Can you take a baby on safari? Since my partner and I met in Namibia, it’s been a dream of mine to take our son back to the place we met. This month, my dream came true when we took him on safari to Namibia’s Etosha National Park.
Can a baby go on a safari anywhere? Not exactly, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! I’ve spent 7 months of my life traveling all through Southern and East Africa and have brought two tour groups over as well. Over that time I’ve learned a lot about the region. Here’s everything to consider before taking your baby or toddler on safari.
Consider Their Age
If you want to go to Africa with your infant, I’m not here to stop you, but if you specifically want to go so that your baby can enjoy the animals, I’d plan the trip for a time when they’re a little bit older and more likely to be able to actually see and react to them.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, but it wasn’t until my son was about a year old that he got excited about seeing ducks, dogs, and cats in our neighborhood. I knew that meant he’d probably get excited about the animals on safari, and he did!
It was so much fun seeing his squeals of delight when he saw a springbok, giraffe, elephant, or zebra. He had the easiest time identifying the giraffes since they’re so tall, and springbok since they are everywhere and were often closest to the car. If we had taken him when he was much younger, I’m not sure he would have gotten much out of the safari.
Choose Your Safari Destination Wisely
I had a few parents DM me on Instagram as I was sharing about our trip asking about the best places they could go with their little one.
The key things I’d consider are:
- Infrastructure – how close are hospital facilities if needed? This is important for any trip.
- Malaria prevalence
- How much you wish to do independently
For our trip in Namibia, infrastructure was somewhat lacking as it’s a desert country that is mostly wilderness with a small population. The roads were often bad as well. In this case I highly recommend renting a satellite phone (which was easy to do on the ground in Namibia), and having medical evacuation insurance.
Or, pick a destination that has more infrastructure. South Africa has great medical and mostly paved roads. East Africa is much more populated and depending on where you go, you may be closer to major cities with hospitals and are more likely to have cell phone coverage.
I’d also seriously consider malaria prevalence. Looking at a map can give you somewhat of an idea, but talking to a travel doctor is important, too. South Africa and Namibia have a lower transmission than, say Mozambique or Zambia. Anti-malarial prophylactics are always an option, but they have side effects.
Also, how much are you happy to do independently? It’s easy enough to self-drive in South Africa, and though it gets a bit more remote and challenging in Namibia and Botswana, it’s still doable. Once you get to East Africa, the roads get bad, and it’s very uncommon if not impossible to self drive in the national parks.
Also consider what else you want to do in the country. I love South Africa and Namibia so much because there’s so much else to see and do in both places.
Can You Self Drive?
Why do you need to self drive? Because babies are typically not allowed in open-air safari vehicles. They could cry, which could cause issues with carnivorous animals. They could need a diaper change, or food, or a whole host of things that can, and do, come up with babies. Not only would it be disruptive to the other guests, it could even be dangerous.
Self driving an enclosed vehicle makes this all much simpler. Though you can’t exit the vehicle while on safari for safety reasons (animals tend to see a car as yet another animal – a big one that is noisy but harmless to them. Once you exit the vehicle, you become a human, and therefore a target), you have space to change diapers and feed, and it’s okay if your baby makes noise because it’s not audible with the windows up.
In Etosha National Park where it was over 100 degrees, it was also crucial to have air conditioning, which open-air vehicles naturally don’t have.
Self driving afforded us flexibility. We could begin and end the safari whenever we wanted to. The same would be true in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where most of the roads are paved. Seriously, I’ve self-driven Kruger in a Ford Fiesta. It’s also one of my favorite places in the world for safari. The wildlife is amazing there, with rhino, leopards, lions, elephants, and more! Even though safari guides are better at spotting animals, I’ve seen all of the big five on my own in Kruger, and most of them in Etosha.
Self driving will also make it easier to use a car seat. When we were moving, we liked to have him strapped in. When we were stationary, it was nice to be able to take him out and let him be on our laps for easier viewing.
I tend to be more of an independent traveler, including in Africa. I acknowledge that’s a big undertaking there – more than any other continent I’ve been to – and it’s not for everyone. Though we did our trip completely independently, there are ways to have it planned for you and guided, but it’s going to cost a lot more.
What About Booking a Private Car with a Driver?
Have your heart set on the Serengeti? Would prefer not to self-drive in Namibia? You can always book your own car with a driver/guide for your safari with your baby or toddler. It’ll be more expensive than if you shared with a big group, but you could always invite extended family along!
I have found that South Africa and Namibia can be a great value for Africa, but once you move into East Africa, things get expensive real quick. For this reason, South Africa and Namibia are still my recommendations, particularly if you’re willing to do it independently of a tour and will be planning it yourself. I know that can seem intimidating in Africa and many people would prefer not to do it, so as long as your’e willing to pay up, you can do a tailored, private tour as well.
Consider Private Game Reserves
While national parks like the Serengeti in Tanzania or Chobe in Botswana tend to only offer safari vehicles that don’t allow babies, private game reserves operate by their own rules.
We booked a morning safari drive in an open air vehicle on a private reserve in Namibia to see the meerkats and they didn’t mind that we brought the baby. We were the only ones who booked it that day, so it became a private trip, but I still think it might have bothered other people had they come along and had to deal with some of our son’s toddler antics. He had no chill and squealed with delight every time we saw an animal, which scared a few of them away – lol.
For me, South Africa really has the best of all worlds. It’s affordable, which makes it easier to have a driver if you prefer, and it’s full of both private and public game parks. They have incredible animals and mostly paved roads. The only downside is the high crime rate. For that reason I recommend staying out of the big cities and never leaving anything visible in your car. Even if it’s not of value to you, it might be to someone else.
There are also plenty of safari opportunities other than in Africa. I’ve been on several in Sri Lanka, where hiring a private car and driver is common and affordable, and seen Asian elephants and leopards!
Safari in Africa is going to be one of the more adventurous trips you take with your baby, should you choose to do it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I will always cherish the memories from our trip to Namibia with my little guy when he was one. I did have to plan it all myself and we had to be resourceful when we got a flat tire, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.