Updated: Sep 13
African safaris are legendary for being a transformational family travel experience, one that provides unforgettable exposure to the great outdoors and wildlife. Few travelers realize, however, that the decision to book an African safari has likely never been more meaningful or important.
The word safari means “journey” in Swahili, and they play an important role in Africa’s economic empowerment, conservation, and sustainability.
While there has been a steady stream of news this past year highlighting how nature has recovered amid the global tourism shutdown from our global pandemic, there is a less cheerful side to this story. When tourists disappear, so too do tourism dollars that fund vital conservation efforts, not to mention the entire ecosystem of local jobs associated with the tourism industry.
Safaris are Outdoor and innately involve Social Distanced Activities
Safaris are also socially distanced by nature, with predominantly outdoor activities, which makes them an especially appealing option at a time when personal distancing is preferable for many travelers.
Certainly, it can be a little intimidating or overwhelming to plan an African safari, especially during this era of COVID-19. But it does not have to be so daunting. Here are 10 tips to help you plan an African Safari that is not only safe and unforgettable, but also meaningfully supportive of local communities and conservation efforts.
1. Use a Travel Advisor to Help Plan Your Safari
Whether you want to travel in the next few months or next year, we recommend using a Travel Advisor, particular during this era of Covid-19. Our team of destination specialists can offer you insight during itinerary planning and pre-departure preparations, such as new travel and safety rules and regulations that you may overlook or be unaware of. We get updates from our partners on the ground and from various safari lodges, and can answer your questions or direct you to the best resources to stay informed.
Global Family Travels' Specialized Travel Advisors will help you navigate logistics and the added COVID-19 safety protocols in your safari destination, which is still frequently changing. Once on the ground, you can have peace of mind knowing that our team is watching over your trip at every step should rules or schedules change.
Photo Credit: @glenncarstenspeters on Unsplash
These days, flight schedules change frequently and entry requirements for destinations vary, which is also why it’s so important to work with an advisor should you choose to travel.
2. Create a Plan and Pick your Safari Destination
You’d like to take a safari, but aren't quite ready to book yet? No problem. Follow step 1 and start planning with your advisor. Based on many factors, your travel advisor can help you decide what time of year you’d like to travel, which lodges to stay in, and for how long you’d like to visit.
Southern Africa has a warmer climate, making countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe great all-year-round destinations. Eastern Africa, with countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, have more distinct dry and wet seasons but is also a tropical climate. June through October are the driest months, and the wettest months are March and April.
For example, late summer in Tanzania is shoulder season. You can witness the Great Migration in the Northern Serengeti, marvel at the wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, or enjoy the tropical forests at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the beaches of Zanzibar!
3. Consider the age of your Safari Travelers
If you are considering an African safari experience for your family, we advise traveling with children from the age of 6 and older. While most parents would like to share the many wildlife experiences with their children, we recommend participating in a safari when they can fully appreciate experiencing a safari game drive or a bushwalk. Most safari camps and lodges welcome children, however, some have minimum age restrictions. For safety reasons, this varies by destination, safari lodge, safari vehicle, and game viewing activity. Special arrangements usually can be made for special activities geared for children from the ages of 3 to 7 years old.
4. Go Slow and Keep it Simple
A safari is not an experience you want to rush, therefore, we suggest traveling slower and spending more time at each stop on your itinerary.
Focus on one country. More time at each place in that country will allow for fewer interactions with other travelers and give your family time to become more immersed in the local culture and connected to the people and places you are visiting.
Plan on at least two weeks to explore while on safari. Just getting to some African countries can be a long journey. You will want to give your body time to adjust and allow yourself to experience the destination and this may mean taking long road trips from your arrival city to your game reserve.
The ideal time to go on an African safari really depends on what wildlife you want to see. Most adventurers plan around school vacations, winter holidays, spring break, and summer break, all of which are great times for a safari.
Photo Credit: @davidclode on Unsplash
5. Consider family member's abilities and interests when planning a Safari
You know your family best. There are various safari experiences and game viewing experiences to choose from, therefore, to have the most suitable safari for all involved, be sure to consider your family member’s interests and physical abilities for planning activities. Be sure to communicate all of this with your travel advisor / safari planner so they can help plan a comprehensive experience for all!
Consider early morning, late afternoon, early evening, and off-road game drives with a safari guide
Consider bush walk with a safari guide
Consider self-drive in a private reserve or national park
Beyond the thrill of seeing magnificent wildlife in their natural habitat, there are also opportunities to unwind and relax around your lodge or tented camp. Depending on the country you visit and the lodge or tented camp, there are various activities, such as hiking, cycling, kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, and swimming, which your family can participate in to help make your safari a truly family-bonding experience!
