The Redding family just returned from their family safari vacation in Tanzania and Kent Redding, owner of Africa Adventure Consultants, has compiled the best advice on planning your own family safari to Tanzania, or any of the other great safari destinations in East and Southern Africa. Read on and start planning! I awoke to complete darkness. Where was I and why was I awake? First, I heard the crickets and frogs chirping rhythmically. Slowly, my eyes adjusted and by the very faint light of the moon and I made out a few shapes…the zip of our safari tent, a bedside lamp, the doorway to the second “room” where our two boys slept. We were in our family tent in the Serengeti, in Tanzania. I squinted to see my watch. It was 1 a.m. Not good. Was it simply that my body was refusing to adjust to East Africa time? Then I heard it.
To the left, there was a deep guttural “Hhuhh, hhuhh, hhuhh.” It was so deep that it couldn’t be mistaken for snoring or any human sound. Then, from the right, but closer: “Hhuhh, hhuhh, hhuhh.” Lions calling. Then, the hyenas joined in: “Whoo-ooop, whoo-ooop, whoo-ooop!”
The lions on the left called again. The ones on the right responded. The hyenas whooped. “It’s going to be a long night,” my wife Kelly whispered, fully awake now. The boys stirred in the adjacent room and we sensed that they were awake now also, listening but staying quiet as we had instructed them to do. So we all laid in silence listening to the music of the African night. And listened. And listened. For hours, we nodded off, only to be awakened as the lions seemed to get closer then further away.
Finally, the dark sky began to lighten and the lions and hyenas moved off. Now, the birds woke up, announcing the coming dawn in a cacophony of calls so energetic that even our sleep-deprived family had no choice but to wake up. Luckily, that was just about the time that our tent steward arrived with hot coffee and cocoa, a sampling of herbal teas, and delicious chocolate cookies to help us jump start our morning.
Although we didn’t wish specifically for a sleepless night in the bush, this is what we had come half way around the world for. To be pulled out of our comfort zone. To get close to nature. To feel alive. And to experience it as a family, giving us stories to share again and again through the years. I think this is something that many modern families want. Taking a safari to Africa is the best way I know of to get all this and much more.
1. Work with a reputable safari tour operator to plan your perfect safari: Not everyone has the same interests or goals. Some people just want to see the Big 5. Others want to delve deep into local cultures. Others want a relaxing beach stay. Some want it all. The team at Africa Adventure Consultants are experts in family safaris and can help design the perfect trip for all types of travelers.
2. Pace yourselves: Africa is a huge continent and a country like Tanzania is larger than Texas. Don’t try to do too much or to see too many places in the time you have. Better to spend more quality time in fewer places to really experience the places you visit.
3. Choose the best destinations: Different parks are better at different times of year, and areas within parks are more productive for game viewing in different seasons. Serengeti National Park, for instance, covers roughly 6,000 square miles and a variety of habitats. Ask an expert to find the best areas for your travel dates.
4. Be patient: Africa moves at its own pace, which is generally much slower than ours. You’ll have a much better time if you adjust your expectations to Africa’s, rather than expecting it to change for you. This holds especially true for wildlife viewing where patience can result in special sightings like a birth or a kill.
5. Choose family-friendly safari accommodations: Not all safari camps and lodges are created equal. Family friendly chalets and tents with connecting rooms are a must for families with younger kids. Pick at least a couple that have pools so kids (and adults) can blow off some steam after long days in the car.
6. Get a great safari guide: They will make the difference between a good and a great trip by taking you to the best spots, spotting interesting animals and interpreting the environment. Finding a guide who likes and knows how to interact with kids is crucial.
7. Get a great safari vehicle: Arranging for a dependable and comfortable safari vehicle is crucial to having a great safari. Roof hatches or open seating and 4WD are a must. Comfortable seats with seat belts for driving safaris will keep the family comfortable and happy.
8. Pack lightly: Safaris are casual and many camps and lodges offer laundry services. Plus, most small plane flights in Tanzania and the rest of Africa have strict weight limits on baggage—usually between 33-44 pounds including carry-on bags.
9. Do some shopping: Local markets are cultural bonanzas. Shopping anywhere in Africa provides a great opportunity to learn about local culture and craftsmanship and to interact on a real level with local people.
10. Find time to relax: Safaris are fun, but they are also busy and exhausting. Consider finishing your trip at one of Africa’s beautiful beaches like Zanzibar, where you can enjoy culture, snorkeling, scuba, swimming or just laying at the beach.