Safari with kids

Tips for a safari with kids under the age of 5

Our boys went on their first safari when they were just 1 and 3 years old. It was to see the elephants at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka, and I remember being ridiculously nervous. Would the boys get bored? Will they keep still in the jeep? Will we have to return early and it be a waste if of money?

Udawalawe National Park with kids

As we returned from our first morning’s safari I couldn’t help but wear a beaming smile and feel a little teary. Our experience with a mother and her calf had been intimate and truly magical. The boys instinctively knew to be quiet and were totally engrossed. I also learnt that snacks are the most important thing to take on any safari.

Udawalawe with kids - elephants

Since then, the boys have been on umpteen safaris. Their next one was seeing the rhinos at Chitwan National Park in Nepal, then more recently on our 3.5 month Africa road trip through Sub-Saharan Africa where countless days were spent on safari and we even camped overnight in parks with our Land Rover with roof tents. Through these experiences, we have learnt a few tips along the way.

If you’re wondering – is it safe to do a safari with kids under the age of 5? Have a read about what I have to say about it over on the Lonely Planet Kids Blog. And if you’re wandering which is our favourite safari with kids under the age of 5? Well it has to be Etosha National Park, Namibia!

Here are our top tips for doing a safari with kids under the age of 5.

1. Don’t wait until they’re older

Well this is our motto for all adventure travel with kids. But safaris in particular are something that parents think they need to leave until kids are older to appreciate. The thing is, you never know how life pans out and there is always a reason not to do things. But what I can tell you is that my boys certainly appreciated the safaris and loved them; watching the excitement on their faces as a herd of elephants crossed the road in front of us, or when they realised how tall a giraffe really is as it ambles alongside the car. Truly magical experiences.

And if you’re wondering if you can even take a baby on safari, check out this post from My Travel Monkey.

Safari with kids

2. Self-drive

Many parks in Africa allow you to self-drive. This is ALWAYS our preferred option as we are on our own schedule, can be flexible to how the boys are, and we don’t have to worry about disturbing other tourists if someone is hungry or needs the loo. However, if self-drive is not an option (such as in Sri Lanka or Nepal) then we opt for a private game drive (which can often be pricier, but kids under the age of 6 are often not allowed on group game drives). Or if the it’s a river safari, a private boat means your little ones may even get to drive amongst hippos!

zambia itinerary with kids

3. Snacks and more snacks

Whether you are hiking in the hills, on a long train journey or just popping to the playground, parents always have the snacks handy to prevent ‘hangry’ kids. Same goes for game drives. Often you will be out for at least 3 hours, and my boys certainly can’t go that long without eating.

4. Pack the travel potty

As a general rule, you are not allowed to step out of the vehicle whilst on a game drive; probably good advice to follow when lions and leopards are around. But as parents, we know that when you’re little one needs to go… THEY NEED TO GO NOW! Make sure you have a travel potty on hand and for boys who just need a wee, this  portable urinal is very handy.

5. Get clued up on poo!

My boys are obsessed with poo. I’m guessing they’re not the only ones? There can be quite a wait between animal sightings on safari and you don’t want them to get bored sat in the car. We would find little things to point out to them like nests in a tree, or branches that had been broken by a big elephant. But what was always most successful is spotting a pile of poo on the track and pulling up alongside in our Land Rover for inspection. What shape is the poo? Is it big or small? Can you see grass or berries? Is it wet or dry? What animal do you think it’s from? There is a lot of conversation that can happen around poo.

Safari with kids

Investigating poo on a walking safari at Game Haven Lodge, Malawi

6. Binoculars, camera and an identification booklet

Providing our boys the tools to search for animals was a great way to maintain interest. The VTech KidiZoom Duo Camera (purchase here from amazon.co.uk) goes everywhere with us and the boys loved ticking off what animals they had spotted (from the park HQ in Etosha we picked up an indentification booklet).

Safari with kids

Although more often than not, my eldest would borrow my camera!

7. Be selective in your park choices

There are a number of criteria you need to consider when deciding on which park to visit with young kids:

  • Can you see the animals clearly? Some parks are thick with vegetation and wildlife spotting hindered.
  • Are the campsites fenced? If staying overnight in a park, you need to know that wildlife won’t be wandering around your camp with your curious toddler.
  • Is there a pool at the campsite? An afternoon at the pool after a morning’s game drive is always a winner with my boys!
  • What are the park fees? Many people think that the best place to see wildlife is in the Serengeti in Tanzania. However, it is EXTREMELY pricey and we decided against it as we didn’t want that added pressure whilst on safari with kids. You may want to read why we found Tanzania hard work with kids. Namibia, South Africa and Malawi had MUCH cheaper park fees.

Easy spotting the abundant game amongst the vast open expanse of Etosha National Park

8. Set expectations

If you’ve ever taken your kids to a zoo, they may be under the impression that it’s easy to see wild animals. We found we needed to explain what ‘wild’ really meant to our boys and that they will need to do a lot of searching and looking to find animals. Zebras and elephants may be easy to spot, but lions (and most definitely leopards) take a lot more work. Coincidentally, we haven’t taken our boys to a zoo since returning to the UK.

