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Kenya family holidays

Kenyan villageKenyan village© Kenya Tourist Board UK and Ireland
Beach sceneBeach sceneVanda Biffani© Kenya Tourist Board UK and Ireland
On safariOn safari© Kenya Tourist Board UK and Ireland
Sunset sceneSunset sceneSunset scene
On safariOn safari© Kenya Tourist Board UK and Ireland
Capital City Nairobi
Flying Time 8.5hrs
Carbon Footprint 7.61 CO2
Timezone GMT +3
Currency Kenyan Shilling

Today

Overview

Because with its rich-red earth and limitless horizon, 500+km of glorious coastline, and 26 national parks and game reserves filled with a gazillion mammals, birds and reptiles, Kenya is a breathtaking destination for family holidays, from the turquoise swathe of the Indian Ocean to the vertiginous peaks of Mount Kenya and all the plains, rifts and deserts in between, from snorkelling to camel safaris.

Most visitors come for safari – Kenya is home to some of the world's fastest, fiercest and frankly most bizarre-looking creatures (check out the naked mole rat). Nairobi is one of the world's few capitals where you can see herds of lolloping giraffe as the plane comes into land, but it also has a vibrant arts scene, a surprising café culture and lively nightlife.

A safari holiday is usually centred around an early-morning game drive, lunch, and then another game drive, followed by a perky sundowner as the sun sets over the plain. It's an early-to-bed, early-to-rise culture – after a week you may want to check out the more relaxed side of Africa by adding on a trip to the glorious coast.

Despite the political troubles over recent years, Kenya is generally safe for visitors, and the lower prices and greater availability mean there's never been a better time to experience the wonderful wilds of east Africa. Additionally, ever-more safari lodges are catering for children of all ages.

Things to do with kids in Kenya

Fly into Nairobi – on a good day the capital offers views of Mount Kenya to the north and Mount Kilimanjaro to the southeast. You can also see animals up-close and personal at the Langata Giraffe centre, a not-for-profit sanctuary set up in the late 1970s to save the dwindling population of Rothschild giraffes from near-extinction.

Head for the Nairobi National Park, which affords a safari experience just 10km south of the city centre, with many indigenous animals, including black rhino, giraffe, lion and leopard, roaming wild against the unique backdrop of the city. Within the park, visit the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, which rears orphaned elephants by hand before releasing them back into the wild.

Venture into the Masai Mara, the best-known game reserve in Kenya, with vast plains stretching through the Great Rift Valley towards Tanzania and 225km south of the capital. You have a decent chance of spotting Africa's Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – especially if you choose a camp close to the River Talek. A safari here is a particularly good option for family holidays – what you lose in solitude you gain in the sheer number of things to see, from the merry dance of young warthogs to herds of nonchalant elephants. The Mara is also the stage to Kenya's top tourist attraction, the great migration (see below, When). It's incredible to watch hundreds of thousands of wildebeest storm through the muddy waters of the River Talek (many not making it thanks to resident crocs and big cats waiting for their early-morning nibble).

Take budding ornithologists to the quieter Hell's Gate National Park northwest of Nairobi and south of Lake Naivasha, with more than 100 species of resident birds including buzzards, vultures and the rare lammergeyer eagle.

Visit Meru National Park, where 'Born Free' lioness cub Elsa lived out her days. One of the lesser-visited reserves, it begins in the foothills of Mount Kenya and stretches over 1,800km2 down towards to the Tana River in the east. More rain in this area means it's naturally lush, and there is plenty of game to see, albeit less than in the Masai Mara.

Have a gander at Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in Kenya and second highest in Africa after Kilimanjaro, reaching 5,199m. Its often-jagged terrain is best suited to adventurous families – though it's not flush with game, safaris are available here. If you're in the area, the luxurious Mount Kenya Safari Club is an institution that's worth a visit.

Another adventurous option is a camel safari to explore the ranches of Laikipia in Kenya's wild north – Sabuk Lodge is a family-friendly base.

Chill out in the beachside resorts of Mombasa, Malindi and Watamu Bay, once the sole domain of honeymooners, now catering more for families. Malindi has a marine nature reserve that's excellent for snorkelling for all ages, plus scuba-diving for older children and adults. You also take a relaxing sailing trip in the Indian Ocean on a traditional dhow from Lamu Island.

Eat

Safari lodges and camps in Kenya generally cater to European and North American tastes, which can be a godsend for those here on family holidays. Breakfasts include lots of fresh fruit, porridge, omelettes, plus the odd sausage or rasher of bacon, and vegetarians are catered for.

Despite various urban myths, you won't find the zebra you were snapping with your Pentax at noon sizzling on your plate come evening, with beef, lamb and chicken more likely suspects. However, if wild game is your fancy, there are several places offering exotic meats, including Carnivore, a vast BBQ restaurant on the outskirts of Nairobi where you can taste crocodile, ostrich and more. For vegetarians, the Indian restaurants dotted around the country are a good option.

Local cuisine varies by area. Inland there's very much a meat-based diet, supplemented with a mix of greens called sukuma wiki and ugari, a stiff porridge made from maize. On the coast it's generally more varied, with fresh fish, lobster and prawns all featuring heavily, plus lots of spiky, smelly and curious-looking tropical fruit and vegetables.

Fruit juices, flavoured sodas and the ubiquitous Coca Cola are the usual thirst-quenchers; mineral water is an expensive necessity as local tapwater can't be relied on.

Locals beers are good and cheap – opt for Tusker or White Cap, rather than the head-blowing 7% Guinness. Wine from nearby South Africa is best.

Despite coffee being one of Kenya's main exports, good fresh coffee is often only found in fancy hotels and at an extortionate price.

When to go to Kenya

The height of the tourist season in Kenya is the great migration in July and August, when nearly 2 million wildebeest, zebra and Thomson's gazelle flee north from the bare lands of the Serengeti to their lush green holiday home, the Masai Mara.   

The rainy season runs March–May (long rains) and Nov–Dec (short rains), with dry seasons in-between. The coastal region is the hottest but is humid Jan-March.

For up-to-date travel advice when planning family holidays to Kenya, see the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (fco.gov.uk) guidelines.

Cost

When budgeting for family holidays in Kenya, think about £400-500 for a return flight to Nairobi. For a 10-night family safari with The Adventure Company (minimum age 5), you'll pay in the region of £1700-3000 per adult, £1,400–3000 per child, including flights.

By Tracey Davies

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