When my father-in-law suggested we go to Africa a few months ago on our next family adventure, we jumped at the chance without giving it a second thought (although we later came to realise that not many people thought it was safe to travel here with young kids). Who could say no to letting the kids experience a different culture, seeing wildlife in their natural habitats and spending quality time with extended family? Luckily for us, my father-in-law had traveled to Kenya 5 times before for work and we knew he would be an excellent guide! (we had a Kenyan guide in addition of course!) Do read on for my local travel recommendations and why it is absolutely safe to travel here with your families!
Before you plan your itinerary, here are a few pre-travel preparatory tips to take note of.
1. Find a good safari tour operator
My father-in-law planned this trip through his travel agent in India and they organised a Nairobian tour operator for us called "Safari Trails". We highly highly recommend you ask for Mr Reuben who was our tour guide during our entire week in Kenya. He was with us right from the airport pick-up at Nairobi, during the safari drives and our final drop-off at Nairobi airport. My kids loved him as he was not only extremely informative (there wasn't a single reptile, bird or mammal he didn't know the name of during our wildlife sightings!) but he was really considerate to the kids' needs (nature calls, need for timely food intake, delays in setting out for the day).
2. Get your travel vaccinations in order
Book an appointment with a doctor at your hospital's travel clinic (we went to National University Hospital). Plan this at least 3 months prior to your date of departure. They will advise you on the type of medications to take (depending on your travel itinerary and your previous vaccination history). These are the medications and vaccinations that our family of 4 were recommended:
Yellow fever vaccine
3. Plan ahead for all your air and road travels
Our Singapore passports allowed us Visa-free travel to Kenya. To find out what type of visa you need when you plan your trip to Kenya, click here to find out: http://evisa.go.ke/evisa-types.html
Buy travel insurance ahead of your trip for the whole family. We bought ours from FWD insurance.
Traveling to Kenya from Singapore on long haul flights (including layovers) and spending long hours on a safari jeep with young kids is not an easy task. To make it comfortable for them and yourself, here are some recommendations (tried and tested by us!) that you might find useful:
There are really great flights to choose from to get to the capital city Nairobi from Singapore. I would recommend Qatar Airways (via Doha, which we took for our onward journey) or Emirates (via Dubai). What we absolutely do not recommend is Ethiopian Airlines (via Addis Ababa) that we flew on our way home. Addis Ababa airport was crowded and queue management at security check points was sadly disorganised. We were scheduled to take the same airline on our way to Nairobi but when we got to Changi airport in Singapore, we were told it was cancelled and had to beg the counter staff to get us onto the next flight to Nairobi. Luckily, they connected us on Qatar Airways and it was a comfortable flight.
If you have a late night flight (I believe most flights to Kenya from Singapore are), its best to let your kids nap during the day before your flight so that they stay awake during the first half of the journey (my hubby and I practice doing the same) and sleep it out for the second leg. This way, you can try to adjust their body clock to local Kenyan time as fast as possible (Kenya is 5 hours behind us). Also, you will most likely land around late noon to evening in Kenya and by the time you've checked into your hotel and had a light dinner, it'll be time for a good night's rest. We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Hurlingham for the night. Very good food and super nice rooms.
I think its important you have continuous conversations with your littles much before your trip commences on what to expect in Kenya. We started talking to our kids around 2-3 months before we left for Kenya about how long the flights were going to be, what entertainment options were available in the airports (observing planes take-off and land on the runway, colouring books), on the flight (colouring books and TV. Although we are almost screen-free at home, flights are our one exception to this rule and we allow it during the first half of the journey) and during the long and bumpy road trips in the safari jeep to the different parts of the nature reserves (naps and story-telling).
Do plan to pack these for your trip:
Binoculars: Invest in a good pair of binoculars that will help you and your family in viewing far-off wildlife sightings. Our tour guide was sharp in looking out for unusual sights that our untrained eyes couldn't spot so the binoculars helped us tremendously.
Plain journal or note book with plain or coloured pencils: these are useful if you have older kids who like to sketch and describe what they see or even if you have younger kids who like to doodle.
Warm neutral-coloured clothing: Although the weather was wonderful in September (cool but sunny at the same time) we wore full sleeved blouses ,jeans and covered shoes towards the latter half of the day as the weather started to get chilly. Cover up to prevent insect bites too! Safaris end by 6-6.30 pm in any case and we were advised to return back to our lodges by then. Do take note of wearing non-bright colours as those could startle the wildlife.
