For Kent Redding and Kelly McElroy, taking the kids on safari is second nature – their first Africa trip as parents involved the Serengeti and their then-seven-month-old son swathed in mosquito netting.
Still, Africa offers enough unique kid-accessible opportunities to suit any family, assures Redding, who is president and co-founder with McElroy of safari outfitter Africa Adventure Consultants . And “unlike certain amusement park vacations where parents suffer through it so the kids can have fun, the wonderful part of family safaris is everybody has fun,” he adds.
Redding, McElroy, and their sons Tate and Grady, then 7 and 8, enjoyed a summer 2012 family safari odyssey that added some new ideas to Redding’s ever-growing “best things to do in Africa with kids” list, as well as allowing the boys to come home with exotic material for their “What I did on my summer vacation” essays.
Here, Redding shares his top 15 picks for unexpected and kid-friendly African safari activities and destinations:
- Ride an ostrich, Oudtshoorn, South Africa: Two farms in this area known as the “ostrich capital of the world” offer ostrich-oriented tours complete with a not-for-the-timid chance to saddle up one of these tallest living birds on the planet. Keep your video camera handy.
- Sail in a traditional dhow in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar, Tanzania: Catch a ride in one of these wooden sailing vessels, originally used for trading, as they ply the waters around Zanzibar.
- Feed a giraffe at the Giraffe Centre, Nairobi, Kenya: A special raised platform allows visitors to comfortably feed the animals while getting a giraffe’s-eye view of this nature center founded by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya to rescue endangered Rothschild giraffes.
- Throw a spear like a Masai, Masai Mara, Kenya: Take a spear-throwing lesson from a Masai warrior while learning to appreciate the very different perspective of these warm and hospitable herding people
- Ride ponies to a waterfall, Malealea, Lesotho: Trek aboard nimble native Basuto ponies to a high waterfall in this off-the-beaten-path tiny mountain kingdom, experiencing the local herding culture firsthand along the way.
- Climb “Big Daddy” near Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia: The Sossusvlei sand dunes are the highest in the world, with “Big Daddy” creating an Everest-like challenge
for little feet.
- Snorkel to see cichlids (the colorful fish found in many aquariums) in Lake Malawi, Malawi: Crystalline waters without a chance of sharks and over 1,000 species of vibrant cichlids make this freshwater lake a perfect experience for beginning snorkelers.
- Ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa: Often the highlight of a Cape Town visit for kids, this four-minute ride provides dramatic views from atop Table Mountain.
- Make a casting of a lion print, Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa: Preserving a paw-print souvenir is a great way for kids to bring the amazing experience of seeing a lion in the wild home to share with friends.
- Visit an elementary school classroom, Mfuwe, Zambia: Kids love meeting other kids and the Uyoba Community School in this small Zambian village continues to evolve, with the support of Africa Hope Fund, from children sitting on the floor with no electricity to a more modern building with trained teachers.
- “Mark” your territory like a lion, Serengeti, Tanzania: Most fun for boys who can make their mark on the savannah as male lions do.
- Ride horses and visit the petting farm, Grootbos Nature Reserve, South Africa: Experienced riders can gallop on a nearby beach, but all kids will enjoy the brief novice ride and the chance to visit Grootbos’s sweet animal nursery, complete with chickens, bunnies, a miniature horse and a very fat pig.
- Fish for tiger fish, Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Anglers come from all over the world for their chance at these fierce game fish and kids love to get in on the action.
- Visit Monkeyland, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa: Enjoy entertaining inhabitants from squirrel monkeys to gibbons to lemurs at this refuge for abandoned primates. While touristy, this area is home to so many kid-friendly attractions that a family could easily spend a week enjoying activities from bungee jumps to a wolf sanctuary.
- Try traditional drumming, most destinations in East and Southern Africa: Kids will want to try their hand at the primal rhythms of drumming, the backbone of traditional African music and communication.
Despite the remarkable opportunities on offer for kids of all ages throughout Africa, AAC’s Redding stresses that one of his top rules for traveling with kids is not to try to do too much.
"Be sure and build flex time into the schedule so kids can take a break with simple pleasures like an energy-releasing run on the beach before a long game drive.”
“Go with the largest accommodations you can afford, keeping an eye out for options like kitchenettes. You’ll never complain about having too much room.”
And finally, when it comes to family travel, always expect – and learn to enjoy – the unexpected.