This Kenyan trip was something that we were looking forward to for the longest while. We had a tendency to look at Europe every time we got vacation coming up because being from the Caribbean you don’t get to go to Europe often. For this one we decided to head to Africa because not only have we never been to the continent but we’re of African decent.
We contacted our Travel Consultant with our dates and budget. She then worked with a Safari Tour Company in Kenya called Samson Safaris. They send us a very bare bones itenirary and all we knew was that someone would pick us up in the airport and be responsible for us for next 7 days.
What happened next was a truly incredible and life changing experience in Kenya.
*I must say Samson Safaris was the best tour company we have ever worked with. They customize the package based on your budget and interests. It was a personalized tour, which we didn’t ‘t know. It was just the 3 of us the entire time. No crowds, no big tour bus. We were able to do things we never could have done in a big group and we were treated like royalty the entire time. Our guide was the owner of the Company and he made sure to go above and beyond to provide the most excellent service we have ever had. This was by far the best vacation experience we have had thus far.*
On Day 1 we stayed here. It may not be the best idea to go straight from the airport to the Mara. After a long flight nobody wants a long ride with tired kids. We stayed one night in the Boma then headed to the Mara the following day very early in the morning. It is an incredibly beautiful hotel with very friendly staff. The package we had offered breakfast and complimentary sauna treatments.
We stayed here from Days 2-5. We were upgraded to the best tent on the river side. At night it is pitch black. The Maasai men patrol 24 hours looking out for pesky baboons and other small monkeys who may enter your tent while your out. You also get to view animals close up. There are Hippos and Elephants and even a crocodile or two in the river. It is quite safe of course and we were always under the watchful eye of the Maasai security.
The Tent had a ZIP and no door. There is a safe in the room of course.
The walls are lined with mosquito nets. It is the perfect temperature. Never gets too hot during the night.
THERE IS NO AC or FAN.
THE ELECTRICITY AND HOT WATER ARE ON A SCHEDULE. When you check in they are going to give you a print out of the schedule for the electricity and hot water. Pay attention to this! When you come back from your game drives around 4pm there is going to be no hot water. Prepare to find something to do till 6pm when it comes back…or jump into a cold shower if you’re brave enough. Electricity goes out around 10pm every night to about 6am. If your kids don’t like sleeping in pure darkness take a rechargeable camping lantern. We learned this when it was too late and little man woke up midnight every night crying because of the darkness.
There is no wifi in the rooms. The signal is best up at the reception desk/ restaurant area.
After we came back from the Maasai Mara we spent one night at this lodge. It was about 2 hours drive from the Fig Tree Camp. The beautiful thing about this hotel, and many others along Lake Naivasha, is that the animals are right on the compound. You get to wake up early for breakfast and see giraffes amble in the cool morning. There are a plethora of 4 legged beasts on the grounds. Trying to name them all would be futile.
There is an area outside the boundary of the lodge that is blocked off. You need permission and a guide to take you beyond the fence. Here is where the true magic of this place lies. If you go really early you might get to see giraffes having breakfast. The Hippos have foraged during the night and are quietly resting in the lake by now. Your kids…and the kid inside you…will never forget this experience as long as they live.
On the last days we headed back to ~The Boma Nairobi~ before going to the airport. Even thought it may seem tiring packing and unpacking I think it is best to break up your stay if you are spending an extended amount of days in Kenya.
2. PREPARE FOR THE LONG DRIVE.
From the airport to the Maasai Mara it’s a 4 hour drive. It’s 2 hours on a smooth regular road and 2 hours on the roughest, most bumpy, rocky road you probably would have ever traveled on in your life. Imagine driving on the surface of the moon…at full speed. This is no joke! If your driver is like ours…he’s not going to slow down. He’s going to barrel through that rocky road like its newly paved. It’s loud, scary and you’re going to be rattled around like you’re in a blender. If your child is like ours…he’ll fall fast asleep at the roughest part of the journey. As of 2018 they are paving the roads. They are due to finish by Summer 2019. Another alternative we learned of was taking a flight from the main airport to various airstrips located in the Maasai Mara. I believe it’s a 40 minute flight and cuts out that drive completely.
The best advice I can give anyone traveling with small kids is to be prepared. We were in a 4 x 4 Safari Van with pop-up roof. The suitcases are going to be placed in the trunk area of the van. It is best to have a bag pack close at hand. This is going to be your life on the road and you want to walk with all the essentials.
Back pack Essentials:
Wipes. No matter how old your kids are.
Snacks. There is no stopping for meals. Most likely you are going to head out right after breakfast.
Sweaters. We severely underestimated how cold Kenya would be. Almost every single day we wished we had packed our sweaters. Thankfully, they sell the Maasai Cultural cloth or Maasai Shuka everywhere you look so purchasing a few is not only a great souvenir but comes in handy on the long drive and the early morning expeditions on the Mara itself.
