How to Plan an Amazing Kenya Budget Safari
Driving into Kenya’s Masai Mara as the sun was rising up, felt just like stepping into the opening of The Lion King. Wildlife began appearing all over out of the grasslands. Instantly we saw gazelles prancing about, a baby elephant walking with its mother, a heard of wildebeest grazing, and yes even baby Simba! This was just the beginning of our Kenya budget safari in the Masai Mara and was to become one our most memorable and favorite experiences ever traveling.
Kenya Wildlife Safari in The Masai Mara
Located in South-West Kenya, is the Masai Mara National Reserve. There you will find one of the best places for Kenya wildlife safaris where the Masai Mara is renowned as one of Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Reserves. What separates the Masai Mara from other reserves is that it provides one of the best opportunities to spot all of the Big Five – lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants, and buffalo.
Funny enough, we didn’t spot any monekys there whereas they were living righ in our backyard while house sitting on Kenya’s coast. Either way, this is a very special place where you can also witness one of the world’s greatest wonders…the great wildebeest migration.
The Great Wildebeest Migration
Known as ‘The World Cup of Wildlife’, the wildebeest migration is the greatest movement of animals. Over two million animals will move from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya from July to October.
The wildebeest are the greatest number to cross. Around 1.7 million wildbeest will migrate along with other animals like the gazelle, zebra, and elands. Not far behind and are lions, cheetas, leopards, hyenas and other predators who stalk their prey waiting to catch their next meal. The most exciting part to catch is watching the migration cross the deadly Mara River where crocodiles are lurking.
Planning Your Kenya Budget Safari
Visa for Kenya
A tourist visa is required to enter Kenya. You can apply for this on arrival at the airport or apply for an E-visa beforehand which I recommend.
Vaccinations in Kenya
Make sure to book an appointment to get your travel vaccinations at least 4 weeks in advance. In Canada and the UK, many of the vaccinations may be free. Moreover, if you have to go to a travel clinic you are probably going to have to shell out some cash if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
Just to enter Kenya, you must have the yellow fever vaccination certificate. There will also be other vaccinations that come strongly recommended so you should speak with your doctor about your specific travel plans. You can also find out more details on the government travel health website.
In Kenya, their currency is the shilling although you can also use USD in many places. Don’t think because you are going to Africa that this trip will be cheap! Kenya is known for being expensive and you will pay way more here than a trip to SE Asia.
If you are traveling outside of the major cities like Nairobi, most places will only take cash and it may be difficult to find an ATM. Also, ATM’s have very high fees so it’s important to keep some cash with you on hand. One useful way to get cash though is to use a money transfer service. Since traveling to Kenya was an unexpected trip while already in Greece, we needed to send money over to Kenya. We also miss-budgeted and ran out of money during our trip. We used Worldremit to send money to ourselves from back home. It’s safe and easy to do and you just pick up the money at a bank with your passport.
For more information on costs and budgeting for your Kenya trip, check out Lonely Planet.
* Make sure your cash is in smaller bills since many places will not accept the larger bills.
** Store your money in many different places and never go outside with more cash then you need.
Safety in Kenya
It’s a good idea to check the travel advisory before planning a trip. Just don’t let an advisory that says ‘Exercise a high degree of caution’ stop you from traveling. I’ve been to many places that had this warning and as long as you are smart, you will be safe. The most important tips I can give you on travel in Kenya are:
- Don’t wear jewelry
- Don’t go out at night
- Keep all your valuables locked up. It’s a good idea to bring your own lock in case there isn’t a safe.
- If you are walking in big cities like Nairobi, do not bring any valuables with you like a cellphone, camera or watches. It is good to have a phone with you though, so get a cheap burner phone.
For my fellow Canadians, it’s also a good idea to use the registration of Canadians abroad service which notifies you with important information like natural disasters or civil unrest.
For other countries, check out your government travel advisories:
- US Department of State
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade
What to bring with you on Safari
- $80 USD- This covers the Masai Mara park fees. You can pay in cash with USD or shillings or a Visa credit card. Keep in mind that US bank notes must be from 2004 or newer and in good condition.
- Layered clothing – In the early morning it can be quite cold so pants which you can strip off and a sweater are good.
The optimal colors to wear are light colors that blend with the scenery but not white because it can get very dusty while driving.
- Shoes or sandals
- Plenty of water throughout the day – You won’t find any places in the park offering water bottles. I like a collapsible water bottle since it’s easy to pack.
- Toilet paper- You will have to go to the bathroom in the open, so ladies, bring some toilet paper with you! Also, plastic bags are now banned so a paper bag is good to carry for garbage collection.
- Hat and sunglasses
- Bug Spray
- Camera- I strongly recommend a camera that’s good at zooming in. Sometimes during the safari, you will see an animal but can’t get too close so a camera that can take those long distance pictures is great. I use a Canon.
- First-aid kit
- A sense of adventure!
Kenya Wildlife Safari Options
If you are a big fan of road trips and tailoring your own adventure, this may be a great option for you. If you rent your own vehicle, make sure it is a 4×4 as some roads will be tough to drive on. Also, some parts can be quite challenging to drive on with steep hills to go up and down on, muddy roads or pools of water so if you are skittish about driving this probably isn’t the option for you.
Unfortunately, by the time I decided I was going to Kenya, there were no rentals available but I had good correspondence with Roadtrip Kenya and they offer great itineraries for self-driving around Kenya. When I go back to Kenya, I will try a rental with them.
