How to Have a Lion King African Safari

Fans across the world love the original Lion King movie which tells the story of a family of lions and their escapades in Africa– along with their various sidekicks. Now, a whole new generation is set to fall in love with the remake. Simba, Nala, Mufasa and other lions must outlast Scar and his hyena henchmen Kamari, Shenzi and Azizi, with Pumbaa the warthog, Timon the meerkat, Zazu the hornbill, Rafiki the mandrill all adding to the fun and drama.

If you and your children want to see lions in real life as well as the other animals from the film, this is how to do it.

Head to Kenya for Lions (and More)

Scenes for the first movie in 1994 were supposedly inspired by Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya. It is a fairly small park with limited accommodation in Nakuru near Lake Naivasha. Its evocative name is derived from a break in the cliffs that make up a part of the Great African Rift Valley.

But plenty of other places have the same wide-open sky, never-ending horizons, red sunsets, and iconic acacia trees. The Masai Mara National Reserve is the foremost choice, especially since the sheer density of plains game here attracts major lion prides. You’re also likely to see warthogs (Pumbaa), hornbills (Zazu), and hyenas here (just no mandrills or meerkats!).

A very alert lioness near Chyulu Hills.

 

Another good choice is Samburu National Reserve, which is more arid than the Mara. It is famous for a lioness who routinely ‘adopts’ orphaned or abandoned antelope, especially oryx calves. She is thought to be infertile and has been seen ‘caring for’ at least six such calves over the years.

See our best Lion King safari ideas:

Then Add the Beach

A safari can be tough going for young kids. From the long-haul flight to Africa to the early wake-up calls for dawn game drives, as well as substantial time in the heat of the bush. To return home truly rested and refreshed, we suggest adding a few days at the beach or on an island to your safari.

If you’re visiting Kenya, head to the tropical southern coast like Diani Beach or nearby Zanzibar for warm water, late mornings and plenty of fun in the sun:

Head to the Kalahari for Timon

Unfortunately, you won’t find meerkats in Kenya as they thrive in the soft semi-desert sands of the Kalahari, which spans southern Botswana and north-western South Africa. They live in communal burrows and are very inquisitive. Meerkats are easily habituated to humans’ presence and in some camps are even known to use our superior height as a lookout point, scurrying up people’s bodies and sitting on their heads!

A colony of meerkats at San Camp.

 

The good news is that the Kalahari is also an excellent location to see hyena and black-maned Kalahari lions. The landscape, however, is very different to that in the films although if you travel in low season (about November to April) the rains may provide lush grazing.

 

Dad and son at Tswalu Kalahari.

 

It’s easy to combine the Kalahari with other desirable and child-friendly destinations like Cape Town, the Kruger National Park, the Okavango Delta, and Victoria Falls. If you want to add on a beach portion for some R&R, look no further than Mauritius or even Sun City, Africa’s biggest resort complex with a sandy beach built right in the middle of the bush. These are some of our favorite ways to see Meerkats:

Try the Congo for Rafiki (and Other Primates)

Mandrills are the world’s largest monkey species and spotting them is actually quite rare as they are found only in the endangered equatorial rain forests of Central Africa. You definitely won’t spot them in the Masai Mara or Kalahari! Your best chance is to head to Congo, which is also a fantastic primate destination renowned for some of the easiest gorilla trekking in the world thanks to the flat terrain and lack of altitude. So if you're keen to see primates, spending an hour with a family of western lowland gorillas is the ultimate experience, but note it is only allowed for those 16 and older.

Other key gorilla trekking destinations are Rwanda and Uganda but the hiking can be tougher because of the steeper terrain.  Here are some the best ways to do it:

Important Tips for Parents

If it's your first safari or the first time you are bringing your children along, then please read the following advice:

  • Seeing animals in the wild is not the same as in animated movies or documentaries where footage shot over the course of a few months is often pieced together to make an exciting few minutes. Lions, especially, are very quiet during the day because they usually hunt at night. Most often, you’ll find a pride sleeping off a big meal or resting in the shade. Children may be disappointed so set the scene long before you arrive on safari and explain what you’re likely to see.
  • Lions breed year-round so there is a chance you'll see cubs whenever you go on safari. Mothers den their cubs for at least six weeks so the chances of seeing cute new-borns, however, is slim.
  • If you are lucky enough to see a kill, remember that it can be gory and intense until the prey takes its last breath… there is no mercy in the pursuit of food– or in doing all it takes to escape a predator!

Mom protecting her cubs in South Africa.

 

  • Juvenile, older, slower and weaker animals are generally the easiest prey. A chase is exciting but can be stressful for children and even parents. You may cheer for the underdog but the laws of nature usually win.
  • A pride of lions may be surrounded by their ‘leftovers’ – this can be quite smelly and upsetting, as jackals, vultures (and flies) are usually trying to take advantage.
  • Hyenas are more active during the day than lions but they’re often found in proximity to one another because they try and steal each other’s kills – it’s a myth that hyenas survive by scavenging. It only seems this way because they steal lions’ prey or take back their own! Spotted hyenas (the ones from the movie) are more common than brown hyenas.

Lions and hyenas at Ol Donyo in Kenya.

 

  • If you are travelling with young children who are doing their first safari, try to arrange a private vehicle and a safari family villa. This will give you far more flexibility and privacy. If the kids are tired, you can go back to the lodge without disrupting the other guests on the game-drive vehicle. The villa will have special amenities to cater to kids, and you can have meals there in private if you prefer.
  • Note some guides may not take very young children near predators. Lions have very sensitive hearing and high pitches can irritate them. If you can, bring as many pairs of binoculars with you as possible especially smaller ones for children to ensure everyone has the best viewing experience.
  • For young children, consider malaria-free destinations if you are concerned about them taking medications. These include Madikwe, Etosha, Pilanesberg, and Addo Elephant.

 

Lions resting in the Masai Mara.

 

Please click here to read more about lion-cub petting and ethical animal encounters. Every safari helps conservation. Your safari dollars go a long way to help preserve wild spaces and the animals that thrive in them.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us so we can connect you to your personal Safari Expert about what to expect and how to give your family a safari that is fun, attainable, and sustainable! It will be one of the best decisions of your life and an experience your children will never forget.