9. Don’t do too much

We found that four hours on a game drive was more than enough for our boys. You can be tempted to keep going a little further in the hope of spotting something amazing, but we found that every time we did that we saw nothing and the boys got grouchy. Similarly, we learnt that 2 days on safari at a time was enough for the boys; we would spread this across three days (Day 1 – afternoon game drive, Day 2 – morning and late afternoon game drive, Day 3 – morning game drive). Park entry fees usually work on a 24 hour system, so if you enter at 12pm on Day 1 and pay for 2 days, you need to be out of the park by 12pm on Day 3).

Southern Africa overland itinerary with kids

10. Safari in your pyjamas!

Anyone who has been on safari will tell you that the best time for wildlife spotting is first thing in the morning as dawn is breaking over the horizon. However, all parents will tell you that to get their child dressed, washed, up and out with a full tummy quickly in the morning is a mammoth task. Now imagine doing this whilst packing up camp and getting out before sunrise? Impossible.

What we ended up doing is putting this kids straight into their car seats with a bowl of cereal still dressed in their pjs, whilst us parents packed up camp. A couple of hours into the game drive, we would find a picnic area to get dressed and washed. Easy.

Namibia itinerary with kids

 

Have you been on safari with kids under the age of 5? I would love to hear about your experiences!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I get a small commission which helps with the running of this blog.

safari with kids

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You may also like to read:
Udawalawe NP with young kids: meeting elephants in the Sri Lankan wilderness
Namibia itinerary with kids
ETOSHA National Park, Namibia: THE BEST safari in Africa for your kids

This post is linked up with Wanderlust Kids #15

 

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26 Comments

  1. Pam Goward

    Loved the keen interest the boys showed in a pile of poo. True animal trackers.

  2. These are such great tips – I’d love to take my daughter on safari, something we haven’t had opportunity to try yet. We can have whole conversations on the school run about poo so I suspect that could keep us going for some while between sightings.

  3. katerinaemalina

    This is fab – thank you. We’ve got two smallies 2 and 4 – and wanted to wait till they were older, but now…….And some great tips as well x

  4. These are fab tips Jenny. We have long said we’d like to take our son on safari but were waiting until he was old enough to remember it. You’ve made me reconsider this. I’d love to go to Botswana as it’s where I was born. So perhaps we’d better start looking into a trip there sooner rather than later. #wanderlustkids

  5. This looks amazing and is something I really want to do. I was always worried my boys were to young ( they are not now ) but I really need to go! X

  6. These are great tips. Snacks are so important for any outings with kids. We have also been known to just stick the kids in the car in their pjs when we travel. It’s so much easier than getting everyone ready. #fearlessfamtrav

  7. Loving the tips, especially the pj ones! We are heading to the desert for half term in Oman and most advice will come in very handy! Cheers! #fearlessfamtravel

  8. These tips are amazing!!! We haven’t gone on safari with the kids and plan to go in a few years, but you’re having me wish maybe we’d done it sooner. #fearlessfamtrav

  9. Great tips! That portable urinal looks like a great idea. Whilst reading your posts I have been wondering about the camping on top of the Land Rover. Have you written about that anywhere? I was just wondering about the logistics of small children waking up, needing the loo, etc. Would be interested to hear more about that! By the way, my kids love Plop Trumps, very informative! #Fearlessfamtrav

  10. Some really practical tips here. I love self-driving through the parks, as you say, so much more flexible than being committed to a tour. I would take my toddler on safari now, but my other half is very much in the ‘let’s wait till she’s older’ camp – I’ll have to work on that! #fearlessfamtrav

  11. I wrote a very similar post but the reverse to yours – I waited until my youngest hit 5. I couldn’t risk spending all that money on a trip that may not pan out the way we wanted due to the kids being too young. Great tips though! #fearlessfamtrav

  12. These are an excellent and super practical list of things to get the best out of a Safari with kids under 5. I particularly like the idea of doing the safari in their PJs. I do the reverse for early morning flights, let them sleep in their plane clothes… #fearlessfamtrav

  13. Mama Travels Earth

    Ahhh it is my dream to do a safari with kids and these are some great tips for doing it with young kids (ours seem to be similar ages) also love the look of that camera for keeping them interested – putting it on the xmas pressie list!

  14. Fantastic tips Jenny! And good to know that snacks are the top tip on safari as well as every other possible trip with kids! That’s portable urinal has made me feel a typical girls’ mum – I had no idea they existed!! #fearlessfamtrav

  15. We take snacks EVERYWHERE (and my girls are nearly 12, 10 and nearly 9!). I’d love to go on a safari one day, though admittedly it’s never been particularly high on my travel list. Might change my mind after reading this

  16. We are desperate to do a safari! I think we may head to South Africa – any fave places there

  17. Great tips as ever! Our boys didn’t do their first safari until they were 8, 10 and 12 and they absolutely loved it. Just love the PJ’s tip #fearlessfamtrav

  18. Momma To Go

    The potty tip seems key. Def bucket list for sure! And snacks are super important where ever you go with kids this age. mY kids age too – 7 and 9! #FearlessFamTrav

  19. Oh I love this Jenny. Mr S and I did an amazing safari before the kids, It was absolutely wonderful and we would love the kids to experience it. I have always wondered if my youngest is too young, but it is definitely on our bucket list! #fearlessfamtrav

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