Exploring Africa’s wilderness is a huge adventure, no matter what your age. However, for children it is a truly magical experience and something they will never forget. A safari may not be the obvious choice of holiday for families with young children, but luxury safari properties are making it increasingly easy to include them in trips, helping to create memories that will last a lifetime. Kids have chances to see some of the most iconic animals in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo, to ride in a real safari car over bumpy terrain, to play football with local staff, and to cook on a campfire under a sky full of stars before listening to the sounds of the bush as they fall asleep after a thrilling day of exploration.
Botswana is arguably the most exclusive of all safari destinations, teeming with wildlife and jam-packed with varying habitats. Although there is a risk of malaria that should be considered for young children, many of the most exclusive properties welcome young travellers in all sorts of ways. Here are our top 5 camps and lodges for children in Botswana!
Shinde’s Young Explorers, northern Okavango Delta
This safari is specially designed for families with children over 7 years of age and is usually based at the Footsteps Camp in the Shinde private concession. Each family has exclusive use of the camp, as well as their own professional guide, chef, waiter, housekeeper, and mokoro guides. One of the three en-suite twin tents can be converted into a family tent to sleep a maximum of two adults and one child. It is also possible to upgrade the experience to one of operator Ker & Downey’s five-star luxury properties, such as Shinde Enclave or Linyanti Ebony.
The specialist ‘Young Explorers’ guides lead a wide range of inspiring and educational activities, designed to suit all ages and with an emphasis on learning how to track game – both on foot and from safari vehicles. Children learn how to recognise different animal spoors, identify several species of bird, make small animal traps, and start a fire using just two sticks. They may also be able to try their hand at poling a mokoro (subject to water levels), driving a safari vehicle, and fishing. At the end of the safari, Young Explorers receive a certificate, T-shirt, and cap.
San Camp, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
The beautiful and otherworldly San Camp is not what you would picture as your typical safari experience. However, its location on the edge of a vast salt pan within the Kalahari Desert ecosystem means there are fewer large animals in residence, and this allows for some truly unique activities that are ideal for children. From getting up really close to the camp’s group of habituated meerkats and embarking on nature walks with the San bushmen, who will reveal their hunting skills and all the secrets of surviving in this harsh environment, to quad biking on the limitless salt pans, children will be kept busy and enthralled from dawn until dusk. There is also a large covered swimming pool to cool off in. This camp has no minimum age, so it can be enjoyed by literally anybody! Its sister properties in the same area, Jack’s Camp and Camp Kalahari, also have no age limits and offer the same activities.
Little Vumbura, northern Okavango Delta
Little Vumbura is a luxurious and intimate property, nestled on a wooded island in a private concession. Travellers aged over 12 years are welcome and the camp may also accept younger children, subject to the booking of private activities or (in the case of very young kids) exclusive use of the camp. There is a family suite, consisting of two rooms connected by an inter-leading door, and the camp is able to arrange separate mealtimes and menus for families with young children.
Standard activities include game drives (including night drives), boating safaris, mokoro excursions, and seasonal fishing. The water activities are subject to a minimum age limit, but a new complimentary ‘Bush Buddy’ programme is available for families with children to request in advance. Special activities involved in this programme may include arts and crafts, short nature walks around the camp, tracking lessons, bird and animal call identification, treasure hunts, cooking lessons in the bush (for example, pizza-making in termite mounds), as well as dancing and drumming, stargazing, and storytelling. Children also receive a safari bag containing a bug viewer, safari guide booklet, water bottle, cap, and torch.
Linyanti Ebony, Linyanti Marshes
This small, intimate camp is located in the private Chobe Enclave, on the edge of the Linyanti marshes. Families are very welcome and there is no age restriction, with children under 6 years staying for free (subject to booking a private vehicle). There is a well-appointed family room with a private deck, where the camp will happily provide a private dinner on request. A small communal swimming pool is also available for entertainment between game viewing. There is an age restriction of 16 years on walking safaris and mokoro trips, but nature walks around the camp and game drives are available to all. Furthermore, if arranged in advance, it is possible to combine your stay here with Ker & Downey’s ‘Young Explorers’ programme, to benefit from a specialist family guide and child-friendly tracking activities.
Savuti Camp, Linyanti Marshes
This camp is located in the private Linyanti Concession, on the edge of the main, ephemeral Savute Channel. It welcomes children who are 6 years old and above, although families with children between 6 and 12 years must hire a private vehicle. There is an en-suite family room that’s raised off the ground, a small communal swimming pool, and a large raised viewing area with a fire deck and wonderful views of the channel and its wildlife.
Standard activities at the camp include game drives (including night drives), nature walks, incredible elephant-viewing from inside the camp’s hide, and birdwatching. There is also the opportunity to sleep out on star beds. The complimentary ‘Bush Buddy’ programme, for families with children, additionally provides a never-ending choice of child-friendly bush activities and the essential safari goodie bag.
Julian Carter-Manning is a Co-founder and MD at Yellow Zebra Safaris. Yellow Zebra Safaris is an award-winning luxury and adventure travel company specialising in ‘Safari Africa’.