From my daughter’s first safari experience to the gorgeous Indian Ocean coast, our trip to Kenya instantly became one of our most memorable family travel experiences – and one which took a lot of planning, as my tips for visiting Kenya with kids show.
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From working out the essentials to pack for a Kenya family holiday to working out an itinerary (especially with a relatively short time to spend in the country), the practicalities like visas and antimalarial tablets to squeezing in the fun stuff, this isn’t a trip where you can just grab your passport and go.
At least, I certainly wouldn’t have been happy doing that! But every moment of planning was worth it: this really is a fabulous country for families – so if you’re dreaming of an escape to Africa, check out my tips for visiting Kenya with kids in this essential guide.
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Before you go
While there’s nothing too complicated to sort out when it comes to the essential Kenya checklist of paperwork, healthcare and money, you do need to get planning a little way in advance.
You can’t get visas on arrival so make sure you apply for yours beforehand – I was told it should take around 48 hours, but to allow around two weeks to be on the safe side. In the end, mine was approved the same day.
The best way to apply is through the official Kenya e-visa portal – just sign up for an account, upload the various documents and photo, pay and you can track your application online. A single entry visa for tourists currently costs $51.
You’ll also need some proof of return flight and the hotel where you’re staying, or a travel itinerary from a tour operator – your standard confirmation should be fine. The application process is the same for both the UK and the US at present, as well as most European countries.
Children under 16 from these countries do not need to have a visa (though you will need to add their details to your application).
Make sure you print the visa out to show at flight check-in and on arrival in Kenya.
Check an official site like FitForTravel for the latest information on vaccinations required, but as well as the usual course recommended for life in the UK, you’re advised to ensure your vaccinations for Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and Tetanus are up to date or arrange a booster jab.
A yellow fever certificate isn’t needed unless you’re coming from a country where it’s prevalent.
You’ll also need anti-malarial tablets if you’re visiting any part of the country outside Nairobi (and its immediate surroundings).
During our visit, there was a choice of three different antimalarials which were suitable, but always check the latest advice. We tend to take Malarone (Atovaquone/Proguanil) as it has the shortest course and often fewer side effects – although in the interests of full disclosure, I did have more problems this time for some reason.
Despite this, I strongly strongly recommend you do always take antimalarial tablets – malaria itself is significantly worse, and mosquito repellent/nets/long sleeves alone are not enough
One recommendation is to take the tablet with a high-fat meal (or eg dairy products) and do take them at the same time each day.
There is also a paediatric option, with the dosage depending on your child’s weight. If, like my daughter, your kids are not fans of tablets, it’s well worth taking something to disguise the small tablet.
We packed a small tub of Biscoff spread (which has the advantage of completely hiding the crushed tablets, as well as tasting nice!) – I also added a couple of teaspoons to crush the tablets up. These did get queried at the airport X-ray of one internal flight (although not for any of the others) so better to keep those in hold luggage.
Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and tourist areas, but it’s still well worth having some cash.
US dollars are also widely accepted so it’s a good idea to bring some with you – there is also an ATM to withdraw dollars at Jomo Kenyatta international airport in Nairobi, although as they’re easy to get in advance, you can tick one thing off the list before arrival.
It’s also a good plan to have some Kenyan Shillings for during your trip. While you can get these outside Kenya, they’re not as easily available and the exchange rate isn’t always great, so it’s simplest to pick these up on arrival.
There’s an ATM at the airport in Nairobi where you can withdraw these before exiting to baggage reclaim. Do check the approximate exchange rate beforehand and don’t try to do as I did after our long flight, and blearily attempt to withdraw 200 shillings… which is around £1.50!
These are useful for tipping, for buying food at Wilson airport if you’re waiting for internal flights, as well as for picking up souvenirs. You’re unlikely to need a huge amount though.
What to pack
While a lot of your family packing list will look the same as for any hot weather/beach holiday, there are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to your packing list for Kenya with kids.
Bear in mind too, that while you might have a generous weight allowance for international flights, you’ll probably be limited when it comes to any internal flights, as well as needing soft-sided bags or cases.
What colours to pack for Kenya?
Avoid blue (and black) clothing on safari as this can attract tsetse flies – wearing insect repellent should keep them at bay, but better not to give these nasty insects any added incentive to check you out.
Bright colours can also make you more visible to the animals, so muted shades are better – although having said that, our guide wore traditional Maasai patterns including red and vibrant purple as well as neutrals, so don’t feel you have to replace your entire wardrobe. Khaki is always good though.
