We set up our tent on a bluff high above a river. We figure with a cliff at our back we only have to worry about animals approaching from the front. At dusk, we light a fire and barbeque steak and sausages. As the sun descends we hear hyenas cackling and the sounds of lions mating.
I crack open another bottle of wine. “Don’t worry,” whispers my friend, “They are a couple of miles away.” They don’t sound like it, they sound like they are next door. The children don’t care. They are busy shining their torches at the river trying to spot crocs.
We survive the night. When we wake at dawn an elephant family has come to the river below. The red skies colour the river. As the baby elephant splashes in the water, a moment of absolute bliss descends upon the whole family.
An Unforgettable Adventure
Going on safari with children is an incredibly rewarding experience for parents and children alike. A safari is more than a trip to see animals. It’s a chance for the whole family to reconnect with nature. The family gets to spend time getting back to the basics and learning how the natural world works.
Safaris in Kenya
Africa is the home of safaris, but Kenya is the birthplace.
A safari in Kenya can take many forms. You can get 1000 dollar-a-night tented camps or load your car up with beer and a mattress to spend a night under the stars. It is all available depending on what your preference is and of coursen your budget.
A High-End Safari
High-end safaris spare nothing in terms of luxury. Accommodations are usually in lodges or tented camps. Picture a canvas tent that is full of antiques, colossal beds, soft rugs underfoot, and a private swimming pool. Silver service waiters offer you champagne and exquisite meals. You want for nothing.
The camps cater well for children. Cottar’s camp in the Maasai Mara encourages children to interact with the local Maasai tribe’s people. Your little ones can learn to shoot an arrow, start a fire, and track a leopard. That’s if you can drag them out of the swimming pool.
Game drives are offered for bigger kids, but if you have smaller children then a babysitting service is offered. No one loves a Toto (baby) like a Kenyan mama. A game drive is your child’s opportunity to see nature in all its raw beauty. Nothing teaches them the value of life as much as seeing a lion kill, a mother nursing her cubs or a wildebeest crossing a tumultuous river
A Mid-Level Safari
If you aren’t flush with cash but not quite ready for pitching a tent in the middle of the bush, then there are lots of places that offer reasonably priced opportunities to go on safari with children. Try the safari cottages at Ol Pejeta, an award-winning game reserve and home to the worlds only two remaining Northern White Rhinos.
These safari cottages are gorgeous self-catering homes with a view across the savannah in Kenya’s Laikipia region. All cottages come with a chef and game drive and are well kitted out and luxurious. You will find yourself in the thick of the action with wild animals able to walk up to the house, yet the comfort of four strong walls around you at night.
If the idea of letting your kids out to play with wild animals is a step too far, then try the Enonokishu Conservancy in the Maasai Mara. Enonokishu has self-catering places which range from tiny cottages to enormous lodges. The conservancy is fenced off from the greater Mara with no predators allowed inside. You can let the kids out to play with no concerns, but you will still wake up to deer, zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest.
We stayed at Bau Cottage and felt comfortable to let all our little ones roam around and play on the swings in the garden. What added to the thrill was that metres away was the Mara river where we could watch hippos and crocs wallow in the shallows below us in complete safety.
A Camping Safari
In Kenya when it comes to camping there are two types. Or you can drive out somewhere wild and pitch your tent. For some of the best places to camp in Kenya check out this link. Alternatively, you can look at the Kenyan Wildlife Service pages for a list of camping in the all the National Parks across Kenya
Be warned though, just because it’s a registered campsite that you have to pay for does not mean there is a fence between you and the animals. Often the paid for sites will provide a long drop toilet, wood for the fire, and water for washing – but nothing else. You can pay to hire an Askari (soldier) for the night if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Camping at Carnelly’s on Lake Naivasha
Camping at Carnelly’s at Lake Naivasha is a tamer experience. You stay in a campsite ringed area with an electric fence, although it’s only turned on at night. You won’t find the Big 5 animals at Lake Naivasha, but you will camp next to a lake with over 500 hippos. Frequent visitors include giraffe, zebra, and warthogs.
Carnelly’s has an amazing restaurant with delicious food, hot showers, and sheltered bandas. This is a paradise for kids; with trees to climb, jetties to fish off and usually lots of other kids around. For safari, you only need to head towards Hells Gate National Park which is over the road. I recommend you take a boat out across the lake for a hippo tour.
Camping at Lake Turkana
Bush camping is an experience you will never forget. There are loads of places you can pitch your tent in Kenya. Lake Turkana is a lake that has formed within the ring of a dormant volcano. Camping on the edge of a lake filled with crocodiles might not be everyone’s idea of fun but what you get in exchange are wildly beautiful African landscapes and an undeniable off the beaten track adventure.
Ok so the kids can’t swim in the lake but there is still plenty to do, explore the rocky outskirts of the lake. Chat to the El Molo tribe the smallest tribe in Kenya with only 500 members remaining. Sleep in the open beneath the stars or my kids favourite – adopt one of the many baby goats that also make this their home,
Camping at Lake Magadi
Closer to Nairobi you can have a similar experience minus the crocodiles at Lake Magadi. A large soda lake at the very south of the country. Desert-like vistas are interrupted only by the hot springs and the masses of flamingos that flock to its shores. There are no big 5 here but we were kept awake by the calling of hyenas at night and were visited by zebras in the morning.
9 Important Rules for Taking Kids on Safari
- Keep your children close. These are wild animals, your children are food, and predators are quiet.
- Teach your children about animals. Make sure they are fully aware of the danger. Teach them to practice respect and caution.
- Watch for the small beasts as well as the large ones and scorpions, spiders and snakes
- Malaria is prominent in some, but not all areas of Kenya. If you have young children and don’t want to give them malaria tablets, then stick to the highland parks and conservancies. Ol Pejeta, the Aberdares, or Nairobi’s own Nairobi National Park are all excellent and malaria-free.
- Prepare them for long journeys. Going on safari isn’t visiting a zoo. Some days you can go for hours without seeing much at all.
- Get them involved. I always like to make it a game/competition. I give them each a sheet with a list of animals to tick off and a prize for whoever finds the most.
- Bring snacks and water. As I said some of the game drives can be long, dusty and hot.
- Before you book anywhere, check first to see if they cater to children. Inquire if they allow children on game drives or have a babysitting facility.
- Bring sunscreen. This is Africa.
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