lower cost you’ll be staying in incongruously big hotels, be driving long distances on bumpy roads in a crowded minibus, or spending a lot of time in souvenir shops where your guide gets a commission. Better to go for less time and spend more per day on a really good safari, or head to a cheaper part of the world if you must have a longer holiday.
My final question. Why do you think taking a safari with children is a great idea? I know you have kids who have done this so you’ve got some first hand anecdotes and insight!
A quote attributed to Richard Mullin says “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”
There are so many things unique to a family holiday in Africa, not least the wildlife. A safari is a fantastic voyage of discovery as you never quite know what you’ll see on your next drive, ride, walk or boat trip. You’re brilliantly looked after by wonderfully knowledgeable guides and personable hosts.
When we first travelled to Africa as a family I was worried my children didn’t like it. There weren’t the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of wonder you get with adults on their first safari. However I now realise they were simply taking it all in. I recently asked them the names of two Samburu guides we met in Kenya in 2009 so I could caption a photo for a blog. “Lucas and Gus” came the immediate reply “Lucas had the yellow bit at the bottom of his robe and Gus had the blue bit” – all this without seeing the photo I was looking at.
They’ve not only enjoyed some incredible family holidays, but they’ve learned some brilliant lessons about geography, wildlife, cultures, history, conservation and many many more. We don’t go to Africa for all our holidays, but given half a chance we’d be back in a heartbeat to revisit somewhere we’ve been before, or explore another corner of this incredible continent.
Thank you so much for your time and expertise! I know it’s give me a lot to think about as we continue planning for the big trip in October!
[bctt tweet=”Grab your Insider’s Guide to African Safaris from @aardvarksafaris before you start planning.” username=”@marocmama”]
Richard Smith is one of the owners of family safari specialists Aardvark Safaris and dad to Megan 17 and Leo 13.
OFFER: Aardvark offers those who sign up for their newsletters a 64 page Insider’s Guide To African Safaris. I’ve read it from cover to cover and it’s a really well put together resource which shows off the expertise of their team. If you’re thinking about a safari in Africa or just interested in learning more sign up and download here.
Be a part of the MarocMama family!
Sign up for our newsletter today.
You'll get a weekly update + features that won't be on the blog!