Q&A: Will our children be welcome on safari?
The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
Friday 22 December 2000
Q. We are going to a wedding in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, in March with our two lively boys who will be four and six. We would like to combine the trip with a safari and possibly a visit to Victoria Falls. Our budget will be a little above "backpackers". Any suggestions?
Alice Lester, London
Q. We are going to a wedding in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, in March with our two lively boys who will be four and six. We would like to combine the trip with a safari and possibly a visit to Victoria Falls. Our budget will be a little above "backpackers". Any suggestions? Alice Lester, London
A. This is not quite as straightforward a query as it sounds. Botswana is one of the last relatively "unspoilt" countries in Africa, with game sanctuaries taking up one sixth of its area. It is essentially a vast wilderness with very few roads and developing infrastructure, and as such is mainly a safari destination for the very intrepid or wealthy traveller. Unfortunately, children don't fall into either of those categories. Botswana is not the most child-friendly of countries and, in fact, most camps don't accept children under 12.
This is largely due to the fact that the camps are not fenced in. In Botswana everything is open and animals can walk through unhindered at night. As a result the camps do not want the responsibility of small children. Most of the lodges are also quite exclusive and feel that children might limit the enjoyment of other guests.
However, it is not all bad news. There are some lodges in Botswana that do accept children of all ages. Okavango Tours & Safaris (020-8343 3283) can organise a nine-day safari from £1,428 per adult and £838 per child (a shorter itinerary would be cheaper). This would start off with four days at Delta Camp, a "water camp" in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Okavango is the world's largest inland delta and is turned into an oasis of islands and lagoons during the rainy season, from November to March.
The best time for game viewing in Botswana is during September and October, towards the end of the dry season when the animals congregate around the few remaining water holes. However, with excursions in traditional mekoro (wooden dug-out canoes) along the tranquil waterways and walks with a guide, you should still be able to find some good game viewing in March. Accommodation at Delta Camp is in open-fronted bungalows constructed from local reeds. From there a light aircraft would fly you to Chobe Safari Lodge for two nights. This was one of the original lodges on the banks of the Chobe river. And from there you would be collected and driven across the border to Victoria Falls (about two hours away) where you would stay at the Ilala Lodge for two nights, a small, family-owned hotel that is within walking distance of the Falls themselves.
Alternatively, Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004, www.rainbowtours.co.uk), which tailor-makes trips to Botswana, recommends Camp Okuti in the Moremi Reserve as a good family option. In March this would cost £195 per adult per night and £145 per child, including all meals and activities (game drives, powerboat excursions, bushwalks) - which both children could do. The flight to the camp from Maun costs £125 each.
The cheapest way for you to get to Gaborone is via Johannesburg. Trailfinders (020-7938 3939) can arrange return flights to Jo'burg with Alitalia via Milan for £335 per person and £270 for each child. Onward flights to Gaborone, then up to Maun near the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and back to Jo'burg would cost around £303 per adult and £208 per child.
Another option you might want to consider is a safari in South Africa. You could stop off in Johannesburg on the way back, hire a car and drive to Kruger National Park (about three and a half hours away). This would be one of the least expensive ways to do a safari with small children. A Toyota Venture at £31 per day would be a good choice as it's higher than a saloon car, so the children would get a good view of the wildlife. You could spend four days touring the park and observing the herds of antelope and buffalo, warthogs and hyenas, lions, elephants, rhino, leopards and cheetahs. You could choose to either eat in the rest camp restaurants or cook for yourselves, spending two nights in one of the southern camps with a swimming pool (Pretoriuskop or Berg-en-Dal) and two nights in Satara or Skukuza, near the middle of the park. This would cost around £60 per night room only, depending on the camp, through Rainbow Tours.
Q. We would like to take our two daughters, aged nine and 13, to New York for a short winter break. We were thinking of waiting until the spring, but I've always wanted to go ice-skating in Central Park! What would you recommend as the other "must-dos"?
Mark and Ella Donaldson, Edinburgh
A. New York is surprisingly child-friendly for a big, brash, exciting city, with so much to pack into a few days that over-stimulation will be one of the most likely problems you'll encounter. One of the best ways to get a feel for the city is to walk. Wandering the streets on foot gazing up at skyscrapers and watching the mayhem of rush-hour will give you a real appreciation of the frenetic buzz that is New York.
If you'd rather go on an organised tour there are plenty around, or if just the thought of walking through New York's heaving streets exhausts you, another option is a tour on a double-decker bus or helicopter. You'll be able to pick up leaflets at the various visitor's centres around the city including the New York Convention and Visitor's Bureau which also lists current family oriented events (020-7437 8300, www.nycvisit.com). It also has a free booklet, "The Big Apple Visitor's Guide" which you can grab from their office at 810 7th Ave.
Seeing the view from the top of either the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center is a must. As is a ride out to Ellis Island on the Statue of Liberty Ferry. Taking in both the Immigration Museum and the Statue of Liberty this makes a fun and cheap day out. I've spent time in New York both in winter and summer and it really is magical wandering through Central Park in the snow and watching the ice-skating. At the Wollman Rink (001 212 396 1010) you can rent ice-skates (US$3.50 for the day).
Shopping, of course, will be on your elder daughter's list. The famous department stores of Macy's , Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue are key stopping-off points. You can also visit some of New York's many museums or attractions such as the Children's Museum of Manhattan (001 212 721 1234) or the massive Disney store in Times Square.
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