Kenya for Families

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Kenya for Families
Kenya fires the imaginations of young and old. Families share each other's joy on safari: Parents arrive knowing that children will be awed by wildlife but are often surprised by how kids warm to—and learn from—Kenya's many cultures.
By Harriet Constable, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Stephanie L. Church
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    Picking Your Park
    A safari is a chance to see awesome animals on their own turf, but it also involves long hours, lots of dust, and plenty of discomfort. Families with kids should thus choose safari parks wisely. The Masai Mara National Reserve rarely disappoints, thanks to its compact size and density of wildlife; even short game drives can yield sightings of major predators before kids begin asking, "Where's the bathroom?" The Nairobi National Park lies just on the edge of the city center: Filled with wildlife from rhino to lions, hippos, and hyena, it offers much to keep kids interested. There are also lots of picnic areas, and visitors can break up the day with a visit to Ololo Lodge for a swim.
    Photo by Stephanie L. Church
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    Breakfast with Giraffes
    Giraffe Manor, located in Nairobi, claims to be "the only hotel in the world where you can eat breakfast with a giraffe." And indeed, these graceful creatures feel very much at home, lowering their long necks toward the dining room table for a snack and a cuddle—much to the delight of children. A herd of endangered Rothschild's giraffes strolls the property's 140 acres, along with groups of boisterous warthogs. After watching their antics, families can cross the lawn to the adjacent Giraffe Centre for a guided walk through its sanctuary and to learn about conservation efforts.
    Photo courtesy of The Safari Collection
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    An Elephant Orphanage
    For decades the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located within Nairobi, has hand-reared orphaned elephants and rhinos and then successfully reintroduced them to the wild. Children and families are encouraged to visit the elephant orphanage between the hours of 11 a.m. and noon to watch keepers bottle-feed the eager orphans and learn each animal's story. Families who are besotted with the playful pachyderms have the option of supporting the trust's efforts by adopting one of the nursery's residents for a $50 annual fee.
    Photo by Karanja Njiiri
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    Camps for Kids
    Many safari camps have minimum age restrictions, limiting family access. But some camps specifically encourage family travel, both through thoughtful design and extensive activities. El Karama Eco Lodge in Laikipia is family-friendly, with the owners and their two young daughters living on site. There's also no age restriction on the camping experience in the Ngare Ndare Forest, where elephants sometimes pass under the suspended canopy walkway. After spending the night on a tree platform in the wilderness, older children (and playful adults) can leap from great heights into nearby rock pools.
    Photo by Sandra van der Steen/age fotostock
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    Happy Hatchlings
    Step inside a glass-bottomed boat and peer into the clear waters of Watamu, where sea turtles swim lazily alongside darting schools of tropical fish. Back on land, a population of these turtles nest and hatch each year on the parks' white-sand beaches. Kids interested in conservation will want to visit Watamu Turtle Watch, a local Ocean Trust project designed to protect the threatened turtles, involve the community in their care, and educate visitors. During hatching season, volunteers are welcome to watch thousands of turtles head to the sea or to lend a hand with the conservation efforts.
    Photo by Didier Forray/age fotostock
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    Magical, Mystical Lamu
    Serene and sun-kissed, the Lamu archipelago feels like it's on another planet than Kenya's dusty safari track. The six glittering islands in the Indian Ocean are a quintessential introduction to a Swahili culture that's been enriched through centuries of Afro-Arab trade. At the Lamu Museum, visitors admire displays of the region's delicately carved doors and marvel at massive ceremonial horns. The Swahili House Museum contains a historical re-creation of a family home during the height of the Swahili empire. After soaking up the culture, families can reward patient kids by hiring a captain to negotiate the waves in a traditional dhow.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    A Safari Scavenger Hunt
    Few earthly experiences are more exhilarating than catching your first glimpse of a Big Five animal. Once a supreme hunting trophy, these magnificent five species—elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and rhino—now draw families into Kenya's national parks. Bring binoculars and a kid-friendly field guide for an unforgettable scavenger hunt. Game-rich areas like the Masai Mara National Reserve are an obvious pick. Once kids have gleefully checked each Big Five box, however, consider heading to Lake Nakuru for flamingo sightings or Lake Naivsaha to ogle the hippos.
    Photo by Kelly Campbell
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    Rafting the Rivers
    Kenya's white-water rafting is world-renowned, so if you're vacationing with older kids or teenagers this activity is sure to keep them amused. Rafting takes place on the Mathioya, Tana, or Athi rivers, where adventurers take to the waters to twist, turn, and splash down steep rapids. At some points of the year the rivers are too low to raft on, but a range of other activities are available, from swimming to attempting to sail under the cascade of a 50-foot waterfall.
    Courtesy Savage Wilderness