The Zanatta-Brown family’s winter break was one for the books: Mary Kaye Zanatta, a member of Virtuoso’s Destinations & Experiences team; her husband, Chris; and their kids, Declan, 15, and Gigi, 13, traveled to Botswana and Zambia on a 12-day wildlife safari with Wilderness Safaris. “It seemed like the right time to take our kids to Africa, and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime for all of us,” Mary Kaye says. She shares her family’s highlights here:

Safari Camps
We stayed at three Wilderness Safaris camps in Botswana and one in Zambia. Although they differed in size and style, each welcomed us with its own personality and friendly vibe. The camps are built to have a minimal impact on the environment – no permanent structures with concrete are allowed. At Abu Camp (pictured above) in the Okavango Delta, we had our own private plunge pool in front of our tent. The camp is known for its access to the Abu Herd of elephants.

Game Drives and Wildlife Encounters
Each day featured morning and afternoon game drives. We went on a walking wildlife safari with a herd of elephants at Abu Camp, gaining a deeper understanding of elephant conservation, and another one with white rhinos at Zambia’s Toka Leya. We also watched a pack of hyenas take down a young cape buffalo and spied on lion cubs learning how to hunt.

A Family Wildlife Safari in Botswana
The Zanatta-Brown family on safari in Botswana.

A Surprise Helicopter Flight
During a morning game drive at Jacana Camp in the Okavango Delta, a helicopter landed about 50 yards in front of us. We thought the pilot was lost or having mechanical issues, but he told us he was there to take us on a flight – we were absolutely blown away. We saw so many animals that we wouldn’t have seen from the safari vehicles.

Opportunities to Give Back
In Zambia, we brought supplies to kids at a school run by Children in the Wilderness, a nonprofit supported by Wilderness Safaris. The company is huge on sustainability and gave us trees to plant with the children, who came to meet us even though they were on a holiday break. Spending time with them was the highlight of our trip. There were originally only supposed to be seven kids, but word got out that there were visitors coming from the U.S. to see their school, and five more kids wanted to join. We were afraid that we didn’t have enough gifts for the kids – we had brought them backpacks, solar calculators, pens, and gum – but thankfully a representative from Wilderness Safaris took us to a local grocery store so we could get more backpacks and goodies.

The students will make special signs for each tree we planted so when we come back, we’ll be able to see how much they’ve grown. The kids greeted us with a wonderful welcome song, and, later, two of the girls shared a poem with us. It was about sustainability, maintaining their local culture, caring for the land and animals, and being proud of where they’re from. It was amazing and absolutely beautiful.

Children in the Wilderness School in Zambia
The Zanatta-Brown clan volunteered at Children in the Wilderness school in Zambia.

Tech-Free Time
A wildlife safari is one of the most amazing vacations you can take with your family. Two of the camps didn’t have Wi-Fi, which forced us to put our phones down and focus on each other. Our kids told us they really enjoyed being “unplugged.”

Safari Souvenirs
There was a great market outside of the entrance to Victoria Falls in Zambia, and we did most of our shopping there. Gigi fell in love with the hippos, so she purchased three carved hippo figurines in different sizes. Copper is very popular in Zambia, so we brought bracelets home as gifts. The best thing we brought home though are the memories and photos: Wilderness Safaris offers their guests the use of an Olympus camera. Declan really enjoyed taking photos and did a great job. We’re going to have several of his photographs enlarged and framed for his room and our house.

Top Photo: Wilderness Safaris