Family holidays in Africa began at an early age for me but each has remained indelibly imprinted on my mind. I was a young child on our Lake Kariba fishing adventure in Zimbabwe and barely into my teens when we canoed down the Zambezi River and explored the Okavango Delta, but we still talk about these trips decades later. Although, as adults, we now lead separate and far-flung lives, subsequent family holidays to Zanzibar, Mozambique or Botswana have served to bring us together, reinforcing family ties and sharing wonderful experiences.
Africa is made for family holidays, whether you are planning a tropical beach escape or a Big 5 safari. Where you go depends on who is going with you. Here are our Top 5 suggestions:
Mauritius for children and toddlers
Namibia for teenagers
Tanzania for adult children
Botswana for grandparents
South Africa for multi-generational family groups
1.) Travelling with Tots
A family travelling with small children will battle to beat Mauritius as a holiday destination. Easy to reach, safe and friendly and usually bathed in sunshine, this Indian Ocean island has hosted happy families for decades. Since it is free of both malaria and big game, it is the perfect place for families with tots to visit.
Our recommended getaways are to Sugar Beach or La Pirogue. Not only do these resorts have picturesque surroundings and perfect swimming beaches but they offer extensive entertainment and activity programmes for kids as young as two years old.
The Sun Kids programme, for example, features arts and crafts, mini golf, tennis, and swimming and snorkelling, all closely supervised by dedicated staff. This means that mom and dad get to enjoy some well-earned downtime on the beach or in the spa while their children are making new friends and having an absolute ball.
2.) Travelling with Teens
Most teenagers love destinations with off-the-wall activities. Victoria Falls is Africa's adrenalin capital and offers thrilling activities like white-water rafting, bridge swings and bungee jumping. Namibia's Sossusvlei and Swakopmund offer the desert equivalent with sand boarding down monstrous dunes and quad biking (ATVs), hiking and hot-air ballooning.
A little more off the beaten track, Lake Malawi is an enormous freshwater adventure paradise for active teens. While you settle back in a hammock, they can go kayaking, sailing and snorkelling in crystal-clear waters. Game viewing in Liwonde National Park gathers the family together for shared encounters with the Big 5.
If your teens are budding naturalists who want to combine big game with big adventures, many Kenya family safari destinations are ideal. The Laikipia region mixes horse-back safaris and camel trekking with fantastic wildlife, while the Masai Mara is home to some of Africa's most spectacular game viewing during the Wildebeest Migration.
And for a true parent-teen bonding experience very little can beat a traditional camping safari through Amboseli National Park. Lifelong memories are born in the cultural exchanges with Maasai tribal communities and witnessing the dramatic interaction of predator and prey in the wild.
3.) Adventures with Grown-up Children
Chances are that once they have grown up there are only a few occasions when you and your offspring spend any extended leisure time together. What better way to reconnect than with a life-changing experience? A family safari in Tanzania during the Wildebeest Migration provides a treasure trove of memories and anecdotes: witness the vast herds of zebra and wildebeest moving across the Serengeti's endless plains tracked by a host of powerful predators.
For a more 'hands-on' adventure, a gorilla trek in the pristine rainforests of Uganda is an encounter that is both humbling and exhilarating: to get close to these great apes in their natural environment is a window into our deepest past. The fact that mountain gorillas, living as they do in tight-knit family groups, are so endangered makes the experience even more poignant.
Travelling together with a shared goal or mission in mind - like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - is another winning formula for reconnecting grown-up families. Although not a technical climb, the altitude of Africa's highest mountain makes it necessary to conquer via an acclimatising hike some four or five days long. It is a tough walk but to stand together on this iconic peak, having made the summit as a family, is a a rare and precious experience.
4.) Travelling with Grandparents
Taking older members of your family to Africa can be done in absolute comfort and safety. Rovos Rail is the world's most luxurious train and on its Pretoria to Victoria Falls route it takes in gorgeous scenery from the elegance and grandeur of its spacious carriages.
In combination with Rovos Rail or as a stand-alone safari, the lodges of Botswana and South Africa offer unrivalled game viewing, luxurious accommodation, fine dining and world-class service. Tranquil and exclusive, these top lodges deliver equally memorable encounters to those offered in more adventurous destinations but wrapped in a level of comfort better suited to older or more sensitive travellers.
When the pace of a holiday has to be adjusted to include children, parents and grandparents, South Africa is the natural choice. Modern infrastructure and diverse range of attractions and accommodation make it easy to tailor a holiday to the varying actvity levels of three generations. South Africa is also the perfect destination to combine a wilderness safari with a glorious beach holiday.
For more adventurous families, the resorts of Mauritius, Zanzibar and Mozambique spring to mind. Facilities at these beachfront destinations range from spas and bars to children's clubs and discos, while activities include horse riding, hiking, golf, diving and all manner of water sports - there really is something for everyone.
Go2Africa's Safari Experts are brimming with great ideas and first hand experience in planning (and enjoying!) family safaris in Africa. Take advantage of our expertise to tailor-make a family friendly itinerary that works for tots, teens, parents and you.