There is really something magical about an authentic safari experience and Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa makes that particularly accessible to families with young children. The park is famed for its elephants that will come right up close to your vehicle – as well as a large population of antelope and zebra. It is big enough to host a sizeable variety of wildlife, but small enough to ensure you will always spot animals. For one of the best family holiday destinations to do a safari with kids, this is it.
Whether you are sampling safari for the first time or you’re a seasoned wildlife spotter, Addo is still very impressive. Unlike some of the other larger and more famous reserves, the animals here are easy to see. Since lions were only introduced in some parts of the park in 2011, the wildlife are all in extremely healthy condition and relatively unworried by the paparazzi-like tourists.
There is excellent viewing of buffalo, zebra, kudu, eland, dung beetle and wart hogs, but the highlight is the large herds of elephants. Budget most of the day to just observe the giant mammals interacting, playing and forming their communities.
Of course the best way to ensure a solid checklist of animal spotting is to go on a guided wildlife tour, but it is extremely easy to get around Addo without one and you will still see a happy volume of animals from your own vehicle at a distance that won’t require more than a simple point-and-shoot camera. Check with your accommodation about the quality of the roads at the time you visit if you are considering doing a self-drive.
Perhaps most importantly, Addo is malaria-free – a vital consideration for families with young kids or potential pregnancies. [For more information on important medical FAQs to ask your doctor before you leave, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Book your whole holiday around whatever days you can get at River Bend Lodge because staying here is what tips a trip to Addo from being merely memorable to once-in-a-lifetime.
The Lodge is located right inside a private, fenced-in section of the wildlife reserve which means lions sometimes hang around the front gate and the only people who have the privilege of witnessing them are the guests inside the very few rooms. It also means you will get a lovely quiet game drive experience – rather than competing with the other carloads of tourists. Plus the drives run at the longer extremes of the day – there are no time limits on the game drives in this private area as there are in the other public areas of the park. They also have access to other private reserves where you can see different game such as giraffe.
River Bend coordinates all the guiding for you so they can accommodate differing timetables and it’s these little extras they offer – such as car seats in the safari vehicles – that make the whole experience particularly pleasant for parents and kids. There is no age limit on their safaris – they will even take newborns.
In fact, everything here is catered to make the site attractive to families. You pre-order kids’ meals so they are ready exactly when you want them (no waiting around) and high chairs are available. There is a designated children’s room if you want the kids to eat separately that also has plenty of kids’ DVDs. While the formal dining room boasts a stunning deck overlooking the wildlife that everyone can enjoy, there is also a pool and lots of grass for children and adults to relax throughout the day between drives.
The general timetable of a safari is ideal for even extremely young children. Within River Bend the vehicles set out before sunrise and return at breakfast, then again at late afternoon to return for dinner. This leaves the bulk of the day for going back to bed or relaxing by the pool.
If you can’t cope with these uncivilised hours or you are staying elsewhere it is still possible for you to have satisfying game spotting in the mid-morning through until lunchtime and again if you return in the late afternoon.
However, it’s important to remember that game drives require patience and the ability to sit still – there can be long periods driving around in the vehicle where there are no animal sightings at all (and you absolutely cannot leave the car) and to get up close to large animals such as lions requires the discipline to be quiet on command. Plus there are never any toilet stops. It’s worth considering your children’s temperaments and discussing this with them before signing up for a safari.
Guided tours tend to run through any weather (bar heavy rain) so you need to be equipped with all the requisite clothing, sun (and rain) protection and snacks. Some tour vehicles are open topped which means there is no shade or protection from the elements. Even in a covered, air-conditioned car it can get surprisingly hot and children can be susceptible to sunstroke and dehydration.
Water is generally not safe to drink in the game park areas but check with your accommodation. To be completely sure, only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
To read out interview with 7-year-old Brian who lives at Addo, click on the suitcases&strollers story here.
For a travel agency that can recommend other family-friendly African safari options, read the suitcases&strollers story here.