What's the attraction?
Children love animals, particularly the awe-inspiring varieties you find in Africa. Yet taking your brood on safari can still raise eyebrows. Won't they get charged, munched, or trampled? In fact, safaris make a great family holiday and tour operators are at last wising up to the family market. At the top end, your family can have an entire camp to itself. The more budget-conscious can tailor-make their self-drive itinerary. Parents may need to tweak their personal agenda to cater for younger attention spans. But keep game drives short, pack in hands-on activities, and you'll have the family adventure of a lifetime.
Malaria occurs across most of sub-Saharan Africa, with children particularly at risk, so it is important that you always consult your doctor before travelling. If you prefer not to risk it or for your children to take anti-malarials, then South Africa offers excellent malaria-free safaris in Eastern Cape and North West Province. Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1250; rainbowtours.co.uk) has a 13-night self-drive family tour that takes in Cape Town, the Garden Route and a three-night safari at Amakhala Game Reserve. Prices start at £8,908 for a family of four (with two under 12s), including flights from Heathrow.
Home from home
For the ultimate in exclusivity and personal, in-depth guidance, the Safari Houses of Zambia are four-bedroom retreats deep in the bush, each with plunge pool, chef and private game-viewing vehicle with a guide. Expert Africa (020-8232 9777; expertafrica.com) offers the nine-day "Greater Bushbaby Safari" that combines Luangwa Safari House (South Luangwa National Park) with Chongwe River House (Lower Zambezi National Park). Easter holiday prices start at £3,945 per adult, £2,836 for children aged 12–16 years and £2,331 for seven-11-year-olds, including flights. Prices rise to £4,550 per adult during the summer holidays. Available 1 April – 15 November.
For older children with energy to burn, try combining your wildlife viewing with exciting outdoor activities. Imagine Africa (020-7622 5114; imagineafrica.co.uk) offers a family safari in Kenya's remote Laikipia region that includes camel safaris, mountain biking, (croc-free) river bathing and sleep-outs under the stars, along with 4x4 game drives. Five nights at the Sosian Lodge, including full board, drinks and activities, costs from £1,846 per adult and £1,366 per child under 16, excluding international flights. British Airways, Kenya Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from Heathrow to Nairobi.
For a budget family adventure that packs it all-in, why not try an overland trip? Intrepid Travel (0844 499 8487; intrepidtravel.com) offers a 19-day family trip designed specifically to appeal to children, from Victoria Falls (Zambia) to Windhoek (Namibia). It includes tracking with the San bushmen, climbing the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, game viewing in Chobe, Okavango and Etosha, and admission to Victoria Falls. Accommodation is mostly camping. The cost is £2,700, excluding international flights, with a 10 per cent discount for children aged six–15. Departures are available during the Easter and summer holidays.
Give something back
Experiencing local life adds a rewarding dimension to your family safari. Exodus (0845 863 9601; exodus.co.uk) offers a 10-day Zambezi Volunteer Experience, in which families with children aged 11 and over combine camping, canoeing and game drives along Zambia's Zambezi River with helping out in the local community. Trips run from May to November – summer holiday departures start at £2,079 for an adult and £1,829 for a child, including flights from Heathrow.
Do it yourself
Self-drive means a flexible itinerary and fewer anxieties about noisy children. Top spots for a self-drive safari include South Africa. The Kruger has reasonably priced public camps, plus good roads. Four nights for a family of four in a self-catering cottage at Satara Rest Camp starts at £460 (sanparks.org).
Safari Drive (01488 71140; safaridrive.com) offers a two-week self-drive "Classic Namibian Journey", covering Etosha, Damaraland, Sossusvlei and the Skeleton Coast, with lodges and camping. Prices start at £1,875 per person, based on four travelling, including vehicle, camping gear and in-country back-up; flights not included.
Malawi is a little-known safari destination but is excellent for families. Safari Drive offers a fortnight's self-drive camping and lodge family safari encompassing game reserves, tea estates and the famous lake. Activities include elephant tracking, quad biking, horse riding, kayaking, snorkelling and a village stay. Prices start at £1,735 per person, based on two adults and two children aged 12–18 years sharing a 4x4; flights not included.
Self-drive in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park is only for the experienced. But Flatdogs Camp (00 260 216 246038; flatdogscamp.com) has family-friendly activities and facilities for independent travellers, and organises game drives and community visits. Luxury safari tents start at US$200 (£133) per night for adults and US$100 (£67) for children, including meals, game drives and park fees.
Bush and beach
There's nothing like the Indian Ocean for washing off that safari dust. Explore (0844 499 0901; explore.co.uk) offers a two-week bush and beach combination in northern Tanzania that follows camping in the Serengeti with relaxing on the beaches of Zanzibar. With three departures in the summer holidays, prices including flights from London start at £2,750 per adult and £2,371 per child, including B&B accommodation, some meals, transport, and a tour leader and driver.
Who said that?
"Outings are so much more fun when we can savour them through the children's eyes." – Lawana Blackwell, The Courtship of the Vicar's Daughter, 1998
"The most hazardous part of our expedition to Africa was crossing Piccadilly Circus." – Joseph Thomson, explorer
"There is always something new out of Africa." – Pliny the Elder
"As a small child in England, I had this dream of going to Africa. We didn't have any money and I was a girl, so everyone except my mother laughed at it." – Jane Goodall, scientist
"For each of the past three years our family safari bookings have nearly doubled. People are getting more and more adventurous, and want more exciting experiences with their children. Not only parents, but grandparents too." Ben Morison – MD, Imagine Africa
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