Kruger National Park
Ages 10 & up
Destination: Mpumaplanga, South Africa
Safari veterans boast of seeing the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo. The kids will certainly have something to brag about at school after you visit vast Kruger National Park in South Africa, where many safari-goers spot four of the Big Five in 1 day (leopards are the most elusive).
The African Kruger covers 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) from the Crocodile River in the north to the Limpopo River in the south, encompassing 16 distinct ecozones -- though as you drive through, it may all look the same, a rolling plain covered with a large shrublike tree called mopani. You can drive the park roads by yourself -- driving slowly, peering for animals that blend into the landscape, waiting patiently at the rivers and water holes that attract wildlife -- but you're only allowed to get out at designated rest stops. Binoculars and cameras are a must.
To increase your number of sightings, also book at least one guided game drive, led by experienced rangers in vehicles that seat from 10 to 46 people; the sunrise and early-morning drives usually offer the most animal encounters. It's surprising how close you may be able to get to the animals, who apparently don't associate the smell of gasoline with humans. To let the kids get a more intimate feel for the bush environment, also book a morning walk, a 3- to 4-hour tramp where you won't see as much big game (in fact you'll hope you don't encounter anything too aggressive) but you will get closer to the trees, insects, and small animals, all part of the circle of life. Guided drives and walks are booked directly from rest camps. The lodgings within the park are hardly swanky -- often tents or round thatched huts -- but have an authentic safari flavor to them.
Flanking the park, there are also several private game reserves, wildly expensive once-in-a-lifetime experiences where you'll stay in luxury lodges, dine on gourmet cuisine, and be driven off-road in a Jeep by your own expert tracker and ranger. Many of them won't even accept children under 12; two child-friendly options are Umlani Bushcamp (www.umlani.com) and Sabi Sabi, P.O. Box 52665, Saxonwold 2132 (tel. 27/11/447-7172; www.sabisabi.com).
Nearest Airport: Kruger-Mpumaplanga International (near Hazyview). Eastgate (near Hoedspruit). Kruger Park Gateway (at Phalaborwa).
Accommodations: Olifants and Lower Sabie rest camps, apply through South African National Parks, P.O. Box 787, 643 Leyds St., Muckleneuk, Pretoria (tel. 27/12/426-5000; www.sanparks.org).