Water. Always pack a lot of water.
Toilet paper. Every where you stop is not going to have toilet paper. Best to be safe than sorry.
If your kids don’t like loud noises, the rough part of the drive is going to be too much for them. Some headphones with downloaded songs or their favourite movies or shows would be best at this time. Surprisingly, when the road got the roughest and scariest our son fell asleep.
Eventually you get over the roughness of the road and your body gets used to it. We also experienced no motion sickness.
3. BE PREPARED FOR THE MAASAI MARA GAME DRIVES.
~Prepare for the Drive~
I mentioned how rough the roads are getting to the Maasai Mara. The roads within the Maasai Mara are no better. You are going to spend all your time in the vehicle. There is no getting out and stretching your legs. You will spend hours in the van on rough roads look at or for animals. If you are not prepared for this it will become tiring.
~Prepare your back pack~
Ensure that you have in your back pack all you will need for the day. Aside from everything listed above, sun hats for you and the kids also comes in handy. Items like fruit and yogurt from the breakfast buffet are also essential. Don’t forget your spoon! For the whole day game drives our package included a picnic on the Safari. Packing snacks and water is most important. Still pack your toilet paper. You may have to make a few toilet stops…in strange locations…like behind that tree over there.
~Prepare to wait~
If you have an ambitious guide like we did, he is going to ensure you see the “Big 5” animals at all costs. The various guides communicate with each other over a radio system and rush back and forth looking for animals the others have sighted. There is going to come a call that the elusive rhino or jaguar was spotted. Your guide is going to say , “Hold on for your life” and he is going to zoom to a location with about 20 other vehicles. They are all going to stare at a bush for 30 minutes saying there is said Rhino or Jaguar in there. You are going to see nothing. You might see something. You might see a shadow moving behind a tree. You are going to hear a crackle on the radio and suddenly see all the vans reverse and rush to another location where the rangers say the Rhino just emerged while we were looking at that empty bush.
OR You are going to wait 2 hours watching a herd of Wildebeest, waiting for them to cross that one river you know from National Geographic, hoping to see some crocodile action.
They never cross that river.
4. THIS IS NOT THE 4 SEASONS
I have seen reviews where people complain about lack of certain amenities that they are accustomed to. If you are someone who likes to be pampered at hotels and resorts, maybe staying on the Maasai Mara may not be for you. These camps are literally tents in the middle of the grasslands that run on generators.
As mentioned above there will be a schedule for electricity and hot water. It might not be at the most convenient times for you. You may find you come back from a day long drive and the hot water isn’t turned on as yet. You may get up in the morning and see that your phone is not fully charged. You may not have AC or a fan. You may leave for breakfast and come back and find a monkey has entered your tent and helped himself to the yogurt you were saving for later. You may bend a corner and come face to face with a rather large baboon. You may have to go up to the main area to get signal for your internet.
Be prepared to rough it a little.
The tents are clean and cool. The room itself looks like any other hotel room in design. There are clean white sheets, ample storage and drawers, bath robes, towels and all bathroom amenities, a desk for working and many outlets. In the night you get to go up to the main area and sit around a fire place making friends with people from all over the world…while checking your internet. The Maasai keep a vigilant eye for mischievous monkeys. There is a pool and many other facilities similar to a regular hotel such as a great bar and a superb massage room. It’s like camping. Fancy camping. Glamping!
If you are staying on the river make sure to pack a high powered torch light. If you are woken up in the dead of night to various noises, the lights from your phone aren’t going to be enough to catch the excitement of the two elephants in the river.
5. GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.
~Maasai Village Tour~
Our Safari Package included a tour of the Maasai Village before we got to the actual Maasai Camp. We were treated to a welcome song and dance by the people of the village.
We were welcomed inside their compound and learned a lot about their daily lives and their history. They also have a craft center inside their village where we were encouraged to make some purchases to help the village. The prices were quite reasonable.
Make an effort to include a village tour in your visit. We cannot always depend on the media/ TV to paint a picture of a people or a culture or country for us. Go see for yourself , ask questions and don’t assume. They build their houses out of cow dung but they’re all on WhatsApp and Facebook. You never know until you go.
The Maasai women have many hand craft areas set up. Sometimes they are on the side of the road with their items. Make a purchase. A beaded bracelet or some earrings can cost as little as $2US. It may not make a difference to you but it will to them.
These same women are going to be very aggressive with their sales tactics. Prepare yourself.
~Lake Naivasha Boat Tour and Crescent Island Game Sanctuary Tour~
If you are going on a Safari with small kids there is nothing better than being able to get up close to the animals. You aren’t allowed to do that on the Maasai Mara. Even though some animals might come close to the van , you are not allowed to exit the vehicle at any time during the tour.
