A safari is at the top of many families’ vacation bucket lists! We’ve worked with many of our clients to find and book just the right safari for their needs, and among our go-to tour operators is &Beyond, which specializes in custom-designed luxury safaris all over Africa (and adventures elsewhere in the world as well). We recently caught up with &Beyond CEO Joss Kent to get his thoughts on where and when to go, why safaris are a life-changing experience for kids, and more.
&Beyond has incredible camps and lodges throughout Africa. Which regions of the continent would you recommend as a great family-friendly safari experience and why?
It’s hard to pick just one … iconic wildlife, cultural experiences and authentic engagement are at the heart of our 29 lodges. South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana offer an extensive array of exhilarating and memorable activities and excursions, and our lodges in these destinations offer little ones the opportunity to actively engage with their surrounds through our WILDChild programme.
South Africa is consistently voted as one of the top tourist destinations and for good reason. It is an ideal gateway safari destination for multigenerational travel and boasts breathtaking scenery, cosmopolitan cities, exhilarating Big Five safaris and an array of spectacular coastal attractions such as Cape Town and the Garden Route.
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East Africa’s Kenya and Tanzania are definitely destinations worth exploring with your family, from meeting the enchanting Maasai and Samburu people to the world-renowned wildlife sanctuaries of the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Introduce your loved ones to the Great Migration and then round off your safari with an idyllic beach getaway in Zanzibar or the Quirimbas Archipelago. These destinations offer some of the most unspoiled places on earth, and undoubtedly provide exceptional opportunities to explore, discover and unwind.
Another favourite is Botswana. It is blessed with some of Africa’s most beautiful reserves and an array of exceptional wildlife.
Namibia is the soul of Africa, and you will fall in love with its vast open spaces, breathtaking scenery and great contrasts — ocean, dunes, mountains and deserts.
Is there an ideal age to bring children on safari? Can you share any input from seeing kids of varying ages on safari and what the experience is like for them?
Africa is a dream destination for a family holiday with children of all ages. Most lodges (including ours) have stipulated age limits that vary depending on the lodge facilities. In my opinion, children aged 7 to 8 would benefit from a safari experience but, at this age, they may grapple with the combination of early mornings, long days and jet lag. Ideally, as I have experienced with my own children, I would introduce a safari experience to children aged 10 to 13, who are able to understand the need for safety guidelines, and are wide-eyed and bushy-tailed enough to draw in the abundance of information they will be exposed to.
I believe you need to get your children travelling early, and encourage them to interact and engage with the local people and communities, immersing them in authentic experiences. At &Beyond, we believe that it is our duty to educate, inspire and motivate the younger generation that travels with us, to protect the delicate wilderness areas that we expose them to at our lodges.
Is there a particular time of year that’s best for family safaris — any time periods to strongly consider or strongly avoid?
There is no specific season to go on safari, unless you want to see something in particular. Otherwise a safari in Africa is a great option year-round. The Great Migration goes on all year in East Africa, so you can always see it. You just need to follow where the wildebeest go — for instance, Kenya’s Masai Mara in October/November or the Grumeti area of Tanzania in July. The Okavango Delta in Botswana floods each year and is at its peak between June and August, so that’s a great time to visit its winding waterways and channels, with the incredible wildlife sightings and water-based activities. It is also a good time to visit the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
Are there any particular lodges that especially cater to families?
All of our lodges are family-friendly, so it’s hard to single out one. However, two of our lodges are opening this year that I’m very excited about and cater exceptionally for families.
&Beyond Phinda Homestead, in the Big Five &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve (South Africa), is opening on September 1, 2018. This four-room, sole-use homestead is a fantastic place for families to reconnect. It will come complete with a private guide and tracker, safari vehicle (allowing for flexibility in terms of game drive times), a chef, butler and host. &Beyond Bateleur Camp opens on June 8, 2018. The camp is undergoing a complete rebuild and I’m proud to say that it is hailed to be one of the most exclusive safari retreats in the Masai Mara. The camp will feature a magnificent family suite that includes two interconnected tents with ensuite bathrooms and private verandas. It will accommodate two adults and two children.
What do you love about going with your own family on safari?
I am a firm believer in the importance of family travel, and educating one’s children through authentic experiences, engaging with local cultures, magnificent wildlife and remarkable landscapes. I am a fierce advocate for creating opportunities to foster the next generation of conservationists. I know that in 20 years you will look back and possibly have a sense of regret about those things that you never did. The time is now, to make a difference, to expose your children to the magical world of the wild and delve into truly spectacular moments, experiences and leave with lifelong memories.
What advice would you share with a family embarking on a safari for the first time?
I would highly recommend you choose a travel company that has a proven track record within the industry and that will tailor-make your family travel. I suggest, where possible, booking a private safari vehicle as these really offer flexibility in terms of game drive times and your private guide will again be able to customise your wildlife experience according to your family’s preferences. Also, try and find a lodge that has a dedicated children’s programme.
Lastly, prepare to change. A safari into Africa’s wild places is a life-changing experience and ignites a passion to explore and delve into authentic experiences. There is nothing more satisfying than being in a place where time slows down, offering the luxury of a leisurely pace, ideal to reconnect and renew relationships among families, as well as foster a connection with the land, wildlife and people of Africa.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.