By Rhonda Carrier
The pick of Africa’s eco-properties are in Tanzania and Namibia and are focused on low-impact safaris that contribute to conservation. South Africa was unwittingly offering glamping before the term even came into being and now has places offering child-oriented ‘glamping’ safari packages. Kenya and Tanzania also have a wide choice of excellent eco-safari lodges heavily involved in animal conservation. Western Africa is yet to really take the concept of eco-tourism on board, although there are some good places in Gambia and Senegal.
In northern Africa, eco-tourism has really taken off in Morocco and, to a lesser extent, Egypt; both have some fabulous places that are really making a difference to their environment, including eco-riads in Marrakech and desert lodges made of packed earth in the Egyptian wilderness.
Helping to support more than 20 local families and 400 individuals, this stylish solar-powered property is the focal point of an ecotourism project that has replaced the copper-mining industry that once sustained this area. Accessible only by 4WD and atmospherically lit by candles in the evening, it's the starting point for all kind of hikes and experiences in the area, some of them taking you into the heart of the local Bedouin community to chat with some of them and learn all about their rituals and daily lives. There's also delicious vegetarian food and a magical roof terrace for spying on the heavens with a telescope and watching shooting stars streak past like fireworks, fizzing in the silence.
This certified eco-friendly camp using solar energy is a great base for exploring the soul-stirring desert and mountain landscape of the Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. Accommodation is in authentic goat-hair Bedouin tents, either communal (but divided into compartments) or private, with up to three beds and their own shower rooms. This is a real adventure for kids - by day you can explore by 4WD, hurtling over the red-sand dunes, riding camels and sandboarding, while by night there’s a meal in the dining tent, entertainment in the peak season, and the chance to sit around the campfire drinking endless cups of mint tea from the vast pot and exchanging travellers’ tales.
If you like the idea of a safari but don’t want to be in a chain of Land Rovers staring at some poor lion, this award-winning collection of beautiful tented huts by the River Talek is a must. Each has a riverside terrace, hammock and open-air shower, and there’s a large communal treehouse from which to watch game plus a good restaurant. Basecamp uses solar panels for energy, and most things are made from local materials. It also collects rainwater for use by visitors and locals. You can arrange small-scale safaris and meet local Masai, though you don’t need to leave the camp to see a wonderful variety of animals and birds – there’s even a resident crocodile. Children of all ages are welcome.
This camp is in a private game reserve bordering Kruger National Park – animals and wildlife are just as interesting as in Kruger, but as there are only two camps in Manyaleti Game Reserve, you have the waterholes to yourselves. Tents are stylish and comfortable, food is fabulous, and you can go on guided walks or drives with game wardens. Kids are given their own safaris, and staff also take them off on treasure hunts and into the cooking huts to try their hands at a few delicacies as you sit by the pool, G&T in hand, trying to identify the weird shrieks and roars emanating from the bush. Children of all ages are welcome; under-12s pay half price.
This wonderful hotel, where children of all ages are especially welcomed, is built on a regenerated plantation on the edge of the Matjies river gorge on the Garden Route, and its gorgeous rooms look out on forest and mountains. All staff have been recruited from nearby villages and the lodge is very much part of the community. There’s a very friendly feel to the place: in the communal dining room, guests are encouraged to tell of their day’s adventures around the fire. Hiking, canoeing and kayaking, horse- or elephant-riding, and whale-watching are offered, and there are birds, monkeys, baboons (who like to entertain kids at breakfast by eating their toast) and bush pigs. There is also a beautiful pool. Gingerbread men and hot milk for kids at bedtime is a nice touch.
Chumbe Island, Zanzibar
On this tiny coral-ringed island off the coast, near Stone Town, a maximum of 14 visitors at a time stay in solar-powered, thatched bungalows made of mangrove poles and coconut leaves – it’s a protected marine reserve where wildlife comes first. The fabulous underwater life is why most people come – it’s a safe but spectacular place to introduce kids of all ages to snorkelling and play Robinson Crusoe. Under-12s pay half price and there are educational programs for them, organized by friendly islanders.
Anjajavy Hotel, Nosy Be, Madagascar
This four-star eco-hotel is in a large nature reserve on a beautiful peninsula in Madagascar only accessible by fishing boat or plane. The forest holds lemurs and chameleons and iguanas, while birds of paradise call from the tops of the tall trees. Many of the plants and wildlife in the reserve are endemic to Madagascar and the seas are full of unusual fish and beautiful corals. You jungle-walk your kids to look for strange creatures, snorkel with rays on the reef or spend the day on the beach with cocktails. The hotel runs a charity to support local villages and aims for minimal impact. Children of all ages are welcome, but malaria is prevalent, so take precautions. There are kids’ discounts and fair rates for single parents.
Vamizi Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique
This is part of a project to encourage local people to protect and sustain their island – a new clinic and school room have been built thanks to the lodge. The 10 beautiful, traditionally built beach houses (several big enough for a family of four; all ages are welcome) are elegant and exotic, with marble bathrooms and carved wooden screens. Crabs scuttle underfoot and monkeys call overhead. You can explore the coral reefs, walk the trails or help with conservation projects. The full-board price includes guided activities such as turtle-monitoring, game-fishing (not to kill), diving, snorkelling, kayaking and whale-watching.
Or try these:
Matin Abad Eco Camp & Organic Farm, Iran
Family-friendly desert accommodation in nomad tents, or suites in a traditional building, plus camel trips.
A fabulous nature camp in Timbavati Nature Reserve, with huts for up to four people.
A very family-friendly safari lodge offering child safaris.
The best family hotel in the world’ according to ‘Tatler’, with five-star stone lodges in a private nature reserve at the tip of the country.
A family-friendly rustic lodge with abundant wildlife.
A magical lodge with a tree-house in a baobab for two, a Berber tent for two or three, and Savannah room with connecting bedrooms for up to five.
A tented camp in spectacular desert scenery, with wild desert elephants. Kids are welcome on the proviso that not all will appreciate its tranquil wilderness setting.
A friendly conservation-minded safari lodge and spa in Damaraland, with kids’ rates.
Mowani Mountain Camp, Namibia
A family-friendly tented camp amidst fabulous scenery in the desert in Damaraland, with kids' tents for under-12s.
A community-owned tented safari camp on a malaria-free reserve, with four family suites.
Ngong House, Kenya
Award-winning safari treehouses, private cottages and log cabins outside Nairobi.
Governors Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya
A fantastic ‘trip of a lifetime’ camp welcoming all ages.
Kahawa Shamba, Tanzania
Beautiful twin-bedded huts on a Fair Trade/Fair Travel coffee farm on Mount Kilimanjaro, plus two basic campsites.
Stanleys Kopje, Tanzania
Abundant wildlife and family-friendly tent-chalets; all kids over two welcome.
Pole Pole Resort, Tanzania
A fabulous resort near a marine reserve on unspoilt Mafia Island, with two family bungalows.
A beautiful family-friendly kasbah hotel in a desert oasis in the south of the country.
Douar Samra, Morocco
A traditional Berber refuge in the High Atlas Mountains, accepting kids over six but best for teens.
Adrere Amellal, Egypt
A stunning if expensive desert hotel offering child-friendly luxury in the wilderness.
See also our features on Green Places to Stay Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia.