How to Take Children on an African Safari
Despite all the warnings, a trip to Tanzania with a toddler and an 8-year-old turned out to be a dream vacation for the whole family
A LITTLE AFTER dawn, our safari guide headed to the less-explored eastern part of Serengeti National Park. He slowed the Toyota Land Cruiser at a patch of green that interrupted the straw-colored Tanzanian landscape, so barren that it made our mouths feel dry.
“There’s a hyena under that tree,” he said.
My husband, Nitin, and I stood up in the vehicle and instinctively shushed our groggy children, Naya and Riya, then ages 8 and 1. Looking through binoculars at the tree, we saw only a blur.
“Hey!” the baby shouted. “Hello? Hello?” “Shhhhhh!” we scolded.
And suddenly, there was the hyena—headed straight for us. Creatures like these see young animals (including humans) as easy prey; once you get over the creepy factor, this can make for a cool wildlife-viewing experience—at least from the relative safety of a getaway car.
Months earlier, when we’d told friends that we planned to take our children to Africa, they mostly admonished us. The water’s not safe. The bugs are vicious. The kids will get bored on long drives. They won’t remember any of it.
Their doubts only emboldened us. We’d lived in India through my eldest daughter’s toddler years and considered ourselves seasoned travelers. The three of us horsebacked across Kashmir, rode elephants into the grasslands of Assam, took a palanquin into the caves of Ajanta. Then, in 2008, we moved back to the U.S. We bought a house. We had a second child. Vacations became three-day weekends in the Catskills or Berkshires, beach rentals up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Our Facebook photos started to look like everyone else’s.
I missed adventure and wanted to expose my children to more. Tanzania felt like a logical destination. Its pleasant dry season runs from June through October, overlapping with the kids’ summer holiday. My college roommate lives in Dar es Salaam, so we had an in-country contact in case of an emergency.
African safaris are attracting a lot more families these days, including some with very young children, according to tour operators. When planning our trip, which included stops in Istanbul and Zanzibar, I requested safari quarters where little ones would be welcome (many lodges bar children under 12). To our surprise, we were offered high chairs, baby cots and special kid-friendly meals as we made our way around Tanzania.
We started in Tanzania’s most populous city, Dar es Salaam, took a day to acclimate and continued to Kilimanjaro, where we embarked on six days of safari. The Serengeti ecosystem, which straddles Tanzania and Kenya, is known for the largest migration of mammals in the world, but they were on the Kenyan side by the time we arrived. We stuck mostly to the central Serengeti to catch better views of lions; we saw plenty of zebras and wildebeest in the lesser-known Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater, an immense inactive volcano caldera, gave us a chance to see all these animals in one place. Feeling cramped from days of driving, we also took a memorable hike around its rim.
Safaris, it turns out, are a dream vacation with and for kids. There is nothing like the amazement on a child’s face when giraffes and zebras are so close that you can smell them. Teachable moments abound—about nature and evolution, power and the world order. And though safari travel tends to be luxurious and sheltered from reality, having children along facilitates interaction with locals. Everywhere we went, Tanzanians wanted to hold our baby, pinch her cheeks, make her laugh. They gave our older child candy and pats on the head and encouraged her attempts to speak Swahili.
THE LOWDOWN: SAFARI WITH KIDS IN TANZANIA’S SERENGETI
Getting There: Dar es Salaam and Nairobi are the most common entry points for visitors to the Serengeti. From there, you can take shorter flights to Arusha, Kilimanjaro or Seronera to get closer to the parks. Visas can be purchased for cash upon arrival ($100) but if you want to avoid lines, do it in the U.S.
Staying There: Tour operators generally book safari lodging, and Duma Explorer planned our trip (dumaexplorer.com). In Arusha, Arumeru River Lodge is a serviceable first or last stop, with great food and views (from about $270 a night, arumerulodge.com). Its restaurant has high chairs and will accommodate children’s whims. Rhino Lodge near Ngorongoro Crater is bare-bones, but animals wander right onto the property in the morning and evening (from about $270 a night, including meals, ngorongoro.cc). Tarangire Safari Lodge, inside Tarangire National Park, recently added a spa, with a massage table that overlooks the river (from about $400 a night, including meals, tarangiresafarilodge.com). Duma Explorer’s tented Chaka Camp in the Serengeti offers king-size beds, hot showers and private porches (from about $690 a night, including meals, chakacamp.com).
Eating There: In tent lodges, cooks whip up whatever is freshest. You can request special meals for children, such as pasta or rice. Maasai-raised beef is not to be missed. Pack nonperishable snacks for long car rides; tour operators provide bottled water.
Spending There: Tanzania is largely a cash economy, so bring at least $1,000 for tips, souvenirs and incidentals, or plan to stop at ATMs outside the park entrances.
Taking Children Along: Consult your pediatrician about vaccinations and medications. The Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a car seat that turns into a stroller, is a good investment for any globe-trotting family ($330, lillygold.com).