Pack warm clothes for safari
It sounds counter-intuitive to pack something warm for your Kenya safari – given temperatures hit the mid to high 30s during our stay, we certainly weren’t cold by lunchtime.
But it can be unexpectedly cool first thing, and with our morning game drive starting at around 6.30am – as for most people on a guided safari – a hoody and long trousers came in very handy.
With open windows in our Toyota Landcruiser, there was a breeze as we drove along too, which added an extra chill. Our guide did have ponchos to borrow, but it’s best to bring your own layers.
Check if you need rainwear
There are usually two main rainy seasons during the year in Kenya – the ‘short rains’ for a few weeks during November and December, then the ‘long rains’ from April to early June (sometimes at the end of March as well).
January and February could see occasional showers, although climate change means the weather is tending to get drier rather than wetter at present, and we only had one 10-second shower (quite literally) during our week in Kenya in February.
Travelling during the height of the rainy season is not recommended but if you’re visiting at the start or end of one of the rainy periods, it’s worth packing accordingly with a lightweight raincoat that can be bundled up into a bag.
Take closed toe sandals
When you’re out in the bush, it’s also worth taking closed-toe sandals, especially for after dark in case of any stinging insects or scorpions.
Depending where you stay, this may not be essential – for two days in our tented camp, where we were only venturing to and from the restaurant after dark, we managed fine without.
We love the range of kids sandals from Keen, which includes closed-toe options. Not too hot, they’re still protective and very hard-wearing.
First aid kit & toiletries
I never travel without a first aid kit, and that goes double if you’re planning a safari in Kenya with kids.
While there will be essentials available at tented camps, the options for children will be more limited – and if you discover you need a dose of Calpol, it’s not as if you can nip to the nearest pharmacy.
Check out my complete family and child first aid kit list of essentials to pack
As well as the usual essential medical supplies, you’ll need high-strength insect repellent too.
Not all the range is suitable for all ages so do check before buying though. However, the Boots Repel roll-on is fine for children aged 2+ and is also maximum strength – while my daughter was not a fan of putting it on, it did mean she avoided getting many bites.
You’ll also need a high-strength SPF. I’m a big fan of the Ultrasun range and even in the high temperatures, including lots of time in the water, my fair-skinned daughter didn’t burn.
Read my full review of the Ultrasun range including Ultrasun Kids SPF50 here
Essentials for a safari in Kenya with kids
While there’s nothing like seeing Africa’s amazing animals in the wild on safari, it does involve a fair bit of driving around and often some waiting.
Our experience exploring the Naboisho Conservancy in the Masai Mara was fabulous as there seemed to be something to see around every corner, but it still pays to have a few essentials to keep kids engaged,
Firstly, binoculars: however good your camera, there’s nothing like a great pair of binoculars – we were recommended 10 x 40 strength (minimum), and this pair of bird-watching binoculars were perfect.
Not too heavy – both for my daughter to keep them around her neck, but also for weight restrictions on internal flights – they come in their own little case, and won’t break the bank.
We also packed this great East Africa animal spotting chart – not only did it keep her entertained crossing off all the species we saw, it was great for learning a bit more about the animals which are found in east Africa. Plus a nice little souvenir of our trip.
Do also pack a decent camera if you have one – phone cameras are amazing these days, but you don’t get the kind of zoom you’ll need a lot of the time on safari.
If you’ve got a DSLR gathering dust, as I had, hunt it out and make sure you have a spare memory card and battery, or consider packing your charger if your camp has electricity. If you have a good zoom lens, so much the better.
It’s also worth packing your kids’ cameras if they have one. The quality might not be amazing, but children will love being able to snap away as well.
Not all camps will have electricity in the tents (though ours had lots of sockets, electricty and WiFi) and you don’t want your camera phone running out of battery just as a lion appears! I also take a 3-port USB plug charger so if there is a socket, you can charge everything in one go.
Bear in mind that if you’re taking internal flights, the small planes usually have a 15kg per person weight allowance (including hand luggage) and you have to take a soft sided case or bag. The FlyMax range has expandable versions which aren’t too heavy.
Other packing essentials for Kenya with kids
Bring a reusable bottle for water – firstly, you need to ensure that everyone is drinking enough to stave off dehydration (although don’t drink the tap water).
Kenya has banned single-use plastic bags, but with plastic pollution becoming an increasing problem world wide, it’s good to avoid adding to the plastic bottle waste where you can.
A lot of hotels are switching to glass, which is great but not so good to carry around so having your own is much easier. I like the Chilly’s range as it helps it stay cool, isn’t too heavy and my elephant print bottle fitted right in!
