Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Teenagers are a lot like some species of wildlife: they tend to sleep a lot at odd hours, have voracious appetites, can be really loud and - just when they think they’re strong enough to leave the herd and go ‘out there’ on their own - they come back for reassurance that everything’s OK!
Travelling with teens is sometimes tricky but we’ve brought thousands to Africa since 1998 and have lived to tell the tale. These are real-life tips and suggestions for going on safari with a teenager.
We are pretty hard-to-please!
- Apostolos Kakkos
1. Head to South Africa
If you have never travelled to Africa or been on safari before, then start in South Africa. There are many reasons for this:
More direct flights
There are direct flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg from international destinations, cutting down on boring transit time.
City then safari (then beach!)
To ease teens into nature and to get everyone over jet lag, consider at least an overnight or more in Johannesburg or at least four days in Cape Town because there is so much to see and do.
A safari means early morning wake-up calls, which no teenager loves. To reward them for getting up before dawn on their vacation, arrange a few days of major downtime and R&R on a beach or island afterwards, whether in South Africa or further afield like Mauritius, Zanzibar or the Seychelles.
If an internet connection is a non-negotiable for your teenagers, then South Africa is your best bet because it has the most wide-reaching network. Prepare them for slower connections and higher data charges – it pays to buy a local SIM card rather than to switch your mobile phone to international roaming. Of course, if you want to force them to have a ‘digital detox’ and a break from screen time, then we can easily recommend lodges that are off the grid and have no connectivity at all.
Shorter transit times
As the most urbanised country in Africa, South Africa has the widest variety of activities for teenagers’ interests so there are bound to be at least a few things they are interested in seeing or doing.
Great value for money
Thanks to a very beneficial exchange rate, South Africa allows travellers to splurge on adventure activities, spa sessions, luxurious meals, high-end shopping and vacation villa accommodation. Their spending money will go very far for clothes, snacks and souvenirs.
2. Plan for your teenagers’ interests
If you chat to us about what your teens enjoy back home, then we can easily guide you on places and accommodation that can feed their hobbies or interests.
If you kids are sporty, then consider safari lodges that offer archery, mountain biking, tennis or polo, or have gyms. Some in East Africa even offer morning runs guided by Maasai, the best long-distance runners in the world (don’t worry, they’ll slacken their pace for guests). Community village visits sometimes end with a friendly game of football (soccer) between villagers and guests. Soccer is Africa’s most popular sport and donations of balls will always be very gratefully received. Not all hotels and lodges have these facilities so if they are important to you, let us know upfront.
If you have a budding golfer on your hands, then let us create a vacation to South Africa that weaves in safari and some of the country’s championship golf courses, frequented by the likes of Ernie Els, Gary Player and Louis Oosthuizen.
You have come to the right place and are totally spoilt for choice! Safari is all about nature 24/7. Choose a lodge that offers a junior rangers programme, night drives or has guest naturalist lecturers or specialist guides.
If they’re outdoorsy and active, then get their blood pumping with horse-riding, camel trekking, quad biking (ATVs), swimming, caving, white-water rafting or kayaking. Head to the Kalahari Desert for encounters with meerkats or to the Okavango Delta to walk with habituated elephants.
Photography and art
Budding wildlife photographers will be in their element. Some lodges offer specialist photographic vehicles with custom mounts and swivel seats so that everyone has a perfect view. Ask your personal Africa Safari Expert to recommend lodges with photographic hides – while the rest of the family is having a siesta, your teen can spend hours photographing all the wildlife that comes down to the hide.
A few high-end lodges even have media rooms where photographs can be processed, with experts on hand to guide them through the process. For the fine artists, some lodges provide sketch pads and watercolours.
If they live for the thrill, then definitely include Victoria Falls on your itinerary. When water levels are low, they can go white-water rafting, bridge swinging, bungee jumping or even take a flip over the Falls in a microlight or helicopter. It’s also possible to swim right on the edge of the Falls in Devil’s Pool!
At the beach, look out for sandboarding, kitesurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and diving, all in warm water and plenty of sunshine.
Food and cooking
Teenage foodies will enjoy lodges that have interactive kitchens where they can learn directly from the chefs. Or take a private luxury safari villa, with its own full kitchen, so your teen can experiment in Africa. At the very least, opt for a lodge with a pizza oven so everyone can create their own pizzas.
Health and beauty needn’t be neglected on safari. There are lots of stunning spas that offer all sorts of treatments, including manis and pedis. A sprinkling of lodges offers yoga sessions, either right in the bush or on special pavilions with gorgeous views. In-room massages are a huge treat.
If they live to ‘do it for the ‘Gram’, then they’re also spoilt for choice. Africa abounds with stunning hotels, beautiful views, amazing wildlife… there will be no shortage of places to pose (but read our important etiquette tips below).
