Episode 1- Things to do in Nairobi
Can kids go on African safaris? How old do they have to be to go on game drives? What country is best for seeing the biggest variety of animals (think: the Big 5) while also not having to take out a second mortgage to afford the trip? Are there any vaccines that are mandatory to be allowed into different countries across Africa?
We had SO many questions when we saw a too-good-to-be-true alert for cheap flights to Nairobi, Kenya, but we couldn’t seem to find much helpful information out there regarding kids on safari and we had to make a decision FAST before the flight deal disappeared (they usually only last 1-2 days!).
“Should we just book the flights and figure out the details later?” we asked each other… Being the slightly impulsive (and frugal) travelers that we are, that’s exactly what we ended up doing.
Ultimately we ended up going on a just over 2 week trip to Kenya, visiting four main locations, and having the time of our lives. If you’re looking for tips and ideas for planning your own family safari in Kenya, and would like to plan a trip yourself instead of paying an expensive travel agent to do it for you, keep reading (and make sure to Pin this page for future reference- Pins at the end!).
I’ll break down each location into its own blog, outline our itinerary, and share links to all of our safari camps, airlines for internal bush flights, a contact for a reliable, safe, and dependable taxi driver, and finally our total budget spent for the trip. If there’s anything I don’t cover, make sure to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you with more info to help you plan your family safari.
How To Find Cheap Flights
One of the main questions our friends always ask us is “How do you always find such cheap flights around the world??” There are various flight alert companies out there, but our favorite by far is Scott’s Cheap Flights. There is a free membership which will send you email alerts for all airports across the USA, to all different countries around the world, but I quickly found the free membership to be quite a tease since almost none of the alerts were for airports close to our home base, in Denver, Colorado.
The “Premium” membership costs $49USD a year, but you can customize the alerts to be about your own selected airport(s), so each time you see an email from Scott’s Cheap Flights pop up in your “Promotions” folder you KNOW it’s going to be applicable to you and fuel your wanderlust.
While I generally avoid any type of membership fees across the board (mostly because I forget I signed up to things and then end up spending way too much money on something I never use!), I thought I’d give Scott’s a chance to change my mind. Within days of signing up for the “Premium” membership I was receiving emails for all sorts of incredible flight deals across the world.
Our flights to Kenya were booked after we received an email alert from Scott’s Cheap Flights for $580USD round trip from Denver to Nairobi. Georg was in disbelief that this was round trip, since flights to Africa are usually in the $1,300-$1,500USD range for us, which is why we have never been on safari before! The $49USD “Premium” membership fee paid for itself more than a dozen times over just with one ticket. #worthit!
Here’s a referral link to Scott’s if you want to try out their “Premium” membership. If you sign up using this link you get 10% off your membership fee!
Let us know if you find a great deal somewhere fabulous!
Are Any Vaccines Required for Kenya?
One of our main concerns with traveling to Kenya was if we were going to have to become human pin cushions at a tropical disease doctor’s office and receive tons of vaccines to prepare for our trip. There were two main diseases for us to take into consideration: Yellow Fever and Malaria. Both of these are serious mosquito-born diseases and are prevalent in different parts of the world.
At first I had a hard time finding definitive answers on Yellow Fever vaccinations in regards to it being required for entrance into Kenya. However we were relieved to find out that Yellow Fever vaccinations are required for entrance into Kenya ONLY if you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is prevalent, such as if we were to combine our trip to Kenya with a trip to Tanzania as well. Since we were traveling to Kenya from the USA (where there is no Yellow Fever) we did not need to have Yellow Fever vaccines or show any sort of certificate to gain entrance into the country.
Malaria prophylaxis is available in the form of pills or tablets which need to be started before you arrive in (and for a long while after leaving) a malaria zone in order to work properly. After reading about potential side effects across different brands, and taking into consideration that we were traveling with our little ones and I was still nursing our baby, we were cautious about malaria medication. We decided to research the areas and seasons in Kenya with the lowest incidence of malaria while deciding our destinations, and then opted to coat all of our clothes in copious amounts of Permethrin and cover any remaining exposed skin in bug spray to thoroughly protect against any bites during our trip.
