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Family safari holidays

Africa offers the best family holidays – you just can’t beat a bit of safari and beach. Enjoy close encounters with wildlife, nights around the camp fire, sleeping under canvas in the African bush, animal tracking, conservation visits and a whole host of activities from horse riding, boating, night drives, walking and whale watching to snorkelling and beach combing. 

Still not convinced? Practicality is on Africa’s side too…

There’s very little time change to deal with – from the UK you’re looking at 1-3 hours time change so you can hit the ground running and not return to the UK 2 weeks later feeling totally spangled.

Easy access – Kenya, for instance, is only 8 hours away on a direct flight from London.

Stimulation – fresh air and lots of new exciting experiences ensures no one nods off on this holiday.

Value for money – a safari is likely to be the most expensive holiday you’re ever likely to enjoy.  However, it’s worth pointing out that most safaris are all-inclusive so you’re looking at a ‘holiday spend’, which you can budget for, rather than a holiday framework.

If Africa is firmly on your family holiday wish-list, you may be interested in the following suggestions:

Robin Pope Safaris - Zambia
Robin Pope Safaris – Zambia

Where should we go?

East – Kenya would be my top pick for a family safari. It’s easy to get to and relatively compact to explore.  There’s amazing density and diversity of wildlife, contrasting landscapes, good family friendly accommodation options and the people are wonderful.

South – South Africa is a brilliant family holiday destination and one of the best value destinations in Africa because of the exchange rate with the Rand (currently about 18 to the Pound). You can see the Marine Big Five as well as the Safari Big Five. Many families ask us about malaria free safari options – the Cape coast of South Africa is the perfect option with the Eastern Cape game reserves all malaria free. Madikwe near Johannesburg is also a ‘Big Five’ option and malaria free. These areas combine well with exploration of the Cape (Cape Town, Winelands, Garden Route) or with a beach break in Mauritius.

If you have older children and are looking for more adventurous options then Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all wonderful. See out Family page for further info.

The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats
The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats

How long should we go on safari for?

3 nights is an ideal length of stay in any one camp/lodge, up to around 5 nights – you can do 2 nights but this tends to feel a bit short in our experience.

Combining two contrasting areas and staying 3-4 nights in each would be ideal. After this most people are ready for a lie in…

For the perfect family holiday, extend your stay with time at the coast or lake/river.

Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya
Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya

Fly-in or Drive-in? There are pros and cons to each… 

Driving -In Tanzania the Northern Circuit lends itself to exploration with private 4×4 and driver/guide – this is a very flexible and economical way to travel for a family and also gives you a chance to see the country in more depth as you pass through villages and communities. However you need to consider time in the vehicle overall – you are driving between destinations and also then in the vehicle for your safari. In addition you will be visiting national parks which means staying to the main tracks and not going off-road. Drive- in safaris are also possible in Kenya.

In South Africa and Namibia you can self-drive, however when on safari (e.g, Etosha) you have the option to park your hire car and join guided drives offering an ideal balance.

Flying – If you fly into a private conservancy you can enjoy a wonderful bird’s eye view of the landscape and you are able to maxime your holiday time. There are other significant benefits – you can off road, usually in custom 4×4 vehicles, and this helps you get much closer to the wildlife. You can also enjoy extra activities like bush meals, sundowners out on the plains, walking and tracking and you are not restricted to being on safari only between sunrise and sunset (as you are in a national park). It is a more expensive option.  Just be aware that there are luggage restrictions (15 kg max in a soft sided bag) and flights are often operated in small 12 seater prop planes, landing on remote and rough airstrips, so not ideal for those nervous about flying…

You can combine flying and driving for a more balanced itinerary. We will often give clients the option to drive in one direction and then fly back to save time/long journeys.

zzDSC_8583Framework for a family safari to Kenya

Nairobi – 1 night

Most trips require an overnight in Nairobi at the start or end because of international flight schedules – don’t waste this time in an airport hotel but get out and explore.  You can stay at a lodge in the national park and enjoy game viewing (very easy to access from either airport) or visit the Sheldrick Trust and/or AFEW Giraffe Centre. We can organise all this for you.

+Safari – 3 nights plus

3 nights per camp is the minimum time we would suggest on safari.

If budget and time allows it’s fantastic to combine two (or even three) contrasting areas. After around a week on safari, unless you are a real safari addict, you may start to long for a lie in so we think 5- 7 nights is the optimum amount of time giving you plenty of chance to see and experience as much as possible.

