Last Updated on May 17, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Traveling Kenya with kids can be a life-changing experience for both you and your kids. Here is my guide to planning a perfect Kenya family safari.
For adventurous families, Kenya makes an excellent introduction to Africa. The country is home to world-class national parks, nature reserves, and pristine beaches. Plus, Kenya has improved its tourism infrastructure over the years and is now more family-friendly than ever.
Of all the 25 African countries I’ve been to, Kenya is definitely my favorite place in Africa to travel with kids. Granted, roads in Kenya can be terrible and poverty is still an issue in Kenya. But there’s so much the kids can gain from a family trip to Kenya, whether it’s a lesson in compassion or learning knowledge on wildlife and geography.
Pack a sense of adventure and a positive attitude, and you’ll be sure to have an epic adventure in Kenya with kids. For those planning a Kenya family trip, here is my complete guide with the best things to do, where to stay and what to pack for Kenya with kids.
Table of Contents
- Kenya with Kids Guide
- Why Travel Kenya with Kids?
- Is It Safe to Travel Kenya with Kids?
- Travel Visa for Kenya
- How to Get to Kenya
- When to Travel Kenya with Kids
- How Long to Travel Kenya with Kids?
- 2 Weeks in Kenya with Kids
- 1 Week in Kenya with Kids
- How to Get Around Kenya with Kids
- By Plane
- By Car Rental
- By Hiring a Driver
- Travel Kenya Independently or on Guided Tour?
- Budget Kenya Family Safari
- Recommended Budget Tours in Kenya
- Things to Know about Going on a Kenya Family Safari
- Where to Stay in Kenya with Kids
- Best Family Hotels in Kenya
- Nairobi National Park: The Emakoko
- Lake Nakuru: Lake Nakuru Lodge
- Maasai Mara: Sarova Mara Game Camp
- Diani Beach: Villa Mandhari
- Lamu Island: Kizingo
- Things to Do in Kenya with Kids
- Visit the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage (Nairobi)
- Feed Giraffes at the Giraffe Center (Nairobi)
- See the Traditional Dances at Bomas of Kenya (Nairobi)
- Go on Game Drives in Nairobi National Park
- See Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
- See the Big Five at Maasai Mara
- Go on a Hot Air Balloon over Maasai Mara
- Visit a Maasai Village
- See Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park
- Relax on Diani Beach
- Snorkel in Watamu Marine National Park
- Wander around UNESCO Lamu Island
- What to Eat in Kenya with Kids
- Traditional Kenyan Food to Try
- What to Pack for Kenya with Kids
- My Packing List for Kenya with Kids
- Health in Kenya
- Hygiene/Water in Kenya
- Cost of Travel in Kenya
- Practical Tips on Traveling Kenya with Kids
Kenya with Kids Guide
Why Travel Kenya with Kids?
From my experience, trips that revolve around nature and wildlife are always a big hit with kids. Nature is the greatest playground for kids and Kenya sure has plenty of it.
Kenya is one of the top African countries for wildlife watching. It is home to the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, a stomping ground for thousands of animals migrating across its plains each year during the annual migration. For the ultimate Kenya family safari, come face to face with giant elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the backdrop at Amboseli National Park, or see thousands of flamingos fly above Lake Nakuru.
Kenya is also blessed with a stunning coastline — plan in some relaxing time on Diani Beach or cultural walks in the Swahili town of Lamu island in your Kenya itinerary, and your kids will thank you for it! Make sure to read this article on things you need to know before traveling to Kenya.
Is It Safe to Travel Kenya with Kids?
It is understandable to be concerned about safety in Kenya with kids. After all, Nairobi has a high crime rate and it has experienced several bombings in recent years. But you can easily avoid the city centre and stay in the quiet outskirts or Nairobi National Park (15-min drive from airport).
Beyond the big city, it is generally very safe in the national parks and nature reserves. You might be worried about your kids’ safety on safari after seeing videos of cheetahs jumping onto safari jeeps, but such things rarely happen. Animals usually prefer to keep their distance from human beings. As long as we don’t disturb the wildlife, they won’t disturb us.