Here is where the lifetime memories will be made. This place is absolutely quiet. You get to hear the rustle of zebras munching nearby and the low, quick trod of running four legged animals. The animals are quite tame which allows you to pretty much walk right up to them.
Its a wide open space , leading up to a hill. Your kids will get to run free with the animals grazing nearby. This place is like the Garden of Eden. Out of our entire trip, Crescent Island was by far the most memorable experience.
TIP: This should go without saying but this entire vacation is a sneakers vacation. Wear your most comfortable shoes at all times. My husband and I bought a pair of Allbirds Wool and Tree Runners specifically for this trip. They were the most comfortable shoes ever and we didn’t even need socks. They stood up to all we put them through and hardly even got dirty. They were incredible and I encourage you to check them out especially if you like to travel a lot.
6. DO A DOWNTOWN NAIROBI TOUR
Market place…not in downtown Nairobi though.
The last day of our stay took us to downtown Nairobi. We walked among the locals for many hours, getting a glimpse into their every day lives. I think this part of the trip was very important. We got to see people interact with each other and get a little taste of local life. We went to the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Center. Here you get the most amazing views of Kenya. You also get to see numerous art students sketching the Kenyan skyline. We visited the Kazuri Bead Factory where we purchased some jewelry and leather sandals. Because I am fascinated in all types of fabric, our tour guide included a stop at a fabric shop called Vitenge Shop where we got some really beautiful cloth at a great price.
TIP: Check National holidays in a country before you visit. We weren’t able to do the tour of the Kazuri Bead Factory because it was a holiday. We had gone to the location of Ocean Sole Flip flop factory but they were also closed for the holiday.
7. PREPARE TO TIP
And tip and tip and tip. Tip everyone. They are not going to ask for it but it is an unwritten rule. House keeping, the waitstaff, the bar tender, the Maasai warrior who gave you a tour, the boat captain, the man who brought your luggage to your room, the tour guide who took your son to see giraffes…. TIP THEM ALL. Walk with about $200-300US worth of Kenyan Shilling in small bills. If you don’t know how much to tip, ask your guide before hand.
TIP on tipping.
There is no ATM on the Maasai Mara. Get your tip money from the city before you head on your 4 hour journey.
Also if you run out of tipping cash , like we did , you can include it in the bill for the specific person when you check out.
Many people with small children have expressed a fear of going Kenya because of Mosquito bourne diseases such as Malaria and Yellow Fever. We were also concerned. After doing a lot of research online, many forums suggested that you didn’t need any sort of vaccination. Just to be sure we contacted the Kenyan Embassy in our country and they informed us that vaccinations were unnecessary. Just to be sure sure we contacted our son’s pediatrician, who happens to be Kenyan. He said there was a vaccination available but it was to be taken 1 week before we left. We were leaving in 2 days. He said this was not a problem and there was nothing to worry about.
When we got to Kenya we saw a total of 3 mosquitoes (mainly in Naivasha). We didn’t even have mosquito repellent and we were just fine.
If you are concerned, do your research, get your shots and walk with repellent. Or don’t. Either way, don’t let anything stop you from visiting this beautiful place.
WHERE WE ATE:
Nyama Mama – Great burgers and all around cultural vibe. Friendly waitstaff too. Try their goat ribs!
Eagles Steakhouse – This place is on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. This is a great first introduction to the animals. You and your kids will get to see zebras and buffalo close by, while you eat the best meal ever. The Day 1 part of the video was taken from this restaurant.
Carnivore – This is not a place for vegetarians even though they have vegetarian options. If you are squeamish…stay away. If you are an adventurous eater and would like to know what alligator and ostrich and other wild game taste like…this is the place for you.
Get rid of all your plastic bags before you enter Kenya. Hopefully they announce it on the plane while you are descending into the airport. There is a ban on plastic bags in that country and you are likely to be fined if caught. There is a huge bin before the exit of the airport and they expect you to put all your plastic bags in there.
This is NOT a stroller friendly activity. The Maasai Mara is not stroller friendly. Down town Nairobi is also not the best place for someone pushing a stroller. The option of baby wearing might be best for a vacation such as this.
There are several gift shops along the way. They are huge and well stocked. We found that the prices for the same items were considerably less in the airport gift shops.
So there you have it folks. This was a long one. There is so much information. I hope I laid it out in a way that was not totally confusing. I would encourage every single person, young and old, married, single or with kids to visit Kenya. The people are warm and welcoming. Of course, we were black so we blended right in. We saw tourists from India, Japan, China and Europe having as great an experience as we did.
Don’t let fear stop you. Grab your kids, book a tour and just go. 3 days or 10 days. Doesn’t matter. Don’t miss the opportunity to show your kids wild life up close.