An African safari is a bucket-list destination for people of all ages. And while you can pick from multiple countries, seemingly endless parks and reserves, and many kinds of accommodations, Kenya and all its offerings are simply the best choice for the family safari of a lifetime.
There’s something magical about observing animals in the pristine habitat in the Masai Mara, trekking through the bush with Mt. Kilimanjaro as your backdrop, and watching the sun set over the Great Rift Valley. When it comes time to plan your family’s safari adventure, here are five reasons why Kenya’s your best bet.
When you think of a safari, you probably think of day-long game drives in a 4x4 vehicle. While these types of drives can definitely help you get up close and personal with the big five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), they can also be a recipe for squirmy kids. Luckily, in Kenya many parks allow for different types of game viewing that let young travelers see the wildlife without even setting foot in a car. In the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, for example, you can take a canopy walk in the forest treetops, spot animals on horseback, soar high above in a biplane, or even observe your favorite animal from high on the back of a camel.
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Unlike other safari regions in Africa whose accommodations are dominated by large international hotel brands, many of Kenya’s safari lodges and camps are owner-run and managed, including Lewa Wilderness, Richard’s River Camp, and Ol Malo. What’s great about these properties is that many of the proprietors have children of their own, creating a home-like, casual vibe. And, most have been there for generations, contributing to conservation efforts in the region.
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There’s more to a great African travel experience than just game drives, and what makes Kenya an ideal destination are the many additional activities available for kids of all ages (and those who are young at heart). Young travelers can spend the day with Samburu Warriors at Saruni Samburu’s Warrior Academy, where they’ll learn to make bow and arrows, track animals, and build a bush camp. Animal-loving youngsters can spend a day at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary learning about their efforts to rehabilitate and re-release these amazing creatures back into the wild.
“When I took my son, Dylan, on safari for the first time, he was four years old,” says Danalee May, a Cox & Kings Senior Destination Expert on Africa. “I barely saw him from dawn until dusk! He was learning to cook with the camp chef, making castings of animal paw prints, and just hanging with the locals!”
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Kenya is one place where your kids will actually be excited that it’s bedtime. Why? There are all types of unique places to rest your head. Within the Loisaba Conservancy, visitors can sleep in the tented camp, which is perched over a watering hole with views of Mt. Kenya, or spend a night in the incredible Loisaba Starbeds. They’re handcrafted four-poster beds on wooden platforms that are wheeled out so you can sleep under the African night sky—stargazing is a must. The Nest at Serian’s private conservation area is another amazing option. Located on the western side of the Mara River and accessible only by foot, it’s a treehouse that sleeps a family of four high atop a Warburgia tree.
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Kenya’s best game reserves are spread out all over the country, which means that a safari trip requires a lot of internal flights. If your budget allows, consider private charter flights, which are more comfortable for everyone, allow for more flexible scheduling, and help you spend more time exploring and less time sitting on airstrips. And, if you’re traveling with a large family group, splitting the cost can make private charters a more affordable option.
Even if you aren’t able to swing private air travel, it’s definitely worth the additional cost to book a private vehicle and driver for your safari game drives. A private vehicle is not only nice for your own family, but it’s also a courtesy to other travelers. Your kids may not want to sit in silence for an hour while another safari-goer in your vehicle waits to snap that perfect wildebeest picture. And, when you do your drives in a private car with your own guide, you can craft an itinerary that fits your kids’ schedule. Head back early if the kids are worn out, go on an epic search for their favorite animal, or split your day into separate morning and afternoon drives, so there’s time for a little R&R during the mid-day heat.
Private tours also put your family at liberty to customize your travels to fit the ages and interests of the group. Consider having an expert tour operator plan your trip for you. Not only will they take care of every logistical detail, but they can select guides that specialize in touring with young travelers, find family-friendly accommodations, and book activities that even your moody teenager won’t roll their eyes at.
For more information on planning a safari vacation in Kenya visit Cox and Kings.