If you’re planning to head to the coast and do some snorkelling – and there are great options for kids there – it’s also a good plan to take your own snorkel. My daughter uses the Subea Easybreath all-in-one snorkel and mask from Decathlon.
Most snorkelling boat tours will provide their own but they’ll be adult size only (and you won’t get fins either).
Getting around Kenya with kids
Kenya is the world’s 48th largest country by area – around 28 times the size of Wales or the state of New Jersey, so unless you have time to spare (and kids who are happy with long drives), you’re likely to be taking some internal flights to help you get around.
However if you start your trip in Nairobi, as we did, you’ll need a way to get around the city to explore first. Nairobi traffic definitely isn’t something you want to attempt unless you’re accustomed to it, so the best option is to arrange a driver – your hotel can normally advise if you don’t have another recommendation.
It’s easy to prebook an airport transfer in advance too
There are also self-drive options for a family safari but with limited time, we found that visiting with an experienced safari guide was much better.
For starters, all the guides will talk to each other to find the latest and best sightings so you’re not driving around wondering where everything is, they know how to stay safe, and they know what to expect from the animals – I know we wouldn’t have spotted our leopard without our guide.
While some areas will have tracks to drive on, some need proper off-road vehicles as well. Not all national parks and conservancies will allow you to self-drive, and those which do will have limits on the amount of time you can spend inside – scroll down to read the rest of my tips on a safari in Kenya with kids.
There are several companies offering internal flights in Kenya, including the memorably named Jambojet, as well as Safari Link who we used for our flights. These connected Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the various camps in the Mara, as well as down to the coast at Malindi and Diani.
For the shorter routes around the Mara, expect them to be pretty small – ideal for hopping between the small airstrips, but often bumpy and noisy so nervous fliers need to be aware.
Don’t necessarily expect them to run to time or timetable – our 11am flight stopping at various other Mara camps before heading to Nairobi ended up arriving over 30 minutes late and going direct. A hakuna matata attitude is definitely a good approach!
The end result was pretty much the same, but it’s a good idea not to book a short connection – though the Safarilink area at Wilson airport is very compact.
Be ready to point out your hold luggage as you board too, so there’s little chance of it going astray as you literally watch it being loaded and unloaded. Your bags must be soft sided and both your hold and hand luggage will be weighed so don’t exceed the 15kg per person maximum.
How to plan your Kenya itinerary
From bucket list events like the Great Migration to game reserves galore, the chance to discover Kenyan culture and relax by the Indian Ocean, you won’t be short of ideas to fill a family holiday in Kenya.
But if you’re short of time, you can pack a surprising amount into a week’s stay. We had around 8 days in total, including flying time, for our February half-term escape and managed to fit in a brief stop in Nairobi, 48 hours on safari and time at the coast in Watamu.
I’d have very happily have spent longer, especially with a few more days at the coast at the end, or adding in some of the wildlife of northern Kenya if I had had more time. Don’t rule it out if you’re looking for a week’s winter sun though.
While I often plan our trips independently, it can pay to work with a specialist tour operator for a trip like this too, especially if it’s your first safari or you haven’t visited Africa much.
Ours was arranged with Far & Wild Travel, who are Africa specialists, had a great app (Vamoos) to keep all the information and tips in one place, and have an emphasis on sustainability, helping you see the carbon footprint of your trip (and how to offset this).
For more inspiration on things to do in Kenya with kids, check out the Lonely Planet Guide to Kenya
If you’re flying internationally, you’ll start your trip in Nairobi, so while you could jet straight out again, it’s well worth having a day in Nairobi to start the trip.
Bear in mind that traffic in Nairobi can often be bad, although a new Expressway is easing the jams, so don’t try to pack too much in if you’re limited on time.
Travelling from the UK there are overnight flights which get you to Nairobi first thing in the morning, so it’s good to have the option of a quick nap and at least an afternoon to explore before moving on the following day.
Check out my review of a stay at Hemingways Nairobi with kids
Other international flights (such as ours with Kenya Airways) land early evening, with just enough time for dinner and bed. While you could fly straight out the next morning, there’s plenty to see in the capital – it’s the only city in the world with a national park on its doorstep, for starters.
You can take a guided tour of the national park, if you want a taste of safari without an additional stop (or the cost). A private tour of Nairobi National Park can also be a good option if you’re visiting Kenya with kids, as there’s more flexibility than with a larger group.
If you have longer to spend, there are also day tours from Nairobi to Nakuru National Park and the hippos of Lake Naivasha
Or head to the Giraffe Centre where you can find endangered Rothschild giraffes and learn more about these beautiful creatures, as well as getting to feed them. The Centre also has a short nature walk trail.
