Many parents are skeptical of going on an African safari with kids because they think there is a minimum age for safaris. We took our 2 and 4 year old toddlers on a safari in Kenya and had the most amazing time. We spent 8 days exploring the countries many national reserves, visiting local tribes, and enjoying the most beautiful beach we’ve ever seen. In this article I’ll help you plan your own African family safari in Kenya!
Cheap Flights to Kenya? Yes It’s Possible!
We flew Lufthansa from Miami to Nairobi after finding a flight deal last year. It was a deal we couldn’t pass up at $520RT per person! We find a lot of flight deals on Skyscanner, download their free app here. Our first leg was 9 hours to Frankfurt where we had a 3.5hr layover until our 8-hour flight to Nairobi. Flying with kids like we were? Here are 6 Ways to Survive Long Haul Flights with Kids.
When We Went to Kenya
We traveled to Kenya the first week of September hoping to catch the Great Migration in Masai Mara. September is a great month to visit as it’s during the dry season. The weather was great, a little cool in the early morning and evenings but very comfortable throughout the day.
The Parts of Kenya We Visited
Kenya is huge and with limited time we couldn’t visit everywhere. We decided on Amboseli National Park, Lake Naivasha, Maasai Mara, Diani Beach and Nairobi.
Visas and Vaccines Needed for Kenya
You can easily apply for an e-visa online prior to arriving to Kenya. At the time of our trip visas were $50 per adult and kids 16 and under were free and did not require a visa application. We were approved within a week of applying, just log on to check your status. If you don’t do an e-visa you can get a visa upon arrival but we just thought why go through that hassle if we could avoid it.
When planning an African family safari many parents are worries about vaccines. Rest assured no vaccines are required to visit Kenya. Typhoid and yellow fever are recommended so prior to our departure we made appointments with our doctors. Both the girls pediatrician and our doctor confirmed neither were necessary. They said unless we were adventurous eaters and planned to eat street food or drink non-bottled water we would be fine.
We did however take malaria pills prior to, during, and for 7 days after our visit. The girls had a different type of pill than us that they took less frequently and was more of a chewable tablet. None of us suffered from side effects of the malaria pills. Both my husband and I previously took them on prior trips to Botswana and Ghana and while I didn’t suffer from side effects then my husband did. There is really no way to know how your body will react to the medication. Be sure to also pack insect repellent as anti-malaria pills are only 90% effective.
What We Did In Kenya
Day Zero: Arrival in Kenya- Visas, Vaccines, and Malaria Prevention
After leaving the US Thursday late afternoon we arrived in Nairobi Friday 8pm local time. Following my rules for preventing jet lag allowed us to be tired when we landed which was exactly what we wanted. We were so happy we did the eVisa so we could quickly go through immigration! We printed the forms prior to traveling to present to immigration upon arrival.
The next morning we would be departing to Amboseli National Park so we booked the Acacia Tree Hotel. As we has a 8AM flight in the morning it was the perfect location. It was 30 minutes from Nairobi Airport and only 15 minutes from Wilson Airport where we were departing from.
Day One: Flight to Amboseli National Park & Game Drives
After such a long flight the night before the last thing we wanted was a long 4.5 hour bumpy drive to Amboseli National Park so we chose to take a 30 minute flight instead. Natural World Kenya Safaris took care of the booking for us and picked us up from our hotel to take us to the airport. We flew Kenya Airways on a 12 row propeller plane and landed on an airstrip in the middle of Amboseli National Park at 8:30AM . What a warm welcome we received when our plane had to do a circle before landing because animals were occupying the runway.
When we landed John, our driver for the next 6 days, was waiting for us on the landing strip. As promised we had a private vehicle just for our family with car seats for each of the girls. The safari truck sat 9 and there were only 7 of us including John so we weren’t cramped at all and the truck was very spacious. John took us on our first game drive immediately after leaving the airport on our way to our hotel. We spotted a lion within the first ten minutes and also saw herds of elephants, hyenas, zebras, hippos, wilder beast, gazelle’s, ostrich and more. We even had a herd of elephants cross right in front of our truck.
