For the last ten years I feel like I’ve done nothing but take beach holidays with steel-reinforced childcare attached. Having young children is lovely in small doses – they’re joyful little things but blimey, it’s hard work. Over the years I’ve watched with slack jaw as my friends have taken their toddlers away to Indian ashrams, treks to Nepal, nomadic trips to North African desserts surviving on one bottle of water for two weeks (not really but I wouldn’t be surprised) while I’ve been guzzling G&Ts at the poolside and waving the mudlets off to kids club.
But, hit me over the head with a lilo, I’m finally in a mental space where I can see the benefit of trying a holiday that’s a bit less woozy and a bit more wow. The kids are older, at school, well behaved (ish), and able to sit on a long flights without spitting the dummy.
So a few weeks ago I decided to start looking into safaris – because kids like animals! – only to realise that I have absolutely no idea about them at all. No knowledge of the best places to go, when to travel, what to see or the best way to go about it. So I’ve done what all self-respecting journos do which is rope in someone who does know instead, so thank you to the brilliant The Family Adventure Company for answering my stupid questions. If you’re thinking of doing something a bit more adventurous this year, I hope these tips help you too.
7 INSIDER TIPS FOR THE PERFECT SAFARI BREAK
1/ What’s the best time of year to go for a safari?
The dry season is the best time to see animals – in South Africa the dry season runs from May to September, whilst in Tanzania and Kenya the dry season runs from January to March and July to October. South African safaris are well known though many are on private game reserves so the movement of the animals is naturally restricted.
May is in incredible time to visit as is the start of the great migration through Tanzania, with June reaching the peak with over two million animals setting off on their epic journeys. The water holes attract a large concentration and a wide variety of animals. With the vegetation not so lush, it is easier to spot the herd of elephants that otherwise would be amazingly camouflaged by the bush.
2/ How old you do you have to be to make the most of an adventure holiday?
It’s such an individual question, but generally once the kids have turned 8 or 9 this type of holiday really works – they’re interested and engaged and even intrigued by what they’re experiencing and have a longer attention span. They also have the physical strength to take part in longer activities and the attention span to listen to the tour leaders.
3/ Where are the cool new safari destinations
South Africa has always offered a high quality holiday, not just because of the quality of the game reserves but also because of the incredible hospitality. Add this to a weak Rand and you have a great destination for a family holiday. Another hot destination this year has been Costa Rica. Families love the combination of tropical landscape, volcanoes and beaches along with the fascinating wildlife. Visiting the still-active Arenal volcano, spotting Costa Rica’s endangered mammals and learning about the natural history of the country at INBioparque means the kids will be top of the class come term time.
4/ How can I work out which companies are most reputable?
Feedback scores and comments are a very strong indicator. Not many business will put up a negative review but if you see a plethora of positive reviews and the company is open about its feedback, you can feel comfortable that they’re not trying to hide anything from you. Legacy is important to consider too. The longer a company has been going the better. With that in mind, it’s good to look for awards, especially those which have been voted for by readers of reputable travel magazines and newspapers. (We were delighted to be voted Best Escorted Tour Operator by The Times last year!).
It’s also important to work with an operator who is covered and will look after you in the event of any problem. Look out for Atol protection and Abta membership. It’s not obigatory for companies to be bonded through ATOL but if they are it shows the company is serious about protecting you.
5/ Why choose adventure over a luxury villa?
A villa holiday is fantastic, and if you love lounging then it’s an obvious choice, but the idea of an adventure holiday equaling ‘roughing it’ is no longer true – travel companies recognise that families want good quality accommodation in the heart of the destination. So with the ‘slog’ taken out of these kind of holidays what you’re often left with is a brilliant opportunity to do something entirely different, away from real life and beeping phones. The allure of a pool and hotel is undeniable but you do get something really special out of an adventure holiday.
6/ Do you get any relaxation time on an adventure holiday?
The perception of adventure holidays used to be very much about activities from white water rafting to ice climbing and trekking, and if you have a kamikaze teenager or a you’re looking for the ultimate physical challenge, book accordingly!
Certainly our family holidays in the main are about cultural experiences that you wouldn’t get on a mainstream holiday, but you’re unlikely to find kids clubs knocking around on these kind of vacations. We don’t put on kids clubs but traveling in groups means the children have ready-made play mates to keep them entertained, taking the pressure off the parents. The best thing to do is really think about the pace of your trip, so take a hard look at your itinerary and make sure you have a day swimming, or seeing a local site to break things up.
7/ Packing – what to take, what to ditch?
This does vary a little depending on when you’re going as lots of Game drives are either early morning or later in the day – but I’d would say that anytime it is important to take a warm jumper and probably a woolly hat too. Seriously! Light-coloured trousers work well in hotter temperatures and grab a pair that zip off under the knee so you have shorts and trousers in the one garment.
Sunscreen & insect repellent are an absolute must as is a hat and ideally a thin long sleeved top. You’re often out on a game drive for a few hours and although some vehicles provide shelter, it’s better to cover up. Also there is normally a fair amount of time in the middle of the day where you’re relaxing at the lodge in the sun. Finally, take some form of reference book to spotting animals – and something to record them, as well as your camera, spare memory space and batteries or charger. I’m a big fan of the binoculars as the magnification is stronger than most cameras and instead of trying to grab the perfect picture, you can just enjoy watching the animals and seeing something beautiful and unique.