Or meet elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Centre – visitors are only allowed between 11am and 12 noon so it does get booked up very quickly, especially during holidays. Make sure you book early!
You can also get skip-the-line tours which visit both the Giraffe Centre and Sheldrick Wildlife Centre, including transport
There used to be an option to visit later in the day if you sponsored an elephant (and a chance to meet the one you’d sponsored at the same time) but this option has now been stopped.
If you fancy picking up some souvenirs, there is a string of shops near the two animal attractions at Langata Link. Or head over to the Nairobi National Museum and nearby Nairobi Snake Park, to learn some more about the country’s history and culture (as well as its reptiles!)
Save some time to relax too. Picking a hotel with a pool is a good option to ease yourself in gently, and a good option to end a first day after some exploring – we stayed at Hemingways Nairobi, which is based near the attractions in Karen.
It’s worth knowing that hotel pools in Kenya close at 6pm (and this is usually enforced), plus they tend to be unheated. With the sun on them, that’s not a problem, but you may want to consider packing short wetsuits for younger ones.
One of the biggest draws of a holiday in Kenya with kids, a safari is absolutely unmissable if you have the opportunity.
While it’s rarely a cheap option, there’s nothing like getting to see the country’s wildlife in the wild – our safari experience in the Naboisho Conservancy was unforgettable, and seeing the animals with my daughter was even more special.
When you’re planning a safari in Kenya with kids, do bear in mind not all camps will allow younger children so check for a minimum age. You do also need to ensure your kids are going to have enough patience if you’re driving around looking for some of the animals, that they can stay quiet as required.
Check out my review of a stay at Hemingways Ol Seki in the Masai Mara
A camp with a pool is ideal too – there are early starts each day before it gets very hot, so factoring in a bit of time to cool off after the first game drive of the day (and a nap or downtime after lunch) is a good plan.
Allow a couple of days for your safari if possible – that way, if you aren’t lucky enough to spot something on the first day, you’ve got another chance. Don’t attempt to pack everything into a day: it’s too hot to keep driving for hours on end (even if your kids could stand it) and the animals will have sought out the shade too so there’ll be less to see anyway.
While you could spend longer than two or three days, it’s not the cheapest part of the trip, and after a couple of days you probably want a bit more of a chilled time.
Read on for more of my top tips about a safari in Kenya with kids
The Kenya coast
Finish your Kenya family holiday by the coast with some time to relax and wind down – if you’re doing a relatively short trip, you’ll be more than ready for a break after a long flight + safari.
You could do it the other way round and head to the coast before the safari, but it makes sense to end your trip by the beach on a relaxed note.
The two main tourist areas in Kenya are Watamu on the northern stretch of coast and Diani in the south.
Diani Beach has its own airport at Ukunda, and you can take internal flights from Nairobi, otherwise it’s around a 90-minute journey from Mombasa.
Watamu is a couple of hours from Mombasa but you can also fly to Malindi airport, as we did, which is around 20-30 minutes away. Most of the main hotels are in a row along the same stretch of coast, including Hemingways Watamu where we stayed.
Read my full review of a stay at Hemingways Watamu with kids
Both areas are home to national marine reserves, as well as turtle sanctuaries which help to protect the local marine life and educate both tourists and locals too.
You can also spot dolphins at both: Diani is home to bottlenose dolphins, while Watamu has both bottlenose and the rare humpback dolphins by the coast. There are also spinner dolphins in Kenya but you’re unlikely to see those closer to shore on one of the short boat trips on offer.
Tips for a safari in Kenya with kids
It doesn’t matter how old you are, seeing a family of lion cubs playing together or a leopard in a tree with its kill is the kind of experience you never forget – not to mention the array of other animals you can spot on a safari in Kenya with kids.
To get the most from your safari experience, especially as this is usually the priciest part of the trip, it pays to plan in advance though.
Check out my packing tips above for the essentials to pack for a safari in Kenya with kids, including binoculars, camera and animals spotting list among other items
The first question to consider is whether your kids are old enough. You absolutely can do safaris with younger kids, as fellow family travel bloggers Travelynn Family and Twins and Travels have proved but it’s worth considering whether a safari in Kenya with kids is best for your family, or self-drive elsewhere.
Some parks will have minimum age requirements for guided drives as well – the guides themselves are fantastic with kids, and having an expert on hand can transform the whole experience. Bear in mind different areas will also have different fees to pay, included in accommodation at some camps.