After an exciting game drive we checked into the Serena Amboseli Hotel. This lodge is perfect for family safari as they have a family room. It has two bedrooms with 3 beds and one bathroom. One room had a king sized bed while the other had two twin beds and a couch. The bathroom was in between both rooms and each room had outdoor seating.
All meals are included in the hotel stays so we got lunch. Meals were buffet style with some made to order options such as a pasta station. After a long flight the day before an early flight this morning we were tired and it was definitely time to rest and reconvene for our evening game drive at 5PM. After joining about 15 other safari trucks looking at a pack of lions in the distance through binoculars. About 5 minutes in we got the biggest treat of our lives when a female lion came out of nowhere and walked right past our trucks.
Everyone must be back to their lodges by 7pm so we went back for dinner and for bed as we were leaving early in the morning and had to be out of the park by 8am, which was the time we arrived in order to avoid paying an additional day’s fee for the park which is $60 per person. We chose to visit Amboseli National Park as it has views of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background and thought it would be an amazing sight. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy during our stay to view the mountain but we still enjoyed our time.
Day Two: Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island Game Park
We heard some horror stories about the drive to Maasai Mara taking forever and being very bumpy. When planning your family safari and deciding whether to drive or fly between cities consider the age of your kids and how they handle long car rides. For us price was the determining factor. Flights cost significantly more and since we wanted to save money we opted to drive. In my research I found Lake Naivasha as a great way to break up the drive and one of the best places to do a walking safari. We chose to take the chance and were happy with our choice. You know your children best, ours sleep well in cars and ended up sleeping most of the drive.
You may be interested in reading: Tips on Road Trips with Kids
The drive from Amboseli National Park to Lake Naivasha was 6 hours. While it was long it was nice getting to see different parts of Kenya we would have missed flying. Along the way we stopped at the viewing point of the Great Rift Valley, which is a valley that goes all the way from Israel down to Mozambique.
Upon arrival we checked into our hotel, Lake Naivasha Country Club. The rooms are in little duplex homes and each room has a veranda. There isn’t anything special about the rooms but they were clean!
After lunch, John took us on our Lake Naivasha Boat Safari, just 5 minutes from the hotel. We boarded our canoe and were able to see hippos and a multitude of birds on the way to Crescent Island. Our guide got a fish from one of the local fishermen who was fishing on the bank and took some pieces from one of the lake plants and stuffed it in the fish to make it float. He then whistled, threw it in the water and this huge bird flew down to snatch it, it was quite a site to see.
After our little show we made it to Crescent Island where we would be able to do a walking safari. There are no cats in the park but there are giraffes, gazelle, zebras, hippos, water bucks, and buffalos. It was the most amazing experience ever to walk amongst the wild animals.
We went back to our hotel and relaxed until dinner. The hotel grounds have so much green space that the girls loved running around. They also had a lot of activities for kids including a trampoline, swing set, and soccer field. The hotel also has a pool and tons of wild animals that roam the grounds. During our stay, we saw hippos, waterbucks, and monkeys and while we didn’t see any during our stay apparently it’s not uncommon for giraffes and zebras to pass through as well.
Day Three: Drive to Maasai Mara & Sarova Mara Check-In
We made the 5hr drive from Lake Naivasha to Maasai Mara. Upon arrival we checked into our hotel, the Sarova Mara Game Camp, where we would be glamping for the next three nights. Here’s a look inside our tent.
We settled in, had lunch, and walked around the premises until our evening drive with John. On our first night we saw a pack of 5 cheetahs, known as the 5 Brothers. What we thought would be just a good time watching them hang out turned into the most exhilarating experience ever when we experienced a kill. Out of nowhere the cheetahs went from sitting down to a heightened stance, walked right past our safari truck and then chased down a Topi right in front of our eyes.
Every evening at 7 the hotel offers an activity for guests. This could be a cultural walk, Maasai dance or history lesson. This night the activity was a dance by one of the nearby Maasai Tribes. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the Maasai tribes if you don’t have enough time to visit a village. All of these events are free for hotel guests!
