A family safari in Africa makes for a memorable adventure-filled vacation. Amie covered luxury safaris for kids in Kenya and Tanzania after her trip last year. Botswana, in southern Africa, is also a great safari destination because its diverse landscape made up of desert, delta, grasslands and savannahs means the wildlife is among the most varied on the continent.
Botswana’s landscape also allows for game viewing by air, land or water, and on our recent vacation there, we were able to experience a bit of each.
We stayed at Camp Okuti, a Ker & Downey property in the Okavango Delta. Our guide met us at the airstrip and took us to the camp via the scenic route, getting in a short game drive before setting in for the evening. Though we were exhausted after traveling for more than 24 hours, we all perked up when we saw a dazzle of zebras and a cheetah in quick succession. We oohed and aahed, and as ominous grey clouds in the sky darkened and were soon accompanied by thunder, we quickly snapped a few pictures and headed toward the camp, praying we’d make it there before the skies opened up.
We did not. And the plastic canvas that covered the usually open top safari vehicle, and rain ponchos found in the back seat pockets did not prevent us from getting soaked. The excitement and adventure had officially begun. When we arrived at the camp, several members of the staff came to the vehicle to greet us with umbrellas, and a couple even swept Paris and Vanessa into their arms, carrying them to the shelter of the lobby, where we received a wonderful singing welcome.
The camp, which sits on the banks of the Maunachira River and is in the middle of the renowned Moremi Game Reserve, is stylish and intimate, with only fourteen rooms, two of which are family rooms.
Don’t let the word “camp” scare you. And while not luxurious enough to qualify as glamping, all the comforts of home were present. The two-bedroom accommodations was perfect for our family of four and had running water, a toilet that flushed, and both an en suite bathroom with double sinks and an outdoor shower.
The rounded tent was set on raised wooden deck had a balcony with views of the river. The thatched-ceiling units were touted as being insect-proof. Larger creatures, however, like bats apparently have free reign, as we learned when one came crashing from ours ceiling one night, much to the delight of 10-year-old Paris and 7-year-old Vanessa and to my absolute horror.
Mosquito nets draped around the beds served as both protection against the pesky insects, and as the perfect prop for Vanessa, who remarked that it made her “feel like a princess.”
Camp Okuti has several common areas, including a lounge area with an open bar, a dining area, a campfire area and a small swimming pool.
All the meals were a community affair, where we ate with the other guests staying at Camp Okuti and the staff. Breakfast and lunch buffets offered a nice variety of foods, and since Vanessa chose to be an especially finicky eater this trip, this meant she didn’t starve.
Dinners proved to be particularly special. We would meet in the boma for an aperitif before being summoned by beating drums to the dining area. After the meal, we would return to the boma and linger, chatting with the other guests, looking at the stars and listening to the eerie and wonderful sounds of the safari at night.
Games drives are a lot of fun, and as much as you hope to see the Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino – much of the thrill comes from driving through the bush in the all-terrain safari vehicle as you hunt for the animals. We “only” saw two of the Big 5, however we saw plenty of other animals, including several of the 400 species of birds that are indigenous to the Okavango Delta. A motorboat ride on the delta provided another opportunity to see the birdlife in the area.
Botswana is home to the largest remaining elephant population in the world, and I think we saw most of them. On one of the drives, in fact, we saw no fewer than eight packs of elephants, all with at least six elephants in the pack, and many of which were babies. And for the girls, seeing little animals is much more fun than seeing big ones.
Botswana with Kids
Camp Okuti is described as being a family-friendly safari camp. While this is true in the sense that they have accommodations designated for families, there is no kids’ club or activities specifically for children. However, between the game viewing, socializing with the other guests, and of course, the bat, my children were thoroughly entertained.
Many safari tours in Africa have age limits, and Botswana is no exception. In allowing children as young as 7 years old, Camp Okuti is unusual in this respect, since most camps in the Okavango Delta are not available to families with children under 12.
I never felt that my children were in danger, you know, other than the fact that they, we, were often in close proximity to wild animals, albeit in a safari vehicle. It was sometimes a challenge to keep Vanessa, my 7-year-old, from getting bored, so having a camera to take her own photos and letting her use the binoculars was key in keeping her interested.
Those traveling to Botswana with children should also be aware that it is a malaria zone, and should consult with their physician about the appropriate prophylactics.
Photos by Monique Rubin and Camp Okuti