If you’ve been following my daughter and I for little bit, you will know that we LOVE going on safaris. I’ve been taking Rosie on an Africa safari for the first time when she was 2 and we haven’t stopped ever since. I will never forget the look on her face, it was her 2nd birthday, when for the first time in her life she saw elephants and rhinos in the wild. Her little voice in the back of the car: ELEPHANT!! MAMA ELEPHANTS!! SAFARI AFRICA! SAFARI AFRICA! ELEPHANTS!
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We drove in our rental car through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park about 3 hours north of Durban. The park is as big as about 60.000 soccer fields and I used to visit it a lot when I was still working as a National South African Tourist Guide.I was excited to share all that beauty with my daughter. Hoping to create an awareness for our precious wildlife, nature conservation and the entire planet. Bringing up safari kids who appreciate nature and understand why it is important to look after it, is probably on many parents’ mind.
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- 1 Introduction – The best safari in Africa for families
- 2 What is safari?
- 3 Why you can have the best safari in Africa for families in South Africa?
- 4 What are the options for a safari in South Africa for families?
- 4.1 The Pilanesberg – 2 hours from Johannesburg
- 4.2 The Kruger National Park – 5 hours from Johannesburg
- 4.3 Timbavati Private Game Reserve – Kambaku Safari Lodge – 7 hours from Johannesburg
- 4.4 The Waterberg – Welgevonden Game Reserve – 4 hours from Johannesburg
- 4.5 The Addo Elephant Park – near Port Elizabeth – Eastern Cape
- 4.6 Private game reserves in the Eastern Cape
- 4.7 Pongola Private Game Reserve – 5 hours from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
- 4.8 Safari parks close to Cape Town and on the Garden Route
Introduction – The best safari in Africa for families
So when you plan your trip to Africa with your family, we would definitely suggest to include an African safari vacation. It will be very hard to decide where is the best safari in Africa but with this article we will try to give you some good pointers on what to look out for so that you can make an informed decision.
If your Africa vacation includes a trip to Cape Town, check out this article for the best safari parks near Cape Town.
A Safari trip to Africa is on most people’s bucket list. It is one of these dream destinations that people think of when they come on honeymoon or when they finally retire. However, over the last few years it has become quite normal to take the entire family on an African Safari.
My family from The Netherlands has come many times on a trip to Africa and we’ve enjoyed many safaris together with my brother and his kids. The so called Three Generations Africa Tours have become quite popular and many operators and accommodation providers have adjusted their offerings so they can accommodate these kind of groups that often consist of 8 people and up, like our family.
What is safari?
If you google what is safari, you will find the following: an expedition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in East Africa.
The Wikipedia explanation gives you the following description of ‘what is safari’: A safari /səˈfɑːri/ (Arabic: سَفَارِي) is an overland journey, usually a trip by tourists in Africa. In the past, the trip was often a big-game hunt, but today, safaris are often to observe and photograph wildlife—or hiking and sightseeing, as well.
Various writers like Jules Verne and Ernest Hemingway have written fiction and non-fiction books about African Safaris. A typical safari journey would start at the crack of dawn with an energetic walk to spot and record wildlife and landscapes. In the afternoon one would rest and dinner would be enjoyed around the fire and one would share stories of the day.
Safety signs at White Elephant Safari Bush Camp
A typical day at an African Safari lodge
In the present day a safari is still planned in exactly the same manner. To give you an example of what a day in a safari lodge would look like, here’s a brief schedule:
– 5h30: walk up call and gathering at the lounge to meet your game ranger and tracker, often coffee, tea and biscuits are provided for those who are hungry in the morning
– 6h00: departure for your open jeep safari. The best African safari trips included open jeep safaris so that you can take good photographs. An open safari jeep might have a canvas roof for sun protection but the sides are open.
Pictures taken at Kambaku Safari Lodge
The tracker will sit at the front of the jeep to look closely at all the tracks to be able to trace the animals and find them. He is trained to look at the spore, to feel the wind and to listen to the bush.
The ranger will drive and share what animals and birds he spots and will also ask the guests to look out for the wild animals and explain how to observe them best and of course he will explain the safety rules which should be followed at all times.
Remember this is an African WILDLIFE safari and not a zoo with tame animals. ALWAYS listen to your ranger because he knows the behaviour of the animals best.
