How to have a successful safari with kids

by SueLap
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Our first safari and our guide, Selehe
Our first safari and our guide, Selehe
  • Hunting with Hadzabe
  • Watching the Lion King while in the Serengeti!
  • Cultural visits, especially at a local orphanage
  • Guiding ourselves through the windy streets of Stone Town, Zanzibar!
In August 2015, my husband and I took our three boys on their, and our, first safari. We were nervous about many things, such as the long flights and the fact that they'd be in a safari vehicle for long spells. In the end, our safari turned out to be one of our best family vacations yet. Here are some things that helped our kids really enjoy their Tanzania safari.

Choose camps/lodges with entertainment or kid activities

We thought we would have problems keeping the boys occupied and entertained at camp. We found that this concern was unfounded. At the Lemala Mara Tented Camp the staff was outstanding. Our tent attendant, Bruno, was fantastic with the kids. He immediately took them off to play soccer, showed them how to shoot a bow and arrow, and gave them a Lemala backpack filled with bedtime stories and coloring books. The lounge tent had playing cards and games, and even a movie on a laptop for them to watch. There is something pretty special about watching The Lion King in the heart of the Serengeti! It gave us great peace of mind knowing that they, while never out of our sight, were entertained and looked after. This allowed us to enjoy our sundowners by the fire. Chatting with other adults from around the world without a care was relaxing.

Another highlight was our stay at Rhotia Valley Tented Camp in the Karatu area. The boys loved having the opportunity to splash about, releasing pent up energy and cooling off in the pool after a long day driving in Ngorongoro Crater. This lodge is quite lovely as well. The views from the deck overlooking the valley are breathtaking. The tents are built around a beautiful garden filled with herbs and vegetables that the chef uses to prepare dinner. The boys used it as a maze to play around. The lodge is associated with the Rhotia Valley Children’s Home located on the hilltop opposite the lodge. Before dinner we had the opportunity to visit the home and meet the 35 kids that lived there. Our boys got to run around and show the kids how to use the Frisbees we brought as gifts.

Make the safari educational for youngsters

Traveling on extended trips with younger kids sometimes interferes with the school responsibilities, so we try to make sure to incorporate some educational aspects into the trips. Often times with the boys not realizing they are learning! These educational aspects don’t have to be boring; the more interactive the better. We planned a few stops on our safari. These stops were outside the national parks so the boys got to move about a bit more. We included visits to Olduvai Gorge, a cultural visit with the Hadzabe Bushmen near Lake Eyasi, a Masai boma visit outside Tarangire National Park, and learned about the slave trade and the Muslim culture on Zanzibar.

For the boys, the highlight would have to be visiting with the Hadzabe. We got the opportunity to trek through the bush and watch as they hunted and climbed baobab trees to collect fruit. We were all amazed to see how effortlessly they built a fire without matches, and were able to prepare, cook and feed us samples of the small dik dik antelope they caught. They truly live entirely off the land and our Boy Scouts from suburbia learned a few things to share with their friends at home.

Allow kids to enjoy the safari adventure

One of the best parts of traveling with kids is their unending sense of adventure and wonder. Everything is new and interesting to them. Let them ask question and when it is safe, let them explore. Our safari visited six different parks/regions in northern Tanzania. Each location was dramatically different from the other. Each place offered delights and often the travel between locations was a great interlude. They enjoyed climbing on the rock in search of lizards at Naabi Hill Gate just as much as they enjoys watching a lion stalk a zebra inside Ngorongoro Crater.

We gave our boys as much independence as we safely could. They slept in their own tent each night. Despite each camp having an armed guard at night, we were a bit apprehensive that they would wonder out if they slept alone. The first camp alleviated that concern as the staff was able to impart on them the importance of staying in. Their first encounter with a hyena on the way to the bathroom at dinner one night helped reinforce this warning!

The adventure continued in Stone Town in Zanzibar. Finding ourselves suddenly in the middle of a busy city after 12 days on safari was a bit of a shock. The boys learn quickly that we all had to rise quite early with the call to prayer coming from multiple mosques nearby. With only a map from our hotel, the boys successfully guided us from one site to the next through the narrow alleys lined with shops and homes in the historic heart of the city. It was an adventure the boys would not be able to find in the United States.

We have traveled quite a bit with our boys and each trip has its ups and downs. With each trip, we gain more insight into how to have a positive experience to ensure we have great memories as a family. Onward to our next adventure!

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