Kenya is the quintessential safari destination. Here you can experience bright red sunsets over the African savannah, stoic acacia trees silhouetted against the evening sky.
You can drive amongst massive herds of elephant, or if you’re lucky through over one million wildebeest and zeebra during the Great Wildebeest Migration.
Kids love learning about unique specifies, only found only north of the equator, which bisects Kenya. And spending time in a Maasai village, learning about this culture and interacting with their tribal age mates, is an experience kids will never forget.
If you are planning your family’s first African safari, East Africa, and more specifically Kenya, should be your destination of choice.
For the past 15 years I’ve been lucky enough to work in the safari industry, spending months at a time exploring everything Kenya has to offer. Understanding that travel with kids requires a bit of special planning, here is the best Kenya safari itinerary for kids.
Day 1: Spend the Night in Nairobi
Most travelers have come a long way to reach Kenya. If you’re coming from the U.S., you’re facing two, 8-hour flights which certainly makes for one exhausted family. Don’t try to rush out on safari immediately when you arrive. Spend the night in Nairobi. This will give you a chance to relax, kick the jet lag and get a feel for what Nairobi is all about.
This rapidly changing city is colorful and classically Africa. Here you’ll see Maasai walking their cattle to water down a busy neighborhood street, as well as a well-educated, upwardly mobile middle class commuting to jobs in the city.
You’ll arrive into the international airport, JKIA, and depart for safari out of the smaller, domestic airport, Wilson. If you have an early domestic flight, be sure to book something nearby this domestic airport. Here are some great, family-friendly hotels to book in Nairobi.
Day 2 -4 Head North for Private Conservancies
Kids (and adults!) will be excited to get the safari started and see some wildlife. Northern Kenya is a great place to begin a safari in Kenya. If you look at a map of Kenya, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the northern part of Kenya is dry and relatively uninhabited.
Heading north towards Ethiopia, the terrain becomes dry, arid and extremely harsh. However, there is a magic area between the more populated, rich and fertile areas and this dry arid land, which is what is typically referred to as Northern Kenya.
Here you’ll find several private wildlife conservancies and game areas that house magnificent populations of wildlife accessible only to the guests staying at these private safari camps. Elephant Bedroom is an excellent option right in Samburu National Park.
Day 5 – 7 Finish Your Safari in the Masai Mara Ecosystem
There is nothing quite like the Masai Mara. While the protected national park is fairly massive on it’s own, the greater ecosystem includes several private wildlife concession areas. With no fences or paved roads, the wildlife moves freely.
Located in southwestern Kenya, the Masai Mara is arguably the world’s top safari big game viewing eco-system. In addition to healthy populations of big cats, the Masai Mara is also home to the Great Wildebeest Migration, at it’s peak during the summer months.
There are probably over 100 properties in and around the Masai Mara today. While some are large, traditional lodges, with rooms similar to what you would expect from a traditional hotel, I strongly prefer small, intimate tented camps while on safari in the Masai Mara. Properties like Asilia’s Naboish Camp, Mara Explorer and Rekero are all excellent options for families on safari in Kenya.
Days 8 – 10 Tag on a Few Days at the Beach
If you have time, spending a few days to unwind after safari on the warm, Indian Ocean coast is a great idea.
It’s possible to book a direct flight from the Mara to the coast, saving you transfer time in Nairobi. You can wrap up a game drive, hop onto a small bush plane, and be having dinner at the coast!
Watamu is an excellent option at the coast. While it’s best to avoid the months of June through August, when there is a lot of seaweed on the beach, the rest of the year it’s a beautiful, white sandy beach. Kids love exploring the Mida Creek inlet nearby, and older kids will love trying SUP paddleboarding, Kitesurfing and other water-based activities.
If you’re traveling as a large group, consider renting a house. Homes in Watamu all have pools and typically come with a staff to ensure optimal relaxation.