Mango Safaris co-founder Teresa Sullivan was honored as the top family safari specialist by Conde Nast Traveler. Years of traveling in Africa with her family has given her a wealth of knowledge and expert tips based on real life, firsthand experience. When it comes to planning family safaris, no one is better than Teresa! Read on for how she handcrafts each once in a lifetime family journey:
Create your itinerary around family units. There are excellent 2 bedroom family tents and houses at a wide range of properties so families can stay together. It’s okay to have one stop where mom and dad split up, but it makes your trip so much better if you utilize these special accommodations. I recommend planning early to ensure these limited accommodations have availability – 12 to 18 months ideally.
I would estimate that the oldest child in the room needs to be a minimum of 16 before you can leave kids alone in an ‘open to the wilderness’ camp without a parent. My 10 year old Mara and I were in our room at Sarara Camp one night. An elephant was in the trees eating outside our bathroom. Together, we had a remarkable time listening and watching. She said that she would have FREAKED OUT if she has been there alone with Fiona, my 7 year old. The reassuring presence of a parent can keep a moment magical, instead of scary.
Even if the kids are ‘old enough’ family units keep you connected to share the experience of the lions roaring and hyenas whooping in the night. It’s also good for the occasional poke in the morning to get them going.
If you are a multigenerational family or larger group of families, I work to include at least one stop where you take over and have exclusive use of the camp. Private houses offer such a great environment for groups, especially with children, as you can focus on quality time together instead of worrying about bothering other guests. The entire camp becomes your home.
For families, I always choose camps that offer a diverse set of safari activities. Wildlife safaris can be vehicle intense, which can be trying for energetic kiddos. I weave in areas that allow families to get active together in wild areas, including walking safaris, horseback safaris, boating and fishing. This way children can approach the safari experience from a variety of angles so they stay interested, and get a well-rounded experience.
Speaking from personal experience, traveling at a slower pace is the way to go for families. Visit a limited number of properties that offer a diverse range of activities and ‘move in’ to the camp a little bit. Play pick-up soccer games with the staff, visit the garden, spend time with local communities – the result is a rich, memorable experience for the whole family. Limiting travel and transit time increases the quality of each day. Private charters can be totally worth the splurge if that is a consideration.
Moms like to be prepared and I recommend always having a few snacks ready to go. Yes, the safari camps feed you 5 times a day but kids can be a little more choosey (or maybe we Americans just give our kids more snacks), so I always have a few on hand, just in case. This will help fend of cranky moods and keep your kids happy and engaged with the experience. I always bring some healthy snacks that travel well, like nuts and dried fruits.
Before leaving, I make a ½ gallon bag of trail mix. I suggest double bagging it (to prevent spills and keep mice from smelling it) and bringing some snack-sized resealable bags to refill as we go. This proves to be awesome on travel days, longer than expected game drives and if they need a boost of energy during a walk.
Spending time in a local village, especially a school with similar aged children, helps expand their perspectives and appreciate how fortunate they are in their lives. Make this a thoughtful part of your trip, not a sideshow hour, as you will need to travel to more remote places to visit a more traditional community that is less influenced by our changing world. Sarara Camp in northern Kenya is one of the best places I have visited in years for a touching cultural exchange.
At Mango, we have a handful of specialist guides who either have children themselves or enjoy guiding children and have a natural way with them. Each of these guides has been tested out with my own family, so I know they will be great with your kids too. They understand their attention spans and recommend days that will make sense to children.
At the end of the day, this might be the secret ingredient to an ideal family safari. If your kids are anything like mine, they can spend endless hours splashing around the pool. It’s not necessary or possible at every stop, but I always try to weave it in as much as possible. There’s nothing like hanging out in the pool with your kids as you watch zebras, elephants and giraffes wander by.
Of course the biggest thing we can recommend is to choose the right safari specialist for your family. Teresa’s award winning family planning skills make her the go-to choice for families of all types looking to create their dream safari. She has carefully curated her collection of favorite kid-friendly camps, guides and activities over years of her own family travel.
By letting Mango plan your family safari, you can travel with peace of mind that we have taken care of every detail and put together the perfect trip, exactly tailored to your family’s needs. Take advantage of our years of hands on testing to ensure your trip will go down as the best family vacation ever.
All you need to do is pack your bags, grab your camera and get ready for the trip of a lifetime.