A safari is one of the most amazing memories to share with children. The excitement of bouncing around on a game drive or stopping to get close to a dazzle of zebra is simply magic for kids. Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa is a family-friendly park that offers the opportunity to give your children that experience, while allowing for adults-only time as well. Here's a great way to do an African safari with kids. 


The Destination

Madikwe has an excellent selection of all the major animals you would expect to see on an African safari. Lions, elephants, zebra, buffalo and giraffe are plentiful – in fact the numbers are so large the park would prefer to reduce some of the species if they could.

Their real specialty is the wild dog which is one of the most endangered animals in South Africa. These playful packs are easily spotted and can even be seen around the perimeters of some of the lodges.  

You cannot self-drive around Madikwe – all tourists must be accompanied by a guide. Unfortunately many lodges will not take young children on game drives either, so you need to be selective about your accommodation.

However the benefit is that the park is strictly controlled. Guides use a radio system to “queue” for the rare animals which means when it’s your turn you will have a lovely intimate experience with the lions or the cheetah rather than being surrounded by hundreds of other tourists.

This also makes for a pleasant communal atmosphere around the park. Guides will always stop their vehicles to exchange pleasantries with each other and the guests which is much friendlier than the competitive vibe you can get in other game parks.

Madikwe is malaria-free – an important consideration for families with young kids or potential pregnancies.


Accommodation

Jaci’s Safari Lodge caters especially to parents with young children. They will organise a personal babysitter for your family who arrives in the morning (pre-dawn) when the kids are still sleeping so you can go on game drive. When you return the children are already dressed and breakfasted. In the afternoon she returns to entertain, feed, bathe and put the kids back to bed again so you can have a sunset safari and a leisurely dinner.

The lodge has a strict policy of no very young children (under 5) on adult game drives which means you get some adult time every day and you won’t be bothered by other people’s noisy or annoying kids. As compensation, in the mornings there is a special kids’ “bumble” which is shorter and specifically for families.

If you insist on having your small kids on the longer adults drives, you can hire your own private vehicle and guide to accommodate this.

The lodge has two pools and a children’s playroom as well as a watering hole and hide in its sister property (a short 10 minute walk away) where elephants, wildebeest, hyena and wild dogs can be easily seen. Within the lodge grounds there are also several animals to be spotted including large water monitors and bush buck. Even from bed sometimes you can spot herds of elephants walking not far from the rooms.  


The Practicalities

The general timetable of a safari is ideal for young children. At Jaci’s 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.  

However, it’s important to remember that game drives require patience and the ability to sit still – which is where the Jaci’s bumbles are so useful as the drives are limited to under an hour.

If you are considering taking kids on the longer adult drives, keep in mind 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 may not be 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.


For other family-friendly South African safari parks, read the suitcases&strollers stories Addo Elephant National Park and Nambiti Private Game Reserve

For a travel agency that can recommend other family-friendly African safari options, read the suitcases&strollers story here