– 9h00 – 10h00: arrival back at the lodge OR bush breakfast prepared by the lodge staff in a beautiful spot
– 10h00 – 14h00: time to relax or maybe a short bush walk to see the smaller animals
– 14h00: lunch at the lodge
– 16h00: departure for your afternoon game drive in an open safari jeep.
– 20h00: back at the lodge, time to quickly refresh and enjoy dinner around the fire together with your game ranger and share the stories of the day.
Why you can have the best safari in Africa for families in South Africa?
As an accredited tourist guide, a solo traveller as well as a tour designer I’ve travelled many corners of the African continent. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing African safaris in: South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and Botswana.
Let me first say this: Any trip to Africa will leave you in awe and forget about all the negativity that the media seems to enjoy spreading about this amazing continent. In any of the countries I mentioned above, I had incredible and unique African safari experiences and you can certainly enjoy them too in any of these countries.
However, if you’re looking to find the best safari in Africa to take your family THEN I would highly recommend a safari in South Africa. Why would I recommend a South Africa safari for you and your family?
A malaria free safari in South Africa
The main reason would be that there are SO many safari options throughout South Africa and many of the South Africa Safaris are malaria free. Malaria free safaris are not possible in any other country in Africa and this is why The Best Safari in Africa for families is in South Africa.
Amazing infrastructure in South Africa
Other reasons to enjoy a safari with your family in South Africa are: the infrastructure is very good. The road network in South Africa is amazing. All main roads are tarred roads and the dirt roads can mostly be done with a normal car and you won’t need to rent an expensive 4×4 car. There are only a few parts in South Africa that are only accessible by 4×4 and one of them is if you want to cross the border into Mozambique at Ponta d’ouro. Other then that, I’ve been able to reach all places I travelled to with my small Hyundai Getz. This comes as a surprise to most people.
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Good road signage
Besides the good road infrastructure, all lodges will provide you with detailed directions and if you follow them (NOT your GPS), you will find the safari lodge easily. Most places are also well indicated en route with brown signage to send you in the right direction. So the directions from the safari lodge and the brown signage together with your GPS to drive the bigger roads, it will be easy to reach your safari lodge.
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Fantastic food AND drinkable tap water
Often people expect to loose weight when they visit for an African Safari. Nothing is less true. The feedback from clients is always about the amazing food as well as the quantities (which sometimes are a bit over the top). South Africans love to braai (= BBQ) so this is very much part of the lifestyle. Breakfasts at lodges are always English breakfasts with anything under the sun to your availability.
In case you’re self-catering, you will find that the supermarkets are well stocked with a lot of choice. Look out for Spar, Pick ‘n Pay, Foodlover’s Market and Checkers which are all great supermarkets to stock up for your road trips and your cooking.
Many people are surprised when I tell then that the tap water in South Africa is one of the best tap waters in the world and that it is drinkable. If it is not, due to drought or due to the location, it will be mentioned because in 99.9% of the country, you can drink the tap water. This is great because it means that you will be less prone to getting sick which is the last thing you want when you’re coming on a trip to Africa.
If you would like to read more about all the practicalities of a trip to South Africa, read THIS article.
Safari kids in South Africa
In no other country I’ve felt and seen so much love for my daughter and my cousins. Kids are well looked after, kept busy and entertained through all kinds of special kids safari activities and people are just genuinely friendly and loving towards families travelling with their children. South Africa is the perfect start of their future as safari kids.
When Rosie was still very small we stayed in lodges with fantastic babysitters who could look after her when I was on the open jeep safari. See below for my raving about Amakhosi Safari Lodge.
Now that she’s in school, the safari lodges offer ‘junior ranger programs’ for the kids which is a fantastic way to engage with the kids and teach them about the African bush. From the age of 6 most lodges will allow the children to participate in the Jeep Safaris. For bush walks they usually need to be 12.
These age restrictions are in place because children have to be aware of the danger and HAVE to obey the rule of being quiet when approaching animals as to not scare them which might make them aggressive. Remember, it is an African safari and not your local Zoo so adhering to the rules and always listening to your ranger is very important.
What are the options for a safari in South Africa for families?
South Africa is a vast country which has 5 times the size of the UK. South Africa has 9 provinces and in most of them you can organise a safari tour. Let me take you through some options.
