8 Tips for Planning an African Safari With Kids

A safari in Africa is one of those bucket list trips, so you want to be sure when planning an African safari with kids that you do it right. But where do you start?

There are so many tour operators, game reserves, and articles on the internet, that frankly it can be downright overwhelming. Traveling to Africa with kids adds a whole other level of planning as you consider when to go, what is the season, what country to visit, where to stay, what’s best for kids, health, safety, and cost etc… the list is endless.

We knew we wanted to go Shark Diving in CapeTown, visit Cape Town, and explore at least two different game reserves, and that meant we chose South Africa for our first family safari.

Planning an African safari with kids has been on our bucket list for years, and we decided to wait until both boys were above 12 years old. For us, it just seemed to be the magical age of independence, stamina, curiosity and knowledge. And in our early research, we found that many tour operators and reserves won’t take children who are younger than 12.

We opted to travel South Africa in August (their winter) for our first safari, as we wanted to spend time exploring Cape Town too. After much research, we decided it was worth spending extra money to visit a private game reserve. When planning an African safari with kids, it’s important to understand the difference between a private game reserve and a national park, such as Kruger National Park.

A national park is run by the government, and they mainly offer self-catering and lower-level accommodation. You typically use your own vehicle for game drives, you have to stick to the main roads, and the accommodation is fenced in, which means you don’t have animals roaming throughout the camps (safe, but boring!). Also, you are not allowed to drive between sunset and sunrise. There are a lot of rules, and since our time is at a premium, we wanted to see as much as we could.

safari in South Africa elephants eating

In a private game reserve you are not usually allowed to drive around in your own vehicle, game drives take place twice daily (usually sunrise and sunset when the animals are most active) in an open safari vehicle, with an experienced ranger and tracker. In the summer, driving during the day would also be prohibitively hot.

Private camps are typically on a full-board basis with all meals and game drives included. More importantly, when you are planning an African safari with kids, you learn that camps within private game reserves are usually not fenced which means the animals can roam freely throughout the property. We’ll get to that.

you fly in small planes when planning an African safari
None of us were thrilled at the size of the plane!
Planning an african safari to south africa
Be prepared to fly on small planes when planning an African safari with kids

After landing at the tiny Hoedspruit Airport, our first stop was GomoGomo Lodge, which is about 45 minutes away. This is a private and intimate lodge, situated in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, which is right next to Kruger national park. The lodge itself overlookings a watering hole, where amongst other animals we saw deer, antelope, leopard, impala and there were elephants drinking right when we arrived.

We were able to see the ‘Big 5’ thanks to our extremely knowledgeable ranger and tracker who worked extra hard listening to the radio and communicating with other guides as to where the animals were. Because of this we were able to see lions eating a giraffe kill and even the elusive leopard!

The staff were attentive and the food was amazing. When planning an African safari with kids, we found it very helpful to have a private vehicle for our family each day. It was also lovely to eat with other guests under the stars around the campfire, and share stories of our game drives each day.

We were woken at 5.30am each morning for our early game drive. A bit early, but bedtime is early, too, and the kids were awake quickly. We started the day with traditional coffee and rusks, and it was usually a freezing cold morning since it was their winter in Africa in August!  

Planning an african safari with kids allows you to see the early sunrise

This is 6am, and we had to wait for a family of elephants to cross as they were not too thrilled we interrupted their morning breakfast eating a tree!Explore a private game reserve when planning a South African safari

africa safari southafrica family travel
The family on a game drive at Gomo Gomo Lodge, South Africa

This elephant was getting quite protective of his family and was posturing with us a little. We were safe, and the guides knew exactly what to do. We basically needed to sit out the stand off, not back down, and wait for him to calm down!

africa safari south africa angry elephantafrica safari south africa sunrisesafari south africa watching elephants

Sebastian tries a selfie with elephants

Julian wanted to take a selfie with every animal we saw!

You will see Rhinos in their natural habitat when planning an african safari with kids

This looks fake, but we were literally four feet from this gorgeous elephant!

Up close with elephants

Morning coffee on safari

We set up for morning coffee with the giraffes… they didn’t bother us one bit!

Good morning South Africa!The brothers and a giraffeSouth African giraffes on safari

Enjoying a cup of coffee, out of a camp mug, on the front of a jeep, is an experience we will never forget.

Julian tries his luck as a game tracker.
Julian tries his luck as a game tracker while we drink coffee.

Who's the game tracker now?south africa family game drive

sundownders on safari

Our lodge was located on a watering hole. A crocodile lived in the water, and we’d sit and watch the various animals stop by and take a drink…. the animals were desperately trying to avoid Mr. Crocodile of course!

be prepared to see a watering hole when planning an African safari
The first sight we saw at Gomo Gomo

We were not allowed to post pictures on social media when we saw rhinos, as there’s a huge problem with poachers. They follow GPS posts on social media from tourists in the parks, to locate and hurt rhinos. Poaching beautiful endangered animals completely disgusts me, even more so after having spent time up close and personal with these magnificent creatures in their home.

