We just got back from an 8 night safari in Tanzania covering Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire with our 5 year old kindergartener daughter and a 2 year 8 month old son. My mom and her good friend accompanied us as well (extra hands on deck-woo!). Our group of 6 flew from Cairo to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Kilimanjaro International Airport, Tanzania (northern, near Arusha) where we met our guide/driver, Elmi, for our adventure!
So, should you take your little kids on safari?
When I first started planning our trip I google “little kids and safari” and mostly came back with not-so-helpful blogs and posts about why it’s not worth the money, not safe, kids will be bored, why do it when they won’t remember it, etc. Not any actual helpful advice for actually doing it. I’ll write the advice posts over the next month, but wanted to start with responding to all the naysayers on the internet.
Safaris aren’t safe! My kid will get eaten by a lion! Sure, there are some things we didn’t do with kids for safety reasons, such as walking safaris. All of our safaris were done by jeep. The kids were totally safe the entire time. Do make sure to get a private jeep (this isn’t safety per se, but will make for a more enjoyable experience) and ensure it is one with individual glass windows, not open sides. We kept our 2 year old’s window shut the whole time. Partially to keep him safe and partially because he likes to throw things and we didn’t want to leave behind trash OR lose binoculars because he tossed them! And when lions got particularly close, we just closed up the windows. They, by the way, were not at all interested in the jeeps 99% of the time, and mostly wanted to be near them for shade or to use as a screen when stalking gazelle.
At camps, we had to keep a close eye on the kids at 2 of them. Two were free reign–meaning no animals particularly came in them and we could walk around at night without escort or concern. 1 needed some caution at night and 2 we had to have camp escorts when out after dark. Yes, hyenas and lions wandered the camps at night. Yes, we were in glamorous tents. But yes, my kids were safe. We kept an eye on them, as did all the staff. By the time dinner was done about 8 or 8:30 each night, we walked back to our tent and got ready for bed.
If your kid is a runner, bring a leash. I brought ours, but our toddler listened well and never needed it. If your kid is inclined to climb out of bed and you are a heavy sleeper, then technically he could open up the tent and leave. Ours were secured with 2 zippers–one zipper on the screen/netting style flaps we had for daytime and one on the heavy-duty canvas that closed up the tents at night. No locks. I guess you could pile up suitcases in front of the flaps to slow down kids. But mine were so exhausted each night they didn’t stir til I woke them the next morning.
Why bother? Kids won’t remember it anyway! I fully subscribe by the belief that just because I am a parent doesn’t mean I stop traveling til they are 10. Sure, our trips change some and there are some things we don’t do. And yes, they will not remember specific details when little (though I think my kindergartner will start remembering now). But they build up tolerance, awareness, patience with traveling, and more. Plus, I don’t want to put my life on hold just because they are little! And as a bonus, little kids are cheap to travel with. The under 2 set is often free. Our kids had a reduced rate for lodging and food, but were free to get into the parks.
My kids will be bored! I will admit to being a bit worried about many long car rides, both between locations and on game drives. But in the end, they did great. My 5 year old had her own camera, binoculars, and a checklist of animals to look for. She took hundreds of photos, happily checked off animals we found, and when all else failed, fell asleep curled up in her seat.
My 2 year 8 month old had his own binoculars as well (cheap ones, but he was happy to copy the big people and his sister) and loved yelling out when he saw animals. We worked on animal names ahead of time and he even learned things like “wildebeest”! We hauled his carseat along, which was a great decision. He napped in it and it gave him an elevated view. And when all else failed, we bribed with little cookies the camps gave us. Another family we know did a safari at the same time with a not-quite 2 year old and they loaded up their phone with videos and she just watched them a lot. I brought my ipad along with videos for the trip and never needed it in the car. They did watch a bit at the camps and on the airplane, but in the car they were surprisingly content.
Halfway through we took a day where we only did a 3 hour game drive and the rest of the time hung out at camp to let kids run around a bit, play and be out of the car for a bigger chunk of time. That was a nice reset for everyone.
It’s such an expensive amount to spend on little kids! Yes, it is pricy. A safari, especially one like we did with a guide, private jeep, and mid to high end camps, is pricy. It was worth every single penny! As noted above, if your kid is under 2 they should be free, though meals may not be included and they’d have to share yours. If 2-5, they will be reduced or possibly free depending on your trip. My kids were SO EXCITED to see the animals, and my 5 year old has decided she wants to be a park ranger and protect rhinos so they will still be around when her kids are grown. Seeing animals in the wild really enforces to kids why we need to protect them.