6. Look for cultural opportunities to engage with and support the local community!
Look for safari itineraries that allow your family to have a safari experience that does more good and less harm to the local community. This includes itineraries that focus on small private group outings that balance wildlife game viewing with socially-distanced cultural immersion experiences in destinations like Kruger National Park, Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls, Serengeti, and Masai Mara.
Cultural experiences might include visiting a boma or homestead in a village near a national park, or taking cooking or language lessons from local residents. Visitors can also serve on conservation projects that help sustain wildlife and biodiversity.
We work with our partners to ensure that scheduled activities are appropriate in light of COVID-19 and include up to the minute health and safety protocols.
Photo Credit: Global Family Travels
7. Make sure your Safari supports wildlife conservation and local people
Economic resources from safaris can have a tremendously positive impact on local communities and are vital to wildlife conservation in Africa. When researching and booking a safari, be sure to ask specific questions about where your dollars are going and who the money will help, so that you can make informed decisions and ensure your visit will have a positive impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a double-edged sword for wildlife in Africa, particularly endangered animals. The continent’s $39.2 billion tourism industry helps to fund an entire ecosystem of jobs and conservation programs. The fees tourists pay help local governments cover the cost of conservation and enforcement. And your dollars go even further than that, supporting local employment and businesses.
When all of that money and all of that activity goes away, poaching (which of course has never fully disappeared in many places) picks up steam once again, expanding into the void created by the absence of safari guides and visitors and onto lands poachers wouldn’t normally feel bold enough to encroach upon.
By just April of 2020, a mere month after the pandemic had started, at least six rhinos had been poached since the virus shut down tourism in Botswana. Meanwhile, in the northwest South Africa, nine rhinos were killed in the first month after the lockdown. Each of the incidents took place on lands that were previously popular tourism areas where animals safely roamed.
What’s more, when locals are laid off and unable to work to put food on the table for their families, people become desperate and the bushmeat trade ticks up, threatening the survival of wildlife on yet another front. Still others pursue poaching to make a living.
photo credit: Unsplash
“With safari tours scuttled and enforcement budgets decimated, poachers have plied their nefarious trade with impunity. At the same time, hungry villagers have streamed into protected areas to hunt and fish,” The New York Times recently reported.
“We have seen many financial hits to the protection of nature,” Joe Walston, executive vice president of global conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society told The New York Times in the same report. “But even where that hasn’t happened, in a lot of places people haven’t been able to get into the field to do their jobs because of Covid.”
To be clear, not every location has fared as badly over the past year. In Kenya, not a single rhino was poached in 2020 thanks to the heroic efforts of locals. But that’s one bit of good news among what many experts have described as a crisis.
If there has been one silver lining to COVID-19, it is that many travel companies and airlines have flexible terms and conditions. Your Travel Advisor can guide you through the fine print for your particular safari so you can make the right decision for you and your family.
9. Buy Travel Insurance
Trip protection and travel insurance are always important for a trip, regardless of age or health status. But now, it is more crucial than ever – and can be more confusing to figure out. Our Travel Advisors can help you with planning your family’s travel insurance needs.
10. Travel with Safety in mind
Airlines continue to make progress in improving the safety of passengers from contacting and contracting COVID-19. From HEPA filtration systems to the government mandate on masks during travel on public transportation, including aircraft and airports.
Yet another key role a travel advisor plays right now is adequately preparing travelers for an upcoming trip, prepping you with regards to new travel health and safety rules and regulations, and documentation requirements that you might overlook or be unaware of. Travel planning can be complex and will continue to be so. Our team is constantly monitoring the situation as it evolves and remains in contact with our ground operators, air providers, and security team.
Learn, Serve & Immerse on an African Safari!
At Global Family Travels, our Africa adventures emphasize authentic cultural immersion experiences that will give your family a true taste of the continent, while engaging with our local partners and safari outfitters that invest in their local communities and wildlife conservation. On each of our Learn, Serve & Immerse Africa Safaris, your experiences will be unique with the local people, wildlife, and the environment and feel good knowing that you are supporting them and witness how they thrive together.
If you’d like to learn more about planning a safe and meaningful African safari, and one that navigates the COVID-19 regulations, then join us on November 7 for our African: Travel Event. Our Africa safari specialist will share her experiences and expertise as well as vibrant images from our family-friendly itineraries to Tanzania, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. We hope the see you there!
RSVP: Africa : Learn, Serve & Immerse Travel Event (November 7, from 3:30 - 4:45 PM PST)
Co-author of this blog is Kelly McCoy, African Specialist at Global Family Travels