It’s also worth considering your own children’s personalities. While we spotted a string of animals during our safari, there are always moments when you’re driving around without much success or waiting for a big cat to emerge – will they have the patience to do this (or do you simply need something to keep them entertained while you do?)
Will they be able to stay quiet if needed – especially around the lions. While the big cats mostly ignore the safari vehicles as random metal boxes, children are just the right size to be considered prey and the higher pitch of their voices seems to put the lions on alert (although we had more than 15 sightings and didn’t get anything beyond a hard stare from one lioness).
My 10-year-old was good at curbing her excitement when she needed to, but you don’t want to be constantly hushing chatty kids. We did see other groups on the guided game drives with children younger than my daughter too so it’s definitely an option.
Expect to go off-road at times too – we found the seats towards the front were best as my daughter could brace her legs to help with the jolting.
And with early morning and late afternoon drives, the days can feel long for younger kids (though there’s plenty of time for a nap in between). If you visit a national park, you may well need to leave by 6.30pm as dusk falls too, while private game reserves like the Naboisho Conservancy allow you to be more flexible.
In our case, this meant we could hang around waiting for a leopard to emerge from the undergrowth and enjoy the astonishing sight of it climb its tree to enjoy the remains of its kill – as it was at the far end of the conservancy from our camp, it did mean we weren’t back for dinner until around 8pm.
Aged 10, my daughter had no problem with this but younger ones might struggle (or at least consider making back-up plans).
Unless you’ve picked a self-drive option, food is often included in your safari for practical reasons – camps will usually work with you to sort something with kids will enjoy but there’s obviously a limit to how flexible they can be. Speak to them about any dietary restrictions or what they can do for picky eaters beforehand.
As well as the game drives, you might have the option to visit a Maasai village as well as extras including a hot air balloon flight over the Maasai Mara – these usually have a minimum age restriction though and involve a very early start.
Tips for the Kenya coast
Set on the Indian Ocean, with marine reserves along parts of its length, there’s no better way to end a trip to Kenya with kids than relaxing by the beach.
Check out my packing tips above for the essentials to pack for a holiday in Kenya with kids, including child snorkels
It’s easy to veg out by the pool or on the beach itself, but save some time to discover some of the highlights of the Kenyan coast too.
At Watamu, where we stayed, there are various different ways you can discover the marine national park. Local tour operators work with the hotels to run family friendly boat trips, including dolphin-spotting and snorkelling, as well as the option to book sunset dhow cruises.
It’s worth knowing that the current can be quite strong at the main reef and there are lots of small boats stopping here. It’s best to choose an early start if you can: our trip was due to set off at 8.30am, and while we didn’t get underway until 9am, it still meant we were among the first at the reef, even after heading out to spot dolphins first.
You do get a lifevest so kids don’t need to be the strongest swimmers, but it’s best if they’re comfortable in the water – and a good plan to keep hold of younger ones to ensure they’re not pulled off by the current or getting too close to boats.
The best option is to start by swimming against the current away from the boats, then you can let it carry you back over the reef once you’ve finished.
You can also snorkel right off the beach at Watamu at high tide too: we spotted bluespotted ribbontail rays and a lionfish as well as lots of reef fish darting through the shallow water.
At low tide, you can see plenty more in the rocks pools – we bumped into one of the guys running our boat trip who led us around pointing out creatures we’d otherwise have missed, including a puffer fish, sea urchins, seastar, a whole family of moray eels and even an octopus. Bring some shillings with you to tip!
The powder white sand and clear water is increasingly at risk though, so it’s well worth tearing yourself away from the beach to visit some of the local initiatives protecting local marine life and helping tackle plastic pollution.
We headed to Turtle Watch Watamu (there’s a similar initiative in Diani too), where visitors – both tourists and locals – can learn more about the marine habitat and threats to it.
There are often rescued turtles in the sanctuary as well, being treated before being re-released – happily there were none during our visit, although the sanctuary is happy to contact visitors to re-visit if that changes during your stay.
And EcoWorld Watamu is another fantastic initiative which is well worth supporting. After starting out with a simple beach clean, it’s grown to provide jobs for the local community dealing with some of the area’s plastic pollution, as well as projects helping locals turn their trash into cash.
But that’s only the start. As well as educational programmes in school, there are some creative new approaches to the problem of plastic waste, including recycling it into bricks which can be used to build a house in two days.
While the towering heaps of plastic are a stark reminder of the scale of the issue, it’s a really inspirational place and a great way to get kids engaged.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. My trip to Kenya was courtesy of the Hemingways Collection and Far and Wild Travel (though I paid for some flights myself) – all opinions remain my own.
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