This may sound like a strange topic for someone who just went on a trip to Africa without her kids. While I loved having the chance to travel as a couple for two weeks, I did often find myself thinking about what it would be like to return to Africa someday as a family. Of course, one trip to Africa in no way makes me an expert on the area, but I do now have a rough idea of what travelling to this region entails and I have some things to consider if we ever get the chance to do another African trip as a family. Here are the main ones.
1) East Africa vs South Africa
Wildlife areas in Africa are roughly divided into East (Kenya and Tanzania) and South (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia). Both areas have wonderful game viewing and many safari options, but it’s very time consuming and expensive to get from one to the other, most families would have to chose one or the other. East Africa is a bit closer to Europe (8 hrs from London vs 11 hours to Johannesburg) and has the opportunity to see the great migration, but has fewer budget options than Southern Africa. Southern Africa has fewer issues with yellow fever and the option of malaria free safaris. East Africa has Mt Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Masai culture, Southern Africa has Cape Town and the Winelands, the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls. I have every intention of seeing East Africa some day, but I think that Southern Africa would be a better choice for me if I get the chance to go to Africa with my kids.
2) Health Issues
Most places in Africa require malaria prophylaxis. The exception is many parts of South Africa, where there are many game lodges where you can see the big five in a malaria free area. Malaria drugs present significant risks for children under five and some sources recommend that they shouldn’t be taken by kids under ten unless absolutely necessary. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe are outside of the yellow fever risk area. Southern Zambia, including Victoria Falls are also outside of the yellow fever zone, but Northern Zambia is considered a low risk area. Even if you only visit the southern part of the country, you need a yellow fever certificate to return to South Africa if you’ve been anywhere in Zambia. This is a major consideration if you want to go to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls since almost all flights out of Zambia connect in South Africa and you need the certificate even if you’re just changing planes in Johannesburg on the way home. As much as I loved visiting Zambia, this could be a major barrier to taking my family there.
While we saw quite a few South African families with young children, and even a few European and North American families, especially at Victoria Falls, I would hesitate to bring my kids to Africa before they were about 10-12 or so. One big reason for this is the malaria issue. Another is the huge distance required to travel that far. I was completely wiped out by the 30 hours we spent in transit each way; I can’t imagine doing it with very young children. Another factor is the patience and self control needed for game viewing. While nothing beats the opportunity to see animals in the wild, Africa is not a zoo and it can take a lot of riding around and searching for game to get the great sightings. And that brings me to my next consideration:
4) My kids’ personalities
There are a few places where I plan to take my kids whether they want to go or not. Africa is not one of them. In order to justify the time and expense of visiting Africa, they will have to really want to go. They will also have to be mature enough to have the patience to go on game drives and be quiet and considerate in a game lodge setting. There’s no way I’m travelling 2 days each way and spending thousands of my hard earned travel dollars so my kids can look bored while riding around in a safari vehicle playing games on their mobile devices.
5) Travel Agent vs Independent Planning
This one is a no brainer. When I first started trying to plan our Africa trip, I was overwhelmed by the number of options and choices. I found it very frustrating to try to find information. The travel agents I approached in town didn’t know much more about Africa than I did; they could sell you one of their packages from a brochure, but not much else. I researched some African based travel agents and sent out some inquiries by email and was pleasantly surprised by the responses. In the end I went with the agent who really seemed to listen to what I wanted instead of offering up a list of standard offerings. Once I started working with her, everything just seemed to fall into place. For my next trip to Africa, my first call will be to Monique at Rhino Africa based in Cape Town and I would recommend her wholeheartedly to anyone who was considering a trip to the continent.
6) Staying in Place vs Moving Around
Since having kids, I’ve learned to embrace slow travel. As much as possible, we try to find a home base to settle into and avoid packing up the family and getting resettled every few days. However, with all the variety in Africa, you can’t really find one single location that has everything you want in a safari. For example, Chobe park is known for it’s elephants and large herds of herbivores. Sabi Sands is famous for lions and leopards. Visiting more than one area is the key to getting a complete game viewing experience. I think that an ideal family safari would include at least two parks. I think a 10-12 day trip with 3 stops would be just about right to balance out variety without moving around too much.
So that’s just a few things I’ll be considering if I’m ever lucky enough to take my kids to Africa. Because our family album definitely needs a few more pictures like these:
(All taken by my amazing husband)