Family Kenya Safari/Beach Combo

Dec 31st, 2005, 12:41 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 36
Family Kenya Safari/Beach Combo

First off, thanks to all of you experienced fodorites who help us first timers; I am amazed at this forum's dedication, knowldege and openness to improving travel experience to Africa.

I am seeking some Kenya travel advice for my family planning to travel to Kenya in late July or early Aug of 2006. We are a very active family of five (kids 14, 11, 10) who have been on many activity/adventure oriented trips. We tend to like water or jungle type vacations (ex of a recent trip was a costa rica trip where we spent half on the water-scuba, surfing, fishing, sailing and the other half in the rain forest-hiking, climbing).

Long on our list of must do trips, we have decided to go to Kenya this summer and we could use some advice. We have learned the hard way to minimize 'transition' days as the idea of packing, travel, unpacking is not only inefficient, but undesirable. So after doing some online research (and reading many of the postings here) my tentative iteneary is:

Narobi-transit only (I barely enjoy the great cities of the world and probably wouldn't be keen on this one)
2-3 days Amboseli-the elephants and views seem great
3-4 days Masai Mara-looks awesome and the migration should be happening, right?
5-6 days Beach near Watamu-looking at Hemingways or Turtle Bay Beach Club

My questions for you experienced Kenyanites are:

1. Itenerary-overall impressions of the iteneray? anything we missed or you would substitute? Maru seems like a slam dunk but maybe we should consider alternatives to Amboseli?
2. Transit plans-should we drive from Narobi to Amboseli and then fly to Maru and fly to the coast? we have used small planes successfully in the past to minimize transit time. Any experiences with Yellow Wing Charters or other suggestions?
3. Booking agents-i realize from the readings that we are late planning this so was hoping an agency could help especially with the more desirable lodgings. Any suggestions? We definitely are not group/bus tour people but always appreciate the insights of local guides
4. Lodges-any recommnedations in the Amboseli or Maru area? We probably would like something either in the luxury tent or nice lodging class (no need to have a personal butler, though.

Thanks in advance for any insights.
davez is offline  
Dec 31st, 2005, 03:19 PM
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If you want an alternative to Amboseli, you could look at Samburu. This would give you an opportunity to see some northern game species like reticulated giraffe, Grevy's zebra, gerenuk, and maybe even a chance of seeing wild dog though I wouldn't count on that last one.

There isn't a huge choice of accomodation in Samburu. Do you have a price range in mind? There are two mid-priced tented camps, Intrepids and Larsen's. Intrepids has a pool so you might prefer that if traveling with children. There's also Elephant Watch and Beduoin Camp but these two are much higher priced. For lodges, there's a Serena and the Samburu Game Lodge.

If opt for Amboseli, there's one tented camp, Tortilis, in the park or you can stay at the Serena or Ol Tukai lodges. There's a Sopa but I think it's some distance outside of the park to the east. You may also want to consider Porini Camp which is a small eco-camp located on a private conservation area (Selenkay) near Amboseli and you can do game drives both on the conservancy or head into Amboseli. Being on private land, Porini offers night game drives as well. When we were in Kenya last month, we met a couple who had just stayed at Porini and highly recommended it.

In the Mara, the Serena lodge has an excellent location in migration season. For tented camps, Intrepids or its higher end sister, Explorer, as well as the Governors camps (main Governors, Little Governors, Il Moran) should be well located for viewing the migration.

I haven't heard of Yellow Wing, but all 3 of these parks are covered by scheduled flights on Air Kenya. Nairobi to Amboseli is about a 4 hour drive. It's really up to you if you prefer to fly this part. Nairobi to Mara is about 6 hours on worse roads, so here I'd recommend flying over driving. If combining Samburu and Mara, I'd fly the entire trip. To get to Watamu, you can take a scheduled flight to Malindi which is just a bit north of Watamu. If you're adventurous, you could take the 3x weekly overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa and make your way up to Watamu from there (but allow for possible train delays).

I've used Eastern & Southern Safaris in Nairobi twice and have been very happy with their services. If you do a search for 'tour operator' or 'Kenya tour operator', you should be able to find some other recommendations. Or go to Assuming you're in the US, if you prefer to use a US based agent, sandi who posts here regularly operates Africa Serendipity and others have rated her service highly.

It's not too early to book your Mara accomodations for high season. Good luck!
Patty is offline  
Dec 31st, 2005, 04:45 PM
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Nice itinerary. It still isn't too late to book.

I think August would be preferable to July. Some parts of Kenya can be quite cool-cold in July necessitating long pants and a fleece jacket at times.

