What You Need to Know about Planning Family Safaris in South Africa
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You’ve just arrived at the gate of the game reserve. The drive to the lodge already shows the magic of South Africa. A warthog here, an elephant there, and your child’s eyes light up with excitement and curiosity.
There is something special about the beauty of the African savanna, the awe of seeing wild animals, and the warmth of the people you meet along the way. All of this should convince you to consider a family safari in South Africa.
However, in order to have a purely magical experience during your family trip, careful planning is required. That’s why, in this article, we are sharing useful information on:
- Age restrictions on safaris
- Malaria-free zones in South Africa
- Best time to go on a family safari
- The ideal length of a family trip
- Choosing accommodation.
Now let’s get down to details.
Age restrictions on a safari in South Africa
When planning a family safari, you should consider the age restrictions put in place by safari organizers.
Because of safety reasons, many organizers do not allow children under 6 years old on game drives. Some allow small kids but won’t stop too close to predators if you are in an open vehicle.
Others allow children under 10 (or 12) years old only supervised by an adult.
Most public parks, however, allow self-drive safaris so you can drive on your own with a baby or toddler.
Malaria-free zones for your family safari in South Africa
Mosquitos are an annoying occurrence everywhere, but unfortunately, they are also responsible for spreading malaria. And while adults and older children have no problems taking malaria pills, it is not advisable for children under 5-6 years old to take malaria medication.
South Africa’s most popular safari destination, Kruger National Park is located in a high-risk malaria zone, with cases on the increase since 2017.
Thankfully, for families traveling with small kids, there are also many amazing parks and game reserves which are located in malaria-free zones:
- Addo Elephant National Park: South Africa’s third national park is home to the Big Five and also offers the chance to see the two most popular ocean citizens – southern right whales and great white sharks. It is located just an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth.
- Madikwe Private Game Reserve: Located at the border between South Africa and Botswana, it’s one of the lesser known game reserves. Home to the Big Five, as well as a thriving population of the endangered wild dog and cheetah, it is a good alternative to visiting the crowded Kruger.
- Waterberg Biosphere: Just 3 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, this reserve is home to the Big Five, rugged mountain landscape, and ancient rock formations.
- Pilanesberg National Park: Centered around an extinct volcano, the park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including the Big Five. It is located close to Johannesburg.
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: One of the largest conservation areas in Africa, the park has a semi-arid environment which is home to an abundance of wildlife (excluding some of the Big Five, however). Spotting lion, cheetah, and leopard is common though.
And while technically not in a malaria free zone, Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park is located in a low-risk area. It is the oldest park in South Africa, close to Durban. You can spot the Big Five here as well, but it is also home to the wild dog and cheetah.
When to go on a family safari in South Africa
The best time to go on a safari in South Africa is between May and September. This is the winter dry season when there is less vegetation and the animals are more concentrated around rivers and waterholes, which makes it easier to spot them. There are also fewer mosquitos during this time of the year which lowers the risk of getting malaria if you travel to parks within high-risk zones.
Kindly note that while the winters are mild in South Africa, it gets cold in the evening and morning, especially from June to August. So, for the game drives, make sure to pack a ticker jacket. Else you just need t-shirts and shorts, as well as a light jacket for the evenings.
Luckily, the best time to visit South Africa coincides with the low season. The parks are not crowded, except for Kruger, which will get crowded during school holidays.
The ideal length of a family safari
South Africa is a great place for a family safari as you can combine animal viewing with other things to do. And let’s be honest, too many days spent only on game drives can get boring even for adults!
Therefore, a short safari (2-4 days) is perfect for a family trip. And you can add a couple of days of exploring the cities you fly into and the nearby sights.
National parks or private game reserves?
South Africa offers world-class national parks and reserves, with a lot of choices for your family safari.
National parks are more suitable for families on a budget, as they allow self-drive safaris and offer affordable accommodation.
On the other hand, private game reserves offer a more luxurious approach, complete with activities for kids and guided game drives.
Want to go on an affordable safari in South Africa? Read our article about what to expect from a budget safari in Kruger National Park.
Choosing the accommodation for a family safari
During a family safari, the accommodation is not just a place to sleep. You need to take into account the activities and relaxation options.
That’s why lodges are suitable for a family safari. While many lodges do have a minimum age requirement – typically 6 or 8, they offer child-friendly activities and many ways to relax.
When you choose a family safari in South Africa, don’t just look for lodges that accept young kids. You also need to check:
- The activities offered
- The amenities
- How long the game drives take
- Whether the lodge is fenced or not
- If the kids can wander on their own in an unfenced lodge
- If it’s safe for kids.
It’s a good idea to cut back on the time spent on game drives and enjoy the time at the lodge. Relax by the pool, walk on the paths connecting the huts, and play games. Also, evening campfires can be extremely exciting as this most likely won’t also happen back home!
If you decided on a lodge that has views of a waterhole, you’ve got endless entertainment for your young ones. While lounging on a safe deck, you can spot a baby elephant playing at the water’s edge or an impala drinking water while the lion is watching carefully from the bushes further away. The images are priceless and offer excellent photo opportunities, too!
Superb lodges overlooking waterholes can be found in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, Klaserie Private Game Reserve, Madikwe Private Game Reserve, as well as in Kruger National Park.
Ready to explore South Africa with your children? Big Five safaris are an excellent way for your young ones to meet the amazing wildlife in this part of the world!