1. Camp Jabulani
Magic happens every day at Camp Jabulani, located near Kruger National Park in South Africa's Kapama Game Reserve. Here, your family will meet a herd of very special elephants that live on the property.
In 1997, a four-month-old elephant was found abandoned. He was taken to the nearby Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, where he was hand-reared and named Jabulani. Later, in 2002, HESC launched a rescue mission for 12 Zimbabwean elephants whose lives swung in the balance when they were tagged for meat after the war. When the elephants arrived in South Africa, it was clear that Jabulani would become part of their family. Camp Jabulani was created as both a home for the elephants and a place were visitors could come to spend time with them.
This is a high-end Relais & Chateaux property, and staying at this all-inclusive lodge doesn't come cheap. But the elephant-back safaris and time spent interacting with the herd is priceless. Kids must be 12 or older to stay at the main lodge.
A few days at Camp Jabulani's Zindoga Presidential Villa is a must for families who can afford it. This is a camp-within-a-camp, and includes two spacious suites connected by a living and dining area. There's also a private heated plunge pool and roomy wooden deck for game viewing. You'll have your own safari team, including a ranger (and private 4x4 vehicle), chef and butler. Children of any age are welcome at Zindoga.
Young guests are also invited to take part in the camp's excellent children's program, Team Tusker. Activities include storytelling, dress-up parties, arts and crafts projects, tracking tutorials, bird watching and bug catching and survival basics.
2. Giraffe Manor
While not exactly a game lodge, Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya, is an incredibly child-friendly small hotel that is home to a herd of very playful Rothschild giraffe. You can even hand feed them at the kitchen table or at the front door of the hotel, which was originally built to resemble a Scottish hunting camp.
There are six bedrooms here, along with a suite that's ideal for families. Rates are all-inclusive and even include transportation to and from the airport, along with admission to the AFEW (African Fund for Endangered Wildlife) Giraffe Centre on property. Children of all ages are welcome here.
The hotel is just outside Nairobi and is surrounded by forest with views of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the south. The resort's giraffe population shares their home with many different types of birds, warthogs and even the rare bushbuck.
3. Jock Safari Lodge
Situated in Kruger National Park in South Africa, Jock Safari Lodge welcomes children of any age, but only those 7 and older can join a game drive, and 16 and older for a walking safari. Kids especially love Jock's unique "frogging" safaris in which guests set out donning head lights and gum boots to search for 34 different types of amphibians that live nearby, including banded rubber frogs, bubbling kassinas, and painted reed frogs. Kids are wild about this activity that's best during the rainy season (November through March).
Accommodations at Jock Safari Lodge are decidedly in the luxury category, and include Main Jock, with 12 individual thatched-roof bungalows that can be configured with queen or twin beds. Each offers air-conditioning, a private plunge pool, claw-foot tub, outdoor shower and a private viewing deck over the river. Little Jock is a three-suite compound that can be booked as one unit, and includes its own chef and ranger with a safari vehicle.
4. King's Camp
King's Camp is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to affordable luxury while on a safari in South Africa. Located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, this is one of the only places in the world where you can see rare white lions in the wild. The "Big Five" (elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo and black rhinoceros) and many other species are spotted here -- pretty much on a daily basis -- as well.
This camp, which accepts children 6 and older, harkens back to Colonial days and strikes the right balance of elegance and comfort. You can book one of 11 standalone thatched-roof bungalows, or Waterbuck Private Camp, a four-bedroom villa that comes with its own safari vehicle, ranger, butler and chef. The camp is roomy enough for a family of eight and is situated on a dry riverbank that offers fantastic game viewing. In-room decor includes beautiful and functional mosquito nets, claw-footed tubs, indoor and outdoor showers and a private patio decked out with a hammock. The rangers, trackers, camp managers, chef and staff create a family-like environment, and guests feel welcome the moment they arrive.
An on-property watering hole draws the attention of animals all day long, and guests either relax by the camp's pool or in the shade of the thatched viewing deck to watch the elephants and impala stop for a drink or a dip.
5. Kings Pool Camp
Families are drawn to Kings Pool Camp in northern Botswana's Linyanti Wildlife Reserve on the western boundary of Chobe National Park. The camp sits on the Linyanti River and overlooks Kings Pool Lagoon, both of which help sustain the wildlife in the area that includes elephant, impala, giraffe, kudu, zebra, lion, leopard, chacma baboon, vervet monkeys and even rare cheetah and wild dog. Bird watching is also exceptional here.
