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An African experience with 5 yrs old child

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Dear Travelers!

We'd like to travel to Africa in December - for 15 days only - with our 5 yrs old son. It's his dream to go there, I'd say he is crazy about animals! Reads about them, watches them in every single ZOO we pass by, knows so many details about them that he surprises numer of adults too. But... Where you advice us to go? Which country is the most kid friendly (hotels, kids attractions)? Can we go on safari with him? Are there any legal requirments regarding ten minimum age of the kid? Do you know any decent travel agent/ tour operator with tailored to kids' needs itinary? What about the vaccinations (especially yellow fever)?

I'd appreciate your feedback.

Cheers, AgaRobAnt

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    many safari lodges do not take children. however, there was one place we stayed at a private reserve that did take kids, "kambaku safari lodge" in timbavati .

    while we were there, there was a famiy with a 7 year old and 10 year old. we loved the lodge (even though the parents of the kids had the NERVE to ask me to watch their kids on safari for an hour while they took a bush walk!!! I guess the owner had told them that they could NOT leave their kids on the safari vehicle with the guides. ) full disclosure... i was STUPID enough to do it. what can i say?? i'm a teacher and just can't say no to any parents!! And no, they did not thank me at all!!!

    anyway... i don't necessarily think it is a good idea overall for kids to go on safari. a couple of things happened .... one night, the younger child dropped his verrrry special key chain and had a FIT that nobody would get out of the jeep to pick it up. (there was a lion 50 feet away!) The guides were absolute angels and actually went back early the following morning and retrieved the item!!
    the following day, one child became so excited when we were about 12 feet from a leopard that he stood to take a picture. a HUGE no-no. the leopard screamed and fake-lunged at us. this was not good.

    contact the lodge to see whether they still take kids... if they do, i would highly recommend it. they also have a big watering hole on-site, where animals frequently come to drink... and a nice viewing deck on a 2nd floor where you can view without worrying that your child will wander. hope this helps.

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    Howzit AgaRobAnt,

    Both of the above comments are worthy of consideration, though I personally believe a safari with your 5y.o. is fully achievable. It will just take a bit of planning and forethought. To answer your specific questions:
    - Where do you advise us to go? Southern Africa, generally being Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe with regards to child-friendly.

    - Which country is the most kid friendly (hotels, kids attractions)? South Africa, but also various areas within the other countries mentioned above.

    - Can we go on safari with him? Are there any legal requirements regarding the minimum age of the kid? Most game drives do not allow children under the age of 6yrs (sometimes 12yrs). Hence my suggestion below to organise a private guide that will accompany/drive you.

    - What about the vaccinations (especially yellow fever)? Unless you are arriving from a country listed as having Yellow Fever, no compulsory vaccinations are required to visit countries in Southern Africa. The major current issue is regarding children arriving in South Africa with only one parent, whereby there needs to be various documentation provided upon entry.

    AgaRobAnt, we ourselves have three young children and often go on safari with them, but we make sure that the drives are tailored around their needs (such as attention spans and meal times) and that we have distractions within the vehicle if needed (such as snacks, wildlife-focused story books/coloring books and, dare I say it, an iPad as an absolute back-up). We had friends from Australia (Grandad, Aunt, Mum & Dad and two children aged 7yrs and 5yrs) who ventured out here (Cape Town, Kruger NP, Victoria Falls, Chobe NP) for an itinerary that was conducted with a personal guide so they could set their own timings throughout each day. They wrote a gleaming review which I'm happy to pass onto you if you wish.

    It's definitely do-able and could even set your child on a life's journey of wildlife appreciation and conservation.

    Darren Humphrys

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    Many camps do have minimum ages for children because they are unfenced with animals wandering through. In somewhere like Botswana or Zambia, for instance, I think you will struggle to find camps that will take a 5 year old. Another issue is that even if camps take children they will often require that you pay extra for a private vehicle so as not to inconvenience other guests.

    One option might be a road safari where you automatically have your own private guide and vehicle, and this type of safari is more common in Kenya and Northern Tanzania, but you then might have long road journeys to contend with which might not be great for a 5 year old. In terms of accommodation, there are larger lodges that might be safer for children than small tented camps, and they also will have pools.

