It is possible to take a baby or toddler on safari but there are a lot of factors you have to consider. Our Africa Safari Experts will use their decades’ worth of on-the-ground experience to guide you in taking your littlest one to greatest Africa, safely, comfortably and affordably.
What you need to consider
It is unusual to take babies and toddlers on safari although it can be done. Safari lore has plenty of stories about children learning to crawl among the creepy-crawlies of the bush or sharing their fruit with the resident vervet monkey. That’s all very well but you need to seriously consider a lot of other factors:
- Many lodges and camps have age restrictions The usual age restriction is six years but for walking safaris and gorilla trekking, this rises to 16. This means your choice of accommodation is immediately restricted to the few places that don’t have age restrictions in place.
- Many lodges and camps are unfenced An unfenced camp allows all wildlife – including predators like lions, leopards and hyenas that are very active at night – to wander through. An elephant fence is not enough to ensure security for little children – you need a fully fenced lodge. Once again, this automatically restricts where you can stay.
- Malaria zones Very young children may not be able to take malaria prophylactics so malaria zones must be avoided. Consider too whether you will need vaccinations against yellow fever. In some places, tsetse fly are still present – they leave an incredibly painful bite.
- Travelling on small planes Light aircraft are unpressurised and often cramped, which can cause discomfort to small children. They are also more affected by turbulence and the thermals that come up in the heat of the afternoon, sometimes resulting in motion sickness. Bear in mind that, especially in East Africa, you may drop off or collect other guests en route to your own lodge. This means multiple take-offs and landings, which may make the journey uncomfortable for little ones.
- Limited luggage allowances Little children’s needs can result in a lot of paraphernalia like prams (pushchairs), nappies (diapers), formula, plenty of clothes and so on. Light aircraft have very strict luggage limits so make sure you can fit all you need into a single bag.
- Restricted supplies While many lodges have safari shops for souvenirs and occasionally basic toiletries, these virtually never include stocks of baby items and they are almost impossible to get in the bush. You will have to take sufficient stocks of everything you need with you.
- Private game-drive vehicles Many lodges and camps prefer or insist that families with young children book private game-drive vehicles. The advantage is that you can return to camp whenever the children have had enough without bothering other guests. Bear in mind that private vehicles can be quite pricy and remember that passengers are often required to be quiet and sit still when viewing game. Some policies restrict how close guides with young passengers can get to predators, especially in open vehicles. This means your viewing of the big cats and perhaps even other unpredictable game like buffalo may be very restricted or distant. Many animals are disturbed by high-pitched sounds such as a baby’s scream – it’s best that they’re not attracted to investigate the source!
- Dust, heat, restrooms and bumpy roads We love safari and it’s great fun but even we admit it can be hot, dusty and bumpy! Can you cope with a tired toddler on a long road transfer or having to change them without access to a restroom?
- Kids’ clubs or babysitters Very few lodges and camps have full activities, facilities or minders for young children. There is unlikely to be television, for example, and Wi-Fi signals will probably not be strong enough to stream their favourite movies or shows.
- The safari schedule As adults, you will be up before dawn for early morning game drives and turn in after dinner and drinks in the boma around the campfire. You will spend at least six hours a day out in the bush. Think about how your children will adapt to a different schedule.
- Family units Inter-leading or family units are in limited supply and go quickly, especially for peak season. Book early to ensure you have a family-friendly suite.
Our best babies-on-safari advice
While it might seem like taking a baby or toddler on a Big 5 safari is nearly impossible, we promise that it can be done! When you’ve made peace with staying at a fenced lodge and perhaps securing your own game-drive vehicle, plans can fall into place and soon your ‘bush babies’ will be gurgling at real bushbabies!
1. Consider South Africa
South Africa has the best infrastructure and widest variety of safari accommodation. You are most likely to find kids’ clubs, trained nannies and child-friendly lodges in areas like Greater Kruger, the Eastern Cape and Madikwe.
Many travellers combine a safari with places like Cape Town, Sun City and the Garden Route, which offer a plethora of suitable accommodation and activities, as well as shops for all the necessary items of travelling with a baby.
2. Break up your arrival and departure journeys
Many clients want to understandably maximise their time on safari and so go straight from a long-haul flight to their lodge and onto a game drive. We strongly suggest a night in a city hotel after your international flight so that you can have a proper night’s sleep before leaving on a private transfer the next morning.
3. Don’t move around too much
Many travellers like to move to a different lodge after two or three nights. For younger children, we suggest staying in one place so that you can develop a routine and minimise the disruption of repacking and long road or air transfers.
4. Look at safari villas
They may be pricier but they come with multiple benefits that you really can’t put a price on like private chefs (ideal if you have picky eaters or a set routine), plenty of space all to yourself (no other guests will be affected by a toddler tantrum) and often a private vehicle. Some even have staff rooms if you are travelling with a nanny or extras like DVD players and satellite connections.
5. Ensure the lodge has a children’s programme
Children’s activities include nature rambles around the property, simple arts & crafts, games and even basic baking – all with age-appropriate interaction and professional babysitters. For very small children, childminders will ensure they are feed, cleaned and have their naps while you are out on a game drive.
6. Add on a beach destination
Africa’s most popular beach destination – the island of Mauritius – has plenty of child-friendly accommodation and under-twos are widely catered for. After the early mornings and late nights of safari, a few days in a tropical paradise could be a great tonic for the whole family. Mauritius is an easy flight from Kruger.
Be sure to tell your ASE exactly what your requirements are so that they can ensure your choice of hotel, lodge or camp meets them. Aim for rooms that have kitchenettes (ideal for preparing bottles or other food) and can accommodate a third bed or cot.
Southern Africa safari accommodation inspiration
East African safari accommodation inspiration
Mauritius, Cape Town and Winelands accommodation inspiration
Real-life tips from Go2Africa’s MD Maija de Rijk-Uys
Maija is a veteran traveller who has taken both her toddler son and baby daughter on safari annually. These are her suggestions to make life easier:
- Use a baby carrier for game drives This will keep your hands free and keep baby near you at all times.
- Break up game drives Tell your private guide you’d like to do about an hour with your young children and then drop them back at the lodge with the babysitting service before you continue with the rest of the drive.
- Changing nappies on a game drive is possible No different to a ‘bush break’ for adults – just take all the diaper items away with you.
- Choose a lodge with air conditioning and a swimming pool While mornings and evenings are cool, even mid-winter days in peak season can get hot. AC and a pool keep tempers under control, burn off energy and ensure a peaceful night’s sleep.
- Drive rather than fly Baggage allowances are very limited on light aircraft so hiring a car and driving to your lodge allows you far more space. This is only really possible in South Africa (which has the best infrastructure and most family-friendly options) and parts of Namibia. Driving also allows you to stop at the last shops before you hit the national park or reserve to stock up on supplies.
- Breastfeeding is easier than bottles If this is not possible, choose a unit with a kitchenette so you can have access to hot water, a sink and microwave oven for sterilising and warming bottles.
- Improvise with solids With sufficient notice, the kitchen should be able to boil items like butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, rice and spinach that you can mash to feed baby.
Emma Hill, a very experienced Africa Safari Expert who joined Go2Africa in 2008, ensures the following are in place when travelling with her young son:
- Hire a car seat Ensure your rental car has a suitable car seat installed to take your child comfortably and safely. There may be an extra charge for this.
- Bring medicine for every ailment Options are limited in the bush, especially formulations for little children. Bring painkillers, suppositories, ointments for stings or bites, sunscreen and so on so you can tackle upset tummies, teething, constipation, vomiting, fevers and rashes quickly and easily.