For the first timer with kids I think two days at Amboseli would be fantastic. August is usually well into the dry season and you should see hundreds of elephants coming to the Amboseli swamps daily. They are acclimated to vehicles and you can get pretty close to them for the kids to enjoy. Also plenty of zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, lions, some cheetahs. Tortilis and Porini Camps are not in the park but just outside. Sopa Lodge is a 45 minute drive just to get into the park. The Serena is well-known chain (supposedly 5 star) but the Amboseli one is not in such a very atractive area. I have stayed at Ol Tukai Lodge for all eight trips and I love it here. It is extremely comfortable and gives you a choice of rooms on either the elephant viewing side or Kilimanjaro view side (if the clouds aren't too low). Food is very good, staff attentive, new pool and you can see the animals right from your veranda. Highly reoommend it.

Mara lodges and camps perhaps Sandi or Patti could advise on better than I.

If you are planning on six or seven days at the coast, I would highly recommend booking at least two nights on safari at Satao Lodge at Tsavo East National Park. This is a tented camp and is another fanstastic experience. Southern Cross Safaris in Mombasa runs this camp and it's sister camp Satao Rock in Taita (out of the park). They can have you picked up from either north or south coast beach hotels and drive to Tsavo East for a wonderful tented camp experience. I have used Southern Cross on all my safaris and recommend them highly. They have just set up my January trip for me.

Driving between parks is possible, but the Kenyan roads are so bad that you are riding over bumpy dirt roads most of the trip and if they have a sudden unexpected rain, you are often stuck in the mud. You can fly from Nairobi to Amboseli leaving at 7:30 a.m. from Wilson Airport, be landing at the Amboseli airstrip at 8:00, be picked up by Lemomo from Ol Tukai Lodge, check in and be on your first game drive by 10:00 a.m.

Leaving Amboseli at 8:00 a.m. you arrive Wilson Airport at 9:15 and fly out at 10:00 a.m. on the flight to the Mara. Leaving the Mara you fly back to Wilson, are transferred to JKIA Airport and fly to Mombasa in one hours time. You would be picked up at Moi Airport and be at your beach lodge in an hour and ready to relax and swim.

I know you and your family will have almost as much fun planning and reading about prospective itineraries and lodges as you will when you actually get there You will love it.

JanGoss is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 08:07 AM
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Hi Davez,

I like the itinerary Ė not too many parks in too little time, though I would take a day or two from the coast and add them to the Mara.

With Tsavo as an alternative to Amboseli you could drive there, stay for 2 or 3 days (or more) and then continue to the coast. There are big herds of red elephants and of thousands of buffaloes. The lions have some man-eating ancestors Ė donít know if theyíre still doing it. And there are gerenuks, oryx and lesser kudu, but they are shier than in Samburu. Itís also easier to see leopards and cheetahs in Samburu. In Tsavo East Iíd recommend Tarhi Camp -very, very beautiful camp with lots of wildlife around and inside the tents.

I havenít personally used any agents that I could recommend. You could check with Sandiís African Serendipity.

In the Mara the lodges/camps mentioned by Patty and the very expensive Rekero Tented Camp (Rekero Cottages are outside the reserve) are the best situated for the migration. Keekeroks, in the centre of the reserve, is very good when the migration is entering through Sand River. If you want to go on game walks Iíd recommend Basecamp though I think there is an age limit (15) for walks. Itís not badly situated for the migration if you canít get the others.

For the coast you could also have a look at Lamu.

Nyamera is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 01:55 PM
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Thanks for the great suggestions. My reason for considering Amboseli is simply for the big animals like the elephant herds which i thought the kids would think is 'tight' ('cool' in our day). Several of you suggested Tsavo as an alternative, however. If it were a choice between Amboseli and Tsavo for 2-3 nights, which would you select? I also was planning Mara at the end because i got the feeling reading the forums that anything after seeing the Mara migration may be a bit of a let down. By choosing Mara last, it would build up as we went. Is that misguided thinking on my part? I realize now that the logistics would be easier if we did Amboseli/Tsavo right before the beach, but can't really tell if this is a big savings or not. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
davez is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:12 PM
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Were you thinking of doing a one way drive Amboseli to Tsavo East to Watamu? I think that would work. I don't have a map in front of me, but I think there's a direct route/exit out of Tsavo East that takes you to Watamu.
Patty is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 12:09 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
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You may miss out if you just write off Nairobi. Nairobi National Park has some good game. The Sheldrick Elephant orphanage is worth a visit in the morning. Some good places to eat and some events, theatre, music etc.
Pumbavu is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 06:30 AM
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Davez, you donít have to go to Amboseli to see ďtightĒ elephants, as there are lots of them in Samburu, Tsavo and the Mara as well. I havenít been to Amboseli myself. The question ďAmboseli or Samburu?Ē comes up a lot on a Spanish Kenya forum. Most people seem to prefer Samburu because there is a different landscape and different animal species, while Amboseli is a drier version of the Mara. Having read Janís report I donít think thatís fair and Iím definitely going to visit Amboseli. One minus for Amboseli is that it tends to get crowded, especially in high season, and July/August is high season. Iíd say thereís a higher wildlife density in Samburu than in Tsavo, but there is also a higher tourist density. Whichever of the three park youíll choose Iím sure youíll have an amazing experience.