Pictures of Rhinos - we dreamed of these when planning our african safari
We were literally about 10 feet away from this gorgeous rhino!
Keeping black rhinos safe means not posting photos on social media
Black rhino eating lunch

How could anyone want to harm these majestic animals!?!?!

The Timbavati Game Reserve is on the north of the Sabi-Sands Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, and is known for it’s famous white lions.  This was our second stop.

Cape buffalo at Sabi Sands LodgeGiraffe spotting on an African safari

Again we were fortunate to see all of the ‘Big Five‘.

big5 lionessbig5 lioness just chilling

wildlife photography is a must when on an African safari
Hearing this lioness breath and roar was pretty scary

During evening game drives, ‘sundowners’ were served.

We basically stopped for a happy hour and light snacks, and often would meet other vehicles to share stories and sightings!

Go on an African safari to enjoy sundowners
The crew at Sabi Sands Lodge

Safari sunset

A little evening wine never hurts on safari

We tracked this leopard for ages, and finally, when we found him, he practically jumped into the vehicle with us!

big5 leopard

Tracking a leopard from the safari jeep

Leopard or mirror?

Not gonna lie, I was very very nervous being feet away from lions in an open vehicle.

The sounds and smells are incredible, and when he turns his gaze on you and narrows his eyes, it’s a little unnerving.

Our ranger assured us that he could read the animals, and knew when they were too unhappy to have us around…. We were literally five feet away.  This family of lions were all protecting their giraffe kill. They would chase away the lurking hyenas who got too close.

you see male lions in africa when planning an African safari
Seeing this beautiful father taking care of his family was incredible
big5 lion giraffe kill
He’d sit and keep a watchful eye on the lurking hyenas whilst his children ate their lunch

south africa big5 lionessLions at a kill

The lions made a kill, and we were able to see them eat their giraffe. It seems so barbaric, but it’s fascinating to see the circle of life up close and personal. The lions kill the giraffe, the hyenas circle waiting for the lions to finish, the hyenas eat the bones, and the vultures fly around waiting to finish up anything that’s left. It’s incredible to see this with your own eyes, smell the meat, hear the teeth of the lions chewing on bones etc. Pictures can never quite articulate how incredible this experience was to witness.

It’s pretty rare to see a hippo out of water, and we were fortunate to see one… although he wouldn’t turn around and say cheese for the camera!

Zebra Crossing! haha…. we had fun with this joke the whole time! 

Zebra crossing
Zebra crossing

Julian was thrilled to be able to spend some time in the tracker seat at the front of the vehicle! He didn’t track many animals, but had a great time trying!

 Our ranger was fantastic with the boys, and completely made our experience as special as he could!
Look out, Momma’s taken control of the safari! It was so much fun driving the Landrover, although once we saw animals, I quickly moved over and let our ranger navigate us through the pack!
On Safari, the Range Rover is your best friend
On Safari, the Range Rover is your best friend
We enjoyed incredible sunrises and sunsets each day. Not like beach sunsets, but amazingly beautiful over the game reserve.
One morning we ran into a pack of hyenas. Their teeth up close were huge, and despite looking cute and cuddly, our ranger said they’d eat us down to the bone in 5 minutes!

Hyenas and baby hyenas. Cuter, but not cute.hyenasa hyena family on vacation

Planning an African Safari with kids you'll see hyenas
He had his beady little eyes on us the whole time!
We were never bothered at any point by the animals. They are quite used to game vehicles and just seem to mind their own business as long as we don’t bother them.

Planning an African Safari with kids allows you to meet people from all over the world

After the most amazing adventure exploring the bush, it was time to say goodbye and head to our next adventure.

After spending a week trying to spot the very elusive and rare white lion, we were so incredibly excited to see one on our way out of the camp. I mean, can you believe our luck?? There are only believed to be about 300 left in the world, and these cubs were born in 2014.

Spotting white lion on our last day
White lions exist

White lioness africa safari - Planning an African Safari with kids is a bucket list

We headed to the little airport, our hearts filled with magical adventures.

The downside? We had to leave. We walked the ‘security line’ onto the tiny airstrip to catch the flight to Cape Town.

be prepared for small airports when planning an African safari with kids
This strip of concrete is the airport security! 😉

planning a safari with kids requires internal South African flights

If you are planning your own African safari for your family, you might find the following articles useful:

Has planning an African Safari been on your family bucket list?

It should be! Thanks for your comments below.

About The Author

Samantha

I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.

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