If it’s your first trip to Kenya we’d recommend including the Masai Mara, for example a 5 night fly-in to the Mara with time on the beach afterwards keeps things simple. Conveniently there’s a flight from the Mara to Diani (without going back to Nairobi).

Here are some of our favourite Mara safari combos:

Masai Mara and Samburu; Masai Mara and Laikipia; Masai Mara and Amboseli/Tsavo

+Beach – 4-7 nights

A few days on the coast is a perfect extension to a safari. Kenya offers several options. We love Diani and Msambweni, south of Mombasa. We also like Watamu. Lamu on the north coast is also very beautiful.

Optimum (and most expensive) time for Kenya is the long school summer holidays of July/August. Also a good time to visit is the Christmas and half term holidays (Oct, Dec, Feb). If Easter is early you can get a trip in during late March/early April (one of our favourite times to go because it is so quiet – this is also the most affordable time of the year) but the long rains tend to arrive in April and last through May so this is something to be aware of.

White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa
White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa

Framework for a South Africa family safari

Kruger & beach –  time on safari + a week in Mauritius (this combination requires 1 night at a Johannesburg airport hotel due to schedules). Alternatively you can fly or take a road transfer across the border to Mozambique for time on the beach. Optimum time for this type of trip is May to October.

Family Caper – 10-14 day self-drive trip exploring Cape Town, winelands, the Garden Route and a safari in the Eastern Cape. Optimum time for this is October to April. You can expect wild beaches, the chance to spot whales from the coast, boat trips, characterful and small boutique style accommodation and a grand finale in the Eastern Cape on safari.page 15 inset FAMILY 5

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of other exciting family holiday options in Southern Africa – how about Zambia and Malawi, or Zimbabwe and Botswana?

Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season
Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season

Things to consider

  • Rooms – family units – it can be a bit intimidating if it’s your first time staying in a safari tent so where possible we recommend family units so that all the family can be together. If you hear a lion roar in the night it’s good to be on hand and share the experience.
  • Camps with swimming pools are great for families, inviting relaxing time after breakfast or before the afternoon drive.
  • Depending on season you may prefer properties with air con.
  • Some camps offer special ‘Little Warrior’ or kids’ programmes as well as kids meals and even babysitting so please do enquire depending on the age of your children.
  • Vehicles – it is usual for you to share game drives with other guests in the camp vehicles. Some camps offer exclusive vehicles for a supplement – please enquire. Some camps insist that families with young children (under 7) book an exclusive vehicle. Most vehicles seat 6 guests but it does vary from place to place.
  • Age restrictions – many camps/lodges have a minimum age of 7 years so please check with us if you are travelling with younger children. We do have some camps that have discreetly fenced boundaries which might be safer for families with young children rather than those which are completely open. Camp staff (known as Askaris in East Africa) accompany you to and from you room after sundown.
Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi
Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi

What does it cost?

Cost depends on a range of factors including time of year you travel, how far in advance you book, availability and number of people/ages of children in your family.  Your preferred style of safari/ length of stay will also impact spend. £3000-£5000 per person is a realistic budget bracket.

More inspiration and suggested itineraries at realafrica.co.uk

 

Big cat central: a review of Mahali Mzuri, Masai Mara, Kenya

Blog DSC_8585Blog DSC_8586“Welcome to Olare Orok” grinned the barefoot co-pilot as he flung open the doors of the Cessna Caravan and pulled down the steps to let the sunshine in.

Waiting at the tiny airstrip were our Masai guides John and Dickson from Mahali Mzuri, Sir Richard Branson’s safari camp, one of five camps in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara, an hour’s flight west of Nairobi.

Branson’s camp opened in 2013 and works in partnership with the Maasai landowners to protect the ecosystem for the benefit of both community and wildlife. We’d had a number of guests stay at the camp in 2017 but I had not visited for myself so was very much looking forward to our stay.

Blog DSC_8592The transfer to camp in open Landcruisers is no more than 20 minutes but easily stretched to an hour as we discovered a beautiful female cheetah relaxing in the shade of an acacia within moments of leaving the airstrip.  We then came across a huge herd of buffalo – 100 or more flicking their ears and munching the lush grass, enriched by early rains in the Mara.

blog DSC_9055I was travelling with my wider family – seven of us in all. For the grannies, who both grew up in Kenya in the 50s it was a welcome, and emotional return. For my children, it was their first taste of East Africa.