Permethrin is a clothing spray insect repellent which causes mosquitoes to perish upon landing on your pre-treated wardrobe. The coating lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings, which would be plenty long for our trip. We were initially a little skeptical about its effectiveness, but since it had rave reviews from thousands of people who had traveled to all sorts of mosquito filled deep jungle settings we thought we had to give it a shot.
We decided to buy two 24oz bottles on Amazon and used every last drop to coat all of our clothes (family of 4 packing somewhat minimally). We’re happy to report that between the Permethrin and bug spray on any remaining exposed skin, throughout our entire 2 week trip to Kenya each of us only had one or two bug bites- total!
Make sure to talk to your doctor for medical advice concerning yourself and your family, and reference the Center for Disease Control for medical updates around the world.
The Ultimate Kenya Family Safari Itinerary
After months of researching, we realized we could spend a year in Kenya exploring all of the beauty it has to offer, but since we only had just over 2 weeks we had to narrow things down dramatically. Since we were traveling as a family with two small children (our 3-year-old daughter and our baby boy who was going to turn 1 during our trip) we couldn’t jump around quickly from place to place like we might have years ago when it was just the two of us backpacking around the world.
We knew we needed to honor our children and how little they are by moving through our itinerary more slowly, and plan only one activity (such as one game drive or one cultural visit) per day, and allow for naps so we could hopefully avoid as many toddler melt downs as possible.
We decided to split our entire 2 weeks into 3-4 day sections for each location. Various blogs I found said that you can see “plenty” during 2 days on safari, but since we usually take twice as long to do everything between the kids, filming for our YouTube channel, and shooting for our own travel journalist photos, 2 days being sufficient for a normal person meant 4 days for us!
Our trip to Kenya was broken down into 4 main locations, in this order: Nairobi, Amboseli National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve, and Diani Beach. Then we returned to Nairobi to catch our flight home.
Nairobi: 3 days
Amboseli National Park: 4 days
Masai Mara National Reserve: 4 days
Diani Beach: 4 days
We decided to stay in Nairobi the first few days of our trip mainly so we could adjust to the time zone before going on expensive safari drives with kids who still thought it was the middle of the night and wanted to sleep instead of looking at all the animals. Our main criteria for a place to stay in Nairobi was that it was safe, located outside of the city, had a pool (so the kids could be active during the day and therefore hopefully tired at night), and close to activities such as the Giraffe Centre (Giraffe Manor!) and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage.
We found a safari camp called Anga Afrika which fulfilled all of those criteria!
Our flight landed late at night, and after over 28 hours of traveling we were happy to be picked up at the airport by our friendly taxi driver, Paul, who we ended up spending loads of time with over the next two weeks. He was reliable, polite, had fair pricing, and was a great driver (we never once felt uncomfortable with his driving, even when we got stuck on the most ridiculous used-to-be “road” five minutes from our camp in Amboseli, but that’s for the next blog…). If you do end up going to Kenya and are looking for a safe ride, we would absolutely recommend Paul. Contact him on WhatsApp: +254 724 456 778. Tell him Georg and Tara sent you!
Back to our lodging… Anga Afrika is a luxury tent camp located in a wooded Nairobi suburb called Karen, away from the hustle and bustle (read: noise!) of the city. It is a short 30-40 minute drive to each of the attractions we wanted to visit while we adjusted to the time zone. Each tent was equipped with comfortable beds (with mosquito nets), a bathroom (with hot water), a desk (perfect for Georg to be able to edit photos/videos while the kids napped), and pitchers of filtered water that were refreshed daily. The tents were arranged among banana and avocado trees, tropical flowers, and meandering pathways that lead to the restaurant/reception area and the pool. It was like a little oasis!
