How to Plan an Amazing Kenya Budget Safari

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. 

The best Kenya budget safaris is in the Masai Mara


Kenya Wildlife Safari in The Masai Mara  

Africa Safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve

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

The great wildebeest migration on safari in Kenya's Masai Mara

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

Giraffe at sunset in Masai Mara

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. 

Money

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.

Tips

* 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:

 

What to bring with you on Safari

What to bring on safari

  • Passport
  • $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.
  • 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
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Camera and video recorder
  • Binoculars
  • First-aid kit
  • A sense of adventure! 

Kenya Wildlife Safari Options

Kenya safari options

Self Drive

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.

Safari Tour

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! 


Kenya Budget Camping Safari with Mara Explorers

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. 

Our private safari in Kenya with Mara Explorers

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

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

Our visit to Mara Explorers for a Kenya camping safari

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.

Transportation

Getting to the Masai Mara by Matatu

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

A lioness spotted in the Masai Mara National Reserve

Kenya Wildlife Safari in The Masai Mara  

One of the greatest Kenya safari animals, the lion.

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!)

Elephant family seen during africa safari

Another elephant family in the Masai Mara

Masai Mara A Map Fork & Cork

Baby elephants in the Masai Mara

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.

Cheetah in the Masai Mara

 Family of cheetah brothers on private safari in Kenya

This is a family of cheetah brothers who work together to hunt.

Giraffes in the Masai

Looking out of land cruiser in the Masai Mara

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!

male ostrich

A male ostrich. The males will have black feathers while the females are gray.

The Topi antelope standing guard. The Topi antelope standing guard. 
Kenya camping safari lunch by river. Our secret lunch spot with hippos in the river! 
Family of hippos A pack of buffalo which I can check off the Big 5 list. A pack of buffalo which I can check off the Big 5 list. 
Kenya Safari Animals in the Masai Mara

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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48 thoughts on “How to Plan an Amazing Kenya Budget Safari

  • I do not have words to describe this post. I can only sat “Wow” Visiting places bursting with wildlife are some of my favorite things to do. Therefore, a safari would be like an ultimate dream for me. You saw so many animals. The group of cheetahs you spotted was incredible. I hope these areas are protected for future generations.

    • Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment! Kenya is definitely the place to see wildlife up close. If you are into snorkelling or scuba diving, there’s even more to see underwater. Whale sharks migrate there during January-February, so if you ever go, that’s a great time to chose!

    • Thanks so much Madhu! I’ve also seen a lot of shows on the Masai Mara so it was really cool to see it all in real life 🙂

  • Be warned, now you’ve taken your first safari, you will not be able to resist being pulled back for more! We love safari too, and Kenya’s Masai Mara is an incredible place. There’s a camp we particularly love which is permitted to host a temporary tented camp right inside the Mara Triangle itself, which is just incredible. There’s something very wonderful about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, isn’t there?

    • Hi Kavita, I haven’t even left Kenyan and I’m wanting to already plan my next trip back! Great top about being able to camp right inside the Mara Triangle! I’ve been wanting to do a road trip for the next time and camping inside the reserve sounds perfect!

  • Oh, you were so Lucky to see that migration. I absolutely love cheetas, their physique is amazing, though I must admit that giraffes are still my favourite.
    #WeekendWanderlust

    • Hi Esther, thanks for your comment. The cheetahs are very cool and I don’t get why they aren’t part of the big 5. Giraffes are also a favourite of mine 🙂

  • This has long been one of my dreams – I just need to do it one day, and stop putting it off! (damned anxiety ;)) The photos are stunning, and I love how much practical info you’ve included – definitely makes it useful for people wanting to follow in your footsteps!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. What I liked about this trip is that I wasn’t paying some $300-$500 day for the safari like most companies. Even though Kenya is more expensive then SE Asia, this trip is affordable for anyone on a budget and equally as amazing! Hope you get to make that dream come true soon!

  • What an incredible experience! I have to admit that I haven’t given a safari much thought as the planning itself seems overwhelming – but this looks like a perfect day and company to use. Stunning photos!

    • Hi Jill, my Kenya trip just kind of popped up and I ended up having to plan this safari a week before I went but don’t think it could have been more perfect! I loved the safari with Mara Explorers and can’t recommend them enough. Hope you get your own safari experience soon!

  • Oh my god I really want to do this!! I have the migration on my bucket list, but I may move it a little further up the list and do this sooner. What month were you there?

    • Hi Amanda, I was there for October which is when the animals start heading back to Tanzania. I think it’s a great time to be there because there’s way fewer tourist compared to the peak season in the summer. Also, I got to see a lot of baby animals that were just born in the first few weeks which was really cool. Hope you get to visit soon!

    • Hi Noel, thanks for your comment. It was a great time to be there because most of the animals had little babies following them along 🙂

  • This is one of my bucketlist and reading through makes me want to jump on that plane immediately! I wish I had gone when I had the time but I guess it wasn’t meant to be yet. What an incredible feeling to have witnessed and experienced this wildlife! Beautiful photos and awesome adventure. Thank you for sharing and this has definitely inspired me even more! Wahhh

    • Hi Kattrinna, I really feel like the photos don’t even do it justice to just how amazing seeing the animals in the wild. I really hope you get to check Kenya off your bucket list soon!

