As I explained in my previous post, we just did a safari in Tanzania with our 2 little kids (2 years 8 months and 5 years). Leading up to our safari, we had some questions we didn’t think to ask til last minute or didn’t really discover the answer til on safari. So, here are some of our questions and the answers.
Note: Our safari was northern Tanzania. If you are safari-ing other places, or even staying at other camps in the same area, some answers will definitely be different! Ours also had a driver and we stayed in lodges or tented camps each night. If you self-drive or vehicle camp, answers will be different.
Where do you pee? For us, each park entrance had bathrooms. You have to stop anyway to pay and register, so it was convenient to use the bathroom. This was particularly convenient on days you had a long drive to get to a new park or exited the park at the end of the game drive to head to out-of-park lodgings. Many parks also had picnic spots and these had bathrooms as well. They all mostly had TP, but not all of them, so stick a bit in your bag or pocket.
But what about game drives where you are far away from the entrance and not near a picnic site? Then you bush pee! We’d tell our driver we needed to use the bathroom and he’d find a good spot. Typically this meant near some rocks or a big tree to use it for privacy on one side. We’d scan the area for predators (no desire to pee with a lion sleeping nearby!) and then hop out of the car and go behind the car. This may not apply in every park, but for ours it was safe and allowed.
Pro tip–bring a roll of doggie poo bags or baby diaper bags to contain TP and pack it out of the park easily.
Where do you eat lunch? If you won’t be at your camp, lodge, or hotel over lunch, chances are you’ll have a box lunch. Ours were all included in our cost. Each morning our driver picked up our lunches (1 box per person), and they’d ride around with us until lunch time. Sometimes we were near a picnic site and could eat there. Some had picnic tables and some you ate in the car, but had access to bathrooms. Sometimes we ate in the car under a tree in the middle of the Serengeti!
Boxed lunches varied vastly between camps. Sometimes one box had enough food for 3 people with a huge variety. Sometimes they were a sandwich, banana, hard boiled egg, and a juice box. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure the camp knows.
Depending on the distance from your camp/lodge to your game drive location, you might return to your “home” for lunch. Some itineraries have a morning drive, back for lunch and relaxation, and then an afternoon or evening drive. We did hot lunch at camp one day, but otherwise ate boxed lunches.
Note: If your kid is free for the safari, meals may not be included. So find out if your kid gets a boxed lunch or not! Some of our boxes would have been plenty to share, but some would definitely have left us hungry had we needed to share with a kid.
What about snacks? Our inclusive safari included breakfast, lunch and dinner. All but one place included unlimited drinking water and one place included alcohol as well! A few included tea and coffee. Gibbs Farm had afternoon tea laid out with a couple cake and cookie options. But otherwise, no snacks. Of course, traveling with kids means lots of snacking! I packed a few snacks in our carry on. We packed checked luggage hoping it would arrive, but had all essentials in carry on as a safari means lost luggage won’t catch up to you until you depart! In checked luggage I brought a ton of snacks–applesauce and fruit pouches, Larabars, mini packs of almonds, Nutrigrain bars (my son’s favorites, but wouldn’t do again as they crush so easily), Combos (a kid favorite and something they only get on long car rides), and a few other things.
Some days we used leftovers from lunch (bags of nuts, apples, juice boxes, cookies) as snacks. One day we asked the chef for some extra cookies since we were out and we used them to bribe DS2 when he got cranky in the car. If you choose not to bring snacks, or luggage doesn’t make it, you could buy snacks in your airport city. We had to drive through Arusha and several smaller towns between parks and could have bought snacks there. But we preferred having familiar snacks for the kids.
Should I bring a car seat? We brought DS2’s carseat, but didn’t bring a carseat or booster for DD5. Assuming you have a private jeep (which is a must!), then you install the carseats at the start of the trip and they can stay there the whole time. We also liked having DS2’s in the plane as the flights were mostly at night and he sleeps well in it. It kept him contained in the jeep while driving between parks and gave him a better view on game drives. He also naps well in it, so that was great. On game drives we did not buckle him for the most part and he understood when the car was moving he had to be sitting but could climb out when the car was parked and off. A few times we kept him buckled when he was not following rules. DD5 just curled up in her seat when she wanted to nap and wore a seat belt when driving.
What should I tip? This definitely could vary by country. The guidelines we were given for northern Tanzania was $10-15 per person per night for camps and $10-15 pp per day for the guide. Tip the camp the morning of departure. Most camps have a tip box near the reception. Some you will tip the manager in front of other employees. The guide you’ll tip at the end. Kids are less. We did for our family of 4 (2 adults, 5 year old, 2 year old) about $40 a night per camp (so $15 per adult and $5 per kid). And then $40 a day for the guide. Of course, for great or poor service, adjust accordingly. They were happy to receive USD, so we didn’t need to exchange money.
Should we do a Maasai Village visit? If you’re in Tanzania or Kenya, odds are you’ll be offered the Maasai Village tour. Ours was included in our itinerary automatically and we didn’t really pay attention to it, so we did the tour. If we went again, we wouldn’t. If we helped someone plan a trip, we’d advise against it. The one we visited was definitely a major tourist trap where the main goal was to buy very over priced souvenirs. It was very, very dusty and when the wind blew you were enveloped in sand. It started with a short and somewhat awkward dance welcome number and “jumping competition”.