The Pilanesberg – 2 hours from Johannesburg
This Big 5 reserve is perfect to take your safari kids on a African safari tour. Some people say it is too small but you know what, with kids who often have a short attention span, this is perfect. What people often forget is that going on an African safari doesn’t mean that you continuously will see the animals. Sometimes it is hours of nothingness. Adults understand this, for kids this can get very boring so that’s why Pilanesberg is an excellent safari park in South Africa.
An added bonus is that the famous Sun City is at a stones throw distance so you can easily combine a relaxing resort holiday with a fantastic African safari trip. Your safari kids will love you for it.
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For more info about accommodation inside the Pilanesberg Reserve, click HERE!
The Kruger National Park – 5 hours from Johannesburg
This is most probably the most well known safari park in the world stretching out over 2 provinces, Mpumalanga and Limpopo and border Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Kruger National Park is just slightly smaller than The Netherlands. In the southern part of the park you will find the most animals. However, the Kruger National Park is certain some months of the year a LOW risk malaria area so please do check with your travel doctor. I’ve travelled to this amazing landmark I don’t know how many times and the last few times we enjoyed wonderful family safaris with our entire family.
In the Kruger National Park you can drive your own car and spot the animals. It is often quite easy to follow other cars or jeeps and look at the maps in the different camps to see where animals were spotted. The Southern part of the park is the best part for wildlife spotting. For bookings inside the park you can check out the South African National Parks web site. You will need to book quite well in advance, especially during school holidays.
As you can see here on the left, the location is extraordinary. From your lazy chair you can spot animals in the Crocodile River which is the southern border of the Kruger National Park. A visit to Buckler’s is really ideal for families.
Timbavati Private Game Reserve – Kambaku Safari Lodge – 7 hours from Johannesburg
If you have the chance to stay in a private game reserve bordering the Krugerpark, we can highly recommend it. We had the pleasure of staying inside the Timbavati Private Game Reserve and we enjoyed the family friendly Kambaku Safari Lodge. Staying in private game reserve it often means that there will be less people because it is not allowed to drive your own car inside the reserve. You will take part in open jeep safaris and your day pretty much looks like I’ve described above.
Kambaku Safari Lodge is geared for families and has the added benefit that there’s a water hole where the animals will come to drink. So when you’re relaxing between your activities you will even have the chance to see animals. It is a truly special experience and we had a wonderful family safari at Kambaku Safari Lodge.
The Waterberg – Welgevonden Game Reserve – 4 hours from Johannesburg
This malaria free area has not been discovered yet by many people which obviously makes it a very special and pristine one. It is situated in the North-West Province. Right next to the entrance gate to Welgevonden Game Reserve, is Kololo Private Game Reserve with different types of accommodation and no dangerous animals. This makes it the perfect base from where to explore the Welgevonden Game Reserve.
At Kololo Private Game Reserve, kids can run freely, there are mountain bikes to use and you can go for self-guided walks. Open jeep safaris to the neighbouring Welgevonden Game Reserve can be easily booked. You an choose between half day, fully day or bush hikes. We recommend that you book for you and your safari kids a half day safari as this is often long enough for the children. Once you see they love, you an always book another one.
The Addo Elephant Park – near Port Elizabeth – Eastern Cape
This is an absolute gorgeous park to take the entire family. It has fantastically family friendly accommodation and you can either drive around yourself or book a jeep safari. To watch your child see the first elephant is one of the most precious moments you can give them. They simply can’t believe they see an elephant in real life and Addo Elephant Park has LOTS of them.
Private game reserves in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape offers MANY family safari options and ALL of them are malaria free. We can highly recommend Sibuya Private Game reserve as well as Kariega Private Game Reserve, both situated near Kenton-on-Sea which makes it ideal to combine it with a beach holiday. At Sibuya you are taken by boat to the lodge which was a great adventure in our case because we saw the elephants on the river banks. It was truly regal and breathtaking and these memories will last forever.
Other family friendly safari lodges you can find in: Amakhala where we recommend Reed Valley Inn, Shamwari Private Game Reserve and Lalibela. All reserves offer family friendly accommodation and are great to take the entire family.
Pongola Private Game Reserve – 5 hours from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
During my travels with Rosie we stayed 3 times in this area in 2 different family friendly safari lodges of which one totally blew my mind. Both were very special and very different from each other.
