Is it safe to take young children on safari?

Malaria-free safari in South Africa Kwandwe Game Reserve, Eastern Cape Pony trekking in the Capelands Cheetah cub

Q. Is it safe to take young children on safari? Our two love animals, but we’re concerned about malaria

By Amanda Statham, Editor

You’re right to be concerned about malaria. Children under four are particularly vulnerable to this potentially fatal disease and you should think extremely carefully before taking them to malarious parts of Africa. Remember that malaria prophylactics do not guarantee protection against the disease and it’s crucial to take every precaution against being bitten – from using insect repellent to covering up at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Malaria symptoms can also be confused with flu, so you need to be alert – for at least a year after travelling – to your child showing any signs of fever or high temperature.

It’s perhaps not surprising that many families with young children opt for a malaria free safari in South AfricaKwandwe is a private game reserve in the Eastern Cape that’s not only malaria-free, but also boasts the Big Five, superb accommodation and outstanding guides that really go out of their way to engage youngsters in wildlife tracking, local culture and conservation. There are several other reserves to choose from in the region, such as Amakhala and Shamwari.

It’s ideal for a few days – family safaris aren’t cheap, and you probably wouldn’t want to spend a week or more doing twice-daily game drives with a fidgety four-year-old with a limited attention span. That’s where South Africa’s Eastern Cape really comes into its own as a family holiday destination. A safari in one of the game reserves dovetails nicely with family-friendly Cape Town (penguins at Boulders Beach, cablecar up Table Mountain, sharks at the Two Oceans Aquarium, fish and chips at Camps Bay etc) and some relaxed self-drive touring along the Garden Route.

Rainbow Tours has a 16-day family itinerary, which includes four nights at Cape Town’s waterfront Cape Grace hotel (where kids are treated to special activities and African bedtime stories), two nights at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (a fabulous ecolodge offering horse riding, whale watching and guided nature walks through the protea-speckled fynbos), a day visiting an ostrich farm in the Karoo, three nights on the Garden Route (close to the surf beaches at Plettenburg Bay, the walk-through Monkeyland and the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary) and three nights on safari in Amakhala Private Game Reserve.

It all adds up to a diverse, action-packed and safe family holiday. There are, however, other malaria-free parts of South Africa that you could consider. For slightly older kids, try Madikwe Game Reserve, north of Johannesburg. Like the Eastern Cape reserves, it has some supremely family-friendly lodges, and it also goes well with Sun City – a kid’s paradise with its elephant-back safaris, quad biking, zip wires and waterpark. Mahlatini can tailor-make a self-drive trip combining both.