Mosquito/insect repellant: Carry mosquito repellant with at least 40% deet (recommended by our pharmacist who told us that natural repellants would not be useful in Kenya). Check with your child's paediatrician if you have allergy concerns and ask for alternatives.
Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
Snacks, water and portable toilet seat: The staff in our lodge were very kind and understanding of our children's hunger needs during the safaris so they allowed us to pack breakfast rolls and croissants for snack time. Do take note that your lodge maybe in the middle of a nature reserve and you might not have access to supermarkets. If you can plan snacks ahead of the trip, that might be useful. If not, befriend your hotel staff (tip them well) and thank them for their kindness. My kids made a lot of Kenyan friends on this trip and it was heartening to see! Carry plenty of water too. You maybe advised to not exit your safari vehicle during the safari at the exact moment your child needs to attend to nature's calls ;) Our guide always drove us to a safe spot to help the kids but if your child can't wait, carry a portable toilet seat that can be unfolded and lined with a plastic bag. We carried ours for emergencies but didn't need to use it. The drives can be bumpy and dusty and if your child is prone to getting car-sick (my older one is) , have airplane vomit bags/plastic bags ready as well.
4. Read books about Kenya for kids
We are truly blessed in Singapore when it comes to access to good children's books. We are spoilt for choice and the quality of the books available is great! We brought the books shown in the picture above with us in our carry-on bags to read during wait times at airports, during our safari (as reference books) and of course for bedtime reading.
I highly recommend reading about an inspirational Kenyan woman Wangari Maathai (fondly known as Mama Miti) from the books 'Seeds of Change' and 'Mama Miti' as shown above. She founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental NGO focused on the planting of trees and combat deforestation of Kenya. She was also an advocate for women's rights and was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize!
5. Enjoy these attractions in Kenya
Maasai Mara Game Reserve:Your tour operator in Kenya will most likely organise a trip to the Maasai Mara game reserve to watch the wildlife in the gorgeous African Savannah. We were really fortunate to see not only the Big 5 (so called as they used to be the most difficult animals to hunt. They include the Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, African Elephant and Rhino),but we also saw a 'Cheetah kill' from their ambush, to their chase and then the gruesome kill, zebras 'dust bathing' (to protect their coat) and an Impala challenge (where 2 males fought to herd a mating territory). It is advisable to stretch the game reserve stay a bit longer as there's a higher chance you'll see varied sights that way and make up for days you don't see much. We stayed at the Keekorok Lodge and loved their hospitality and food.
Maasai village: Our last day at the Maasai Mara inlcuded a visit to a Maasai village. The Maasai are a nomadic ethnic group residing along the game reserve areas of Kenya and Tanzania. We were welcomed by traditional dances (and were even called to dance with them!) and shown around the village by a Maasai named Olumpoke who spoke impeccable English (how impressive is that? In Kenya, it is compulsory for all children to attend school).
He explained about why they wear red (to scare away lions), importance of cattle to each family [they believe that drinking the blood from their cows (without killing them) makes both the animal and them strong. They eat meat from other animals such as goats. The number of cattle and children a family has is a sign of their wealth], the 4 working class groups (warrior, doctor, midwife and blacksmith and how these roles are passed onto their respective children), how their houses are made (using wood, mud and cowdung), the weapons they carry (a rungu which is a wooden club and a spear) and how they make fire using a special wooden stick rubbed onto a piece of cedar wood (the ash is then used to light up a pre-made grassy 'nest' which had cow dung at the centre of it) and showed us how the women made their infamous beaded jewelry. Our visit ended with us picking up some beautiful souvenirs made by the Maasai families!
On our last day in Kenya, we had a sumptuous lunch at Aberdares Country Club in the Aberdares national park. The club's location was on a slope of Mweiga Hill in the Aberdare Highlands and while we ate, we saw peacocks and deer inches away from us! The club staff drove us to The Ark (a sister property of the country club) which is a nearby lodge with decks and viewing points to witness wildlife such as elephants, cape buffalos, hyenas and rhinos around a waterhole and saltlick region. If at night there were special sightings by the resident guide, our rooms would receive a specific number of 'buzzer sounds' to indicate a certain animal has paid a visit to the waterhole. Although we did see a buffalo fight (which ended in some nasty bruises between the 2) and a family of elephants (my last picture here was taken through binoculars) during the day, we were not notified of anything unusual during the night.
We had a wonderfully memorable trip to Kenya and we would highly recommend a visit to this diverse country with its rich culture and wildlife. Drop me an email or comment below if you have any questions!