Day Four: Morning Game Drive, Maasai Village Visit, & Evening Game Drive
We met John at 7:30AM to head out for our morning game drive. After finding some male lions sleeping under a tree we also came across zebras, elephants, topi, ostrich and more. We exited the reserve and went passed the town until we arrived at the Maasai Tribe we would be visiting. The chief’s son came to greet us and tell us a little bit of what to expect during our visit before members of the tribe came out to welcome us.
They welcomed us by singing to us and blessing us prior to entering the village. Once we entered the women in the village sang us their celebration song, inviting us to join them. Afterward, the men sang us their celebration song showed us their jumping competition. They then showed us how they make fire and let my husband and little ones try. We toured their homes, which are made by the women out of cow dung, lasting 10 years.
The village visit was $20 per adult and $10 for each child, paid directly to the chief’s son. After our village visit we headed to the hotel for lunch and an afternoon break. At 4pm we headed out for our evening game drive where we finally came across some giraffes. My favorite part however was watching Jordyn be our tour guide and sharing all the knowledge she learned so far.
Day Five: Drive to Mara River, Kenya/Tanzania Border & Bush Lunch
Again we met John at 7:30AM for a long drive to the Mara River. On the way, we, of course, stopped for several animal spotting’s including lions, a hyena, giraffes, baboons, zebras, and elephants. One of the coolest things we saw was a herd of wildebeest and two zebras that were migrating to the Serengeti. They were in a single file line and it was such a site to see.
Our first stop was to the Mara River where a ranger escorted us to the river to see the many hippos and crocodile that inhibit it. He also walked us to the point in the river that the animals cross to get from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara during the migration season. The best time to see a lot of animals migrating is in July.
Afterward John drove us to the Kenya/Tanzania border where were able to have our feet in two countries at once. There are beacons every 2km separating the two countries to help you identify which country you are in. There is no border control so no passport needed!
John drove us to a shaded area under a tree in the middle of the Maasai Mara when we had a picnic with food from the hotel. We sat in the open with hundreds of thousands of animal surrounding us and enjoyed the scenery. After lunch we hung out for a bit and the girls were able to run around and burn some energy off.
We then drove back to the hotel, again seeing animals along the way. We got back around 3PM and had the rest of the day to relax. The hotel offers free spear throwing and archery lessons and we took some. We didn’t quite master the spear throwing but we did great with the bow and arrow.
Day Six: Morning Game Drive & Flight to Diani Beach
It was time for our last game drive in the Maasai Mara. A black rhino was spotted the night before at 7PM so we searched that area but had no luck. Black Rhinos are extremely endangered due to poachers in the area. We were able to see some wildebeest migrating and spotted a male lion but it was actually was a pretty dry morning in terms of spotting animals.
After our game drive we went back to the camp to check out for 10AM and hung out in the public spaces until lunch at 12:30. We were still able to eat on site even though we had checked out and then proceeded to the airstrip for our 2PM flight to Diani Beach. There is no security, check-in, anything at this airstrip. You just show up 15-30mins before your flight and when the pilot arrives he has a paper with your name on it. Our game camp was closest to the Keekorok Airstrip so that’s the one we flew out of but depending on where you’re staying in Maasai Mara you will fly out of a different one. Our flight was operated by Safarilink and it stopped in Amboseli first to let two passengers off.
We got into Diani Beach (landing at Ukanda Airstrip) at 4:30PM as our plane had to make a stop in Amboseli. It was an extremely small 14-passenger plane; including the pilots whom you could see the whole time as there is no cockpit door. I really wish we had an earlier flight this day because by the time we got checked into the hotel and settled it was too late to enjoy the beach and pool and we already had a great experience with the safaris so it wasn’t as if we really needed that last one.
We chose the Swahili Beach Resort and were not disappointed. The rooms are gorgeous and super spacious along with the entire property. There is also an entertainment staff hosting various activities throughout the day. During our visit there were salsa lessons and dancing, beach volleyball, zumba, and karaoke.