The bigger issue is health and hygiene due to malaria and yellow fever risks and food contamination. It is mandatory to have the yellow fever vaccination to enter Kenya (you’ll be asked for proof). But one shot lasts a lifetime. Refer to my section on health in Kenya for details.
Travel Visa for Kenya
Most nationalities including US, UK, EU and Canada citizens need a visa to enter Kenya. You can easily apply for an evisa online. Single-entry visas cost $51 and allow you to stay for 3 months. Note that there are several fraudulent evisa websites — this is the official evisa website.
Some nationalities (including mine!) do not a need a visa to travel Kenya. These include nationals from Singapore, Malaysia, San Marino, South Africa. Here is the full list.
Good news: Children aged 16 and below do not require a visa to enter Kenya, regardless of nationality.
How to Get to Kenya
The main gateway to Kenya is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBP), around 11 miles (18km) from Nairobi’s CBD.
I found an amazing deal online: Amsterdam – Nairobi – Seychelles and return for just under €600 ($670). I learned about the airfare promo on Fly4Free.com and booked it way in advance.
When to Travel Kenya with Kids
The best time to travel Kenya is from July to October, which are the best wildlife viewing months. The wildebeest migration usually reaches the Masai Mara in July and remains until October. But note that this is high season and certain parks can get crowded.
Rainy season runs from March to May, during which some lodges and camps close down. During high rainfall, it can be hard to see animals as they won’t need to go in search of water.
November to February are good times to visit Kenya, as prices are lower and showers don’t last long. We visited Kenya in December this time and had great weather. However, we didn’t see as many animals as I did the last time in Maasai Mara, because there were torrential rains right before we arrived and they caused quite a lot of flooding.
How Long to Travel Kenya with Kids?
There’s a lot to do in Kenya for kids. I recommend spending at least two weeks in Kenya so you can explore at a comfortable pace.
I would advise planning 2-3 nights at each national park. Kids can get tired of safari if you schedule too many days at each camp. At the same time, you don’t want to be moving around too much and spending just 1 night at each place. Read more of my tips about going on African safari with kids.
Mix up your Kenya itinerary with some relaxation time along Kenya’s beautiful coast. Diani Beach is Kenya’s most popular beach town, but there are plenty of towns along the coast worth visiting, including Malindi, Nyali and Watamu.
2 Weeks in Kenya with Kids
- Days 1 – 3: Nairobi
- Days 3 – 5: Lake Nakuru
- Days 5 – 7: Maasai Mara National Reserve*
- Days 7 – 10: Relax on Diani Beach
- Days 10 – 13: Explore Lamu Island
- Day 14: Fly Home!
1 Week in Kenya with Kids
- Days 1 – 3: Nairobi
- Days 3 – 5: Lake Nakuru
- Days 5 – 7: Maasai Mara National Reserve
*TIP: Maasai Mara is the best reserve in Kenya, but it’s a 6-hour drive from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru. To go somewhere nearer, the best alternative is Amboseli National Park, a 4-hour drive away.
How to Get Around Kenya with Kids
The best way to get from Nairobi to the coast is on the domestic airline, Kenyan Airways. It is affordable and fast. Return flights from Nairobi to Mombasa are around US$100. Direct flights from Nairobi to Lamu Island are around US$200.
It IS also possible to fly from Nairobi to Maasai Mara and other reserves on Safarilink. But it is expensive, with flights costing around US$350 return per person. Flying cuts down the travel time from 6 hours by road to just 40 minutes.
By Car Rental
Roads in Kenya aren’t in the best condition and traffic around Nairobi is a nightmare. You would need a 4WD to drive into the national parks. Renting a Toyota Land Cruiser usually costs around $200-300/day.
I wouldn’t advise driving in Kenya with kids, unless you’re very experienced driving 4WD. My husband Alberto has driven in many countries, and even then, we decided to book transport with our lodge (which comes with a driver) as it cost the same as renting a 4WD.
By Hiring a Driver
What you can do instead is to book a safari lodge/camp and arrange a “road package” through them. The package includes a driver, 2 game drives per day during your stay at the lodge as well as pick-up and drop-off from any hotel in Nairobi.