Then the liaison showed us inside a house and then showed us all the things we could purchase. They refused to give prices until the end and we were definitely ripped off, even with some serious bargaining on my husband’s end. Of course, later in the trip we stopped at a large shopping area with marked prices and everything was half what we paid in the village. Definitely save your shopping for later!
The final thing was a very uncomfortable stop at the one-roomed school where they recited the ABCs for us and asked for a donation. Considering the number of tourists coming through all the time, I imagine they spent a lot of time singing the ABCs and not much time actually learning.
Do I need to bring gifts for kids? In Northern Tanzania on game drives, you won’t see kids. While driving between parks or in the Ngorongoro preservation area (but not the crater), you will see kids tending animals, walking to school, getting water, playing, etc. They wave at the vehicles. They might hold out their hands or run after you. It is my personal belief that you shouldn’t give out things to them as you don’t know their true needs and it encourages potentially dangerous behavior (running after cars). If you really want to help, work with your travel agent or guide to find a trusted NGO or local organization to donate things or money that they truly need. If you visit a Maasai village you’ll see kids. But I suggest you don’t visit one!
Is it safe for kids? Yes! Get a private jeep, both for safety and for flexibility of timing. Also make sure it is one with glass windows that open and close individually rather than the plastic sides that roll up on game drives. Real windows are much more flexible. We kept our 2 year old’s closed at all times for safety and to keep him from throwing things out the window. Our 5 year old’s we let her choose most of the time, except when close to predators and then we kept it closed. The adults opened and closed as desired–rain, driving fast through mud, or chilly all led to closed windows. Or if in a big tse tse fly zone! The windows that are plastic and roll are a pain to open and close and are an all or nothing deal.
In camps, if you are in a park with animals you will need to keep a close eye on your kids. See more about that in my previous post. We spent 3 nights in the Serengeti and 1 night in Tarangire National Park, and felt completely safe with our kids sleeping in tents (glamorous tents with real bathrooms, but still canvas walls).
What about bugs? Very park specific. Worth asking your travel agent or researching specific camps and parks. For us, we had a few mosquitoes in Arusha, many mosquitoes at the Lake Manyara lodge (they had us spray down the whole room before going to dinner with provided spray and we still got a few bites), no mosquitoes at our Serengeti camp (Siringit), a few mosquitoes at Gibbs Farm, and biting flies in Tarangire. The biting flies were the worst as they will bite through clothing and didn’t seem to care we were doused in DEET. Clothing and bug spray helped the mosquitoes, but overall were not much of a problem for us in early Oct in Northern Tanzania.
For biting flies, avoid black, navy, and other wildebeest colors. However, as many things in the car were black or dark (floor mats, carseat, etc) I don’t know how much it helped. Long, loose clothing can help. But our biggest help was being constantly vigilant.
Do we need to wear only khaki? Not if you’re just doing game drives. Avoiding brights is good if you are looking for birds. If you are doing walking safaris, you’ll need all khaki. However, we didn’t given the age of our kids. We tried to do mostly khaki, but saw tons of tourists in the whole range of colors. I personally think going for quick dry is more important than khaki as washing clothes and air drying is a pain if your days are damp or cloudy and fast drying helps.
What about pants vs shorts? This depends some on personal preference and weather. We did almost completely pants with a mix of short and long sleeves. We found that there were mornings and evenings we needed a sweatshirt or long sleeves but most of the time midday was warm enough for short sleeves. Pants are nice for mosquito protection, protection against plants when bush peeing, and warmth. But some people swear by shorts! Definitely check temperatures. It was much cooler in Tanzania than I had originally thought (high in low 80s when we were there and lows in 50s).
Shoes? Our group had closed-toed sandals (think Keens–with or without socks), sneakers, and hiking boots in various combos. One person brought only a pair of closed-toed sandals and no socks. One brought them but with socks. For the kids we brought both adventure sandals and sneakers. I had both sandals and low rise hiking boots and wore both.
Other clothing tips? In your checked bag, bring a few outfits for changing into around the camp and a clean outfit for the flight home. They’re not critical, but if your bag makes it, then you have something clean to wear. After getting dusty all day, it’s nice to have clean clothes to change into!
How young a kid should safari? Honestly, I think any age would work fine with the proper prep. One major thing to consider is what age can take malaria medication and have the yellow fever vaccine if needed. Not all countries require it, so talk with your doctor. Malarone starts at 11 kg weight, but Mefloquine starts at 5 kg (however, my daughter had a bad reaction to Mefloquine around 18 months and had major night terrors). Yellow fever is typically 9 months and older. So for very young children, research malaria and yellow fever requirements and talk to a doctor before booking.
The other thing to consider is bed arrangements. Many places you stay won’t have cribs. All of our stops had massive beds and we coslept with our toddler. You could also bring a travel crib, though be prepared for what to do if your luggage gets lost in transit and you have to do the safari without it.
Otherwise, in a private jeep and with a carseat, bring the littlest of the littles!