South African Safari with Small Kids

If you spend any time at all with a child under the age of 5, you will agree with me that they can be extremely unpredictable and there are many factors that can affect their behavior at any given moment.  Of course we try to remind them of proper behavior and discipline when needed, but ultimately, a toddler has their own free will to act how they feel appropriate, which can drive my type A personality bonkers! (:

So you can imagine how I felt when my husband, Matt, booked our South African safari last month for our family (Dylan 3 years, Christopher, 1 year).  What if Dylan had to go "potty'?  What happens if/when Christopher starts crying or needs his diaper changed?  Can you bring snacks?  How will I keep both boys still for a three hour tour?  Will they get bored if we don't see any animals for a while?  What if we see an animal and I can't keep the boys quiet?  Will they listen to the safari guide when he's talking?

Self-Guided Safari vs Guided Safari
Self-Guided Safari
Most safari companies will not allow children under the age of 5 years to go on a safari because, well the obvious. ;-)  In our research, we found that families of small children are generally recommended to go on self-guided tours.  Basically, you pay about 50 USD to enter the preserve and drive your own car looking for animals on your own.  We first did this at Addo Elephant Park, letting the boys sit on our laps while we drove around looking for animals.

I have to say, it went extremely well, as far as animal sightings; we saw: elephants, lions, zebras, ostriches, a buffalo, warthogs, a variety of antelope, etc.  I would say the whole thing was very successful!  The boys did okay.  At one point they fought over who's lap to sit on and I'm pretty sure we scared away a mommy and baby warthogs, but overall it went well.  I have to say, I didn't mind one bit when Christopher fell asleep and I had a little more space on the front seat to watch the animals.  Dylan LOVED seeing the animals, but there was a little bit of down time where we wouldn't see animals for 20+ minutes, so then we would let him play games on our tablet.  

The best part of the self-guided tour was coming up to a herd of about fifty elephants at a water hole.  It was amazing and I loved that we discovered them on our own without the help of guide.  It was, by far, my favorite thing that happened the entire trip.

However, one of the worst things that happened was GETTING STUCK IN THE GAME PARK!  That's right, we totally underestimated the amount of time it would take us to drive to the exit, which closed at 6:30pm.  We didn't arrive back until 7:15 and the gate was closed and pad locked!  There was a phone number to call if you were left stuck inside, of course, we tried calling it (with I'm sure major international dings) and no one answered.  Finally after about 30 minutes of calling different numbers... including our hotel and other game park numbers we could find, we finally got a hold of someone who eveeeentually came and let us out.  There is a HUGE fine for people leaving the park late that increases every 15 minutes.. somehow we managed to get out scot free, but still, I would DEFINITELY not recommend underestimating your time in the park and give yourself ample time to leave before it closes! lol!

Guided Safari
Matt looked everywhere to find a tour that would accept young children.  We eventually found that the River Bend Lodge accepted children under 5 years.  They even provided a car seat for Dylan to sit in; I "wore" Christopher in my baby bjorn carrier throughout the entire tour.

We were fortunate enough to not have any major problems with our kids on the two 3 hour safaris we took with River Bend.  The first tour we took  was in the late afternoon, and the second was the following morning before sunrise.  Dylan LOVED riding in the open air jeep!  His favorite parts were when we almost got stuck in a huge mud puddle and the wheels were skidding out in the mud and when our guide chased after ostriches off the road!  Because the first tour was during his afternoon nap, he did eventually fall asleep and we had to be careful that tree branches didn't scrape past him and I had to reach over and hold up his head because he had nothing to lean on. lol!  Christopher did great too!  He cried a bit in the beginning, but luckily I had a teether from Yarn Owl Store, an adorable shop I found on Etsy.  The teether helped to quiet him (he won't take a pacifier anymore) and when all else failed, I offered to nurse him, which is the easiest and quickest way to get a baby to shut up, in my opinion. :)  We also brought emergency snacks and even our tablet with games just in case Dylan was too loud or bored, but fortunately we did not need to use it.

During both tours, our driver stopped at a scenic spot to offer drinks and snacks, which is a perfect time to change a diaper and let the kids stretch their legs. From our stopping point we could see antelope, zebra, and a rhino!  We really appreciated going on the guided safari tour because our guide pointed out so many interesting things we would have never noticed on our own.  Dung beetle, anyone? :)

Because we booked our guided safari through River Bend Lodge, we were required to stay there.  It is extremely expensive, you pay per guest, but we had no other choice if we wanted to do a guided safari because no other place would allow our kids.  The Lodge is situated right inside a private animal preserve; there were even signs reminding us to exit our car with caution when we arrived onto the grounds.

Everything was absolutely top notch, a luxury hotel at its finest.  From staff who went above and beyond, to the warm towels and hot chocolate offered by a staff member in a butler suit after your safari; and the amazing food, every detail was thought of and executed.  We were given two adjoining rooms, which definitely wasn't necessary, but because we paid for three guests (Christopher was free), we were given two rooms.  The rooms were gorgeous and fancy and both had indoor and outdoor showers and spacious patios overlooking the grasslands and it was fun to look for wildlife as we sat out there in the evening.

The second place we stayed was Africanos Country Estate.  It was a 10th of the cost, and just as nice, although it didn't feel as pretentious as River Bend Lodge.  I would definitely recommend staying here if your kids are old enough to do a safari with another company because you will save so much money!  This is a great hotel for kids, as well, as they offer a pool, game room, and playground on the grounds.

In hindsight, we are so happy we did both types of tours!  Originally, we were only going to do the self-guided safari, however I think we always would have wondered what it would have been like if we didn't get to experience the guided tour.  Although, much more expensive, I am so glad we experienced both tours!  However, if you were on a budget or are worried how your kids would handle being stuck in a jeep for 3 hours, I would say go for the self-guided safari and you may even see more animals than you would on the guided (we actually did!).


  1. Glad you enjoyed wonderful Addo! The other alternative is to use the 'hop on guides' - best of both worlds as you have a combination of self drive in your own vehicle, and the expertise of a knowledgeable guide, at a very affordable price.

    1. Thank you! That sounds like an amazing alternative! Do you know if they allow children under 5? We thoroughly researched a number of safari companies and couldn't find many that would accept kids that young. It would be great to let families know this alternative if they do allow young children!!!

    2. Yes of course - even if you have a newborn baby, as they simply 'hop on' with you. A hop on guide is a knowledgeable and experienced guide who will travel in your car with you, and even drive your car for you thus freeing you to just enjoy, take photos etc... if you so choose - its entirely up to you. Take a look here :)

    3. Thank you for so much for sharing this information! What a great alternative!! I will definitely recommend this for my friends who plan to visit in the future!!!

  2. This is so inspiring, thanks for the great tips!

    1. Thank you! We had a fantastic time!! I can't wait to go back and hope everyone gets there at least once in their lifetime! :)

  3. What fantastic pics! Definitely on my bucket list... didn’t even know you could do a self guided safari! Such a brave family!

    1. Self guided safaris are so much fun because you never know what you are going to see and it is pure luck when you do! We found it really exciting to just come upon so many different animals! It was definitely one of my favorite travel experiences!!

  4. Amazing post, Which you have shared here about the African safari. Your article is very informative and I liked your way to share your wonderful experience in this post. Thank you for sharing this article here. Luxury African Safari Vacation Packages


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