5 Of The Best Family-Friendly Safaris in South AfricaCategory: Beginner's Guide to Safari
Often the words “family” and “safari” don’t go together too well. It can be difficult to find family-friendly safari destinations that are accessible and safe for the whole family whilst also providing enough diversions for the kids if they get tired of all the game driving, or when the adults want some alone time with their gin and tonics.
But if the kids aren’t decent enough to agree to be left at home, South Africa is certainly your best bet for the whole family. The country is almost entirely malaria-free and generally has good roads, infrastructure and transport links, as well as a number of parks that allow self-driving (to at least save other safari-goers from suffering your children). Here is a rundown of South Africa’s best family-friendly safari destinations.
Pilanesberg National Park
Pilanesberg National Park is almost certainly the most accessible and family-friendly safari destination on the whole African continent, an easy 2 hours drive from Johannesburg and an hour and a half from Pretoria.
There’s a range of very affordable accommodation inside the park including self-catering chalets that can sleep up to 5, and even the cheapest lodges and camps have swimming pools and kiddies playgrounds. Most of the accommodations are fenced so you won’t get any unwanted visitors stalking your little ones either.
There are a number of tar roads through the park and around many of the wildlife hotspots.
Pilanesberg can get very busy during the school holidays but the abundance of Big 5 makes up for that. If you want to really get that sense of “wild Africa” Pilanesberg isn’t for you, but if you want your whole family to see the Big 5 as quickly and painlessly as possible, look no further.
Shamwari Game Reserve
Shamwari Game Reserve certainly isn’t the cheapest place to take the whole family, but to my mind it’s one of the most family-friendly of South Africa’s luxury private game reserves. The reserve is an easy hour or so’s drive from the city of Port Elizabeth, which has a fairly busy international airport. Inside Shamwari, Riverdene Lodge is specifically geared to families. Seven of the nine rooms are interleading; there is a pool and a supervised jungle gym and children’s playroom and a nanny service; unlike Shamwari’s other lodges, there is a perimeter electric fence. Kids can also engage in the special “kids on safari” program which will take them to the Animal Rehabilitation Centre and Born Free Centre within the reserve. For any of the child-friendly features, Riverdene and the whole of Shamwari still exude exclusivity and bush tranquility, and the Big 5 are pretty much guaranteed.
Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s absolutely overflowing with elephants, with herds sometimes numbering around 100. The rest of the Big 5 are all here too, whilst you can even see sharks and whales (at the right time of year) from the coastal sections of this big and much-loved national park. You can get to Addo from Port Elizabeth in less than an hour by car. Once inside the park, there are a number of tar roads and cheap camping and self-catering options.
The cheapest and most cheerful of the bunch is Addo Main Camp, which is more like a small village, with 64 rooms and 30 camping pitches, a well-stocked shop, a restaurant and even a floodlit waterhole, so you can spot the wildlife without having to even get in the car.
Like all of the Eastern Cape’s parks and reserves, Addo is malaria-free.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s biggest parks and certainly its most well-known, but it’s also one of its most accessible. It’s an easy 4 hour drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria or a 55 minute flight from Johannesburg to Skukuza on the fringes of the park, with multiple flights operating daily.
Within the park itself there are a number of tar roads and like all of South Africa’s national parks Kruger is open to self-drivers. The Big 5 are all here in abundance and remarkably easy to spot considering the size of the park.
Jock Safari Lodge, themed on the much-loved South African children’s book Jock of the Bushveld, is a particularly great accommodation option for those with young kids, as is Kapama River Lodge, where families are taken on their own exclusive game drives, and rangers facilitate child-friendly activities like spoor casting.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe Game Reserve is malaria-free and certainly the best private game reserve in South Africa’s North-West Province. Covering an area that was not so long ago little more than abandoned farmland, it’s bursting with big game and is a true triumph of conservation.
Madikwe is about 4 hours drive from Johannesburg and 2 hours from Gaborone across the border in Botswana. Or you can fly in from Jo’Burg in an hour. Madikwe is also close to Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City so it’s easy to make it part of an itinerary that includes all 3.
Jaci’s Lodges in particular cater to children of all ages providing special “Jungle Drives” for kids under four years old and the “Children’s Safari”, which is aimed at slightly older children and teaches them valuable lessons about the bush, including survival techniques, tracking and bush medicine. Children are also given special attention at Madikwe River Lodge.
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Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.