As summer approaches, discussions of potential family vacation destinations arise. Without a doubt, an African safari is on your wish list. Elephants, leopard, rhino; seeing them in the wild against a backdrop of bushveld as the sun sinks is incomparable. A safari is also the perfect multigenerational holiday; we’re never too young or too old to enjoy watching wildlife in its habitat. A safari is exciting, fun, bonding, and a fascinating natural history lesson every day. It will become the best trip your family has ever taken.
You’re convinced, your only hesitation; can you afford it? The answer is yes… if.
If you choose the right country.
If you choose the right park.
If you choose the right game lodge.
The Right Country
South Africa is the best choice for diversity of experience, affordability and family-friendly infrastructure. While other African safari destinations have much to recommend them, affordability and accessibility can negatively impact the family budget. Johannesburg is South Africa’s air travel hub. Most major airlines fly there, which not only keeps fares competitive, but opens the door for fantastic international stopovers. There is no better way to add value to a trip then by including another destination; the ultimate two for one. Fly on Delta, and enroute are Paris or Amsterdam. Fly on Emirates, and a few days in Dubai makes sense. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer London stopovers. And, for those who like to focus on one destination, South Africa Airways offers daily non-stops from New York and Washington DC.
Entry permits are issued on arrival in South Africa at no charge. That can save a family of four, $400.
While wildlife viewing is supremely riveting, it does involve early morning wake ups and hours in a vehicle, so it’s good to mix the safari up with other touring. South Africa offers not only the safari experience, but also great beaches, safe self-drive routes, wine touring and exploration of one of the world’s prettiest and most walkable cities, Cape Town. Not to mention, every teenager’s Instagram dream post – a great white shark dive! From lions to lighthouses, from baboons to body surfing, South Africa is the complete vacation package. The recommended number of days at a game lodge is three or four, which leaves plenty of days for other equally fun pursuits.
As South Africans also travel widely in their own country, there is a solid, reliable, family friendly infrastructure in place. Kids, especially younger ones, love to touch and get up close and personal with animals, and the many sanctuary and wildlife orphanages in South Africa make this possible. Meeting local families on vacation can be a memorable cultural exchange.
The Right Park
Travelers from the US tend to believe that the only park to go to is the Kruger. While it is certainly a great park with a deserved reputation, it is no more the only park in South Africa than Waikiki is the only beach in Hawaii. Pilanesberg National Park is only a 2 hour drive (avoid expensive airfares!) from Johannesburg, is as game rich as the Kruger, and has the added attraction of being malaria free. The peace of mind, avoidance of side effects, and cost savings of not having to deal with anti-malarial medication is a bonus.
The Eastern Cape is also a malaria free game area, and the game parks in that region make a great starting or finishing point to a vacation that includes Cape Town at the other end, linked by the Garden Route, South Africa’s safe and scenic self-drive road.
The Right Lodge
There are many, many beautiful game lodges in South Africa, ranging from 3 star to luxury – but not all of them welcome children. Some have a strict no kids policy, and some allow children, but don’t especially cater for them. Fortunately, there are lodges who encourage families and offer age appropriate wildlife programs and even nanny service for the tiny tots. Accommodation includes villas for larger and extended families, and family or interconnecting rooms for those who like to stay in close proximity. For a little extra, these lodges usually offer private use of game vehicles, which means that your kids can be as exuberant as they like without disturbing others.
Getting the advice of a travel professional who knows the parks and lodges that work best for you is key to having an experience that will please all members of the family.
For more information about safaris in South Africa, check out Africa Answers.
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