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Where are the best family safari locations in Kenya?

Anthea Graham By Anthea Graham
22 Jan 2021
Cottar's 1920s Camp family safaris walking giraffes Stevie Mann.jpg

Get your kids to look up from their screens and let the thrill of Africa beat new excitement into their veins. Out on the far-reaching savannah – where the skies meet the earth - life and death are played out on a vast stage, and yet even the smallest creatures excite.

To give children the ultimate experience before it disappears forever, take them to the cradle of mankind so they can feel the tug of human existence reach out and enrich their imaginations. 


So, how should you spend your Summer Holidays on safari in Africa? Well, if you had only one chance to go on a once-in-a-lifetime safari, my ultimate luxury family safari would be to Kenya and would look something like this:

  • Private villa at Ol Lentille in Laikipia (3-4 nights),
  • Masai Mara safari staying at Cottar’s 1920s Camp (3-4 nights),
  • Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphanage in Tsavo East from Ithumba Camp (2 nights),
  • Indian Ocean beach escape at Alfajiri Villas or Msambweni House (3 nights).

I believe this will give you a fully rounded exploration of Kenya with lots of opportunity for adventure, cultural immersion, learning about conservation, seeing wildlife, as well as plenty of time for relaxation and family bonding time. Read on to discover why!


Private family safari at Ol Lentille in Laikipia

On arrival into Nairobi, preferably in the early morning, you will be whisked by light aircraft flight to the bush in time for lunch.  Such is the well-oiled infrastructure of Kenya’s safari industry, there are camps and lodges throughout this magical country to suit any age or budget. 

Fly north ‘up country’, past the snow dusted peaks of Mt Kenya, to Laikipia, the vast area of ranches and conservancies at 6,000 ft elevation, with the second largest ecosystem in Kenya.  One of my favourite luxury safari lodges is Ol Lentille, a magical 40,000 acre-conservancy which is owned by the local community, who benefit from the lodge in many ways.


Nestled into the contours of the hills looking out over miles of Africa, the four private villas can be booked individually, or taken by a large family or group exclusively. Ol Lentille also has a library with an open-air viewing deck, a Spa and a spectacular infinity swimming pool!

There is no set timetable and you can do as much or little as you wish! Activities from here include day and night game drives, walking safaris, camel trekking, horse riding mountain and quad biking, meals out in the bush set in gorgeous spots, plus picnics in stunning locations and a chance to become lifelong friends with the lovely Maasai and Samburu people who look after you. Unlimited spa treatments will give you that glow to make you feel truly alive and renewed.


Classic luxury wildlife safari in the Masai Mara

After a few glorious days in Laikipia, transfer by scheduled light aircraft flight to the renowned Masai Mara, home to the largest concentration of wildlife in Africa. Stay for three nights at the luxurious Cottar’s 1920s Camp.  You will be picked up in your open-air Land Rover and step back in time, to colonial days, where you can watch the hills and valleys from your spacious white tent’s verandah.

Inside there are touches of old-fashioned luxury; claw-foot baths, faded antique rugs, old gramophones and gleaming butlers' trays.  Drawing on some 100 years of traditional safari experience, the Cottar family aim to offer even the most discerning traveller the original essence and spirit of the 'golden era'.


The staff and guides are mostly Maasai and some have been with Cottar's for decades, with at least three being Gold Level KPPA guides. Calvin Cottar himself has won the award for Best Guide in Africa three times! You can go exploring with a Maasai warrior to learn all about the local wildlife and area as well as take the extraordinary opportunity to find out first-hand about this historic and fascinating tribe. To top off the extraordinary experience, lunch is a champagne picnic.

Younger members of the family can take part in the Maasai Warrior School where they learn how to make a bow and arrow from local materials and then aim and shoot the arrows. They also learn which plants can be used for medicines or for vital purposes such as for a toothbrush or toilet paper! Children will find this the most exciting part of their safari!


Cottars 1920's is home to six authentic canvas tents that are luxuriously furnished and spacious. Each tent features a large private terrace that is comfortably furnished and boasts views over the Masai Mara plains, the separate lounge area with plush sofas, large scatter cushions and an open fireplace has beautifully decorated with original safari antiques from the 1920's, the walls are draped in hand woven rugs and traditional Kenyan artefacts.

Meals are served in the dining tent, on the vast terrace with traditional boma, or in the privacy of your own tent. The centre piece of the bar is the roaring fireplace; here you can sample fine wines, cognacs and whiskeys in beautiful surroundings. The camp's library is well stocked with books that focus of the flora, fauna and the wildlife in the Masai Mara and the camp's swimming pool has a bar service, the perfect place to relax in the African sun.


Birds and butterflies abound, elephants wander through the camp at night and leopards call nearby. To the north of the Masai Mara lie conservancy areas which add a further 3,000 square kilometres to the park and are where local Maasai and their cattle live in harmony with wildlife. Cottar’s also have the stunning Cottar’s Private Bush Home a short distance from the camp, should you wish to have a more exclusive experience.