During a hike through a village outside Arusha, the largest city in northern Tanzania, the baby delighted in all the attention. “Mtoto, mtoto,” children chanted, using the Swahili word for baby as they ran after us and colobus monkeys swung over our heads. Our eldest grew silent when the children begged for her sunglasses and stroked her skin as if to determine if it was different from theirs. Later, at dinner, we reminded her that the poverty she had witnessed was much more the norm than the Tanzania we saw on safari.
Guidebooks warned of something else I might have to discuss with the children: Mating, notably among the lions. We didn’t see any mating, but in July, the landscape of short brown grass exposes other primal behaviors. One day in the Serengeti, we came upon a pride of lions, and watched them for nearly an hour. My youngest stared at the lioness, just steps from her car seat. The eldest fiddled with the binoculars.
When the lioness started walking differently, Ebeneezer Emanuel, the same guide who showed us the hyena, warned that we might be about to see a kill. He gestured at the children as if to ask, “Is that OK?” We nodded.
The lioness crept up behind a pack of dancing gazelles and waited. We waited. I prayed my children would stay quiet. And she pounced. A baby gazelle was dragged under a tree to be eaten.
“So the female lions are stronger?” my daughter asked Ebeneezer.
“Yes,” he said. “They are much better hunters.”
“That is so cool.”
Seeing the kill inspired more serious dinnertime conversation. “How can the gazelles dance around so much knowing a lion might eat them at anytime?” my daughter wondered.
“Perhaps that is precisely why they let themselves be so happy,” I said.
Between game drives, we returned to our lodge or tent and let the girls run around and get out their own wild sides. I had packed an iPad loaded with kids’ videos in case they grew restless, but we never needed it; the children were much happier watching natural dramas unfold before them.
Also unnecessary were the dozens of packets of instant macaroni and cheese we’d brought. As my daughters devoured roast chicken and cassava stew, I felt sheepish for brushing off our friends’ skepticism when I’d clearly had a healthy dose of it myself.
Here are the 20 fascinating places that prove that Kenya is a beautiful country:
1. Diani Beach
One of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Diani Beach is located on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. Diani Beach is an ideal getaway at its finest. The beach offers visitors plenty activities to enjoy or you can spend your time admiring the scenery it offers. The view is breath-taking!
2. Mida Creek
Mida Creek is located on the Malindi-Watamu coastline; it’s a massive tidal inlet of sand, lined with mangrove forest. The creek offers several exciting activities such as fishing, birdwatching, boat trips, mangrove walks and many more. In fact, a day is not enough to do and see all that is on offer in this scenic part of Kenya.
3. Kisumu Impala Sanctuary
Kisumu Impala Sanctuary is a located 3 Km from Kisumu City. The Sanctuary lies on the shores of Lake Victoria. There are quite a lot of things to enliven and thrill nature-lovers here; besides, if you love wildlife, you will appreciate the both the free ranging and captive animals in the sanctuary. Apart from that, Kisumu Impala Sanctuary is a well-preserved natural beauty, a fascinating place to be!
4. Mahali Mzuri
Mahali Mzuri is an authentic luxury camp, located in a surrounding packed with amazing wildlife, scenic landscape and great ambience. Just in case you don’t know,is Sir Richard Branson’s Kenyan Safari Camp, located within Maasai Mara Environs. The camp boasts a lot of outdoor activities and a vibrant wildlife scene.
5. Masai Mara National Reserve
This is the best place to get close to the wild! If you want to see wildlife up-close and personal, Masaai Mara is a great safari destination for that. The National Reserve is teeming with the ‘big 5′ and other amazing animal species. Nature, wonderful wildlife and picturesque landscape can all be found here. Its natural beauty keeps guests returning every year.
6. Lamu Island
Photo Source: Terri O’Sullivan on
While Lamu Island entices many tourists and local visitors, the main attractions here are the natural beauty the island exhibits and its calm atmosphere. From Lamu’s history and culture to its scenic beaches, you’ll be in awe of what this island has to offer.
7. Chyulu Hills
Photo Source: Peter Steward on
To experience some of the most inspiring views Kenya has to offer, head to Chyulu Hills.Chyulu Hills is located in Eastern Kenya, a mountain range that forms a 100Km long volcanic field. This destination is one of the prettiest places in Kenya, seeing the enchanted land of black frozen lava speckled with flaring poker trees is really something special.
8. Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is the top tourist attraction in Kenya. It’s a beauty to behold! Here, you will find some of the largest, deepest and oldest lakes in the world. The valley also hosts some volcanic mountains. The valley offers stunning views and you will surely see many photo-worthy panoramas.
9. Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya is one of the most famous mountains in the world. It is the highest mountain in Kenya and second-highest in Africa. It is about 5199 metres above sea level. The mountain has beautiful snow-capped peaks that make it stand out and very attractive. If you love adventurous climbing and trekking, this is the best destination to explore.
Kapsower is a beautiful small town located in Rift Valley Province, Kenya. It’s a picture-perfect town; filled with quaint charm, crisp breeze and amazing scenic beauty. It’s one of the best places to explore the most breathtaking landscapes and unique attractions such as charming flowing rivers, herds of cows and gorgeous hills.