There are many tour companies to choose from so do your research to make sure you get a good one.
One important factor in choosing a company is how many people are in a vehicle?
I saw many vans, packed with tourists all pushing each other trying to get a shot of an animal. Also, check if the tour includes a tracker with a driver. Many animals like the leopard, rhino, and cheetahs can be difficult to spot so I’d strongly recommend going with a tour company that has both a driver and tracker. Jugo and I chose Mara Explorers which we absolutely loved!
If you are interested in a more organized tour, try these.
Kenya Budget Camping Safari with Mara Explorers
Masai Mara Safari Cost
For 15,000 KES, Mara Explorers provides a Landcruiser, driver, and tracker along with their Masai Mara park fees, and a bottle of water for each person. You can go as a tour group and split the cost to make it cheaper, but Jugo and I preferred to go on our own private safari which we absolutely loved! We decided when to keep driving after taking photos of animals, what animals to keep a special eye out for that we were really interested in seeing, and spend a lot more time watching our favourite animals. You wouldn’t be able to do this if you were in a tour group. We were really glad we decided to go on our and experience a great Kenya budget safari.
We had a full day from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM to spot animals and it was fantastic! Our driver Kennedy and tracker Jo are part of the Masai Mara tribe so the money you pay for the tour goes back to them and their village. Kennedy is next in line to be chief of the village and he is full of knowledge about the animals. For every animal spotted, he would tell us the gestation period, how long they live for, and other little interesting tidbits. Kennedy and Jo did an amazing job at making our safari a magical experience and I full-heartedly recommend booking a safari with Mara Explorers. This was just a one day trip for us, but they also offer Safari packages for Masai Mara, Nairobi National Park, and Amboseli if you are interested.
Tipping isn’t a requirement but it will definitely go a long way to help those who take you on safari. A general rule of thumb is $10 US for your guide and $5 US to your tracker each day.
Accommodation & Meals
Mara Explorers offers some great accommodation options. They have dome tents with single beds inside for 5,000 KES pp, en suite cottages for 7,000 KES pp and en suite safari tents for 8,000 KES pp which includes three meals/day. You can also opt out of the meals and cook your own in their cooking facilities. We enjoy camping so went with the most basic option and cooked our own meals which was great on the budget. We especially enjoyed their outdoor showers where we could literally see the stars while showering after our safari.
We flew into Nairobi and spent a few days there recovering from a 23-hour flight.
To get from Nairobi to the Masai Mara will take 4.5-6 hours depending on traffic. During our time in Nairobi we would ask our taxi drivers if they drove to the Masai Mara and all said yes. We picked the driver that offered us the cheapest option which cost 17,000 KES for a round trip.If you go with this option in a regular non 4×4 vehicle, it can be very bumpy!
If you prefer not having the hassle of asking drivers, Mara Explorers offers taxi transfers for 15,000 KES one way.
If you want an even cheaper option, you can catch a local Matatu (bus) to Narok for 300-450 KES and then taxi to the camp for 500 KES. Against the Compass is a great blog which explains exactly how to go the local way on Matatu to Mara explorers.
Masai Mara Safari Cost
We went on a Kenya camping safari with Mara Explorers for two nights and one game drive. Our total Masai Mara safari cost came to:
Private safari with lancruiser and two guides………. 15,000 KES ($145 USD)
Masai Mara Park Fee ………………………………………..$80/USD/PP
Camping overnight in a double tent…………………….4,000 KES/night (two people) ($78 USD)
Transportation round trip from Nairobi………………..17,000 KES ($165 USD)
Meals we cooked (2 dinners, 3 breakfasts, 1 lunch) ….. 400 KES ($4 USD)
Total: $552 for two people and two nights
Not bad when the average cost of an africa safari is $800-$1000 per person per night!
Kenya Safari Animals in the Masai Mara
We learned from our guide Kennedy that it’s the females who do all the hunting. Also, those males have a lot of stamina because they mate around 30 times a day (although it only lasts for a few seconds!)
It was magical seeing so many elephants at the Masai Mara. I also felt very fortunate that I could be so up close to them. The African Elephants are the largest animal that walks the earth but their population has been reduced by 97% over the last 100 years because of the illegal poaching for their ivory tusks. This is especially sad because elephants are very similar to us in that they have very close relationships and will grieve the loss of their family members. Netflix created an amazing documentary with the insights on elephant poaching called The Ivory Game which you should definitely watch and you can click here to find out how you can help.
This is a family of cheetah brothers who work together to hunt.
It was great spotting a family of giraffes! To reach the lower brushes, they have to spread their front legs wide which looks really funny!
A male ostrich. The males will have black feathers while the females are gray.
The Topi antelope standing guard.
Our secret lunch spot with hippos in the river!
A pack of buffalo which I can check off the Big 5 list.
Overall, going on a safari in the Masai Mara was a trip of a lifetime and will definitely go down as one of my favorite experiences. Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is amazing. They look so free and happy compared to being caged in a zoo. You also learn a lot about the impact poaching has had and just how many species are endangered. I managed to see four of the Big 5 for a one-day safari and the only animal I missed was the rhino. The World Wildlife Foundation states
“In more than 50 years of conservation, we have never seen wildlife crime on such a scale. Wildlife crime is now the most urgent threat to three of the world’s best-loved species—elephants, rhinos and tigers.”
We’re all part of the circle of life (as the Lion King so famously puts it) and we all need to help stop wildlife crime and ensure the preservation for future generations. Please help today by signing the WWF’s pledge to stop wildlife crime.
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