You could drive to Amboseli and back and then fly to the Mara, though the road to the Mara is worth seeing. Or, if you start with the Mara you could continue to Tsavo and Watamu after Amboseli, exiting Tsavo East via the Sala gate and the road that leads directly to Malindi (and Watamu). Or, you could fly (or drive) to Samburu, then to the Mara and then to the coast. Philw did a flying safari with children to Samburu and the Mara staying at the Serenas in both parks in August. Hereís his trip report:
Or, you could start with the Mara, then go to the coast and when you start thinking that water creatures are interesting, but the lack of elephants is really painful you could drive to Tsavo and then back to Nairobi.

Nyamera is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2006, 10:04 AM
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I too would definitely recommend a visit to Amboseli. While growing up in Kenya in the 70s and 80s, we made long weekend trips there at least 3 times a year and there was always so much to see and do. It's also on the 'foothills' of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the views of that beautiful mountain in the early morning can be spectacular.
We always stayed at the Amboseli Safari Club/Camp which, while providing all the modern amenities of a hotel in a camp-like setting, provided some accommodations, if you so choose, in sheltered tents with private bath and toilet. The same company that owned this lodge also owned an excellent luxury tented safai camp in Tsavo called Tsavo Safari Camp.

If you choose Samburu, you will not be disappointed either, but the landscape and terrain is different in that part of the country but still very much worth it. If you do head in that direction, why not continue on up to the northern part of Kenya such as the Lake Baringo area ? (might have a different name now). Your adventurous nature will be rewarded, and you will be seeing a part of the country that not many visitors think of seeing. You can fish for giant perch too. However, it is a little out of the way.

Have you considered lodges such as 'The Ark' or 'Treetops' ? The procedure involved in getting to and staying there might appeal to your sense of adventure and the kids will definitely get a thrill out of it.

As far as the coast goes, Lamu, Malindi and Watamu (all in the North) are wonderful places - more of an exotic Arabic 'feel' than other parts of the Kenyan coast, but we also liked the South coast area of Diani and Tiwi beaches. However, we have heard that the South coast is more developed now than it was when we were last there, with many more hotels and clubs which may make it more crowded than how we knew it. The beach however is still wonderful. When there, we stayed at The 2 Fishes Hotel, The Jadini Beach Hotel, Leopard Beach Hotel and Robinson Baobab Hotel though I don't know if those hotels still exist by those names. You might want to do a search and look them up for ideas. In later years, we took to renting cottages or villas steps away from the beach and there is nothing quite like buying and eating fresh seafood (prawns, shrimp, lobsters, crabs and various fish) freshly caught and cleaned by fishermen showing up on your doorstep each morning, if that interests you. Your rental agency can also arrange for a cook and a maid though that is usually included with the house.

In Malindi and Watamu, we usually stayed at the Eden Roc Hotel and Turtle Bay Beach Hotel, but those properties are well over 30 years old now and unless they have been recently renovated, must surely be looking their age. However, they were both very good.

Here are the names of three Nairobi travel agencies that you can look up on the net and contact for information. We've used all of them, and they've come recommended from others as well :

- Wildlife Safaris,
- Rhino Safaris, and
- Micato Safaris.