11. Uhuru Gardens
Uhuru Gardens is a fascinating urban haven located in Nairobi. Beautiful lanscape and architecture, lush plantations and relaxing atmosphere are the defining elements of Uhuru garden.
12. Shanzu Beach
Shanzu Beach is located on the Indian Ocean in Mombasa, an ideal place for an unforgettable coast adventure. The beach is known for its beautiful shores, spectacular views, towering palm trees, and pristine white sands. There are several accommodation located next to the beach. Great place to spend a memorable vacation!
13. Meru National Park
Meru National Park is located 350km from Nairobi, east of Meru. The Mational park is one of the most popular and beautiful parks in Kenya. It is home to several animal species such as Leopard, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Cheetah and many others. The park offers a authentic wilderness atmosphere, scenic landscapes and amazing wildlife.
14. Giraffe Manor
Giraffe Manor offers a unique experience when it comes to luxury accommodation. The Manor is one of the best places to see beautiful and graceful creatures such as Giraffes in Kenya. The Manor is home to Rothschild Giraffes, which are seen roaming around the surroundings. It’s such a beautiful experience!
15. Ol Pejeta Conservancy
The vast Conservancy lures visitors from around the country in search of unforgettable adventures. Theis located in Nanyuki, between the foothills of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. The conservancy is home to the ‘Big Five’ and offers a scenic landscape, wildlife ambiance an exciting experience.
16. Rolf’s Place
Rolfs Place’s opportunities for exciting adventure are enough to thrill any visitor. It’s a leopard cliff Mansion built like a medieval fortress, located just 25 minutes from Nairobi.offers a panoramic view of Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and Ngong Hills. It also has some neighbouring parks that offer visitor opportunities to experience wildlife.
17. Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru is one of the most beautiful lakes in Kenya. The lake is located in Lake Nakuru National Park and lies in the Rift Valley of Kenya. The lake is renowned as a location of the beautiful bird species – loads of fuchsia pink flamingoes.
18. The Coral Gardens of Wasini
The Wasini Coral Gardens, located in Wasini Island, about 100 km south of Mombasa. The garden is a surrounded by mangrove forest, beautiful landscape and offers amazing views. It offers several activities that will give you a unique experience.
19. Hell’s Gate National Park
Hell’s Gate National Park is located North West of Nairobi. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, bird species. Hell’s Gate National Park has exciting attractions and activities such as Hot Springs, The Olkaria Geothermal Station, The Mervym Carnelley Raptor Hide, Fisher’s Tower and many others.
20. The Aberdares
Photo Source: Safarilanga
The Aberdares’ beauty is not something we can ignore. The 160km long mountain range of plateau offers some of the best mountain views in the country. The Aberdare range is a beautiful place and its full of wonder.
Is there any fascinating places in Africa you would like us to know about? Share your experience with us – firstname.lastname@example.org
How to locate a lost travelling companion
If you find yourself alone in a foreign country or a strange place instead of surrounded by the friends and family you set off with, don’t panic – these tips will have you reunited in no time
When you’re on holiday, getting lost is half the fun. Wandering around a strange city and stumbling upon a picturesque little street or charming courtyard is the kind of thing that tempts us out of our cosy homes in the first place.
But if you’re part of a group, and especially if you’re part of a smallish group, getting unexpectedly separated from the rest of your gang can be an unsettling experience.
It’s especially worrying when you’re travelling with children, who may not be carrying mobile phones and can’t therefore call you to explain that they’ve just found an interesting little shop selling salty caramel waffles or something.
Good preparation can cater for most eventualities, but fate always has a way of catching you out. Here are a few tips to reunite you with your travelling companions.
Get on up
If you’re in a crowded place, a busy shopping centre or theme park, you need to get as high up as possible. Not only will you be more visible to your lost pal, but you have more chance of catching sight of them.
No handy fountain, chair or ornamental wall to stand on? Seek out the tallest person you can see and ask them for their help. Describe your lost friend or …
A picture is worth a thousand words.
You’re on holiday. Chances are your phone or digital camera has a recent picture of the person you’re looking for. Show it to your new tall friend.
If your companion has been missing for a while, or if they’re very young, then you’ll want to speak to the local police; taking along a recent picture of the person wearing the clothes they had on when they went missing would be very helpful, especially if there’s a language barrier.
Find the centre
If there’s a major landmark, some sort of Eiffel Tower for example, or a Taj Mahal perhaps, head for it. Is there a sign pointing to the Tourist Information Office?
While it might be tempting to stand still and let the person come back to you, you might be in for a long wait if they’ve had the same idea. Heading for an easily recognisable landmark is not only likely to bring you back to your pal, it will also put you near police and other sources of aid if you’re still having no luck.
Go with the flow
Young children, dogs, and easily distracted adults always follow the path of least resistance. If you’re somewhere without obvious landmarks to seek out, there’s a better-than-average chance that the wanderer went in the direction that the wind’s blowing.
As in any crisis situation, it’s hard to resist the natural temptation to panic. But keep a cool head, think about the psychology of your quarry, and you should be enjoying those salty caramel waffles together in no time.
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