Julia Nesbitt, director of sales and marketing for Seattle-based African Safari Company (http://www.africansafarico.com/), says that overland travel distances, the pace of a program and style of accommodations are among important considerations. Following are her safari planning tips for families:
1. The weather generally “works” for safaris scheduled over summer holidays. In December and January, plan to go to South Africa or Eastern Africa to avoid rains. The African sun can be intense – pack lots of sunscreen!
2. Allow 24 hours for travel time to Africa and 24 hours to return. Be sure to allow a few days upon returning home so that children are able to get over jet lag before going back to school.
3. Select age-appropriate programs and be aware of their duration. For all but the most patient teenagers, long game drives are best avoided, Nesbitt advises. The age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years. Some water and walking activities may have age limits of 12 to 16 years old. Many safari lodges have dedicated programs for children, taking them for shorter game drives and nature walks closer to camp.
4. Consider the travel pace. “Ask how long the road transfers and drive times are. If transfers are longer than a couple of hours, ask about interesting places to stop along the way or consider flying to your next destination instead,” she suggests, adding that sometimes it's preferable to visit just a few places that are easily accessible from one another but that allow enough time in each for immersion. Families will be rewarded by getting to know the region, staff, guides and even some of the resident wildlife. “Children love to learn about other kids. We recommend including cultural elements in your family safari for a great blend wildlife, wilderness and learning about the local culture and customs.”
5. Factor ages into accommodation requirements. Many camps and lodges offer one or two family units with adjoining bedrooms. Children up to age 11 can share with two adults. However age 12 and up may constitute a third “adult” in the parents' room which some lodges preclude. “But, you won't want your 12-year-old alone in their own room, so ask for camps with flexible child policies wherever possible,” she advises.
6. Weigh geography and health concerns. “Malaria-free? Choose one of the excellent game reserves in South Africa. Want to avoid mandatory vaccinations? Visit the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls instead of the Zambian side.” Nesbitt also highly recommends travel insurance for the whole family; some plans include ages up to 12 in their parent's coverage at no cost, she notes.
African Safari Company recommends custom trips that can be built around a family's interests.
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