Mahali Mzuri means ‘beautiful place’ and we were not disappointed.  The emerald cloak of the Mara in late March was captivating. Early rains had given the landscape a freshness and vibrancy.  The camp itself overlooks a valley with a rocky river at its heart. Giraffe lolloped along the valley as we settled down to an alfresco lunch, ably looked after by Johnstone, who had all our names within the first five minutes. Swahili started to come back to the grannies after a wine or two, much to his amusement and delight. A plump hippo waddled on the river bank and monkeys chattered nervously in the acacias.

blog DSC_8811Blog DSC_8691blog DSC_8820blog DSC_8827Mahali Mzuri does not have the look of your average tented camp.  The striking design, by Kenyan architects, pays homage to the local Ndorobo tribe who in times past used the ridge as a lookout,  while the interiors are inspired by the landscape with a natural palate of stone grey, red-oat rust and sun gold injected by bold prints, art and basketry all sourced locally. All the wood was harvested from sustainable sources and the site’s environmental impact was also addressed, with each canopy structure only touching the ground at three points, and all waste water being processed through gravity-fed anaerobic bio-digesters.

Each of the twelve tents is strung high above the valley, with six either side of the main camp area.  All enjoy wonderful panoramic views and are linked by a series of walkways. Each tent is raised up on a concrete plinth and stretched on a giant arching steel structure, surrounded by a spacious wooden deck. The interior, which is linear in design features a bedroom, living space and luxury bathroom complete with shower and roll top foot and claw bath. The tents are breeze cooled and incredibly comfortable – perfect for our multi generational group. Two of the tents are configured for families and can accommodate four sharing.

Although the tent interiors don’t feel huge, especially the family tent where our teenagers slept on wide sofabeds in the living room,  there’s everything you could possibly need, from torches and filtered water to bug spray and sunscreen. There’s even a complimentary mini bar in case you fancy a cold Tusker on the deck and don’t fancy the stroll to the main bar.  The outside area really does feel generous and has the most wonderful vista.

The communal camp area consists of three main sections. The main dining tent has several large dining tables arranged both indoors and outdoors on the deck, with  fallen trees as their bases and solid glass tops, as well as smaller tables.  The second central tent is a welcoming  lounge and bar area where tasty snacks appear three times a day at dawn, tea and during sundowners.  Both of these two open fronted tented areas are linked by steps to a lower decked tier with a large fire pit and further seating. Softly illuminated by lanterns and the glow of a camp fire, this was a wonderful place to sit with a nightcap as Olare’s big male lions warmed up their roar.

The third section of the communal camp area, also linked by decking, and favoured by the resident camp hyrax families offers a small gift shop, the office and washrooms. Steps down from here lead to a glorious sundeck and infinity pool, with a small spa on the level below.

Stays at Mahali Mzuri are all-inclusive from bubbles on arrival at the airstrip to a warming after dinner amaretto or whatever you fancy  – it’s great to be able to budget for all this from home rather than during your holiday and we found it extremely relaxing to know everything was included from the word go. The only exceptions to this rule are the additional activities, for example the spa, community visits and hot air balloon safaris.

Food was of a very high standard with several choices offered at lunch and dinner – both being leisurely three course affairs. All our dining was private with our own table set up. The chef would often come out to chat with diners which was a lovely touch. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juices, toast and preserves, pastries and an expansive cooked menu from eggs and bacon to pancakes.

Blog DSC_8682blog DSC_9001For the next three days we followed a safari routine,  rising at around 530am in the dark, and escorted by the waiting ‘askaris’ to the lounge for a hot brew and a warm pastry as dawn unveiled the valley. We’d leave at first light, by 630am, kept cosy in the open Landcruisers by lovely hot water bottles,  ponchos and Maasai blankets, provided by camp. We’d be out until 930/10am, peeling off layers as the sun got higher in the sky, ready for a big breakfast back at camp mid morning.

The middle part of the day was spent having a swim, reading on the deck, watching the wildlife come and go from the valley and eating and drinking. The pool was a great distraction in the heat of the day, especially for the children. The pool deck offers some lovely deep shade. We’d meet in the lounge at 4pm for tea, which was always very sociable with the other camp guests,and be out on safari from 430pm till around 7pm when we’d return for a gin and tonic on the deck before dinner. On our final night we dined by the pool, surrounded by lanterns. After sundown the askaris guide you around camp, ensuring your safety.

blogDSC_8904We were able to explore a number of different areas in the conservancy during our stay, crossing rivers and crawling carefully down rocky hills to the wide open plains below, the children taking turns to sit up front with Dickson, completing their ‘warrior’ booklet as they went. Children 6 years+ are warmly welcomed.