For the first couple days after we arrived we were the only ones staying at the camp, so we were able to negotiate a better deal for our stay than had we been there during the busy season (we traveled in January). The staff was absolutely wonderful and loved our children, and would go out of their way to make every day memorable. They would put hot water bottles under our bedding at night to keep us warm while the temperatures dropped! Before bed we would sit out at a bonfire in a clearing among the tropical trees and talk with their Maasai security guard about his family and views about the world.
Regardless of the big plans we (loosely) made to hit the ground running, jet lag got the best of us and our first full day in Nairobi was a total wash! This brings us to Day 2, where we made sure we got up early and made our way to the Giraffe Centre, located on the same grounds as the infamous Giraffe Manor. We would have loved to stay at Giraffe Manor but with rooms starting at $1,100USD just for two adults, plus more for the children, it just wasn’t in the budget. So we opted for a visit to the Giraffe Centre to see the same giraffes just on the other side of the lawn for $15USD per adult.
Upon checking in and paying the entrance fee, we were given a coconut shell filled with food pellets for the giraffes (and inevitably the resident warthogs as well, as mis-fed pellets dropped to the ground where they were eagerly waiting under the giraffes). The staff was on hand to give pointers on which giraffes were the friendliest and which ones to watch out for (some are incredibly personable and others might try to head butt you if you get too close!). They taught us how to feed them by holding the pellets out so they could wrap their sticky black tongues around it, and how to get a slobbery giraffe kiss by holding a pellet in your lips and letting them come in for a cheeky snack!
You could stay as long as you’d like, but we recommend getting there early in the morning to beat the crowds (this ended up being a trend for our entire trip). We got there first thing in the morning and had the whole place almost to ourselves. By the time we left around 11:30am it was crowded with tons of people getting their giraffe selfies and we were ready to head out for lunch.
Sheldrick Trust Elephant Orphanage
The Sheldrick Elephant Trust is perhaps best known for rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned infant elephants. To date, they have raised over 260 baby elephants after they became orphaned due to poaching, natural causes, human-wildlife conflicts, droughts, or any other traumatic incidents which left them without their mothers.
The orphanage is only open for ONE HOUR per day, from 11am-12pm. We made sure to get there about 45 minutes early to stand in line so we could get a prime spot in the group viewing area and hopefully be able to touch the babies as they walked by! Getting there 45 minutes early had us about 30 people back from the front of the line, it was crazy how crowded it already was, and even crazier how many more people filed in behind us. When they opened the gates it was like a mini stampede with everyone rushing to go see the elephants for the next 60 minutes.
After the babies were introduced and sucked down huge bottles of milk, they walked around the viewing area, playing with sticks, rolling around on the dusty red ground, and getting wonderfully dirty as all elephant babies should.
We had read that if we adopted an orphan baby elephant (for $50USD per year) we could come back for a more private visit later on in the afternoon to see the babies running back from the fields to their pens to have their dinner, getting their blankets put on, and being put to bed with their caretakers (who sleep in their pens with them and feed the babies every 3 hours throughout the night). We weren’t about to pass up that opportunity for more interactions with the baby elephants, so before the group visit was over we had our daughter choose which elephant she would adopt and she picked a baby named Kiasa (see her profile here if you’d like to sponsor her too). The staff chuckled at her choice and said Kiasa is a cheeky little elephant but is a sweet caretaker to the younger babies… Such an appropriate choice for our daughter to choose as that’s exactly how I’d describe her as well!
Our visit to the Sheldrick Trust Elephant Orphanage was the most wonderful way to end our stay in Nairobi, and our daughter still says that it was her favorite part of our whole trip to Kenya.
The following day we left Nairobi for the next leg of our trip, Amboseli National Park, to find elephants in the shadow of the towering Mount Kilimanjaro… Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get a notification when we post the next part of our Kenya trip. We’ll take you on safari in Amboseli, Masai Mara, then finally head to the Diani Beach!
If you found this information useful, please consider purchasing through the affiliate links provided throughout the blog post. Thanks and see you in Amboseli.