    To be entirely honest, I think 5 years old is probably a bit too young. Your child might love animals, but safari often involves driving around a lot without seeing anything, or seeing the same animals over and over again. Or being patient waiting for an animal to do something. For 4-6 hours at a time. I was considering taking my nephew (aged 8) and I think that would have been OK, but even then I was making sure I looked at places with more activities than just game drives sitting in a vehicle. I was looking at Kenya, which I think is one of the most family friendly safari countries. I was looking at Laikipia Wilderness Camp (which has lots of activities besides game drives) and one of Asilia's private houses in the Mara. The private houses come with private guide and vehicle and have a pool shared between two houses. But they might not be cost effective for a couple and one child (I would have been travelling with my parents and my nephew). But quite a few camps have family tents or villas.

    I also considered South Africa which has a good range of options. But if considering South Africa, I would look at the recent regulations for traveling with children and the paperwork that is required, and check that wouldn't be a problem for you.

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    Further to your suggestions, stokeygirl. I believe that Kruger National Park (South Africa) offers the best all-round safari destination for families. There are many rest camps to choose from, with a plethora of very affordable accommodation styles, along with such child 'necessities' as swimming pools, jungle gyms and shops, and added to this is that one can self-drive within the park (either in a hire car or with a private guide) which then allows parents to cater their game drives to their children's needs. The distance between camps can also be relatively short, especially in comparison to a multi-day safari around Kenya/Tanzania. I would then add a visit to Victoria Falls, which also offers a range of affordable and child-friendly (swimming pools) accommodation styles, along with almost every imaginable activity under the (African) sun to keep any child occupied.
    As I mentioned, the new visa situation is only an issue if the child is not arriving in South Africa with both parents.

    This is just my humble opinion, and I hope this all helps, AgaRobAnt.

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    It's a really long flight. My niece takes her little kids to Australia every year (she married an Aussie) and it's awful. They get sick both ways and jet lag is hellish for them.

    I've been on game drives with kids - for a drive or two it's ok, but beyond that it would be grating. If you decide to go, do fellow travelers a favor and hire a vehicle for just your family. Don't worry too much about seeing a kill. It would be unlikely that the ranger would show you lions that weren't just sleeping. Again, not fair for a vehicle full of other travelers. It would be very unlucky to experience a kill (that's a phrase I never thought I'd utter!), especially when you can just drive away. But safari is unpredictable. It can also be tedious if the animals hunker down and unlike a zoo, you might not see an elephant or lion today.

    Three places I know of that take young kids in S Africa are Gomo Gomo, Tembe Elephant Park and Rhino River Lodge. Contact Wild-Wings-Safaris for a privately guided Kruger National Park safari, which might be your best option. Check to see the minimum age at those lodges, it might be 6 and even older to go on game drives. Personally, 5 is way too young. I'm taking my grand niece and nephew when they are 10 and 12, but that might still be too young - I want to wait until 12 and 14 so we can do bush walks (possibly, usually 16 is the min age). I have a very diverse safari planned for them - lots of other things to do than just game drives, with short driving distances so more fun, less car time between locations.

    Why don't you go to Disney World for their safari stuff - lots more for a five year old to enjoy. San Diego Zoo. The National Zoo, along with so much to do in DC. Or Yellowstone. Animals everywhere. I know two lodge managers in S Africa that worked at Disney World, so they try to do it right. Much shorter flights, too.

    Go to Disney. Save up and give him the greatest middle school graduation gift ever!!

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    I also think a 5 year old on safari is not a good idea for all the reasons stated above, even if you could find a camp that would allow it.

    Wait till he's older and will a) appreciate the experience and b) remember it.

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    In case of Kenya, would prefer you choose permanent structures not tented camps lodges when visiting the parks. then have few hours of traveling between camps. have your reserves located in one region or two to avoid fatigue for the baby traveling long distance. Your child loves animals that is your core interest. i will recommend Masai mara, Lake nakuru national park, lake bogoria and aberdare. the distance between this national parks is maximum two hours driving distance. Masai there is too much to see at one point the big cats, lake Nakuru you visit rhino ranch t see the endagered black rhino and the pink flamingos that color the lake pink, lake bogorai game drives and boiling of eggs from the emerging undergroung hot springs steam.

    hotel accommodations in both places i recommend Sopa lodges, we have sent many families with young children below five years.

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    I take my kids on safari all the time, it is hard to find a place that allows them to go on the actual drives but there are places in the Kruger area. I understand that no one wants a bratty child on a game drive (including me) but as long as they know the rules and follow them (its up to the parent to enforce those rules) there should be no problems. my kids are 5 & 2 and have been on many game drives. they know how to behave and they are really great as they really love animals. we actually saw a lion kill a buffalo about a year ago and it did worry me a bit as i don't even like seeing that but they love animals and nature is gorgeous and cruel and we cannot hide that.
    I have spent so much time researching places that dont only allow kids but welcome them on drives in south africa so happy to help if you have any questions.
    another option is self drive in Kruger, you can go back to camp if he gets bored and its a closed vehicle if you are worried about something happening.
    sandy - Love Africa Travel

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    Hi AgaRobAnt!

    We brought our boys on their first safari when they were 5 and 10 to Madikwe in South Africa. Our boys are both huge animal lovers and, even our youngest, could sit for hours in the jeep, completely mesmerized. It was so wonderful to see them so engaged and so in awe of the wonders of the bush! It is why they have been on many safaris since and it is the only trip they want to take!

    You will find that some lodges will require you to have a private jeep when there are young children. We opted for one and I would highly recommend you do that as well, not just because other guests would prefer not to be in a jeep with a young family but because you don't necessarily want to be with other guests either!

    Besides the simple luxury of being able to come and go as you please, a private jeep will allow your family to have a much closer relationship with the ranger/tracker because you will have him/her to yourselves. He/she can gauge the education to a level that fits your son. And, a good lodge/ranger will have all kinds of fun activities tailored to his interests. For example, kids love making paw print casts and bush "toothpaste" (all natural and organic)! There is nothing better than to see the bush through the eyes of your children and a private jeep will really enhance the experience ten-fold.

    As I mentioned, their first safari was in Madikwe Game Reserve, a malaria-free reserve. Madikwe is a very family friendly reserve and has a wide range of lodges to meet different budgets and travel styles.This is in the Northwest Province of South Africa (about 3.5 hrs by car from JNB). Pilanesberg Nat'l Park is in this area of South Africa as well. Other malaria-free options would include the Eastern Cape (Kwande, Shamwari, Addo etc) as well as Waterberg. For some parents, traveling to a malaria-free reserve is a nice option and so I just thought I'd mention this.

    I'd also encourage you to consider a Private Reserve and not self-drive in a National Park. Self-driving is a bit of hit and miss. You could quite easily drive past something because animals are just so good at camouflage! You also really can't learn much without the expertise of a ranger!

    Even in a jeep with a guide, I'd be inclined to recommend that you consider Private Reserves where you are allowed to drive off-road to stay on track with an animal. Children get such a kick out of driving in and out of river beds as well as over bushes and small trees. Off-road driving is not allowed in National Parks. You can also go on night drives in Private Reserves. It's quite fun to hear the nocturnal sounds of bush and enjoy sightings of animals that are not active during daylight. In addition, rangers work well together from different lodges to share sightings.

    There are many places that allow children, even at age 5 and 6. But please keep in mind that not all lodges that take children are also family-friendly. This is an important difference - some lodges aren't as good at it as others. And, if you are thinking of December 2015, you should start a search asap. Availability will be challenging. Because of these two things, you may want to enlist the help of a Safari Planner/Agent who can perform a targeted search more swiftly.

    My boys remember quite fondly their first safari. Some kids may not. Only you know if this is something that would be best to do now or to wait. I will tell you that Africa has a way of drawing you in. Even if you decide to go in the near future, my guess is that you will return. The bush has a way of doing that!

    Best
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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