Why Africa Is the Perfect Place for Your Next Family Vacation
Helen and Chris Ireland knew they wanted to take their two kids, Caroline and Thomas, to Africa. Now a primary care physician, Helen worked in a hospital in Botswana during her medical school training. “From then I always knew Africa would be a part of my life and, eventually, my kids’ lives,” she says. “But I knew I couldn’t bring them too early.” After chatting with Inspirato co-founder and chief experience officer Brian Corbett on Inspirato’s 2016 Eastern Mediterranean cruise, the Irelands were inspired. “Brian had just returned from a trip to Africa with his kids, and his advice was to just go,” Helen says. Thomas would be 10 and Caroline, 7. “And it happened to be the year both my husband and I turned 40.”
Because the family wanted to stay at Kenya’s Giraffe Manor, the world’s only hotel with resident giraffes (which often books up one year in advance), the Irelands started planning their July 2018 trip in the summer of 2017. Helen worked with Inspirato’s new Bespoke travel team, which, for custom trips to Africa, partners with Rothschild Safaris. Rothschild has more than 30 years of experience planning trips to Africa and has planned more than 7,000 trips.
Helen says her description to Rothschild Safaris of what the family wanted their Africa trip to be was “comfortably uncomfortable and authentic. I wanted it to be different enough to get [the kids] totally out of their comfort zone while still supportive enough to keep us all smiling, and authentic enough to provide education beyond textbooks in as non-touristy an environment as possible.” Beyond this and the stay at Giraffe Manor, neither she nor Chris had specific directions for Rothschild. “We weren’t completely aware of the options, and that was really the value of working with the Inspirato partner. Rothschild was the one who suggested we do Kenya as our primary safari destination because it is family friendly,” says Helen.
By September 2017 the itinerary was set: Between June 23 and July 11, the Irelands would travel to a couple of different game reserves in Kenya, and also spend a night in Qatar and a few nights in Nairobi before ending the trip at the Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles. About the Seychelles, Helen says, “I wanted to end it with just the four of us and feel like no one could reach us. I had always thought of the Seychelles as a honeymoon destination, but it ended up being lovely for the kids.”
Four months after returning home, Helen says of the whole trip, “It was the best travel experience I’ve ever had and exactly what I asked for.” Of one specific location on the itinerary, Ol Malo Lodge, a privately owned game sanctuary on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River in Kenya’s North Eastern Province and bordering the tribal lands of the nomadic Samburu people, she says, “It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever done with my kids. It felt like we were going and living with extended family.”
“One of my big takeaways from this trip was that the kids actually liked the people more than the animals,” Helen says. “That had been my experience being in Africa years prior.” At Ol Malo, Caroline was entranced by one of the women in the family who owns the property. “Chyulu is an incredibly strong female and my daughter had such a reverence for her,” Helen says. To Caroline’s delight, the Irelands shared quite a bit of time with Chyulu, her young children, and Marmite, a baby rescue zebra. “There was this weeks-old zebra wandering around with us,” Helen says. “It was amazing, and for the kids a moment of pure discovery of something that was so foreign and priceless and pure. It was moments like that that made this trip, and, thinking back on the trip now, I can’t believe how many of those moments we had.”
One day on safari in the Mara North Conservancy—a private wilderness area bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where Rothschild Safaris recommended the Irelands go because it is dedicated to low-density tourism—the family saw a lioness kill a just-born giraffe. “It was so young it had not even stood up yet,” Helen says. “We saw the kill completely. My son’s reaction was amazement, but Caroline’s initial reaction was tears. Eventually when she saw we weren’t fearful of it and we talked about the circle of life, it became something amazing for her too. It was straight out of the pages of National Geographic.”
Helen says one of the things that bonded them as a family was a long game drive on which they saw little. They were in the Mara and hidden in bushes from which they could see a tree where their guide knew a leopard had stashed a kill. “Once a leopard has put its prey in a tree, it revisits it over the course of a few days,” Helen explains. But the family had spent a whole morning there without seeing the leopard. They left to eat lunch on a bluff overlooking a herd of hippos and, after lunch, would have been fine heading back to Saruni Mara, their boutique lodge. The guide suggested they give the tree and leopard another chance, though. “Probably at the three- or four-hour mark, my son was starting to act up and came out with the best quote of the trip, ‘Seriously, Mom, I have no idea why we’ve been sitting here for four hours watching a dead animal hanging in a tree.’ I looked at him and just started laughing. And then he was looking at me in total shock and then he started laughing. And then all of us, including the guide, started cracking up. It was such a lesson in perseverance and it just bonded us.” They did eventually see the leopard briefly later that afternoon, and then the next day watched it finish the prey, only to be surprised by the leopard’s year-old cub standing directly in front of their truck.
As excited as that guide was for the Irelands to see the leopard in the tree, he was quick to recognize when the kids had had enough. One afternoon, instead of taking them on a game drive, he hung out with Thomas and Caroline and made a bow and arrows for each. “We carried these with us for the rest of our trip and they’ve become irreplaceable souvenirs,” Helen says.
A safari guide and member of the Samburu tribe at Ol Malo brought the Irelands to his house. “He knew my daughter liked dogs and he had a new puppy,” Helen says. Other Samburu invited the family to their homesteads, market, and school. “They even brought me to the town’s medical clinic, where I was sorely tempted to stay and work for a bit,” Helen says. Four months after the trip ended, Helen and Caroline were still wearing around their ankles the beads the Samburu women gave them.