When we asked Rothschild Safaris to design our family safari itinerary in Kenya, we requested to stay in a mix of high-end and midrange tented camps that would offer unique and varied experiences along the way. Longtime travel designer Kimi Cristopolous rose to the challenge admirably, giving our family an opportunity to see amazing wildlife and connect with new cultures while making the logistics easy and stress-free.
Tented camps tailored for safari guests abound throughout Kenya, but some are more suited to families than others, so choosing the right ones is key to a successful trip. Here are the camps we experienced and loved.
A short one-hour flight on a small plane from Nairobi, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This conservancy’s success in preserving the environment and wildlife population has become a model throughout Africa.
There are only four camps within the Lewa Conservancy, with a total of 60 beds, ensuring guests’ game drive experience will never be crowded. We experienced two of the four — our first was the Lewa Safari Camp, which has 12 very private tents. We stayed in one of the two family tents with two bedrooms and two baths. Our favorite ritual was enjoying early morning wake-up drinks on our large veranda and watching the sun rise over the stunning dry river valley.
Our very knowledgeable and helpful guide, Laban, proved to be a highlight of our stay at Lewa Safari Camp. My daughter was working on a school research project about giraffes, and Laban brought the information to life from his experience of observing these animals every day.
TIP: Since Lewa is located within the conservancy, it has strict rules. Night game drives aren’t allowed, and guests must always be in vehicles.
Our second camp in the Lewa Conservancy was Sirikoi — the epitome of a luxury safari camp. It is family-owned by Sue and Willie Roberts, who are icons in the luxury camp business and have perfected the safari experience with their meticulous attention to every detail, from the incredible decor and the organic garden to the outstanding staff. As a boy, Willie moved from England to the Kenyan bush with his mother and five siblings — a fascinating story he shared at dinner one evening.
Sirikoi has four tents and two cottages perfect for families. We stayed in the three-bedroom cottage, which looked like something out of an interior design magazine. Our house steward anticipated our every need: He appeared outside our door with umbrellas when it started to rain; he was waiting to take our drink orders; and he had yummy “bitings” (the Kenyan term for snacks) ready after we showered for dinner. And my daughters still talk about the homemade lemon cake served at afternoon tea.
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A 45-minute flight brought us to the heart of the famous Laikipia Plateau. On the approach to the airstrip (really just a field), our pilot had to wait for a herd of antelope to clear the way for us. We soon arrived at Sosian, a beautifully restored 1940s African ranch house run by a fantastic young couple, Simon and Rosie, and their wonderful team. Simon had as much energy as my 11-year-old daughter and made every effort to ensure the kids were having as much fun as the adults.
The lodge can accommodate up to 14 guests. We stayed in the family cottage with a private veranda.
Sosian offers a wide range of activities other than the normal safari game drives, which is ideal for families. The property is a working cattle ranch with 26 horses, including ponies for kids and novice riders. For experienced riders, a safari by horseback through this beautiful terrain is incredible.
Another highlight: tubing down the Ewaso Narok river and jumping off the waterfall into the deep pool below. Afterward, we did a quick change of clothes before heading out for a camel ride — just a typical fun-filled day at Sosian!
Next, it was on to southern Kenya and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Offbeat Mara was the most remote and traditional tented camp that we experienced, with six tents and a makeshift “bucket shower” (water for the shower is heated over a campfire and brought in a bucket). It was nice to be off the grid for a few days with no WIFI and the ability to use the charging station at the solar-powered dining tent only between 6 and 10p.
Since Offbeat Mara is located on private grounds adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, guests have the opportunity to do many things that are not allowed in the reserve, such as bush walks, night game drives with an infrared spotlight and driving off-road.
All the guides at Offbeat are from the local Maasai tribe. Our girls were mesmerized by the stories our guide Joseph told us about growing up in the Maasai Mara, walking 6 km to school past lions and other wildlife. Joseph also took us to a local school where we were able to visit the 6th and 8th grade classrooms, the same grades as my girls. It was such an authentic and unforgettable experience.
Sand River camp is located on the southernmost tip of the Masaai Mara National Reserve, bordering Tanzania. It is a prime location to view the wildebeest migration from June to September. We stayed in the huge family tent, a luxurious Out of Africa-style home base with incredibly comfortable beds and a fabulous view of the Sand River. Best of all, after a dusty day on safari, we had the choice between a massive bathtub, a rain shower or an outdoor shower from which we could view elephants feeding.
The service at Sand River was wonderful, from John, our tent butler, to Newton, our guide. Tim, a wonderful British gentleman with a tremendous amount of experience in the hospitality industry and a Wildlife PhD, oversees the staff.
Having breakfast looking across to the Tanzanian side of the river, with animals crossing, was unforgettable — a private migration! Unlike most camps, where guests eat together at scheduled times, Sand River has a eat-anytime policy.
Because tented camps come in all varieties for different budgets and can offer quite different experiences, we highly recommend working with a trusted tour company to create an experience perfect for your family. Ciao Bambino Family Vacation Advisors are well-connected with the premier kid-friendly safari operators and can make the right match for the trip you have in mind. Just send us a request for help!
Editor’s note: Sandy received a media rate from Rothschild Tours. As always, our thoughts and opinions on Ciao Bambino are our own. Photos by Sandy Pappas except where noted.
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