The camp, which accepts children over the age of 6, offers the usual 4x4 game drives and walking safaris, but your family may also avail itself to seasonal barge cruises along the Linyanti River.
There are just nine accommodations here, all built out of canvas and thatch. Each includes a bedroom and sitting area, and folding doors that lead to an outdoor sitting area and private plunge pool.
6. Luangwa Safari House
Here's an option for reticent safari-goers: a private house in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park that offers the comforts of home. Luangwa Safari House, one of the accommodations offered by Robin Pope Safaris, can comfortably house up to eight people in four bedrooms and a spacious dining/living area. A chef, house manager and private guide (and vehicle) are all at your disposal. Meals and activities are carefully matched to your family's interests.
There's also a solid children's program that extends from game drives to guided nature walks to trips to the Kawaza Village School and Chimpembele Wildlife Education Center. Back at the camp, kids can help collect eggs from the hen house and bake cookies in the kitchen with the chef. Children of all ages are welcome at Luangwa Safari House.
7. Richard's Camp
In southwestern Kenya, look no further than family-owned and operated Richard's Camp, where you'll find traditional tented accommodations near the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The camp sits on the edge of a riverine forest with grass plains stretching away from it. This means game drives easily sight elephants, big cats and herbivores like zebra and impala that graze the plains each day.
Six tented suites are available with either twin or double beds, and extra beds can be brought in for families sharing accommodations. The tents operate via solar power and offer 24-hour light, heated showers and flushing toilets. Meals are enjoyed outdoors or in the camp's sitting area in front of a roaring fire. There is also a private camp on property that can accommodate up to 10 individuals; this is ideal for families who want complete privacy.
Game drives and escorted bush walks are the core of the experience here, but you can also go on a day trip to nearby Lake Victoria, visit a Masai village, go on a hot air balloon safari, or flight-see over the gorgeous Masai Mara. The camp's owners are raising their own child right on property and can expertly answer questions about age-appropriate safari activities.
8. Serengeti Under Canvas
If your children are 12 or older, &Beyond's Serengeti Under Canvas is an exciting option in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. You'll be right where the action is during the annual Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other grazing herbivores with nothing but the canvas of your tent separating you from the wildlife.
With just eight tents at each campsite, you'll definitely feel like you're out in the bush... because you are! The accommodations are actually mobile so &Beyond can move the campsites as close as possible to the current migration path within the national park.
While this option is more rustic than others mentioned here (think bucket showers and no running water, although there are flushing toilets), it's ideal for families with older children who enjoy camping with the personalized service of a chef and attendants.
9. Shanwari Riverdene Lodge
The Riverdene Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa's Eastern Cape is an ideal spot for your family's first safari adventure. Located in Port Elizabeth, in a malaria-free area, the lodges here -- Riverdene in particular -- happily welcome families with children as young as 4 (although kids must be older in order to go on a game drive).
There is so much to do here beyond normal game drives, including visits to the Born Free Foundation Big Cat Rescue Center that houses lions and leopard that have been saved from circuses and zoos, and the Shamwari Wildlife Hospital that nurses wounded wild animals back to health before releasing them back into the wild.
Riverdene Lodge features nine interconnecting air-conditioned rooms, satellite television, a lounge area, private balconies leading to the garden and BBQ area, and a swimming pool. An onsite children's coordinator is on hand to suggest activities custom-tailored for your family's unique interests.
10. Zambezi Queen
This is the only floating safari accommodation on this best-of list, so take note! Zambezi Queen is a purpose-built riverboat based at Namibia's Caprivi Strip on the Chobe River. What's especially unique about this safari experience is its proximity to a point where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia all meet. If your family is into collecting passport stamps, you can easily rack up four right here!
The 148-foot boat cruises the banks of Chobe National Park and offers both land game drives in the park and those done via small motorboat on the river. You won't believe how close your family will get to bathing elephants, crocodiles and hippos. You'll even be able to go fishing. The ship also offers a tour of a nearby village.
The three-deck Zambezi Queen offers a mix of 14 double and twin cabins, a small pool, dining and living rooms and even a lounge complete with a wood-burning fireplace.
Two- and three-night itineraries are offered. Pair this adventure on the famous Chobe River with a visit to breathtaking Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, which is just 260 miles away, or a land safari in Botswana's revered Okavango Delta to the south.
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