Botswana can be a challenging destination for families travelling with children. That’s primarily because the distances here can be epic and long days in the vehicle on bumpy trails will test the patience of most kids. It’s also worth remembering that many upmarket lodges and safari companies won’t accept children under a certain age (sometimes seven, more often 12), and those that do will probably require you to book separate game drives.
On the other hand, if you can keep the kids entertained on the long drives (bring lots of activity books, CDs and games), camping out in the wilds can be a wonderful family experience. It may require eternal vigilance – almost no private or public campsite in the country has enough fencing to keep animals out and children in, and there are the additional hazards of campfires, mosquitoes, snakes and biting/stinging insects. But long distances and these basic rules of camping life aside, a self-driving camping safari is something your kids will remember forever.
The best piece of advice we can give to get the most out of Botswana’s abundant attractions is to not be too ambitious. Instead of trying to cover the whole country, concentrate on really getting to know just one or two places over the course of a week or 10 days, thereby cutting travel times. Wildlife densities are at their highest in the north, especially in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. As a result, you shouldn’t need to spend too long in the car before tracking down elephants or lions.
There are lodges and safari operators that do offer family packages that can be worth checking out. Some offer specialist children’s guides and imaginative activity programs, which might include things like making paper from elephant dung! One of the better ones is Young Explorers offered by Great Plains Conservation (http://greatplainsconservation.com/young-explorers), an outstanding three-day program for children. From the Wilderness Safaris portfolio, Seba Camp is considered particularly good for families.
Most lodges and tented camps also have swimming pools, which provide a fine reward for long hours spent in the car.
Although the following activities are rarely aimed at a young audience, older kids will get a kick out of quad biking in the Makgadikgadi Pans, horse-riding safaris, mokoro trips in the reedy waters of the delta or even scenic flights high above the delta. Fishing in the Okavango Panhandle might also appeal.
Unless you’re planning to be in Botswana for the long haul, we advise you to bring everything with you that you think you’ll need. For invaluable general advice on taking the family abroad, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Babysitting Many lodges make a point of saying they are not babysitting agencies (in other words, your kids are your responsibility), and such agencies are otherwise extremely rare.
- Car seats These may be available from car-rental firms, but you’d be better off bringing your own; there are no car seats in safari vehicles.
- Changing facilities Almost unheard of.
- Cots Rarely available in hotels or lodges.
- Health A check-up with your doctor back home is a good idea before setting out for Botswana, but this is a comparatively safe country and medical facilities are good.
- High chairs Almost nonexistent in restaurants.
- Mosquito repellent Check with your doctor before setting out, as some mosquito repellents with high levels of DEET may be unsuitable for young children. Some lodges have mosquito nets; if you’re camping, consider bringing your own.
- Nappies and baby food These are available from supermarkets in larger towns, but they may not be the brands you’re used to and you don’t want to find yourself in trouble if you’re in town on a Sunday or public holiday.
- National park entry fees Free for children under eight and half-price for those aged from eight to 17 years of age.
Travellers with children should be aware of recent changes regarding the documents you must carry with you while travelling through the region. The law requires that all parents arriving, transiting and departing South Africa, Namibia and Botswana must produce an unabridged birth certificate for their children, and the birth certificate must state the names of both parents. Families not in possession of these documents will be refused travel.
If one parent is travelling alone with their children, the travelling parent must carry with them an affidavit from the other (ie nontravelling) parent who is listed on the birth certificate granting their consent for the travel to take place in their absence. Where this is not possible, either a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights, or a death certificate of the other parent, must be produced.
We have travelled across the borders of all three countries with our children on numerous occasions and although we were not always asked for these documents, we were asked for each of them at least once. Travel without them at your peril.