Good luck.
Mathieu is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 08:31 PM
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We are a family of 5 and we just returned from 16 nights in Kenya on Jan 13, 2006. We stayed 4 nights in the Mara, 3 in Amboseli, 2 in Tsavo West before we went on to spend time on the coast and 2 nights in Lamu.
We have three boys ages 10, 12 and 14 and had a wonderful vacation. Like a previous poster I had lived in Nairobi in the mid 70s when I was a teenager so I had spots I wanted to revisit.
The Mara was terrific. Could have been three nights but it was wonderful to settle in.
Amboseli--I had great memories of Mt Kili at 5:30 am, snow covered in all it's majesty, but I guess that must have been in August! We were there in early Jan and had some clear views but there was no snow on the mountain so it just wasn't the same. Plus after the Mara the animals were really far off the road and it was a bit of a let down. I looked forward to the big groups of elephants I remembered--I mean like a hundred at a time, but we didn't see that either--only maybe groups of 10 or 12. Our guide told us this is alot more likely in August so I guess I had the timing wrong. Because I booked late we stayed at the Sopa, which I would not recommend because it is just too far from the park. So for us Amboseli was good but my kid's least favourite spot. Two nights would certainly have been adequate but I think August would be better.
Tsavo was cool with the red dirt, we had to look really hard but were quite successful in our game hunting.
Because i wanted to visit the beautiful south beach I remembered I booked in at the Jadini because it was the only hotel on the south beach that would reply to my e-mails and I thought I would be adventurous and venture off the recommended hotels. We lasted one night. The beach was great, the hotel we did not enjoy. Very run down. I don't mind roughing it but it was a very high price for a room where the phone did not even have a cord, the air-con was broken, the shower was broken and the sliding door to the ground level would not lock. I couldn't walk on the beautiful beach by myself without being followed by young men offering to visit me and give me a massage. It was 6 in the morning and I am over 40. We booked into the Serena on the north shore. The hotel was fantastic, the beach pretty good, but I was disappointed because I was looking for something different. Mathieu, I remember renting a little cottage by the Two Fishes but the cottage was boarded up and the Two Fishes was closed down.
Two nights in Lamu and I couldn't really find the magic I remembered. Coming off the plane there was bags of food aid being delivered to locals on Manda Island with the reporter on the plane beside me phoning in a story about the lack of rain and 2 million Kenyans being on government food rations. Lots of really expensive sailboats anchored off the shores of Lamu--which I always thought was one of those magical,remote discoveries. We used to take a bus and a boat all damn day to get there. Oh well.
I enjoyed Nairobi more that I expected. Cities are cities but I loved the hustle, bustle, people everywhere. I would have liked a few days there--but then I had places to look up.
Our guide did say we booked backwards and should have saved Mara for the end where there was so much game. I think it works either way. We started with a bang and were great game viewers by the end when game was not so plentiful.
My kids never minded the long drives over bumpy roads. Truly they loved everything and it will go down as our best trip ever.
Feb 2nd, 2006, 01:43 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,252
Well, I guess you already have a lot of very good advice, but I am sure the more replies to your post the merrier - even if I can't add much.

First thing to say is, you're going to have a great time with the itinerary you already worked out.

If you're like me and don't enjoy cities anyway, you probably are right not to want to stay in Nairobi b-( However, it's true that it's not that big and it's not scary in the daylight, and there are many who do like it.

If you are keen on seeing elephants, Jan who posted below is a real fan (see her trip report and accompanying photos). I think her interest goes a little beyond "they're tight" but I think you will get some ideas and perspective from reading her report. I think Nyamera is right to point out that elephants are not a reason in themselves to go to Amboseli.

Personally, if I were going to the Mara for migration I would want my other park to be a completely different experience like Tsavo, and especially with many fewer vehicles and people -and possibly fewer deaths and corpses

I certainly think the idea of going to the beach directly after the Mara and then coming back to Nairobi via Tsavo East is worth a thought. Might cost you an extra day, but a lot of that would be travelling through the park.

However, I have to admit that I wouldn't go to the beach and that I wouldn't be travelling with three kids, so you might want to remember to add a pinch of salt to this post.

kimburu is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 01:56 AM
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CORRECTION: Jan of course posted ABOVE, not below
kimburu is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 06:45 AM
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Karibu nyumbani. I suggest you move your trip report to a separate thread. Itíll be more visible and itíll be easier to ask you questions.
Nyamera is offline  
Feb 8th, 2006, 04:28 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 626

I second the motion. Please post a longer trip report on a new thread. We are going to Kenya in August (Africa for the first time) We would love your insights. In fact, we are spending three nights at Kizingo on Lamu Island at the end of our stay. A longer report would be helpful for others, especially because of your having lived there years ago.

Thanks, Kevin
stakerk is offline  
Feb 8th, 2006, 04:35 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 626

If you have not booked yet, you might want to contact Sandi from African Serendipity. She is a regular Fodorite, has good insight, and is reasonable, from my experience, on the price. (However, we did book with Southern Cross Safaris because of their clout in getting reservations and lowest price). However, Sandi was close in price and would have gone with her if she could have gotten us confirmed reservations.

We are going for the first time also in August. Three nights in Samburu, Four nights at Little Governors in the Mara and then three nights at Kizingo on Lamu Island (for the variety). We are flying, however, from place to place, not cheap.

Good luck,

stakerk is offline  
Feb 8th, 2006, 11:50 AM
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Danika where are you?

You donít have to write a longer report Ė though I would love that. Just a separate post so that we could comment and ask you some questions. Iíd love to know in what ways you think Kenya has changed.

Nyamera is offline  

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