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The number one thing we wanted to do on our African adventure was to go on a safari with our kids.
It’s been on my bucket list for a long time and it was time to make it happen. I couldn’t wait to see animals in the wild and my older kids felt the same way.
There was one thing I was wondering though. Were my kids too young?
It is so amazing seeing animals in the wild and you can appreciate this no matter what your age.
Our safari was definitely the highlight of our one month adventure in Africa which had many highlights.
I would definitely recommend you work with a lodge or company that has safaris that will cater to kids – it can get boring while driving around to look for animals and then you need to be quiet when you are close to the animals.
However, don’t think the quiet and patient part rules you out if you have young kids. More about this below!
We took our kids on safari at ages 13 months, 5 and 7.
I have no idea about the best ages for a safari. However, I can tell you that it is hard to find safari lodges for kids that allow the under 6 set to go on a safari.
As someone with a 5 year old, this can be very frustrating as few have activities for kids under 6 at all and while I agree that 5 is a bit young for the usual safari drives, I also think they are plenty old enough that they should be able to do something.
There are some lodges around with drives for young kids or families with young kids (the original lodge we booked had one for 2-5 year olds but older kids and parents could only join in if there was space). These can be hard to find. Ivory Tree Game Lodge that I review below has one.
We ended up able to take all our kids on the included safari drives. I found Miss 7 was good, Mr 5 was good for about an hour then bearable for another hour and then needed to go back. Mr 1 was no problem at all.
They were much better behaved on the first day than the second. If I was to do it again, I would think about a 3 day stay with them taking the second day off or perhaps just doing one safari a day instead of 2.
If you go on a safari in South Africa in winter, like us, bring some warm clothes. It’s a beautiful temperature during the day but it is cold in the safari vehicles first thing and when it’s getting dark.
We used a carrier for our baby which worked well.
Pilanesberg National Park is probably the most accessible safari experience in South Africa thanks to just being a couple of hours drive from Johannesburg.
It has a variety of accommodation and animals and we picked it because it seemed like the easiest way for us to have our safari experience. There’s also no risk of malaria which was important to us.
It’s also very close to Sun City which is a fun place to visit (especially with kids) as well (you can read about that here).
We are happy we chose to visit this park. It really was the perfect combination of everything for us.
We were rushed to book a lodge after having our original safari lodge cancelled on us after they had a fire. I sent out a zillion emails and had problems finding any that would offer any sort of activity to our 5 year old and would allow 5 of us in a room (more about this below).
Thankfully, I then found Ivory Tree Game Lodge.
They have a “luxury suite” which suited the 5 of us very well. Even better, is that they have “bush brumble” drives for the family, so not only would our 5 year old get to go on a safari drive, but we could do it together. These are one hour drives, usually.
Stays at the lodge include all meals and two drives a day.
We were originally disappointed when we first talked to them on arrival about booking in our drives as we hadn’t realised the two drives a day are per room. We had planned for one of me or Josh to go on the morning drive and the other on the afternoon drive (so one of us could look after the kids) and then for all of us to go on the bush brumble.
Thankfully, our disappointment was for nothing. Since it was low season, we had our own ranger and vehicle just for our family so we were able to do the regular drives all together. It was absolutely fantastic. More about the drives below!
Our suite was just fantastic.
First of all, it was big. We had our own bungalow with a lovely back yard area with a plunge pool, table and chairs, lounge chairs and a big BBQ area.
Inside, there was a big living area with couches (including one that folded out to a bed for the kids), TV, fridge and tea and coffee making facilities. There was also a big bedroom with king size bed and a crib waiting for us.
The hallway had a cupboard and there was a bathroom with a huge bath tub and an outdoor shower.
Initially, I was not too crazy by the idea of an outdoor shower as its cold when it’s dark which is when I would want to use it. However, I absolutely loved it the first time I used it. I had no problems with being cold and it was so awesome to look up and see all the stars.
During our evening during game drive, the couch would be transformed into a bed all ready for the kids.
Ivory Tree Game Lodge is just beautiful. There are a lot of sitting and eating areas at the entry by the lovely reception area as well as a shop.
There’s a bar, games and a swimming pool to compliment all of this. There are also lounge chairs to soak up some sun between drives.
Everything looked and felt luxurious.
I always worry that included meals won’t be that good but the meals at Ivory Tree Game Lodge were all fantastic.
Most of the time, we had a buffet to choose from with many options. They were healthy and fresh and everything tasted good. One dinner had three courses with a few different options to choose from. We were able to mix and match so the kids could have something they were happy with.
There’s a snack bar available at all times which includes lollies – this was a great incentive when the kids grew bored on the safari drives.
Drinks cost extra.
We loved the safari drives!
The biggest pro and con of Pilanesberg is that it’s close to Johannesburg. It makes it easy to visit here which means crowds can be a problem.
We did not find it a problem when we visited in July in school holidays. There was only once per drive where there was a big group of cars and it was annoying. It was low season when we visited but our guide said there were more people around because of school holidays.
He said in summer, the park is packed full.
We saw many rhinos up close, hippos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, lion, impala, steenboks, water buffalo and waterhogs. We saw elephants in the distance.
We were coming all the way from Australia and we wanted to be sure of a good experience.
Arranging this can be slightly more complicated than it sounds, depending on the age of your kids. It would have been a lot simpler if our 5 year old had been 6 as it seems like the vast majority of lodges only include safari drives.
If you have a 5 year old, it could be worth waiting a year and going the next year. However, your kids will probably enjoy kid focused safari drives more around that age anyway.
If you are a family of 5, it definitely gets more complicated especially if your kids are young and you need to be all in one room so the adults can take turns going on safari.
We found getting the information we needed (basically can 5 be in one room and what can our 5 year old do) more difficult than it should be.
The thing we were looking forward to most on our one month Africa trip was going on safari. This means we had high expectations and I was nervous we would be disappointed.
I worried for nothing.
We absolutely loved our Africa safari with kids experience. I loved it more than I expected and enjoyed every moment of driving around Pilanesberg looking for animals. It was just fantastic.
The kids also enjoyed it despite their whining at times. It can be tough as there can be long periods between animal sightings and there’s only so long a five year old boy can be happy looking at landscapes. However, their excitement at animal sightings and how they talk about it now definitely made it all worthwhile for them.
We cannot wait to go on another one and are already talking about returning to Africa next year to do more.
Are you considering going on an African safari with kids?