Enriching elephant conservation at Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust in Tsavo East

After your luxurious stay in the Mara I recommend something totally different but heartwarming. Ithumba Camp is a really inspiring place to take the family on your safari to Kenya. The entire purpose of staying here is to spend time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see the elephant orphanage and learn how the growing elephants gradually choose to move back into the wild.


Spend two nights at this exclusive and stylishly rustic self-catering tented camp designed for the intrepid traveller who relishes being off the beaten track. Ithumba is where you can appreciate big skies, star-studded nights and a rich array of fascinating species inhabiting this remote and wild landscape.

Accommodation consists of just four canvas safari tents, each one covered by a thatched roof to provide additional shelter from the sun. The setup is simple, but comfortable, with en-suite facilities and outdoor showers.


Spend your days going out with your guides to share in the lives of the elephant orphans from being fed by their keepers, who will also tell you about their history and their personalities. Then you meet them at their watering holes and dust baths and you can spend the day following them between returning to camp for lunch, siestas and relaxing.

The wonderful thing to see in the dry season, is when herds of ex-orphans return for visits to the stockade and spend time with the orphan elephants. In fact, two success storied have been orphans that have ventured into the wild and finally returned later.

One was heavily pregnant and produced the calf at the stockade, amongst her herd and the orphans. The second came back when her calf was just one day old to show everyone and then returned to the wild for another year. It is extraordinary that they simply know that this place is a refuge and a safe-haven for them.


The stunning Kenyan coast at Msambweni House or Alfajiri Villas

Tear yourselves away and say goodbye to your elephant friends and keepers, and head further south to the stunning white powdery beaches of Kenya’s stunning coast.  One of my favourite private family villas is Alfajiri which has three of the finest self-contained, exclusive use houses on the East African coast. The position of the villas ensure privacy and stunning views. The loveliest family villa, Cliff Villa, can accommodate up to eight guests in four en suite bedrooms and has its own pool.


Fresh seafood is brought daily to order from the beach and includes some of the best crab, prawns, lobster, octopus and sea fish available. The food served here has a strong Mediterranean influence (after all, Fabrizio and his wife are Italian!) with oils, Parma ham and some cheeses flown in weekly from Europe. The salads and fresh vegetables come daily from local farms and the fruit is handpicked from trees and bushes around Diani.

Children of any age are welcome at Alfajiri and a nanny service is included in the price of your stay - the staff are wonderful at entertaining children and teenagers to allow adults time to relax! The chefs will prepare the children’s meals at any time to suit them and will tailor the meals to the children’s tastes and requirements.


There is so much to do here including:

  • Snorkelling to the coral reef with local fishermen,
  • Using a traditional African boat,
  • Massages and reflexology,
  • Yoga,
  • A vehicle available for local excursions within Diani Beach area,
  • Gym,
  • Sauna and steam bath at a nearby property and golf inclusive of green fees and clubs.

At extra cost Alfajiri's owners can arrange:

  • PADI diving and courses,
  • Kite surfing,
  • Jet-ski dolphin safari,
  • Mangrove bird watching,
  • Deep-sea fishing (world record marlin can be sought in the Pemba Channel nearby),
  • Excursions to the nearby Kisite Marine National Park and to Funzi Island.


An alternative for the family is Msambweni House, and there are over three kilometres of stunning, white sand beach to the front of the property, reached by a pathway and a series of steps and protected from the open ocean by fringing reefs.

There is excellent snorkeling on the Msambweni Reef, some 400 metres from the shore. Goggles and masks are provided. This is still a traditional working beach with the local Digo fishermen paddling or sailing out in their traditional dugout canoes (ngalawas); one’s dinner will, most likely, be sourced from here!

Built from scratch, the property is hosted by the owner, Frederik, who is wonderful and attentive. Msambweni is a real gem; and is situated on a forty-foot-high cliff and surrounded by about 28 acres of natural land from where there are stunning views along the beautiful, quiet beach and across the Indian Ocean. 


For families seeking complete privacy, the Lamu Villas are perfect. They are both completely separate from the main house and have the advantage of a personal chef and private pool. The first two villas have two bedrooms, but the third villa sleeps six guests. They are all enormous with huge balconies where one can sit on daybeds and look out over the swimming pool and the ocean.

The villas also have their own barbeque which the chef will light for you and private dining can be enjoyed either on one of the verandas overlooking the sea or next to your private pool.


Luxury Kenya safaris: How to get there and what is the weather like?

Kenya is absolutely perfect for family fun and adventure safaris in the summer holidays:

  • It is only eight hours direct flight from UK on either Kenya Airways or British Airways and there is now a direct flight from USA (JFK into Nairobi daily) taking only 14 hours.
  • There is a simple e-visa system where you can apply online in advance, to avoid unnecessary queues at the airport.
  • During the school summer break is a fantastic time to be in East Africa as it is in the dry season so you won’t be submerged in torrential rain and it is also in the cooler months so will not be uncomfortably hot.

This is just one idea for a phenomenal family safari in Kenya, however we can tailor each safari and holiday to your individual needs and proclivities. Please do get in touch for more information. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.


Images by kind courtesy of:

Alfajiri Villas, Msambweni House, Ithumba Camp, Cottar’s 1920s Camp, The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, Stevie Mann, Angela Sheldrick.