East Africa is a wonderful destination for families. Yes, there are vaccinations to worry about, distances can be large and there are regions you’ll want to avoid. But you might just have the holiday of a lifetime.
Best Regions for Kids
Tanzania combines fabulous safari destinations – particularly Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a true place of the imagination, and the Serengeti National Park – with a lengthy Indian Ocean coastline; safari lodges and beach resorts (especially in Zanzibar) are often family-friendly.
Like Tanzania, Kenya combines stirring safaris with fabulous coastline. The Masai Mara National Reserve during the wildebeest migration (July to October) is an extraordinary spectacle; other national parks such as Nairobi and Lake Nakuru are more manageable in size. Anywhere along the coast can be good for families, although Diani Beach and (security depending) Lamu are our pick.
With wildlife-rich national parks and a slew of water-based activities at Entebbe and Jinja, Uganda can be a great destination. Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its boat rides and good roads, is ideal for a family safari. Remember minimum age requirements (usually 12 or 15 years old) apply for chimp and gorilla tracking.
East Africa for Kids
Health & Safe Travel
Africa’s list of potential health hazards is formidable, although a little preparation can ameliorate most risks – talk with your doctor before departure, take special care with hygiene once you’re on the road and make sure your children always sleep under a mosquito net.
Safaris & Cultures
The safari could have been custom-built for older children, but younger kids may not have the patience to sit for long periods in a car. Driving up to within touching distance of elephants and watching lion cubs gambolling across the plains are experiences your kids won't quickly forget. A number of very top-end lodges, particularly in Kenya, operate 'Warrior for a Week' programs, during which, in between safaris, the little darlings get taught how to make fire without matches, track buffalo, shoot their little sister with a bow and arrow and other such things you don't really want a five-year-old boy learning!
If such top-end lodges are beyond your budget, you'll be pleased to hear that throughout the region there are numerous other 'cultural experience' programs that are often easier on the wallet than a safari. More importantly, most of these are likely to leave a stronger imprint in your child's mind than any number of animal encounters.
Beach holidays are a sure-fire way to keep the kids happy, and factoring in some beach time to go with a safari can be a good idea. Kenya’s and Tanzania’s beaches alone should be sufficient, but some of the water sports on offer, and other pursuits such as snorkelling, may be suitable for children, depending on their age. Packing a picnic lunch and sailing out to sea on a dhow (ancient Arabic sailing vessel) is fun family time.
National Parks & Reserves
- Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya Africa’s charismatic megafauna in abundance.
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania Arguably the best national park in East Africa.
- Nairobi National Park, Kenya Good roads, easy access and loads of animals.
- Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya Flamingos, leopards and monkeys.
- Saadani National Park, Tanzania Perfect combination of beach and bush.
Travelling to East Africa with children requires careful planning. It's generally best to avoid the rainy season (March to May) and you'll need to check carefully what vaccinations are required for each country you plan to visit; antimalarial medication is also recommended. Accommodation is generally easy to organise but do your research – some resorts and safari camps are more family-friendly than others and some don't even accept children.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
What to Bring
Canned baby foods, powdered milk, disposable nappies and the like are available in most large supermarkets, but they are expensive. Bring as much as possible from home, along with child-friendly insect repellent (this can’t be bought in East Africa). Child seats for hire cars and safari vehicles are generally not available unless arranged in advance.
For protection against malaria, bring mosquito nets for your children and ensure that they sleep under them.
Although some wildlife lodges have restrictions on children aged under 12 years, most lodges can handle most practicalities with aplomb, whether it’s the extra bed or cot, or serving buffet meals for fussy eaters; some lodges even have children’s playgrounds and almost all have swimming pools.
Budget hotels are probably best avoided for hygiene reasons. Most midrange accommodation should be acceptable, though it’s usually only top-end places that cater specifically for families. Camping can be exciting, but make sure little ones don’t wander off unsupervised.
Children under two years usually stay free in most hotels. Children between two and 12 years are usually charged 50% of the adult rate; you’ll also get a cot thrown in. Large family rooms are sometimes available, and some places also have adjoining rooms with connecting doors.
Safari vehicles are usually child-friendly, but travelling between towns on public transport is rarely easy. Functional seatbelts are rare even in taxis and accidents are common. A child seat brought from home is a good idea if you're hiring a car or going on safari.