Children on Safari
Most safari operators and private game reserves don't accept children under a certain age, usually under eight, but sometimes the age limit is as high as 12. This age limit is largely for safety reasons. Animals often respond, not in a positive manner, to something that is younger, slower, or smaller than they are. And even though you might think your six- or seven-year-old adores all sorts of animals and bugs, you'd be surprised how overwhelmed kids can become, out of the comfort of their home and backyard, by the size and multitude of African insects and wildlife.
Take into account, also, that when you're following a strange schedule and getting in and out of small planes, safari vehicles, boats, and the like with other people whom you probably won't know, there often is no time to deal with recalcitrant children—and fussing will, you can be guaranteed, annoy the other people in your plane or lodge, who have spent a great deal of money for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime safari trip.
One option, if you can afford it, is to book a private safari where no other people are involved and you dictate the schedule. Many private lodges will rent you the entire property for the length of your stay; this is often the only way these camps allow children under age eight on safari. At the very least, a camp will require that you pay for a private safari vehicle and guide if you have children under 12. Be advised that, even if you're renting the whole camp, babies and toddlers still aren't allowed out on game-viewing trips.
One great family option is to stay with &Beyond, formerly CC Africa, a safari operator with children's programs at several of its upscale camps throughout southern and East Africa. While you follow your own program, your kids pursue their own wilderness activities; you all meet up later for meals and other activities.
A much cheaper alternative is also one of the most enjoyable for a safari as a family: a self-driving trip where you stay at national parks. No destination is better in this regard than Kruger National Park, where there are comfortable accommodations and lots of other families around. You'll be able to set your own schedule, rent a cottage large enough for the entire family, and buy and prepare food you know your children will eat.
It's best not to visit malarial areas with children under age 10. Young kidneys are especially vulnerable to both the effects of malaria and the side effects of malaria prophylactics. You might opt to practice stringent nonchemical preventive measures, but know the risks: malaria's effects on young children are much worse than they are on older people.
Going on safari with babies also isn't recommended. Some lodges, such as those at MalaMala, provide babysitting service for infants, but babies aren't allowed out in safari vehicles. The sound of an infant crying puts most predators on alert, and that can be dangerous to other passengers as well as the child. Keep in mind also that the bush is often a hot and dusty place with little in the way of baby-friendly amenities. You'd have to bring all your own supplies, and if something were to go wrong there would be no way to get immediate help until a flight could be arranged.
Should You Take the Kids?
Consider the following if you're thinking about bringing children to a private safari lodge:
Are they afraid of the dark? A safari camp that runs on generator-powered batteries will have minimal lights at night.
Are they startled easily? Large animals may come quite close to rooms or tents or near safari vehicles.
Are they comfortable with strangers? Most meals at safari lodges are at communal tables and shared six-seat planes are the basic form of transportation between remote safari camps.
Are they troubled by bugs? The African bush can be filled with moths as big as small birds as well as a host of other flying and crawling insects.
Are they picky eaters? Meals are usually buffet style, and food for camps is often ordered at least a month in advance, so your child's favorite food may not be available.
People with Disabilities
Having a disability doesn't mean you cannot go on safari. It's important, however, to plan carefully to ensure that your needs can be adequately met. South African lodges, especially the high-end private ones, are the easiest to navigate and have the fewest steps. Keep in mind that all-terrain 4x4 vehicles don't have seat belts, so you need enough muscle control to keep yourself upright while the vehicle bumps along the unpaved roads. Getting in and out of these elevated vehicles can also be challenging. MalaMala Game Reserve is completely accessible and even has specially equipped four-wheel-drive safari vehicles with harness seat belts. Many of Kruger's camps have special accommodations.
Safaris everywhere welcome older travelers. However, before you book a safari, find out as many details as possible about how taxing a trip might be both physically and mentally. Consider the types of accommodations (for example, find out whether a lodge is built on an incline or has many stairs, and whether bathrooms have grab bars) as well as how much time will be spent in the elements, such as in the hot sun where it's easy to dehydrate, and whether there are daily activities such as canoeing that are physically challenging. For travelers older than 55, Elderhostel arranges a number of annual educational trips to South Africa that consider special needs.
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