Most lodges quoted us $150/day for a Toyota van and $250/day for a Land Cruiser safari jeep. We paid for the cheaper option and were fine for it. But for both options, you’ll only get a driver — not a wildlife guide who’s experienced in spotting animals! If you want a wildlife guide, book an all-inclusive safari tour. (More details here).
Travel Kenya Independently or on Guided Tour?
If it’s your first time on an African safari with kids, I recommend booking a safari package that includes an experienced wildlife guide. A guide knows where to spot the animals and can share lots of interesting information about each animal.
It’s also important to book with responsible tour companies that have policies in place to thread carefully. Check out this 8-day Kenya family safari from Intrepid Travel. It’ll be a great opportunity to travel with other families and your kids will make lifelong friends. The minimum age to join is 5.
Another trip worth checking out is this 8-day National Geographic Kenya safari trip from G Adventures. I’ve traveled with them many times (to Antarctica, Brazil, Nepal etc) and each trip has been epic! You can also combine Kenya with Tanzania, and join this Kenya and Tanzania camping safari. The minimum age to join is 12.
Budget Kenya Family Safari
To save some money, we booked the safari lodges ourselves and arranged transport through them. These road packages still cost around US$150-250/day, but they include a driver, pickup from Nairobi, and 2 game drives/day.
If you’re on a tight budget, I suggest exploring Nairobi independently and booking budget safari tours departing from Nairobi. Note that these 3/4-day tours are usually camping safari. That means you’ll actually be camping and sleeping in small 2-person tents. This was what we did when we first backpacked East Africa 10 years ago.
Things to Know about Going on a Kenya Family Safari
There is just something so special about going on an African safari with kids — I will never forget the awe in my daughter’s kids when she saw her first giraffe. For kids like Kaleya who love animals, Africa is pure magic.
However, they are kids after all. Remind them to be patient on game drives — wildlife reserves are not zoos. Animals roam freely and sightings are not always guaranteed. You might also come across predators hunting or feeding on their catch, warn your kids that it can get graphic. Read my tips about going on safari with kids.
Game drives usually take place around dawn and sunset, as animals are the most active during these times. That means early wake-up calls at 5am. Because of the game drive schedule, your family will have lots of free time during the day. Bring cards or games to play as a family and reading materials.
Where to Stay in Kenya with Kids
Since you will be spending lots of time at the lodge, it is important to find one that can keep the entire family happy. Don’t expect kids’ clubs or program at the lodge — you’ll be lucky to have a swimming pool. Remember you are in the wilderness after all!
When we traveled Swaziland and South Africa, we noticed that many safari lodges and reserves don’t take kids below 6, for safety reason. But this isn’t the case in Kenya — most lodges here are happy to take toddlers and babies.
Things to consider when choosing a lodge for your Kenya family safari:
- Is it a fenced property? Kids aren’t allowed to wander on their own in an unfenced lodge and it can be unsafe at night when animals wander into the property.
- Are there structural hazards? Certain lodges have open decks that plunge a few meters beneath.
- Is there a shallow pool or play area?
- Does the lodge have a waterhole? Animals often go to waterholes to drink, so you can easily see animals from the lodge if it has one.
Best Family Hotels in Kenya
Nairobi National Park: The Emakoko
The Emakoko is a beautiful lodge located just a 15-minute drive from the park’s east gate. It is surrounded by vast savanna and secretly ensconced in a steep valley. We felt like we were deep in the wilderness, even though we were just short drive away from Nairobi. Our spacious family cottage was huge and perfect for the three of us. Read our full review of The Emakoko. Check the rates.
Lake Nakuru: Lake Nakuru Lodge
There aren’t many lodges located inside the national park, but Lake Nakuru Lodge is one of the rare few. The ecolodge has been around for a while and it is in need of a revamp, but rooms are still well maintained. The best feature of our room was the balcony, where we could get unobstructed views of the lake and wildlife. The pool was also an excellent spot to hang out. Check the rates.
