The first rule of any family safari is to set a clear goal: To dip one’s toes into the wilderness without fully diving in, South Africa makes for an easy transition from bush to big city; for the quintessential big-game experience, Tanzania and Kenya can’t be beat; and if the sky’s the limit, Botswana’s remote camps are the epitome of an African adventure. For those with very young kids, a malaria-free zone (like South Africa’s Ant’s Nest) is sometimes all a parent wants. For others, it boils down to finding the right tent where everyone can sleep safely closely to one another. Family-safari expert Marcia Gordon stresses requesting a private guide who can keep even the most energetic kids engaged. Ace agent Melissa Biggs Bradley (see our Guide to Safari Guides) advises families to ask for their own vehicle, so that late starts or early returns won’t compromise the plans of safari-goers not in the brood. With this in mind, here are four kid-tested camps that any family should consider.
Families will appreciate the secluded confines of the South African ranch and its sister property, Ant’s Hill, as both allow little ones to freely roam their predator-free grounds. Both camps have spacious family suites and their own pools, and families are entitled to the all-important private guide and vehicle. Safaris start at $275 a person per night; Waterberg; 27-81/572-2624; waterberg.net.
Cottar’s Safari Camp
It’s hard to think of a more perfect campsite, chosen by Calvin Cottar’s great-grandfather Charles, who came out from Oklahoma in 1909 to become the country’s first professional hunter. Operated by Calvin and Louise Cottar, this camp lies at the easternmost end of Kenya's Maasai Mara on a private 6,000-acre conservancy. Four tented family suites dot the property’s grounds—each with its own dining room (a convenient feature for young ones not ready to join the mess tent’s communal table). Parents shouldn’t hesitate to request Calvin Cottar as their guide; according to Gordon, his $1,200 day rate is worth every penny. $ From $530 a person per night; Greater Masai Mara; 254-733/773-378; cottars.com.
Footsteps Across the Delta
The three-tent camp in the private Shinde Reserve, Botswana, is ideal for families of up to six, who can rent it out in its entirety. While it lacks a pool, kids aren’t likely to notice thanks to the Young Explorer’s program; guides Omphile or Moses teache a range of bushcraft, from how to make a fire using leaves and sticks to how to carve a bow and a quiver of arrows. Safaris start at $4,805 a person for six nights; Okavango Delta Safari Reserves; 800-242-2434; expertafrica.com.
Singita Faru Faru Lodge
The two-bedroom family suite at this lodge in the Singita Grumeti Reserves won’t disappoint. Tech-starved kids can plop themselves by the lounge TV, and creative types can nurture their talents through activities like sketching, painting and flower-pressing. Rooms start at $1,270 per person per night; Serengeti National Park; 27-21/683-3424; singita.com.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.