Whether you’re seven or 97, nothing beats the thrill of seeing animals in their natural habitat. An African safari is a bucket-list experience in its own right, but it provides added wonder when seen through another family member’s eyes. Little ones can explore and grow, and adults of any age will share the excitement at every sighting
South Africa is often name-checked as the best country in the world for safaris. When it comes to family-friendly trips, it’s hard to disagree. From its affordability to the breadth of accessible camps – you won’t always be braving long drives or connecting flights – to its Big Five sightings, this country is great for the all-round safari experience. It also has a wide selection of exclusive-hire safari villas and camps, so you can all stay together as a family while exploring the savannah.
If you’re after those big-ticket sightings of lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and cape buffalo, Kruger National Park, in the east, is the natural pick. Book into Royal Malewane’s exclusive-use Africa House sleeping up to 12 people, for an experience so plush you may forget you’re in the wilderness. Eclectic heirlooms, button-back chairs and large-scale art lend a sophisticated air, while an infinity pool lined with loungers ensures you unwind after early morning game drives. Everything is tailored, including meals – it comes with a private chef and housekeeper – and your family will have its own dedicated ranger, tracker and private vehicle so you can search for whichever wildlife excites you most.
Tailored experiences are the norm, too, at Tswalu in South Africa’s red-earth north, by the Botswana border. Every villa comes with its own private driver and tracker, but you’ll get extra special treatment when booking into the family-friendly Tarkuni, sleeping up to 10 people. Each suite in the five-room thatched villa has an outdoor deck with sun loungers – ideal if family members are craving a little time to themselves. A lounge with a fireplace, a bar stocked with South African wines and a sundowner fire pit provide the entertainment. As do, of course, the frequent day and night safari drives. Conservation-focused Tswalu specialises in sightings of rare and small animals such
as endangered pangolins, black rhino, meerkats and Kalahari black-maned lions – all just as rewarding to tick off as the classic Big Five. If you’re looking for even more to do, pay a visit to the main camp, Motse – home to a pool and restaurant serving up a smoky braai under a cloudless evening sky.
For something a little wilder, there’s no more authentic safari camp experience than bedding down under canvas. If your family are able and up for it, try Saruni Wild in Kenya. It has just three tented lodges, sleeping eight to 10 people in total, and you can hire the whole thing – ensuring an authentic (but still luxurious) safari that is still completely private. Each of the lodges – one sleeping four, the others sleeping two to three – includes private dining areas, hot showers and mosquito nets draped romantically (and practically) over the beds.
It’s atmospheric, but the safari is the main draw. This is proper bucket-list stuff: the Maasai Mara is one of the most important game reserves in Africa, home to numerous crossing points where millions of wildebeest, zebras and antelopes travel to and from the Serengeti in cinematic glory. Typically tricky-to-spot leopards are a frequent sighting, and the Mara River is stuffed with crocodiles and hippos. Game drives, guided by Maasai warriors, take all this in, but in truth you needn’t budge from camp to see wildlife. With tens of thousands of acres of untouched wilderness as your surrounds, birds, gazelles and more often wander into view. Adults can nurse a beer and a book while waiting for giant hornbills, gangly secretary birds and elegant storks to appear. Meanwhile, children can join the on-site ‘Warrior Academy’ programme – learning animal tracking skills direct from the Maasai warriors themselves.