Maasai Mara: Sarova Mara Game Camp
We found a great deal online for Sarova Mara Game Camp and paid around $400 in total for our 2-night stay. It was definitely a good deal as the big-scale family lodge had tastefully designed luxury tents that were big and spacious. It’s definitely a great place to stay for a Kenya family safari as there were many other families besides us. The lodge also had a swimming pool and good restaurant with international food. Check the rates here.
Diani Beach: Villa Mandhari
Located 500 m from the Indian Ocean, this property offers excellent value with its modern and spacious villas for only $60/night.We loved staying at Villa Mandhari — our 2-bedroom villa was huge, the outdoor pool was nice and big, with a lot of lounging space. It’s also located in a peaceful and quiet area, perfect for families looking to relax after spending time in the bush. Check the rates here.
Lamu Island: Kizingo
Located along the sandy Kizingo Beach, this rustic property stands at the tip of Lamu island where it meets the Indian Ocean. Kizingo has simple thatched-roof chalets all looking out to the ocean. I loved our veranda and swing bed. But the amenities are basic, and it’s more suitable for people who want a secluded place and go unplugged. Check the rates.
Things to Do in Kenya with Kids
Visit the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage (Nairobi)
One of the best Kenya activities for kids is this elephant orphanage. Elephant calves orphaned by poaching are brought here from all over the country to receive specialized treatment. Be warned: it gets crowded here as it’s opened to the public only 11am-12pm daily. Entrance is US$7.
You get to learn about each of the ridiculously cute baby elephants and some of them might even get up close to you. We booked a day tour for $35 and visited this along with the giraffe center and bomas.
Feed Giraffes at the Giraffe Center (Nairobi)
This giraffe centre, which protects the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, combines serious conservation with fun activities. You can hand-feed or even kiss the giraffes from a raised wooden structure, which is quite an experience for both adults and kids! Entrance is US$15 and kids under 3 are $7.50. Book your day trip here.
See the Traditional Dances at Bomas of Kenya (Nairobi)
Bomas of Kenya is a living museum celebrating the colorful tribes of Kenya.The complex has a recreated traditional village with homesteads or bomas, each one reflecting the culture of an ethnic group. There are also traditional dance performances everyday.
Go on Game Drives in Nairobi National Park
Within a 15-min drive from the international airport, you’ll be in the wide open grass plains and acacia bush of the national park. Established in 1946, Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s first. It’s home to four of the Big Five (except elephants) and chances of seeing them are high because of the small size. We had an excellent guide here and saw plenty of animals in just 2 days! If you are not staying here, you can book a day tour that will include pickup from your hotel.
See Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru National Park is the best place in Kenya to see flamingos. Thousands of flamingos can be seen here massing in the warm alkaline water to feed on the abundant blue-green algae cultivated by their own droppings. As Europe starts cooling in October, migratory birds begin to arrive and remain in the area until April.
See the Big Five at Maasai Mara
You can’t come to Kenya and not visit the famous Maasai Mara National Reserve. This massive grassland lies along the Great Rift Valley adjacent to Tanzania’s Serengeti. You are sure to see animals here, even during rainy season. We didn’t see quite as much as I did on my first trip, but we still spotted lions, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalos and many more animals. Visiting Maasai Mara with kids is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Go on a Hot Air Balloon over Maasai Mara
If you want to do something special in Kenya with kids, there’s nothing more amazing than going hot air ballooning over the Maasai Mara. I’ve been on a hot air balloon 5 times and every single time was amazing. Bring your whole family to see the animals from above and enjoy a special champagne breakfast in the bush. Prepare to part with $450 for the experience of a lifetime. Book the experience here.
Visit a Maasai Village
Maasai Mara is the land of the Maasai people, an ancient nomadic people known to be warriors. Maasai men were once expected to kill a lion to prove their strength and manhood. Recognizable for their red robes and beaded jewelry, the Maasai now sustain themselves with tourism and livestock. We arranged to visit a Maasai village through our driver and gave a donation of $50. The visit was definitely a humbling experience for our kid.
See Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park
Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, the Amboseli National Park is best known for the spectacular landscapes. The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Kids will get the chance to see the real-life setting of “Lion King” here.
