For the family looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Africa never disappoints, there is so much on offer. From a classic wildlife safari to sailing, cultural experiences to adrenaline sports, a family holiday to Africa is guaranteed to fill their eyes with wonder, and give the whole family an unforgettable holiday together.
Here are my top seven Africa family holiday activities and experiences…
There are so many options for family safari activities in Africa but first and foremost, the most important part we choose every time is to have our own private vehicle and guide just for our family. For me, this makes the holiday, no matter what we are doing!
This allows the family complete flexibility and freedom and it means that we can bond together as a family, doing exactly as we please and to our own schedule.
The Guide gets to know us and our interests, and tailors the safari and experiences to our interests. If you are planning a family holiday to Africa, I thoroughly recommend you do the same.
You can have a guide that is an expert in whatever it is that you’re most interested in as a family, whether that be photography, wildlife, culture, snorkelling, the list goes on! You can go out for a couple of nights with your guide, take your bedrolls and have your own family adventure, away from everyone.
Or have a tented camp closed to you, headed by a wonderful guide who is good with children and teaches them everything from learning about the night sky to poling a mokoro (and in our family's case - losing the pole!)… but it is all good fun and educational.
Of course, this is what most families come to Africa for. There are wonderful private camps and lodges that run excellent children’s programs, where they can go for short walks with the guides and learn all about the creatures they see, searching for animal tracks and bugs, or even have a ‘dung’ safari!
In the Okavango Delta in Botswana, there is a camp that is exclusive just to your family and they run a Young Explorers safari for families. The guide Obie takes you under his wing and reveals an entirely new world to you all.
Learn to read the night skies, how to shoot at tin cans, how to fish for bream, and how to identify the tracks and trails in front of you – as well as learning about the medicinal properties of trees and plants.
Many families with younger children choose a family safari to South Africa as there are malaria-free regions with top wildlife viewing. Again the guides teach the children all about the bush and they can bring home goodies such as plaster casts of animal tracks they’ve found.
I remember watching my then-eight year old daughter spending time in Kenya with Maasai children - the only adults present were our guide John and tracker Johnson, whom she knew well and who acted as her interpreters as she sang and danced with the children and they taught each other songs - the fact they didn't know each other’s language didn't matter at all.
I have never seen such laughter on both sides of the fence. This experience to me is really important. In our western society, our children have so much and I do believe that in a gentle and sensitive manner, we should introduce them to other cultures and educate them accordingly.
Children learn how to make bows and arrows, which trees were good to use for this, and how to shoot them. They learn how to make fires with no matches, they visit a school and spend half a lesson with other children, which is illuminating for everyone!
They then learn about the Maasai warriors and what it takes to become a warrior these days, together with learning about how these cultures are struggling to hold onto their identity in the 21st century. This is all very much here and now, and relevant.
In Botswana time can be spent with the Kalahari Bushmen or San culture, as they forage for tubers and explain how many of them live. This is such a special and soft culture whose family are educated on the basis of folklore.
In Namibia family safari activities are centred around the jaw-dropping desert. Here families can quad bike on the dunes and take part in every other adrenaline-oriented sport invented for the desert, including sand boarding, perfect for families with teenagers!
Botswana’s Kalahari Desert offers one-of-a-kind experiences. The salt pans are extraordinary and in the dry season, your family can go quad biking across the Makgadikgadi pans with an expert guide.
You head towards the ancient Kubu Island together (an ‘island’ of granite that sits in the pans) and when you arrive you are greeted with refreshing drinks and a delicious meal, cooked by the staff members who went ahead. Perhaps even sleep under the stars on bedrolls on the salt pan…
When quad biking to Kubu Island in the Makgadikgadi salt pans, why not take your bed rolls and sleep out under the stars with your guide? Witness the dramatic splendour of the southern skies with absolutely no light pollution at all.
Or sleep out on a raised platform in the South African bush, where you sleep in comfortable beds under the stars, with a full ensuite bathroom across a raised walkway.
There is also the option of sleeping in a treehouse! The children will love the novelty of this and there are now some fantastic properties, on the coast or in the bush, where you sleep up on a raised platform built amongst the tree branches. You can hear the wildlife around you and this is a truly immersive experience.
In the Kalahari Desert there is a habituated colony of meerkats that you can visit. These meerkats are so comfortable around humans, they sometimes use them as a useful vantage point for sentry duty!
In Namibia, you can spend time with cheetah, up close and personal at the wonderful AfriCat Foundation, something children, no matter what age, always enjoy!
This charity rehabilitates cheetah who previously would not have been able to cope in the wilderness, but here at Okonjima Nature Reserve they are released to the wild on a protected reserve, and looked after and monitored.
The researchers and staff at Okonjima assist with conservation education and human-wildlife conflict mitigation for cheetah and many other wildlife species.
Or if your family are interested in elephants, one of my favourite (and most worthwhile) places to visit in Kenya is David Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage.
If you adopt an elephant, you are able to visit the orphanage in Nairobi in the late afternoon when they are getting ready for bed time, and in the morning you can see the young elephants coming for their daily mudbath.
For a more in-depth experience, the orphanage in Tsavo East has a luxury safari camp near the stockades, which I visited on a recent journey to Kenya, spending time walking with the elephants, witnessing their feeds and mud baths, and learning their stories from their keepers.
Africa has an extraordinary coastline with a variety of places to stay, but what better way to finish a family safari than on a small private boat, complete with your own skipper and crew?
You can go snorkelling and water skiing, or swim with dolphins and whale sharks. There are all kinds of water sports on offer too, including kite-surfing!
Take a fully crewed catamaran or an Arab dhow for few days and sail around the islands off the coast of Mozambique or Tanzania. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to camp on different private beaches each night and explore beautiful beaches and coves during the day.
Maybe do a spot of fishing or visit the vibrant local markets and interact with the locals, a wonderful experience for the children.
I have taken my own family every year on holiday to Africa, and we never tire of the amazing and fulfilling experiences on offer here. For a family holiday none of you will ever forget, I urge you to go!
Background and headline images and image 3 courtesy of Ker and Downey – Young Explorers Botswana
Image 1 courtesy of Madikwe, South Africa
Images 2 and 4 courtesy of Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Images 7 and 9 courtesy of Uncharted Africa
Image 8 courtesy of Tswalu Kalahari
Image 10 courtesy of Okonjima and the AfricaCat Foundation