An African Safari trip is something that we had been dreaming of for quite a while, but that never struck as as the type of trip you do with a toddler. Safari rides are long, would Julia be able to sit through them? Would she enjoy the trip at all? Maybe a Safari trip is something you do with teenagers, or just for adults. We took a trip to South Africa with our 3.5 year old Julia and realised that you should never take your kids on Safari.
The first challenge was finding where to go. Google was quick to tell us that many safari lodges don’t take kids below 6 years old on safari rides. Probably because they want to make sure the child can sit still and quiet, but our Julia is for sure capable of that. I finally came across a few places so we were able to start planning our route. Mongena Lodge was the first stop, then Cape Town and last Sibuya Game Reserve.
The second struggle was malaria. I found conflicting information all over whether it is safe for a 3 year old and a pregnant woman to take anti malarial pills. We quickly decided not to take any risks and choose malaria-free areas. Turns out South Africa has plenty of them! So at the end of the day, child-friendly lodge and malaria-free was not impossible. That didn’t keep us from learning the three reasons why you shouldn’t take a toddler on a Safari trip.
Reason #1: South African Hospitality
My goodness, the approach people have with children and just how welcome they are everywhere! It made me realise that in Europe / North America we have an adult focused way of life – we are not nearly as good with kids as South Africans are – they have got it figured out. Everywhere we went people were friendly with Julia, and not only that, they also accommodated so that children would be happy!
Three of the four places where we stayed gave Julia a small box with crayons, stickers and drawings so she could entertain herself, she thought is was so cool to get surprises everywhere! Restaurants had either a play area or provided something that she could play with. And best of all people seemed understanding of a crying or tired child (not once did we meet a judging eye if Julia threw a tantrum or was too loud). So yeah, never take your kids on safari.
Reason #2: Lots of free time with no wifi or data
The lodges where we stayed at organised game drives twice daily. Once in the early morning and once in the afternoon right before sunset. The time in between was free. What an opportunity to nap, play and explore together! No schedules, no times to keep, just plain old free time – I almost forgot what that was before this trip!)
As soon as we came in the first lodge we were greeted by a free roaming zebra who was walking around the property. We were later surprised but tons of nyalas, zebras and impalas around the property. You can imagine that we spent lots of the free time just looking at them and walking close to them for Julia to see.
The last lodge was right by the water and they had a nice tented living area with lots of books and toys for kids. We went canoeing and spent lots of time looking at books with pictures of animals and playing games with Julia. No network or wifi which was a great way to disconnect to actually be able to actually connect and have fun as a family. See why you don’t take your kids on safari?
Reason # 3: Watching wild animals in their natural environment
Going on game drives completely changed my perspective of how we introduce our kids to animals. Animals naturally belong in the wild and have certain natural group behaviours. You learn all about that in the game drives, the rangers are really knowledgeable and share a lot of interesting facts about how animals live and act.
Explaining all of this to Julia and answering the questions that she asked helped me realise what an amazing opportunity my child has been given to see an animal undisturbed by man, in its natural environment. An elephant doesn’t belong alone in a 30m patch of land, an elephant isn’t meant to perform tricks for an audience. A monkey that hauls expects a response back. And lions eat zebras, gnus and other types of antelope. That is simply how things were meant to be.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying all zoos are bad I am simply saying that for now Julia’s normal is free roaming animals that live in the wild, where they are meant to be. What a beautiful thing to have in your mind as the way things should be. Have I convinced you never to take your kids on safari?
So there you have it, three big reasons why you should never take your kids on safari. Who are we kidding? It is most definitely a perfect family vacation and a trip that you can and should do with your kids! The only activity that we were not allowed to do were walking safari trips, for those children must be 12+ years. Some lodges even offer baby sitting so someone could watch your kids during the early morning ride if that’s your thing.
Of course it took a lot of talking an explaining to ensure she knew to stay sitting and quiet, but we knew this was something she was capable of – and isn’t that how children learn? by watching those around them and by actually experiencing things.
If an African safari is something that has been in your bucket list but you haven’t done it because you’re waiting for your toddler to get older – think about it. A safari is a wonderful family travel experience. If you are travel enthusiasts just like us and you can travel and have the time for it now: Just do it! We promise you’ll love it. (Oh and don’t forget any essentials, especially if you are traveling with toddlers)