Relax on Diani Beach
With its 17 kilometers of flawless, soft white sand, Diani Beach is the most popular beach town in Kenya, for good reasons. The soft white sand and clean water definitely make this a great escape after being on safari. There’s a whole lot to do for the young ones: from playing on the beach to snorkeling and kayaking.
Snorkel in Watamu Marine National Park
Green turtles and unique coral gardens – the Watamu Marine National Park is an excellent place to visit for water babies. The park is part of a complex of marine and tidal habitats with rich and diverse bird life and dugongs. Besides water activities, you can also visit the nearby Gede Ruins, a 12th century Swahili village that was abandoned 600 years ago.
Wander around UNESCO Lamu Island
Founded in the 14th century, Lamu is the best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Crumbling old forts lie next to elegant rooftop cafés; narrow, cobbled streets wind past intricately carved front doors. Wander through Lamu’s Old Town, and you will find Indian, Persian, Omani and Portuguese influences visible throughout the coral stone houses and impressive mahogany doors.
What to Eat in Kenya with Kids
The traditional food of Kenya, is as mixed and diverse as its tribes, history and landscapes. Each tribal area has its own specialities, but below are some of the most common Kenyan dishes. If your kids are fussy eaters, they’ll be happy to know that most safari lodges serve western classics like spaghetti and pizzas.
Traditional Kenyan Food to Try
- Ugali — This cornmeal is the main staple of Kenyan food. The texture is similar to that of a dough. It is eaten at every meal (in a similar way you eat rice) and usually with stews and vegetables.
- Irio — Another popular dish in Kenya, this mash peas and potato mix is hearty and heavy. It’s usually eaten with roasted meat (nyama choma).
- Kenyan pilau rice — This is a flavorful spicy rice dish cooked with spices like cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves.
- Kenyan stew — Kenyans love all kinds of stews: beef stew, goat stew, chicken stew or any other animal stew. The sauce usually has a tomato base and accented with the essential mchuzi mix!
- Nyama Choma — The unofficial national dish of Kenya, nyama choma is roasted meat cooked on the barbecue. Goat and beef are the most common forms of nyama choma, but chicken (kuku choma) and fish (samaki choma) are also valid choices.
- Fried fish — Along the coast, you’ll find fried tilapia fish everywhere, often served with tomato gravy and ugali or rice.
What to Pack for Kenya with Kids
Wildlife watching involves lots of driving so pack a few books on African wildlife and kids’ binoculars to keep them engaged. Another kids’ travel gear that can come in very useful on safari is a kids digital camera. My daughter was super excited to use hers on safari!
Game drives always take place in the early morning and evenings, which can get cold regardless of the time of the year. In Maasai Mara, morning temperatures can dip as low as 12°C/54°F and day time temperatures reach around 25°C/77°F. Be sure to pack layers, and a warm jacket for the morning drives. Choose khaki t-shirts and beige cargo pants to blend in with the surroundings.
Another essential item to pack on a Kenya family safari is a first aid kit with basic medications like paracetamol, antihistamine for reactions to insect bites, medication for food poisoning, and rehydration pills. Here are more details on what to pack for safari.
My Packing List for Kenya with Kids
- Kids’ hiking shoes
- Kids’ sandals or Keen water shoes
- Kids’ safari hat
- Kids’ down jacket
- Kids’ fleece
- Kids’ zip-off convertible pants
- Earth-toned safari themed t-shirts
- Long-sleeved pajamas to protect from mosquitos
- Kids’ safari-themed underwear
- Kids swimsuit
- Kids’ breathable socks
- Kids’ polarized sunglasses with strap
- SPF 50 Sunscreen
- Insect repellant with DEET
- World travel kit stocked with medication
- Head torch or flashlight
- Kids’ binoculars
- Kids digital camera
- Canon EOS 60D camera
- RAVPower portable power bank
- 70-300mm Tamron lens
- International plug converter
- Kids’ books on African wildlife
- iPad or Kindle with headphones for long car rides
Health in Kenya
It is required to have the yellow fever vaccination to enter Kenya (sometimes they check your yellow fever certification at the airport). Suggested vaccinations include meningitis, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and cholera. We got our daughter the yellow fever and hepatitis B vaccinations.