Africa has long inspired intrepid travelers but recently, families have discovered it can be an excellent destination to explore with children aswell. One Indagare family visited Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt on an extended journey last summer. When they returned, they shared their experiences, memories and tips on how to get the most out of trip there – while keeping the under-ten crowd happy.
Your children were five and seven years old. Do you think this was a good age?
It was great for both [the older and the younger]. I was very hesitant going into it, thinking maybe they were a little young and we should consider this a few years down the road. But they were fine. They transitioned well they were flexible and just happy to be with us wherever were going. It was so fascinating to see all the animals, the landscape and the people.
What safari experiences stood out the most to them?
I would say both the animals and the village schools. It meant so much to all of us to go to a tribe school, and we did that twice. They really loved those chances to visit the children and to connect with them. The African children were so excited to see our kids, too. It was a total mutual bond they had.
What aspects of the Egypt portion of your trip do you remember most?
The sites, of course. And the heat. The heat was difficult. We dealt with it because we didn’t know when we’d be back there again (although after this trip I think we’d like to go to African for every vacation), but it was almost unbearable. Maybe I wouldn’t recommend it during the summer to people with young children; it might be better to go in March. It was also a busier itinerary than we thought, but we didn’t realize how many sites there are, and we wanted to see as much as we could. On the last day, we flew down to Abu Simbel, which I’m so glad we saw, but it was a lot of walking at the end of the trip, and I think maybe the children had had enough by that stage. But again, I’m glad that we did go there. I do recommend the Four Seasons First Residence in Cairo. That was very nice to go to after being on safari for a while. There’s a nice pool and big Western rooms with air conditioning that works.
You also did a cruise down the Nile. What did you think of the experience in general and the boat specifically?
We were on the SunBoat IV, upgraded from the Nile Adventurer, which I think was the oldest one [A&K has]. I don’t think I would have been happy on that one. The one we were on was very comfortable, but the other was certainly past its time. On our boat, we had the two Presidential Suites, which was very nice in terms of space. The service on the boat was wonderful, too. But if possible, I would highly recommend SunBoat III, a smaller one that has been recently redone.
There is so much to see in Egypt and it’s quite spread out, so viewing it from the Nile and traveling along the Nile is the most comfortable way to do it. We did see a lot of old, dirty looking boats, but A&K takes good care of their boats, even covering the backs of them so when they are docked so exhaust doesn’t stain them. The crew was very good, too, not just in the dining room but the sailors also were very nice.
Editor’s Note: The Nile Adventurer is being gutted and renovated during the summer of 2009. It will relaunch in September with brand new interiors and should be a great upgrade to the A&K fleet.
Did the service live up to your expectations?
We felt very safe. Every time we came through Nairobi, we had the same person meet us in the airport, too, which was very reassuring.
How did the kids do?
The children were pretty easy. When we were on safari, if the children were tired, they would just go to the back row [of the vehicle] and fall asleep. I think it makes a difference if it’s just your family or if you’re sharing a car with another one on the game drives. Then you would worry about possibly disturbing other people. Our travel specialist insisted that we have our own car and driver, which we didn’t understand when we booked it, but being there you realize why.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I think we would spend more time in Kichwa Tembo. But I think it’s good how we did it the first time because we did see a lot of Kenya. We flew a lot but we also drove a lot, which I loved. You really saw quite so much. It’s also easier in a way – you just put your bags in the car and go from point A to B without flying. I think we got a good sense of the country, really covering a lot of territory.
Our travel specialist arranged it so that we would see different species of the zebra and the giraffe, and if we had just gone to Kichwa Tembo we wouldn’t have seen that. Some people may feel the Serena Lodges are a little too large, as my husband felt. But again, I appreciate it was a good way to do it with young children. It also was good to do Kichwa Tembo last, because that was the most special and I think it might have been disappointing to go from there to the others. We really liked CC Africa [which owns Kichwa Tembo and now is renamed & Beyond]. The way they do everything, even down to the fabrics in the rooms, was just very simple and very well done. The people that they hire were also great. Our guide was a Maasai warrior, so he knew the land, he’s from there.
Did you feel safe at all times?
There was incident in Egypt that was with Petroleum Air. It was fine, but maybe the one that least safe feeling that we had flying. But the local specialist took such good care of us in terms of meeting us at the airports. They couldn’t have been more careful. In Egypt, when we arrived off the plane there were these two people that were employees of the airport but were not even dressed in uniform. They had these little tubes and vials and stopped us and wondered what our children had had in terms of inoculations going into Egypt. We showed them what they had had – everything that was required – and they wanted to try to talk us into getting polio, which clearly our children had had at a young age. Our guide came up quickly and dealt with it. Obviously you wouldn’t allow extra shots to be given to your children, but it’s perhaps even more necessary in Egypt to be met by your guide to handle these kinds of situations. Also when you’re dropped off, your guide accompanies you until he can’t go any further.
What would you tell someone planning a similar trip?
Go into it with an open mind and low expectations of your children, and I think you will be pleased. I was concerned, but I knew we would just have to be flexible and make it work for them, and it really was very easy. Also, definitely drink bottled water, even brush your teeth with it. In Egypt, it’s even more important, but I would do it throughout. We also stopped in London on the way, which I recommend for the children. It’s great fun for them to see the castles and the Tower of London, but also it allows them to adjust to the time change gradually. By the time we left London, they were adjusted and then I think Kenya wasn’t so bad.
Any packing tips?
I wish I had understood how much cooler Kenya was than Egypt. I don’t know why I didn’t really believe it, but it was quite cool in the mornings and the evenings. None of us brought fleeces, just cotton sweaters, so we had to layer up. I would have brought wool sweaters or fleeces for everyone if I had known. For Egypt, we brought a lot of very thin, white clothing. But you still have to think about being respectful to the culture, in Egypt especially and in Zanzibar, so you don’t want to have bare shoulders or anything too short. In Cairo, the Four Seasons let us leave our luggage since we didn’t need to bring that on the cruise. We didn’t plan that in advance, but when we arrived we asked if we could keep quite a few bags there, and they were very happy to do that. I recommend it so you are able to travel much lighter. In each place, we also were able to do laundry.
In the beginning, also bring snacks you know your children like, maybe individual packets of cookies or crackers, something you know they’ll be happy with until they adjust to the different things there. You could be out on a drive, hours out from the lodge, so it even helps when you’re out on a game drive to keep a snack in your bag. For myself, I didn’t bring any heels, just a very practical kind of sneakers, and I lived in those in Kenya. In Egypt, I wore only sandals, with one nice pair of flat sandals as my dressiest and one silk dress that packed really well. And then I also brought a couple of cotton dresses, which were more appropriate for Egypt in the heat. Also, bring nothing valuable in terms of jewelry so you don’t bring any attention to yourself that way. Beaded jewelry is great instead.
Read a member’s postcard on a family trip to Mnemba Island, off the coast of Zanzibar
Read about a new safari lodge for families in South Africa’s Kruger National Park
Read about safari camps in Kenya
Explore African destinations
Read about a special elephant sanctuary in Kenya
For information on traveling to Africa or to book, contact our advisory department by calling 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry