For most families, Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. A safari vacation is an opportunity to get away from it all and have true quality time together experiencing the ultimate family adventure.
We just spent 12 days in Kenya with the award-winning Rothschild Safaris, and learned firsthand what makes an African safari so special and why this boutique tour operator is perfect for families. The team at Rothschild put together an itinerary for our family that was the perfect mix of cultural and educational experiences and just plain fun.
Why is Africa such a magical destination with kids? For me, it is the sense of space and the expansive raw landscapes, untouched by humankind and seemingly removed from civilization. Most lodge and camp accommodations are unfenced and animals can roam the property. We will never forget our first safety briefing, where we were told not to leave our luxury tent after dark without an escort, or our first night in the bush listening to the chorus of animals.
Kenya is doing a phenomenal job of protecting and preserving its vast natural resources for the world to enjoy. This is one of Africa’s premier destinations for the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo). Yet these mammalian icons represent a mere fraction of what Kenya has to offer.
A family-friendly tour operator is a must for a smooth experience. Rothschild Safaris seamlessly coordinated our itinerary and ground arrangements, including drivers, in-country flights, and accommodations.
Each of Rothschild’s camps offers game drives, bush breakfasts, picnic lunches and afternoon tea, and most have pools. Some camps offer unique activities such as camel rides, swimming in a waterfall, tubing, bush walks, safari on horseback, and cultural excursions such as a school or village visit.
Upon your arrival at each camp, you can make specific plans with the camp manager. You are also introduced to your guide, who is assigned to you for the duration of your stay — which is great because you really get to know each other.
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A typical safari day begins with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. We enjoyed the daily ritual of sitting on the deck outside our tent, sipping hot chocolate and coffee delivered by the camp staff while watching the sunrise. The only noise pollution in Kenya in the morning is that of the animals waking.
After returning from a morning game drive, families can enjoy lunch at the camp and an activity, or just spend a leisurely afternoon by the pool with a book. If you are staying within a private reserve, you may decide to go on a night drive, where the guides shine red spotlights towards the wildlife. Or you might simply go on a late afternoon “sundowner,” where your guide takes you to a picturesque spot to watch the sunset over drinks and “bitings” (canapes).
The more we expose our children to the living conditions in other parts of the world, the more we appreciate how lucky we are. Visiting a village of the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya was an eye-opening experience for all of us. Given our technology-driven world, it was fascinating to see how they live without any modern conveniences. Watching my kids’ reactions as these village kids saw their pictures on an iPhone for the first time was amazing.
While tubing down the river in Laikipia, we spotted two young village boys with spears herding their cattle. They watched us curiously from across the bank — we were mutually intrigued by each other. I’m sure they wondered what these strange people were doing floating by.
We also visited a local school, but I’ll save those details for another post, because there is so much to tell.
Going on an African safari, especially for the first time, is thrilling, and experiencing this together as a family will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. It sometimes helps to disconnect to reconnect. Distractions are not an issue since there is little or no WIFI or cell reception. Our daughters still talk about having to tell the camp manager at one camp when they wanted to shower, so the staff could set up a bucket shower heated by the campfire.
Flying in and out of Nairobi is like traveling through other international airports: Be aware of your surroundings. We felt safe at all times and found the locals to be very welcoming and kind.
There is either bottled or treated water at all lodges. The food made in the camps we visited was high-quality and washed with treated water. My family ate the fruits and vegetables and had no stomach issues. There are malaria-free areas in eastern Africa; families should discuss any health concerns with a travel physician before the trip.
We connected through Dubai to Nairobi. Although this was not the most direct route, the connection allowed us to land in Nairobi in time to enjoy afternoon tea with the giraffes at Giraffe Manor. Many airlines connect through Europe and land in Nairobi in late evening. There will be a direct flight New York to Nairobi beginning in spring 2016.
The in-country flights that took us from camp to camp were part of the adventure. My younger daughter even got the chance of a lifetime to take a turn as co-pilot.
We experienced an incredible amount in our 10-day Kenya itinerary, but there is so much to see in Africa … we can’t wait to go back! Stay tuned for more details on our Ciao Bambino Kid-tastic Family Safari.
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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.
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