Top Tips for Taking Toddlers on Safari
There is a lot to be said for seeing the raw beauty of an African safari adventure through the eyes of children, witnessing first-hand the sizes, shapes, sounds and smells of the animals they read about in their stories. After all, there is an innocent childishness within everyone that is awakened by this real life version of the Lion King playing out in front of us. And it’s not just the animals; last week we sat our children on a bench by the waterhole in their pyjamas with a bowl of pasta each (and a couple of beers for us) and watched the sun disappear into a purple sky while we played ‘spot the reflection’ on the still water’s edge. Zebras, mainly. Stargazing, campfires, picnics and splash pools are all bonus features of the safari holiday. What’s not to love?
So if you're heading out on your first safari holiday with kids in tow, here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip:
Swot up on the animals and your destination
It’s worth prepping your children in advance - learning the names and properties of the animals they will see, not just the elusive Big Five but the ones they will see more regularly such as the humble impala, ostrich and zebra - let’s get excited about them too. Knowledge is power; it’s worth checking what the conditions will be like where you’re going, for example, in Hwange the elephants were plentiful but the facilities were less child-friendly. In Etosha the campsites had kids’ pools and ice cream but they wouldn’t take children under 6 on guided drives. Also, I prefer taking our kiddies in the African winter months (our summer) as the trees are bare and animals more easily spotted. It’s worth being open minded too; we saw more game from an hour’s scenic flight than we did in three days on the ground and the children loved it. Once you’ve sussed where you’re going, got the right vaccinations and bought your anti-malarials (Asda is still the cheapest for these) there’s the question of what to take.
Pack snacks, toys and more
Snacks - so many snacks. A toddler sling for guided walks, layers for cold morning game drives (but don’t dress in red), games and - dare I say it - carefully loaded tablets for the kids. Older toddlers will manage ‘real’ binoculars and I can recommend non-spill water bottles for those times when you just can’t have your eyes on the back seat of the car at the same time as scanning the savannah for paw prints. Did I mention snacks?!
Consider a self-drive safari
The trouble with safari is the long periods of waiting, watching, wishing for these animals to reveal themselves. When they do you are rewarded - little ones will love to scramble over you to get the best view of a stalking lion or slurping elephant. If you choose a self-drive safari you can control the times you go (sync with nap times to combat the aforementioned long periods of waiting), you can bring all the toys and snacks you need and you have the flexibility to turn round if a tantrum kicks off. We also took a cheap, light car seat with us which was high enough to see out of the windows. You can’t ask your toddler to show an interest in searching for leopards in the undergrowth if all they can see from their seat is the sky.
However you don’t have the same understanding as an experienced game driver. Again, knowledge is power; ask the rangers and reception staff before you go what’s happening and where’s best. Be aware that if you are taking your children on safari there may be long drives, early starts and tedious waits. And that routine you had so carefully perfected? You might need to let that go for a while. Tracking prints in the sand, analysing the freshness of elephant dung and spotting swarms of parked 4X4s up ahead will be as important as spotting the animals themselves. Guided game drives are great as the rangers communicate on radios about what they’ve seen, they can tell you so much useful information about the park, birds, vegetation and, er, poo... and, frankly, some terrains are better left to the professional guide/driver. However you can be out in the bush for hours without a potty and it’s not really the time or place for a ‘nature wee’...
Make a photobook
It’s important to keep re-living the memories if you want your children to remember their safari experience. With the right app (I like ‘Free Photobooks’) you can make a little book of pictures from your phone and it will be there on your doorstep for when you fly home, ready to show grandparents and nursery friends everything they’ve seen on their beautiful adventure.
Taking your children on safari can be such a rewarding experience. When the whole Jeep falls silent as a male lion walks purposefully towards your vehicle and your little one shouts: ‘Look! A daddy rahhh!’ you won’t know whether to shush him, kiss him or burst into a rendition of The Circle of Life. So pack your snacks, load up the Trunki and let your toddler experience the wonder of Africa’s greatest show.