Coming from Africa myself I suppose I am biased, but my favourite family holidays are always in Africa. The top three for me would be – Kenya – then Botswana and finally South Africa.
Kenya is my first choice because of the range of options available. I feel the success of any family holiday lies in diversity of experience; in other words, doing lots of different things with little repetition. That is always a winner!
So – to elaborate – in Kenya, where I grew up, you have around 43 different tribes. That means it is rich in culture and there are lots of ways to explore this and learn about it in a non-voyeuristic manner, which just enhances your child’s fun and education.
For example, Karisia in stunning Laikipia can take your family on a walking safari which is camel assisted. You camp out at night for a few days and chat with the Samburu guides, learning all about their culture and having a lot of fun!
The walks are set at a pace to suit your family with plenty of rest breaks, but if you get tired there are riding camels available, a big hit with children!
Another option is to go out with the Maasai on a mule assisted safari through the forests of the Loita Hills, one of the most beautiful regions.
When my family did this the walks were just stunning, with different scenery each day. One day we came across a group of Maasai morans or young warriors in the forest and we were allowed to watch them dance and ask them questions via our guide.
They were mesmerised by my blonde hair, touching it and laughing, as it is so different to their own. We chatted about their way of life in comparison to our western lives and both sides were enriched by a truly memorable experience.
Another time, my daughter, who was around 7 at the time, went to visit a Maasai hut with our guide. She watched the young girls doing bead work and making jewellery and belts.
She then taught them some songs and dances she learnt from school and they taught her their songs and dances. I arrived to find them all jumping around, singing away and having the time of their lives. A very special moment indeed!
You can have a private, tented mobile camp with your private guide set up for you in a private concession abutting the Masai Mara, where you chat around the campfire and talk of the day’s adventures and discuss what you will be doing tomorrow.
Perhaps you will choose to go walking and learn all about the medicinal properties of trees and plants and how to identify the footprints of animals before you? Or you might return to a tree which was housing for example some lion cubs and see what they are up to. The options are endless!
You might then want to ride a camel or a horse. Perhaps go out for a few nights, camping en route with your private guide. All of these experiences are completely exclusive, so that it is only your family and your expert guide.
Once we went out in Laikipia looking for wild dog with a telemetry device – and found them – stalking a kill. They have the most efficient communication methods and have a tight hunting regime which is incredible to witness.
Then of course, you can stay in a star bed such as the ones at Loisaba in Laikipia. This is a fantastic novelty for a family - the bed is on wheels and is rolled out onto the raised platform in the evening for you to enjoy a sleep under the stars. In the morning you are brought a hot beverage and have the opportunity to watch the sunrise from your star bed – breath taking!
One of the best things we did was going on a private camping safari, quad biking and walking on the sandy river beds. We all horse ride as a family, so we have had some truly amazing family riding safaris in Kenya too.
And of course, in terms of classic safaris there are so many brilliant parks, jam packed with wildlife, that whether one visits Tsavo East or West, Amboseli, the Masai Mara, Samburu or the Chyulu Hills, one will always be rewarded with wonderful sightings.
Botswana is my next choice. Botswana is idyllic, and with its private concessions you won’t come across other tourists who are not staying at your camp.
In the Okavango Delta there is a lovely camp which is exclusively for you and you have an expert guide with you all as a family. Together you learn how to track wildlife whilst on foot, determine where the tracks are leading and what they are doing, and learn about the trees and plants and their medicinal properties.
Learn also about the night sky in the southern hemisphere – this is always fascinating! The Motswana people have all sorts of folklore and weave wonderful tales of each in our planetary system.
Or learn how to pole a mokoro – a wooden canoe, used as a method of transport for the local people for centuries. There is also riding elsewhere in the Okavango Delta - cantering through the watery floodplains is phenomenal.
Older children love taking a quad biking safari across the Makgadikgadi salt pans, sleeping out at night beneath the stars. I cannot tell you how amazing this experience is, to lie down in your comfy bedroll, the sky alight with the brightest of stars and no light pollution. The vast expanse of absolutely nothing is simply magical.
Then perhaps go horse riding across the Makgadikgadi and feel that sense of freedom as you ride alongside zebra and antelope. Your family could meet and learn about the San people (the Bushmen). Whilst here, come face to face with the funniest creature of all, the meerkats, and see all the desert dwelling species you won’t find elsewhere.
Finally, finish on a high note, walking with elephants at Abu’s camp. Here you are part of the herd and you see the calves playing with their mothers and interacting with her. Learn about the elephants and their behaviour – both as individuals as well as part of a herd. This is an experience you will never forget!
View wildlife from an open vehicle in this game-rich region. Across from Abu’s is a private villa called Seba which is fabulous for those wanting more privacy.
And finally, South Africa. My family have had some amazing safaris on friends’ ranches in KwaZulu Natal, where we ride, camp out beneath the stars and see fantastic wildlife. In December one can see turtles nesting on the beaches which is also sensational.
Depending upon how adventurous the parents are, we often turn to South Africa for families planning a safari with very young children - perhaps 5 years and younger. South Africa has regions teaming with wildlife that are malaria free, such as the Eastern Cape, the Waterberg and Madikwe game reserve.
Invariably South Africa offers upscale safari lodges but they have some brilliant family programmes too – which are uncontrived and simply perfect for family safaris to Africa.
For older children there are some fabulous canoeing and white water rafting trails along the Orange, and other rivers, in breath-taking scenery. I am also often surprised to see how well the battlefield tours go down with teenagers, particularly if they have studied the Anglo-Boer war, or simply because they are interested in history.
Cape Town always goes down well and we have stayed in not only an excellent choice of family oriented hotels, but some beautiful villas located right on the beach.
We have had some really fun days together such as going surfing with a professional surfer. We were collected by a Mercedes Mini Bus, complete with surf boards, a gourmet picnic and all sorts of other beach games. We then went out with our guide, who found us all the best beaches for surfing.
We also did stand up paddling and some mountain biking. This company also arranges walks up Table Mountain, which we did, and then took the cable car back down.
One evening, we went to a private house where they had an informal cookery class and music session. The owner played the saxophone and we had a real blast, in more ways than one – both cooking, singing and playing music.
Another real 'must' while in Cape Town is to visit a charity which we support called Uthando, run by a friend of mine, James Fearnie. This is an important and humbling experience where one can visit the township of Khayellisha and see some of the incredible, uplifting projects that Uthando run – there are around 43!
One can select the projects that mean most to your family and spend time assisting and meeting the people whose lives are enriched by Uthando. For me, it is so important for our children to see and experience these inspiring projects.
So when looking for a family holiday to South Africa, don’t follow the herd! There are so many really different, unusual and fun things to do. If any of these ideas interest you, whether for South Africa, Kenya or Botswana, then chat to us for further inspiration!
Images kindly supplied by and copyright to:
Background image and images 10 & 11 of guide and family and of children baking - Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Headline image, image 2 of child wearing Maasai beading and image 3 of children riding camels - Karisia Walking Safaris, Kenya
Image 4 of child with Maasai girls and image 5 of wild dog - Elewana Loisaba Tented Camp, Kenya
Image 6 of the star bed on raised platform - Elewana Loisaba Starbeds, Kenya
Images 7 and 8 of family campfire and boy with guide - Young Explorers programme at Footsteps camp, Botswana
Image 9 of meerkats with children - Uncharted Africa, Botswana
Video - Abu’s Camp, Botswana
Image 12 of cable car at Table Mountain - Escape and Explore, South Africa
Images 13 and 14 of gardening project and youth dance project - Uthando, South Africa