3. Important Tips for Teens in Africa
Age restrictions on walking safaris and gorilla treks
Walking safaris and gorilla treks do not permit those under 16 to participate due to the activities’ strenuous natures and for the children’s own safety.
In addition, individual safari lodges may have age restrictions on activities like fly-camping, sleep-outs and star beds – as your personal Africa Safari Expert to check if these are important to you.
The drinking age may be 18
In many countries, including South Africa, the legal age to drink alcohol is 18 and your teen’s room may have a mini-bar in it. If the legal age is 21 back home, discuss how you will handle this (you can ask for all alcohol to be removed). Drinks are also offered as ‘sundowners’ on safari for those over 18; chat about whether your child can have an Amarula (much like Bailey’s) on ice or a light beer on vacation or not.
Don’t stress if you have picky eaters on your hands – the food will be familiar with burgers, chips, soft drinks, pizzas, snacks, pasta and so on widely available. If your children have dietary requirements, like being vegan, then let your Africa Safari Expert know so they can inform your accommodation. Click for tips and ideas on how to have a vegan safari.
If you bring snacks over with you, don’t leave them in your tent while on safari – monkeys are famous for getting inside and finding food. You may come back to find all your favourite cookies have been eaten by a troop of long-gone vervets!
Ask before you photograph
Do not photograph African children without their parent’s or supervisor’s permission. Ask before you photograph people in general and be sure to thank them. Remember, people are not wildlife. In Botswana, for example, it is illegal to photograph children who are not your own.
It is illegal to photograph the following: airports, border crossings, soldiers, military installations and some government buildings. Be respectful of monuments and museums, and always listen to guides.
Outside major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, it’s best to keep everything between the shoulders and mid-thighs covered. Bare arms are fine but confine the very short shorts, strapless, backless or plunging items, or those that expose the midriff to the beach. Take a sarong or kikoi along as this is useful for visits to temples, churches, mosques, villages or more conservative neighbourhoods.
Do not bring camouflage clothing or items of military apparel with you as it is illegal for civilians to wear. Armed national rangers wear camouflage on duty to distinguish themselves from guides and guests.
For safari, keep it as neutral as possible. There is no need to pack special items but do try to bring your brown, grey, green or khaki clothes, ideally in cotton. Bright colours, white and black are frowned on. Leave the hairdryers and hair straighteners at home: hotels have hairdryers in the rooms. The power supplies at virtually all lodges will not support hairdryers, tongs etc as they work on solar power or diesel generators.
It is illegal to fly drones over national parks and conservation areas for many reasons: they have been known to combust, falling to the ground and causing devastating wildfires. They interfere with legitimate anti-poaching drone operations. They are also known to irritate wildlife and safari attempts to stress the animals as little as possible.
If your teen wants to bring their drone, please ensure they have all the correct permits in place and adhere to local rules – hefty fines, arrests and even imprisonment have resulted from the illegal flying of drones.
Don’t approach wild animals
No matter how tame they seem, treat all animals as wild and unpredictable, even the baboons and African penguins in Cape Town. Don’t beckon them closer or offer them food just to get a cool Instagram picture – many travellers, including singer Shakira and influencer Brother Nature (real name Kelvin Pena), have ended up with painful bites at Boulders Beach!
Respect nature and do not enter restricted areas just for a photo. Places like Table Mountain and Lion’s Head may be popular but they still have steep sides and slippery sections – please stick to the path at all times.
4. Amazing accommodation and activities
It’s hard to put together a list of the best accommodation for teens as there is much to choose from but here are some really exciting ideas!
North Island – The Seychelles
Rooms have desktop computers, Internet connections and TV sets – all in the midst of a beach paradise.
LUX* Gaube – Mauritius
This upscale resort has a private cinema, a full gym, a food truck for snacks and drinks, and plenty of Instagram-worthy spots in the sun.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge – South Africa
Built to merge with its natural surroundings as much as possible, even the full gym at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge has full windows so that you never miss any passing game, even while on the treadmill.
Londolozi – South Africa
After an exciting morning game drive, head to Londo’s one-of-a-kind ‘creative hub’ where you can edit your photos and footage before printing, uploading or whatever else takes your fancy.
Radisson Red – Cape Town
A full-on games room, a rooftop swimming pool and food truck, great views of Table Mountain, strong graphic décor, and easy walking distance to movies, restaurants and shopping – what more could a teen want?
The Twelve Apostles – Cape Town
Lying just past Cape Town’s most spectacular beaches in the foothills of the Twelve Apostles mountains that make up part of Table Mountain National Park, The Twelve Apostles hotel has gorgeous sunset views, secluded glass pagodas, a rock-faced swimming pool and a cool private cinema for rainy days or evenings in.
Planning a safari with a teenager is going to mean compromise – don’t stress if they don’t want to go on every game drive or if they want some downtime at the pool; it is a vacation after all! Our best advice is to leave all the planning in the hands of a capable Africa Safari Expert who will know how to coordinate all the moving parts so that everyone has a great time.