Our first 3 generations family safari with the entire family we stayed at White Elephant Safari Bush camp which is a totally private self-catering bush camp. Wow! It meant we had to bring all our food and make sure it wouldn’t be eaten by hyenas during the night… #truestory. The game ranger who would take us out for activities would come to fetch and then drop us off again, totally left by our selves with an emergency number in case ‘anything’ would happen.. Needless to say we checked and double checked everything before heading to bed at night.
From all the safari experiences, I think this was one of the most unique ones and it is perfect if you want to spend superb quality time with your family because you won’t be interrupted by waiters or rangers and you decide each day what activity you want to do. We went for jeep drives or course and also a beautiful boat ride on Lake Jozini. Making memories is all that counts in life, isn’t it?
The camp sleeps a maximum of 17 people divided over 6 double/twin chalets and 1 private villa for 5. There’s a plunge pool to cool and dust off and at night we all sat around the camp fire to enjoy our wine and hot chocolates. See picture on the left for the bar / kitchen / lounge area. Gosh it was so beautiful and special. It is also a great spot of course for a group of friends hanging out together and enjoying a fantastic African safari weekend away or mid-week.
In case you’re not into self-catering, know that Whte Elephant Safari Lodge also offers a 5 star experience where all your needs and wishes are catered for.
Last but certainly not least as I have fond memories of staying here 2 times. The first time was on a field trip exploring the region and I was travelling alone with Rosie. We only stayed one night but WOW, they left an impression that I will never ever forget. That’s when I was committed to bring my whole family here because I wanted them to experience this special place too.
Our first stay at Amakhosi Safari Lodge, Rosie was only 2 years old and I had just been driving for about 7 hours to just get us there. Field trips are often a bit stressful because you try to pack in as much as possible and this time I might have stretched myself a bit and certainly my then 2 year old. You won’t believe what happened next.
I arrived at Amakhosi Safari Lodge in our rental car JUST in time to make it for the afternoon safari. I thought I must skip it and rather give some attention to my daughter but the entire team of Amakhosi Safari Lodge was welcoming us and taking all worries away from me.
The lovely ladies gave a warm hug to Rosie, quickly gave me a refreshing towel and asked me to hop on the safari vehicle, I had just made it. They took all the luggage and told me to not worry and enjoy my safari. And so I did. It was great to be at the back of the vehicle and not having to worry about anything for a bit. But the best happened when we arrived back at the lodge.
The sun was down so it was dark. Arriving back at the lodge, my daughter was awaiting me with the child minder. She was in her PJs and munching on delicious fish and chips which they had prepared for her. She was EXTREMELY happy, laughing and relaxed (after a horrid day).
I went to my chalet to freshen up before dinner when other staff members were busy setting up Rosie cot with lovely new linen. In the bathroom they’d run a bath for me and sprinkled it with rose petals. Now how is that for a single mother on the go all the time? It was the most amazing pampering I had experienced in a loooong time. That’s for sure. So Amakhosi Safari Lodge will be imprinted in my memory for ever because of this memorable experience.
When we went there for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary a few years later, we had exactly the same experience. Rosie as now bigger and she came on the jeep safari with us. That time we had lions and elephants come EXTREMELY close to us and she would hide under the blanket and ask in a whispering voice: Are they still there? LOL.
See the elephant here on the left. You see my sister-in-laws hair for a little bit and Rosie cap at the bottom of the pictures. THIS is how close the elephants came and we were just quietly observing them. Basically holding our breath, scared to make a noise. There really is nothing more magical than watching the African animals in their natural habitat and learn from they behaviour.
Did you know that elephants have very very strong family bonds and that you can never separate an elephant from it’s herd? They will all be so sad for the loss and it will make them agressive.
Safari parks close to Cape Town and on the Garden Route
Cape Town is not really a safari destination but just a few hours outside of Cape Town there are some pretty good options to enjoy a South African Safari trip. In case you’re only visiting Cape Town and you don’t have time or budget to travel to any other parts of the country, you can find your Cape Town Safari options through THIS link.
I hope that I’ve convinced you to plan a trip to Africa and include a South African safari for the entire family. It will leave you with every lasting memories and don’t forget: You can leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you!
Oh and remember, this is only a FRACTION of all the safari option in South Africa. There is really an endless amount of parks and lodges. Let us know if you find one that we should include into this overview as well.
Till then, Happy Travels!