Family Travel to Africa
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Very few places in the world conjure such grand images of adventure and wilderness as a trip to Africa and it is certainly a continent that will leave kids in awe as they witness their first elephant or lion in the wild. But is it safe, and how tricky is navigating such a diverse and different place with kids?
My answer to this question is that yes Africa is an amazing place for family travel and I would wholeheartedly encourage families considering an African adventure to keep the dream alive. Would I take my kids currently whilst they are little? Nope.
In my humble opinion a trip to Africa is best suited to families with older children or teenagers for a number of key reasons.
Africa is a travel destination which can be safely and confidently visited if you keep your wits about you and use some basic common sense. At only four and six my girls just don’t yet have the ‘street smarts’ to safely travel through some parts of Africa.
To really enjoy the true majesty of Africa you definitely want to spend several days on safari camping through the major National Parks. Sometimes spotting wildlife can be a fast and instantly rewarding experience… but not always!
At other times, you need to remain very patient and quiet for extended periods of time while cruising around looking for the animals. Finding a child under ten years old who has bucket loads of patience and likes sitting quietly for extended periods of time is really like attempting to buy a winning lotto ticket.
Travel in Africa does mean limitations on basic necessities. Toilets are scarce so travelling with young kids might involve negotiating with a stubborn minded pre-schooler about why they need to take a wee behind a safari truck and that they need to do it fast (you just don’t know what predators are close by!)
Food and drink can be random for choice and availability meaning that sometimes meals are put together with whatever basic ingredients have been sourced for the day. This can be tricky with young kids as we all know how fussy they can be. In most city areas this isn’t a problem but once off the beaten path this could be tricky to manage.
Importantly, medical assistance in many remote areas mean that help can be a long way away or potentially not available at all. The infrastructure in many countries is well below western standards and if your child was hurt or became ill it could be very hard and highly stressful to find medical assistance. Not to mention the number of vaccinations and anti-malarial medications that you need to try and coax kids into taking!
So a family holiday to Africa takes a little more planning along with the ability to live a little outside the comfort zone that many parents like to stay in when travelling with kids. I truly do believe though that the benefits outweigh the negatives and if your kids are older it would be a truly fascinating and inspiring trip for a family to experience together. There are very few places in the World which can change your perspective and broaden your kids horizons like Africa can.
If you would love to visit Africa safely and enjoyably then I recommend considering a tour operator. It helps to have a local operator with knowledge of local customs and conditions to keep your family happy, healthy and safe and it can be a fun way to travel with other families for a super friend building opportunity.
GAdventures offers specialised family trips and are fantastically well organised.
We have travelled to South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and each of these countries has some amazing things to see and do. Here is a bit of a wrap of major destinations to help you work out where you might like to go.
The most westernised of countries in Southern Africa, here you will be spoilt for choice for outstanding wildlife safaris and National Parks with Kruger being the closest and most accessible if flying into Johannesburg.
Cape Town is the cosmopolitan centre for South Africa and is a beautiful place to spend a week or so.
Explore the trails at the summit of Table Mountain giving spectacular views across the southern coastline or immerse yourself at the V&A Waterfront with chic dining and shopping on offer.
The best view of Cape Town possibly can be found from a boat if you opt for a sunset cruise out of the V&A Waterfront looking back onto the city and Table Mountain.
Hire a car for a couple of days to follow the coastline around to Hermanus for some incredible whale sightings before heading inland to sample the South African wine country. There are options to stop at many scenic villages along the way such as Stellenbosch, Paarl or Franshoek and of course a selection of tasty wineries for lunch or afternoon tea.
Once one of the most prosperous nations in Africa, visiting today it is easy to see the previous grandeur and development of Zimbabwe and in some towns such as Bulawayo there is even a marked resemblance to life in rural Australian towns. In a fall from grace much of the wealth in Zimbabwe was lost with its controversial land reform program and now there are ongoing food and fuel shortages. It is extremely strange to enter a supermarket that is completely and utterly empty – it really hits home just how desperate things have gotten here.
Political mistrust is rife in Zimbabwe and it is unlikely that you will visit without being exposed to this. We were quizzed inside Victoria Falls about our political opinion which is quite bizarre and confronting.
Despite all of its issues Zimbabwe is a stunningly beautiful country and there are some exceptionally wonderful places to visit. Of course, the extraordinary Victoria Falls is top of the tourist list.
We also had an amazing few days at the private wildlife refuge of Antelope Park where you can walk with lions (yep you read that right!) The private wildlife refuge rehabilitates lions for re-release into the wild. You can read more about this wildlife experience in our full article on the ten best responsible animal experiences here.
If high on your bucket list is seeing the highly endangered black rhinos in their natural habitat or the less endangered white rhinos then there is no better place to see them than at Matobo National Park just outside of Bulawayo. Such a fascinating and yet heartbreaking place to visit as you learn about the extent of poaching and the devastating effect.
You will even likely see the regular helicopter anti-poaching teams scanning the park for poachers.
A visit to Chobe National Park was one of the complete highlights as far as wildlife viewing goes and for those looking for an off-the-beaten track African safari then Botswana's Okavango and Chobe NP are the way to go.
Taking a river cruise to expose yourself to the rawness of hippos fighting amongst themselves or crocodiles banked all along the sandy shores was a great way to tip off the visit as well as finding a leopard high in a tree with his ‘catch’ for the day, an unlucky gazelle.
Crazily one day later we popped into some hollowed out logs (Mokoro boats) to be navigated a few hours away down some narrow delta creeks to our overnight campground.
The sheer isolation and complete free nature of this type of travel in Africa is something to experience – having said that there was no way I was getting up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night with the animals surrounding camp you could hear very close by.
Travelling by foot to go on a hiking safari without the safety of a safari vehicle leaves you totally exposed but makes for some fun. The best part of the Okavango Delta though is to head back out in the Mokoros at sunset to sit peacefully in the middle of the lakes or ponds watching the brightest of red orange sunsets with the silhouette of elephants against the horizon. Magical really.
Such an intriguing country to visit with some of the most striking coastal areas that have been largely untouched by any form of western development.
The Mozambique islands off the coast of Vilankulos feature stunning mirage like white sands and turquoise waters. Due to the lack of over-population some of the remote coastal areas in Africa are simply stunning.
A country with a troubled past, Mozambique had a long running civil war which only ended in 1992 and certainly travelling around the country there is still plenty of evidence of the war such as land mines on the sides of roads.