Day Seven: Swahili Beach Resort Pool and Diani Beach
After some long drives getting to each area we visited we were ready for some relaxation! There are way too many pools to count at Swahili Beach Resort and we took full advantage of all of them. Some of the pools included a kiddie pool, one with a volleyball net, and mini pools that cascade down forming a pool waterfall.
During the time of year we visited high tide at the beach began at 12PM. It was amazing to see the drastic difference between low tide and high tide. Once high tide came we moved to the beach with where ocean temps were about 75 degrees, perfect for swimming.
If you want to do more than relax you can take a tour to Mombasa. Just an hour to 90 minute drive and you can learn more about the rich history of the coast. Our hotel offered a round trip taxi for $60 total (not per person). We thought about doing it but decided to just soak up some sun instead.
Day Eight: Nairobi City Tour & Flight Home
It was our last day and since we were flying out of Nairobi to go home we decided to leave Diani Beach on an 8AM flight to Nairobi so we could explore a bit of Kenya’s capital city before our 7:40PM flight. The flight is only 45 minutes so it allowed us plenty of time to see a few sights. On the flight from Mombasa you fly over Mt. Kilimanjaro which is a great sight to see.
When we arrived at the airport our driver picked us up and we went to the David Sheldwick Elephant Orphanage. The doors open at 11:00AM and people start lining up by 10AM to get the best views. The required donation fee is 500 shillings for adults and 200 shillings for children 2 and up. The orphanage rescues elephants whose parents have been poached by hunters and elephants cannot survive in the wild without their mothers until they are 2-3 years old. Once they reach the age (or health if also injured) the orphanage reintroduces them back to the wild.
We had lunch at the Karen Blixen Museum before heading to the Giraffe Center. We would have loved to visit Giraffe Manor but the cheapest room was $595 per night per person so we passed. The Giraffe Center is the perfect alternative and is a conservatory for endangered Rothschild Giraffes. You are able to feed the giraffes here for a small entry fee of 500 shillings.
We were able to stop at a local market before heading back to the airport for our flight. The Swiss Airlines terminal has a kid’s playroom with toys, a TV, couches and plenty of space for the kids to run around!
How We Planned Our Family Safari
I am so happy we booked through Natural World Kenya Safaris. Not only did we receive world-class service but they also made planning the trip a breeze. When I reached out to them I knew the areas of Kenya we wanted to visit on our trip. They provided amazing suggestions to make the most of our time and helped us pick the best accommodations. Natural World also handled all of the bookings for us. This included domestic flights, airport pick-ups and drop-offs, our safari driver, and bottled water for our entire trip. They also booked our hotel accommodations except Diani Beach. The reason was they said it would be cheaper for us to book on our own and I appreciated their honestly. Even still they provided recommendations and we ended up booking one of them with no regrets.
My favorite part about Natural World Safaris is that local Kenyans own it. If you choose to go through Natural World Safaris request John as your safari driver. John grew up near Tsavo and knows the game reserves like the back of his hand. He is so knowledgeable about the areas, animals, local tribes, culture and anything you could possibly want to know. It amazed us that he can literally spot a lion from more than a mile away. He also gets you really close to them so you can get a good look and great photo like this one!
John went above and beyond to make sure we had an amazing time and was so good with the girls. He is the perfect drives for those planning a family safari. If you have him please tell him Jordyn and Kennedy from Florida said hi!
Money in Kenya
Kenya uses Kenya Shillings and at the time of our visit, the exchange rate was $1USD to 100 Kenyan Shillings. All the hotels we stayed at accepted credit cards if you were purchasing extras like alcoholic beverages or spa services. Tips and purchases made in the Maasai Mara village were the only time we used cash. We exchanged our cash at the airport on arrival as there is an exchange counter at baggage claim. Four of the five hotels we stayed at also exchanged foreign currency.
Kenya was everything and the only thing I wish I could change was that we spent more time there. I hope we’ve inspired you to plan an African family safari. If I left something out that you have questions about, drop them below. Please share this post if you loved it!