All Articles

Mary Rijnberg: Best Family Travel Tips for Africa

2 May 2020|Mary Rijnberg


Original article from TRVLBEESInterview by travelbee Felicia da Costa.

Ready for the best Family travel tips for Africa? In this interview, TRVLBEES sit down with the wonderful director of Planet Africa Safaris and supermum of three, Mary Rijnberg. While based in Cape Town, South Africa with her husband and their three young kids, Mary works across the continent to create and oversee unique, tailor-made African family experiences. We got lucky enough to hear all about Mary’s family travels, her immense love for Africa, fascinating roots, and of course, her flourishing company: Planet Africa Safaris.

Please tell us something about your life journey – how did you end up living in Africa with your family? Has it always been a dream?

“It has always been my dream to live abroad and travel. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had an urge to explore; an enormous curiosity for everything that is out there in the world. I was born in Ethiopia and spent the first few years of my life there before moving back to the Netherlands.

While I was growing up, my parents told me fantastic stories about their adventurous years working for the Flying Doctors in Zambia and Ethiopia. I couldn’t help but think: “I just need to get out there!”

“I took a gap year between high school and university and enjoyed that tremendously. Of course, there was no way back after that. I spent 6 months at the University of Cape Town during my law studies in the Netherlands and there, my love for South Africa was born.”

How and why did you start your company Planet Africa Safaris? What makes this company special? 

“Bas and I quit our jobs and took a year off when we were both working in Amsterdam; I worked for Heineken at the time, in quite a corporate job. We ended up in Arusha, Tanzania, and did NGO work for 3 months, but our plans for the rest of the year were still undecided. After that, we figured we’d just see what’d happen. We would either stay a little longer and do other work or go back to Amsterdam.

One day, I met a South African safari guide. We got to talking and ended up starting a safari company together in 2004, which eventually turned into Planet Africa Safaris. We truly built the company from scratch, which, in a completely foreign country like Tanzania, was a fantastic but also very challenging undertaking. Everything was completely different from what I knew living and working in the Netherlands. However, it was an enormously enriching life experience, in which everyone learned great lessons.”

“I often call Planet Africa my baby, in the sense that I built the company from the ground up. We approach our work in an as personal way as possible, custom-designing trips for each guest. I truly love that we are able to help our visitors create life-lasting memories of an intimate, unique, and unforgettable trip to Africa.”

“The adventurous safaris that we host primarily involve small, more upmarket tented camps and boutique lodges. TRVLBEES style, I’d say!”

TRVLBEES focuses on family-friendly, boutique-style, and conscious hideaways – so let’s talk. Family-friendly: When searching for your own family holiday, do you specifically focus on this feature? How and why?

“Yes, I absolutely do. We have 3 kids that are quite far apart in age (3, 9, and 11) so, understandably, they each have different needs. Family-friendly places, where they can meet other kids and where the staff are kind, accommodating, and used to children, are definitely a must for us!”

Boutique: Does this category appeal to you? How would you describe ‘boutique’ in terms of stays?

“A small, good quality, well-designed hotel that is not only appealing to the eye, but also boasts a staff that truly knows their guests and can provide personalized service. In other words, a property with a ‘soul!”

Conscious (Green): Is this a factor you consider when you and your family book a hideaway?

“This is a tough one, since I feel that this term is constantly (over) used for marketing purposes. It’s easy to answer this question with a firm yes (as everyone would do nowadays), but then certain questions arise: How do we define green? What exactly does it entail? An interesting and important discussion.”

“Properties may have a comprehensive story about consciousness on their website, but are they really going out of their way to make a consistent difference? I have to say that, as a tourist booking a hotel online and from a distance, I find it difficult to judge. At Planet Africa Safaris, however, it’s a different story. We can thoroughly evaluate this factor by visiting the camps and lodges we offer to our clients so that we get a sense of how consciously things are run.”

Has living in Africa made you more aware of the ‘responsible travel’ movement? Do you actively implement it in your company too?

“This relates to the previous question, and yes, we definitely notice a shift in whether and how our clients are becoming more aware of responsible travel. At the same time, they are not sure of how to truly ‘achieve’ responsible tourism yet. People are looking for more authentic and meaningful experiences; they are really eager to meet and connect with the local community of the country they are visiting. I think it will be very fascinating to see how the world changes over the coming years, how people become more and more conscious, and how this will influence their travel habits.”

Which locations, areas, or properties do you think we must add to our wish list?
Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa!”

“Kenya and Tanzania because they represent the classic idea of Africa: the exhilarating wildlife, the wide-open plains, the Masai, acacia and baobab trees, the wildebeest migration, you name it! They are fantastic countries.”

“South Africa because of its enormous variety in must-see’s and -do’s, and because I truly think it is the most beautiful country in the world. It simply has it all!”

Do you still have a (family) travel (or activities) bucket list?
“Definitely! We’re planning to go to Argentina and just spend 6 weeks in a village somewhere learning Spanish and ‘being there’. When our youngest is a bit older, I’d love to go to Iran.”

What do you want to teach or show your kids both during travels and in life?
“It’s very important for us to show our kids what’s out there in the world: different cultures, people, countries, rich and poor – you name it. We are lucky enough to be able to travel a lot as a family. Since our kids consider both the Netherlands and South Africa as home, they also understand how different countries, cultures, and people function, which I think is a blessing. They are very international kids, and they play and feel at ease with other kids right away wherever we go.”

What are your favorite places in and around Cape Town to unwind and recharge with your family?
“I love to walk over to The Roundhouse, a great restaurant near our house, for an early evening pizza on the lawn while the kids run around.”

“Boschendal in Franschhoek recently renovated great family Cape Dutch-style houses that are amazing for a weekend away. Mountain biking, swimming, the lovely restaurant and deli on the Boschendal property itself, great views… It’s all there.”

“Churchhaven in West Coast National Park is great for a weekend away from the city, and one of my best family travel tips for Africa. A lagoon with flamingo’s at the distance, perfect for small kids, very quiet. There is nothing there except a few simple, yet stylish holiday homes, mostly privately owned. Only a bit over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, so just around the corner!”

Enquire about your Zambia safari

Plan your trip