As we circled over the sweeping green plains of the Mara North Conservancy, my two boys (Edward, 11yrs and James, 9 yrs) were pointing avidly out their respective windows. ‘Giraffe’ says one, ‘elephants, elephants’ says the other excitedly. As we came into land, my eldest announces he thinks he saw a leopard in a tree, before admitting he wasn’t completely certain! Their enthusiasm was infectious and having met our guide Nelson, it was exciting to begin our 3 day safari across the open plains of Kenya’s Masai Mara.
It was late March and the region had already experienced some rain (the normal rainy season is late March to May), and consequently was looking stunning. There was lush green grass for the many herbivores and the scene was idyllic. On our first drive from the airstrip to the lovely Kicheche Mara Camp, the boys clocked up about 10 different sightings – warthogs, vervet monkeys (their favourite), topi, impala, giraffe, elephant, gazelles (Grant’s and Thomson’s), eland, wildebeest, some snoozing lions and a pair of black-backed jackals.
We spent one night at Kicheche Mara Camp on the Mara North Conservancy and two nights at Kicheche Bush Camp on the neighbouring Olare Motorogi Conservancy, and both camps were fantastic. It was a thrill to be sleeping in genuine safari tents, despite the obvious comforts they provide, with lions roaring in the distance. The boys took it in their stride and my wife Jane and I settled into things and even relaxed a little! The staff are so good and the kids were so engaged that there was relatively little for us to do other than enjoy the adventure and make sure they put on sun cream during the day and mosquito repellent at dusk.
We had some incredible lion and cheetah sightings, a beautiful encounter with young hyaena pups, and were very lucky to see an elusive serval. However, top of the family wish list from the start was a leopard, which didn’t prove easy. Our final morning arrived and we decided to head out early ………… and thank heavens we did. Local superstar ‘Fig’, a beautiful but small female leopard often seen in the area around Kicheche Bush Camp, finally made her appearance. Following a small river course, she wandered contentedly before settling in a tree to snooze. What a wonderful encounter and a great way to end our safari.
We constantly hear great feedback from families who safari with us in Kenya, but I was still impressed with how well we were looked after and how well catered for we were as a family. We had our own vehicle for game drives, which is usual policy for a family at the Kicheche Camps, and our guide Nelson was fun and engaging. The balance between adventure and relaxation was just right – it was new and exciting without being uncomfortable at all. We have some amazing memories as a family, and I felt that at 9 and 11 years old our boys were definitely old enough to appreciate what they were doing.
From Kenya we flew to the Seychelles where we visited three different islands. Firstly Praslin Island, the second largest in the archipelago of around 115 islands, where we spent 5 days at the family friendly Paradise Sun and visited various other islands including La Digue, Cousin, Curieuse and St Pierre. The boys enjoyed meeting giant land tortoises (that live to be over 150 years old) and snorkelling around St Pierre Island was a highlight. On La Digue we cycled on tandem bikes down to Grand Anse on the south coast, and then trekked over the hillside to the more remote Petite Anse. These beaches were a real highlight for me, such incredible colours and natural scenery, and very few visitors.
Our second stop in the Seychelles was Silhouette Island, a 45 minute boat ride north-west from Mahe. Silhouette is the fourth largest island in the Seychelles, but is very much a ‘one resort’ island with a remote feel. The beach was gorgeous, backed by tumbling forests. You could snorkel off the beach in crystal clear waters, and then pop your head up and watch fruit bats circling over the forest. In short, the island was stunning. We enjoyed a forest trek to the remote Anse Mondon on the north of the island, where local boat captains refuse to land due to an old pirate curse, though the highlight of our stay was a morning ‘coastal trolling’ around the island, where we caught several barracuda and needlefish, a jobfish and a bonito.
Our last stop was Mahe Island, at the luxurious Constance Ephelia Hotel. We enjoyed the extra comfort and space of our two-bedroomed family villa, and the hotel had a really relaxed feel and friendly vibe. Our final day was arguably one of the best of the entire holiday, as the weather cleared and we all enjoyed some fantastic snorkelling off the hotel’s North Beach, before taking to the ocean for a family scuba dive. This was a first experience for the boys, and we were incredibly lucky with the conditions. Visibility was great, so without going too deep we managed an amazing dive, seeing plenty of fish, a graceful eagle ray, a hawksbill turtle and even a couple of white-tip reef sharks!
I cannot recommend the Seychelles highly enough for families with children old enough (10yrs+ is perfect) to undertake the activities for which the Seychelles is best known – snorkelling, diving, fishing, birding, sailing and generally exploring. Of course there is also plenty of time to relax, read a book, enjoy good meals, do yoga and swim in the pool etc.
British Airways fly to both Kenya and the Seychelles, and by going on safari first we had two daylight long-haul flights which were actually less stressful than overnight flights. Perhaps it is just because the kids are slightly older, but the travelling all seemed very manageable!
Provided your children are old enough to enjoy the safari adventure (and take malaria tablets for that portion) and appreciate some of the marine activities in the Seychelles, I think a Kenya/ Seychelles combination is almost unbeatable for a family holiday.