Camping in the wild, kids running free, you tending the fire. Come morning the teenagers quad bike the desert and by the end of the week you’re all in a canoe meandering through the Okavango.
Ok, that’s a perfect world but if you’re careful and pragmatic, you can come up with a plan. A good plan. So let’s start thinking it through.
Family. An ever changing tribe. Have you got babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers? Have you got a crazy combo of the lot? Namibia‘s not Florida and it’s not the Costa del Sol. Some might say hallelujah. But there might be times when you’re after that. Disney, kids clubs, water parks, all inclusives, cocktails poolside and evening sing songs. Namibia might not be an obvious choice but it can absolutely work for families. Sand dunes definitely need to be rolled down, animals are easy to spot in the right place at the right time and adrenaline sports could tempt a lethargic teen.
So, is this about you as a couple, carrying on as before but this time with baby? Or is it a once in a lifetime safari experience for you all? Are you tired or bored of the more ‘traditional family holidays’? What do you want to see/do/think/feel? And what do you want the kids to see/do/think/feel? In this article we’ll give you a few pointers, do’s, don’ts and options.
Firstly, with no school to consider, when you visit depends on your schedule and your wants. In terms of weather, the winter months (approximately May to October) are dry but temperatures at night can plummet. In the summer, (roughly November to April), it rains and the mercury rises significantly.
Secondly, there are limitations. Most game drives are going to say no to baby. Understandably, they’re unpredictable creatures who might just mewl and puke at exactly the wrong moment. In fact, they probably will. Add to that most safari jeeps offer a bumpy ride and it’s unlikely there’ll be anywhere to strap a car seat in.
But. There are options. If there are two of you, you could take turns to do a game drive whilst the other babysits. Not ideal, but sometimes needs must.
The other option is to self drive the whole holiday. Namibia is a big, vast country. A road trip can mean hours and hours in the car. But if your child nods off easily they may snooze for great chunks of it. Just check the air con is working before you leave the hire company.
And remember, Namibia isn’t heavily populated, there probably isn’t going to be a convenience store just when it would be convenient. So, be organised before you set off. Double check that your accommodation allows young children to stay, avoid any malarial areas and remember that your mobile phone will struggle to find a signal everywhere.
They’re growing up. No longer babes in arms but toddlers and young children nevertheless.
Bear in mind that children usually have to be 6, sometimes 8 to go on game drives across the country. That said, if you’re self driving, it’s free entry in many National Parks for the under 6’s. And self driving is still your best bet. As long as your little ones can put up with it. Go at your own pace and stop and start as you please. Or condense your itinerary, plan to visit one or two areas rather than making an epic road trip. But you know your children and they might be up for it. Pick activities that they can join in on and book child friendly accommodation. By the way, don’t drive at night, animals have the right of way after dark.
So, what do you picture yourself doing? Hiking? Climbing? Clambering up giant rocks and making castles in vast desert sand pits? Perhaps a sand angel too? If you have sand boarding older children your younger ones can join in by surfing the dunes on the instructor's back.
Etosha in the winter months is good for families as the waterholes are accessible, safe and floodlit. There’s also a concentration of wildlife at this time of year, so you won’t have to spend the whole day driving in search of animals. Etosha also has several family-friendly lodges, with fenced-off areas for children, shallow swimming pools and children's playrooms. The malarial risk in winter is low too. Discuss poo. Little ones the world over love the scatological detail and you can learn a lot about animals from their bowel habits.
Remember, it’s easier to see animals in winter but temperatures drop a lot at night so factor this in if you’re camping. Also, if your children are very young it might be be best to stay at campsites in National Parks which are guarded or fenced.
You could also consider visiting some of the living culture museums too. These are often interactive and can make good educational experiences. You meet local people from different ethnic groups and often learn how to track wildlife and create crafts.
In summary, aim for Etosha in winter for animals, Sossuvlei for sand fun and Fish River Canyon for sheer wonder and water. Waterberg, Quiver Tree forest and Giant’s Playground are also good for short walks and rock scrambling. Not forgetting beach combing along the Skeleton Coast.
They’re old enough to want it all and to want it now. If adrenaline sports appeal, Swakopmund makes a good base. There’s sand boarding, sky diving, quad biking, sailing, horse riding, kayaking, paragliding and more. It’s also easy to reach the dunes at Lüderitz, Sossusvlei and you’re close to the Skeleton Coast with abandoned mines, ship wrecks and even a seal colony.
To be honest, children of all ages will probably enjoy the seal colony. There are thousands of the smelly beasts. Walvis Bay is popular too, and, depending on the time of year, you can see huge flocks of wild flamingos. Same goes for dolphins and whales.
Surfing might appeal but you have to know what you’re doing. Skeleton Bay is legendary, it has the longest sand-bottomed left hand wave in the world and was only noticed by the surfing community in 2008. So it’s a newbie. But don’t go near it if you’re one too.
Teenagers are old enough to go on game drives and experience safari. If you can get them up early. If not, book an evening safari with a sundowner. Don’t only think of Etosha either, hippos and crocodiles live in the Zambezi Region. You can travel by boat and safari down the river. There are large herds of elephants and buffalo along the Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi rivers. Or get even closer by visiting a private reserve. Take the appropriate malaria precautions though.
Also, don’t forget Fish River Canyon it’s the largest one in Africa and second only to the Grand Canyon in the world. Plus, there are a huge number of rock paintings. Some of the ones at Twyfelfontein are over 6,000 years old.
And camp in the wild. Just a roll mat and sleeping bag will do, you don’t always need to sleep under canvas. Just stare into space. Literally. Camping at Spitzkoppe, Africa's 'Matterhorn' is a good option.
Let’s end with some sage advice.
Respect wildlife. Keep your distance, stay on marked roads, and only get out of your car at designated rest stops. Remember that some lodges and safari companies won’t accept children under a certain age and full scale safaris are generally better for older children.
Just make this experience work for you. Put the kids in pyjamas, take them for sundowners. Apple juice up a mountain, watching passing elephants as the sun sets, this is the stuff African dreams are made of. Oh, and get each child their own set of binoculars.