On our first morning game drive we explored the valley immediately below camp. Some of our best wildlife sightings were right here. We had not long been on the valley floor when Dickson’s efforts were rewarded. The monkeys were nosier than usual and the birds were squawking. Then we saw her…

Blog DSC_8714Slinking along the valley, on the opposite side to the river from us, with her coat golden in the morning sun was a lioness. Dickson recognised her and said she had four cubs up on the slopes further along from camp. We waited patiently as she crossed the river and came towards us, almost brushing the tyres of the Landcrusier as she went.

blog DSC_8760The monkeys continued to chatter nervously and as we followed the lioness, a large hippo appeared on the horizon – I’ve never seen a hippo so far from water  – it looked like a huge boulder.

Suddenly there was a great explosion of movement from a thicket lower down the slope. What looked to be a leopard shot out of the bushes at lightning speed, pursued rapaciously by our lioness, who stretched herself up the tree as far as she could, clawing at the bark.

We held our breath. All was still again save for the hippo who continued to traverse the hillside. The lioness lay in wait for a few moments before deciding to continue her journey along the valley. We sat and watched. And waited in the hope the leopard would emerge.

blog DSC_8748blog DSC_8738The dark rosettes of the leopard could just about be seen with the binoculars but he was well concealed in the highest boughs of the tree. It took about 15 minutes until we saw any movement at all. Gradually, gracefully he picked his way down the tree. He was a huge thick-set male leopard. He sidled casually along the river bank, standing proudly in the long grass before disappearing out of sight…

We never did catch up with the lioness and her four cubs – we saw them from a distance and we glimpsed them playing in the trees as a dramatic storm swept through the valley one afternoon, pelting our Landcruiser and turning the sky black and moody. The storm curtailed the afternoon drive a little but it was very exciting.

blog DSC_8802We may not have spent time with the lioness and cubs but our stay in the Mara was not short of big cats  – this area is densely populated – we even got to watch a ‘super pride’ of 17 lion hunting warthog, and we also found the two huge male lions who woke us every night with their spine tingling roars. On the second night the roar was so loud it literally felt like the lion was right outside the tent. Thrilling.

blog DSC_8984In the valley and area immediately around Mahali Mzuri we did not see another vehicle – on the other side of the valley, down on the plains, we did see other vehicles, but most of our sightings were enjoyed on our own or with only one other vehicle. This included watching the wonderful cheetah brothers.

One of our highlights at Mahali Mzuri was coming across a one hour old baby elephant being nursed by her mother. Truly magical. We stayed watching until well after 1030am before returning to camp for a late breakfast.

We stayed three nights at Mahali Mzuri and wish we had stayed four – testament to the fact we had a great time.  We loved the staff who were all so warm and friendly, from our superb guide Dickson, to the managers Mariana and Wilson. We were incredibly comfortable, saw some amazing wildlife and laughed continually for three days. What more could you want?

Blog DSC_8597Green season travel

blog DSC_9126We chose to travel in the Green season – we enjoyed hot sunny days, some incredible sunsets and sunrises and only one big downpour which arrived just before sunset and lasted several hours. Some of the roads were badly damaged by heavy rain earlier in the month and we had to travel to the larger Ol Kiombo airstrip an hour away from camp to fly on to our next stop because Olare Orok was too soft to land on but other than that the weather did not impact on our plans. Mornings and after sunset it got quite chilly and you needed to dress with plenty of layers but the middle of the day was blazing hot. There are many young animals during the Green Season, the birding is fantastic and the landscape is beautiful. I love visiting at this time of year.

Special Offers

The benefit of the Green season is that there are very few other visitors in the Mara and you can take advantage of lower rates and special offers, for example Mahali has stay and pay offers and also a ‘children go free’ offer running at certain times of year. Look out for these for travel between March and June and often in November time too.  We include some offers on our ‘Special Offer‘ page on the website.

To find out more about Mahali Mzuri please click here.

To find out more about Kenya as a holiday destination please click here.

To discuss your family journey to Africa, or for a tailor-made itinerary,  please call us on 01603 964 730.

17 April 2018, by Sara White