East African Safaris: A Unique Family Experience
By Daryl Popper
“We took the photos home in our cameras, but we took the people home in our hearts.”
Lynne Leakey, a Silver Badge Naturalist Guide with the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association (KPSGA) is accustomed to hearing sentiments like these from visitors during the 30 years she has been escorting safaris throughout Africa.
“I do a lot of multi-generational tours,” Leakey says. “Just to see grandparents having time with their children and grandchildren without distractions, those things that keep families from interacting like IPods and cell phones, is very rewarding.
Starter Destination“I see families on these safaris when everything is put aside and time is given to evolve with each other and with the amazing animals as a background and just enjoy the fun of a safari.”
Kenya and Tanzania, located in Eastern Africa, are known as the starter trip for families through the Maniago Travel Destination Management Company. In each of these destinations, children are encouraged to take part in “kid stuff” at the camp’s lodges.
Activities geared toward the youth include nature walks, warrior lectures about tracking and constructing bows and arrows, design beading, and hair braiding.
Families can also visit Sweet Waters, home to a rhino sanctuary, a chimp rehabilitation center, camel rides and an educational museum.“Sometimes we have trouble keeping the adults out of doing the kids’ programs because they are having so much fun,” said Leakey.
Walks with Elephants
For the Maniago’s more experienced or repeat African safari travelers, Botswana is highly recommended. Botswana’s activities differ from those in Kenya or Tanzania because the serene land is vast and longer travel is necessary toget from place to place.
In Botswana many daytime activities are done on the water. Motorized boat trips and walks with the elephants at Stanley’s Camp are popular outings for visitors in a place with few camps.
Searching for wildlife can take a bit longer but pays off with big rewards in unique viewing opportunities. Some lodges only allow children over the age of eight due to the proximity of animals around the camp.
“Of my clientele, three quarters, are repeat travelers,” said Leakey. “It’s a place that people do come back to over and over. I’d say that many have come back four to six times and my average traveler has been at least twice.”
Four Types of Accomodations
Accommodations when traveling through the Maniago program fall into four unique categories and range in price from $3,000 to $10,000 US per person, not including international airfare.
The mobile luxury tented camp is the most unique and authentic way to stay during your travel here. Tented ensuite facilities include private restrooms, personal chefs, laundry services, morning tea and coffee delivered to your tent and gourmet dinners for up to twelve occupants. Transportation to and from each destination is by land cruisers.
These top-of-the-line accommodations carry a large price tag, but travelers say the experience is like no other.
Permanent tented camps, where your room is a tent located underneath a canvas covering on a durable floor surface, offers a dining room, pool, gift shop, and bar and sleeps a larger number of guests, 75 to 100 people, at a lesser cost.Boutique tented camps are the next step down but are still luxuriously equipped and accommodate 18 to 30 people. The kitchen caters to a smaller group and thus offers gourmet dining and includes laundry services and the added bonus of local wines and beers.
Lodges, the most affordable way to travel, house approximately 75 to 100 people. A central dining room is located in this facility, as well as a pool and bar. Here, safari visitors arrive in minibuses and spend approximately $3,000 – $4000 per person for an average eight- to ten-day stay.
Food at the Maniago’s African safari destinations ranges from excellent to gourmet and includes lots of fruits, vegetables and fish, primarily tilapia and Nile perch, as well as a wide variety of meat, pasta dishes and mouth watering desserts.
The more upscale tours offer a wider variety of dishes, but even in the lodges the big buffets that are served during meal time offer delicious varieties and salad bars.
Traditional African delicacies which are not only tasty but good for you are often sought out by tour programs. They are also listed in the menu at the various accommodations and typically include beans, corn, kale and sweet potatoes.“The food is totally beyond people’s expectations,” said Leakey. “There is a much bigger variety of food than people are expecting.”
If it’s your first or your seventh trip to Africa, Leakey recommends you take part in this life-changing safari trip.
“People come back with a little more appreciation of our country,” she said. “Especially when young people get to see the contrast that safaris aren’t just a lot of fun; they’re a lot of personal development for all ages. People fortunate enough to live in a country with such abundance as the
U.S. often return with a greater sense of appreciation for what they take for granted and this makes for better future citizens.”
“None of this would be possible without a strong tourist industry,” Leakey said. “Tourism brings in the revenue and the jobs. By having a strong tourist industry it strengthens the government’s ability and commitment to maintain the game parks and in turn supports this beautiful area.”
Leakey has been escorting safaris for 30 years. As a current resident of Kenya, she travels around the U.S. twice a year during the rainy season of March through June as well as the month of November giving slide shows and talks on African travel. Currently, she is visiting with travel groups, bookstores, and travel centers to promote African safari travel on the west coast.
Daryl Popper works for a winery outside of Boston, Mass.
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