    • Hi Claudia, that’s really cool that you’ve done extensive travel in Southern Africa. I’d definitely like to visit there as well. Hope you get a chance to visit Kenya soon 🙂

  • Wow! You had such an amazing safari trip to the Masai Mara. I’ve wanted to do this trip forever because I just love to see wildlife in their natural habitats! I can’t believe how many hippos were hanging out together in the river near your secret lunch spot. And, those cheetahs are so stealth! I’m also glad you have calls to action about ways to support the efforts against poaching. It’s such a horrible problem, but one totally within our ability to turn around. Thanks for this inspirational and helpful guide!

    • Hi Jackie, thanks so much for your lovely comments! I always like watching videos on the places I go to before visiting so watching the Ivory Game on Netlfix was a shocker to hear just how prevalent poaching still is. When you see these animals out in the wild and with their families, you can’t help but want to spread the word to save these beautiful animals 🙂

  • I would like to go on safari again, it is such an amazing experience. I went in South Africa a long time ago. Your photos are fantastic, especially the Cheetahs and you got so close! I would like to go to Kenya to go on safari and I will use your tips.

    • Thanks for your comment Lucy. That’s great you’ve has a chance to go on safari in South Africa. That’s definitely on my bucket list too! Hope you get a chance to visit beautiful Kenya soon 🙂

  • Wonderful safari adventure. Can I also just say that I love this blog because you say such practical things in a way that’s really clear and straight to the point. Tbh, I really thought going to Africa would be cheaper than SE Asia trip. Super glad that you mentioned that plus even gave some tips!

    • Hi Kirstie, thanks so much for your wonderful comments and I’m glad you enjoy the blog! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to go for, need to know info that’s to the point so I’m very glad you found it useful. I was shocked at how much more this Africa trip cost compared to SE Asia. Will definitely have to save up much more for my next trip back!

    • Hi Lyn, that’s great you had a chance to go on safari as well! A 3-day trip in a private game reserve sounds amazing!

  • What an epic adventure! My husband and I are dying to do a safari in Kenya so this is super helpful in planning our trip (I had no idea that we need to prove our yellow fever shots which we already have but will have to dig up the paperwork for…). And thanks for recommending Mara Explorers – they sound amazing and we’ll definitely have to check them out when we visit. Did you really get that close to the animals or did you have a super zoom on your camera? It looks like it might be a little too close for my comfort – but I guess your guides know best! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    • Hi Valerie, thanks for your comment! I really did get that close to the animals! I actually only had my cell phone with me (a Xiaomi 5 Chinese smartphone) to take the pictures and it doesn’t do zooming well so I had to get close for the shots. One good thing about the yellow fever shot is that you only need to get it once in your lifetime so as long as you find the paperwork, you are set. Hope you get a chance to visit soon, Mara Explorers is really great and also easy on the budget 🙂

  • Such stunning photos. Looks like you got pretty close to the animals. Sounds really like a trip of a lifetime. Great tips about how to prepare and also about Kenya not being cheap. Awesome adventure.

    • Thanks so much for reading and I’m glad you like my photos! Kenya has been amazing and I definitely recommend a visit even though it’s not cheap. Hope you get a chance to visit!

  • Beautiful photos, I’m getting one of those “some day” feelings. I’m wondering if “don’t go around elections time” was ever among the advice for visiting Kenya. It can get hairy there. Probably not much impact on safaris, but still, if you’re in Nairobi or other towns, I’d be weary.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. I was in a town on the coast when the elections were happening and could hear protesting but it never felt dangerous. I think as long as you aren’t in the area where protests happen you should be ok, especially in cities and towns that aren’t Nairobi where most of the action was happening.

  • Masai Mara is definitely the stuff of dreams. We hope to see our dreams coming alive someday. The wildlife in its natural surroundings is a treat to the eyes. Masai Mara is of course iconic as far as wild life is concerned and the wildebeest migrations one of the greatest natural sights that Man can behold. You are indeed blessed to have visited the place. Great information for planning a visit to this eden on earth.

  • Wow, what an incredible safari experience! How fortunate that you were able to see 4 of the “big 5” in just one day. Those are some spectacular photos you managed to capture. The giraffe bending down is so funny but cute. Opting to go by yourself seems like its well worth it, I would hate to have to struggle with other tourists to get a picture.

  • It is my childhood dream to visit Masai Mara. I would love to go during the great migration. I would want to try both self drive and a safari tour. That is an amazing place to have lunch! Lucky you!

  • The Mara is absolutely amazing! I did my first safari in the Masai Mara a few years ago and saw so much in those few days, that it felt I was there for a whole month. I’d love to go back.

  • I really appreciate all the details you have provided for an epic trip to Masai Mara. Witnessing the great migration has been on my mind for quite some time but I have been postponing my trip. I hope I would make it next year and your post definitely gave me the needed nudge.

  • I always look forward to come across such post and here it is one. What a great post supported by awesome pictures. All your tips and suggestions are also very handy. I hope you had a great safari and great time encountering these beasts and adorable creatures. Sometimes in my life I will definitely like to visit Masai Mara.

  • Incredibly cool photos Jenn. You saw many rocking animals, especially my beloved big cats, lions and cheetah. I love those buses too; after watching Sense8 on Netflix – with a Kenyan bus driver being a man actor – I appreciate the funkiness of these numbers.

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan, that’s so funny you mention Sesnse8 because that’s exactly what I was thinking about whenever I saw a bus in Kenya!

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