Samara, the writer's daughter, learned about local animals and Kenyan culture. // © 2017 David DiGregorio
Feature image (above): She documented her African safari with the family’s digital camera. // © 2017 David DiGregorio
With the recent safety and security clearance at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya Airways and U.S. carriers alike are expected to begin direct connections between Nairobi and several American cities.
For families, especially those with younger children, a direct flight to Nairobi means that a safari — one that includes the “8th Wonder of the World,” known as the Great Migration — is even more within reach. Within Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, families can expect to see the Big Five year-round, as well as the Great Migration from July through November. For parents of school-age kids, this means that peak season conveniently falls during summer vacation.
Before booking tickets for clients, however, be sure their itinerary keeps in mind the needs of the littlest travelers.
Pick the Right Camp
Each camp within and surrounding the Maasai Mara offers unique accommodations to suit every taste. When booking, take care to understand the level of adventure that your family clients expect. Is a tented camp too rustic or novel? If the children are younger, consider ensuring that the camp is fenced. Although older kids may find it thrilling to hear larger animals close by during the night, others may find it scary.
Some camps, such as Sanctuary Olonana, offer more luxurious tents in a fenced setting to appease the entire family. Keep in mind that some areas of the reserve are stricter when it comes to driving off-road, which makes viewing animals up close considerably more difficult.
A stay of three days or longer per camp is recommended for families with children to allow them time to get acclimated. Parents may also appreciate a camp with a cultural component so that they can introduce their children to the Maasai people. Bush & Beyond’s Tangulia Mara Camp takes care to incorporate local dress and customs into the safari experience and understands the little touches that can improve a child’s stay. For large, multigenerational family trips, guests may even book the entire camp for a more personalized experience.
Prepare for the Game Drive
There is no standard minimum age for a child to go on safari, and camps differ wildly on how they accommodate young guests. Most commonly, families with young kids must book a private safari vehicle to ensure the comfort of both the child and other guests; this will come at an additional cost. Some camps have a strict minimum age for safari, while others leave it up to a parent’s discretion.
While it is common for younger children to complain about prolonged periods in the car, a safari vehicle is often the exception. Motion sickness is typically not an issue, given the frequent stops to look at animals and the open construction of the vehicle. Still, guests should prepare for long car trips as they would back home; motion sickness bracelets are suitable for guests of any age, and most lodges will be happy to pack snacks for each game drive.
What to Bring
Regardless of a child’s age, going on safari will create memories that will last a lifetime. To keep kids engaged, recommend parents bring along binoculars and a digital camera (even an older digital camera is fine for younger children), along with journals for teens and animal coloring books for those under 10. Although lodges provide snacks for game drives, suggest that guests pack any child favorites for the long plane ride (and as an added comfort).
Health and Safety
All guests, regardless of age, should obtain a yellow fever vaccine at least one week prior to traveling to Kenya. Ensure that all travelers keep their yellow CDC vaccine booklet alongside their passport and other important documents. If transiting through or visiting South Africa, ensure parents order an original copy of each child’s birth certificate. Immigration officials will check this document upon boarding any flight to South Africa. As in all cases of international travel, ensure that the kids have proper permission and relevant documentation if both parents are not present.
As malaria may be present in the Maasai Mara, clients should visit their physician before a safari to discuss if they should take malaria prophylactics prior to and during travel. Malerone, the most common anti-malarial, can be taken by children, albeit at a lower dose than adults. A doctor may also recommend a typhoid vaccine. While camps always have first-aid kits on-site, parents may find comfort in packing their own.
Adding Onto the Experience
After the long trip to Nairobi, families may wish to spend a few days in the city before heading out into the bush. Nairobi boasts both The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Centre within its city limits. Both sites offer extremely interactive experiences for children and adults alike and are a great introduction to the magnificent animals of Africa before the safari adventure begins. For guests stopping in South Africa, Cheetah Outreach near Cape Town and the Elephant Sanctuary near Johannesburg allow educational tours and supervised interactions with the animals.