Kenya features on the travel bucket list of most people. While some get to tick it off, others are left only wishing for it, mainly because of how expensive the safaris can be. Imagine having to spend $700 for only three days in Masai Mara, seems like a lot, right? The cost acts as the biggest deterrent for most of us.
But what if there was a way around it? What if you could travel to Masai Mara, embark on your great Kenyan safari without having to drain your pocket? Delightful, isn’t it?
Let me show you here how you can travel to the great grassland and enjoy a budget trip, whilst there.
Step 1: Set your budget
Before planning any trip, the most important thing to do is have a budget plan in mind. I usually keep an upper limit on my budget, just so I know when not to overstretch and go beyond my limit. Once I have set my budget, I start the planning process which usually entails
- Booking suitable and cheap flights
- Researching and shortlisting hotels/camps
- Finding local transport options
Step 2: Choosing the optimum travel season
The wet season, which starts from February and goes on till May makes for the best time to be in Kenya, if you want to save costs. The rainy season notices a drop-in tourism. The lodges and resorts have a lot of vacancy, which means that rates are slashed. With fewer tourists in the county, you can also leisurely engage in conversations with locals and shop owners. There is lush greenery everywhere. The wet season also welcomes a lot of migratory birds to Masai Mara.
Step 3: Cheap flight deals
Skyscanner is my go-to website whenever I want to look for cheap flight deals. The website compares and collates data from different portals and showcases offers from multiple sites. You can compare the prices of each website and pick out the deal that suits you best. Once the flight is booked, you can get started with the visa process (mind you, you will need accommodation vouchers for the same). It would be quite cost effective for you to apply for e-visa on your own, instead of approaching an agent for the same, you will save on the service fees.
Step 4: Stay in a budget hotel/camp
We have all seen Kenyan safari vlogs and all have wanted to stay in camps/tents which open up in the reserve, where you can sip your coffee on the front porch while gazelles are gazing around you. Well, time for a reality check. A camp like that would be simply unaffordable if you’re looking to travel for less. So instead, opt for camps that are backpacker friendly. They would be outside the main reserve’s gate but still in close proximity. An economical camp combined with highly discounted rates offered by them in the rainy season, would save your budget from soaring high.
You can find best budget camps for as little as $40 per night for one person (provided you travel from March-May).
Step 5: Know your safari prices and plan accordingly
All camps and lodges in Masai Mara can take care of your safari bookings.
Do you need to book in advance?
Well, if you are travelling in the peak season (summer), then you would need to give them a heads up before you arrive at the lodge. But if you’re travelling in the low season, then after check in, inform the reception staff one day prior.
So how much does a Kenyan safari cost?
Camps typically charge you anywhere between $160 – $170 per safari. The cost includes permit charges, park entrance charges, guide charges and vehicle (minivan) charges. The cost can be split between 6 people. This works only if you inform the camp in advance. If you decide to book your safari through them at the last minute, then you will be asked for a flat rate, somewhere to tune of $60 – $80 per person, per safari, depending upon the season.
PS the above safari charges are what a typical budget camp would charge. Luxury camps would charge a higher rate.
Step 6: Opt for local transport
A private car to take you from Nairobi to Masai Mara can be considered quite wishful, since you’re looking to cut costs. In that case, opting for local transport is your best bet. Here’s how you can do that –
Take a Matatu to Narok
Narok town is at a distance of 150 km from Nairobi. It takes you roughly 3 hours to reach there. The roads are well-maintained and your drive up until that town is quite smooth. Daily Matatu transfers are available from Nairobi to Narok for a cost of 400KES ($4). There are no fixed departure timings as the vehicles depart when they are filled to capacity. It would be wise to reach the departure point, Nyamakima in Nairobi CBD early in the morning, at 7 am.
Take a shared taxi from Narok to Masai Mara
This town connects Nairobi to all different gates of Masai Mara and you can directly catch a shared taxi to your camp’s gate at a reasonable price. The cost of the shared taxi is usually around 500KES – 600KES ($5 – $6), so beware and don’t pay anything more than that.
Most deluxe and luxury camps in Masai Mara have all meal charges included in their tariff. Budget camps however, prefer to include only the breakfast rates in their nightly charges. Needless to say, lunches and dinners bought at the hotel will definitely cost extra. So, if you want to save further cost, then you might want to buy packaged food from Nairobi/Narok beforehand, which you can then eat during your meal times. You don’t have to compromise on all meals, but if you spending less is really what you’re after, then supermarket shopping certainly won’t hurt.
Now that I’ve shared how you can fit a Kenyan safari in your desired budget, let’s take a look at how much it will cost you, assuming you stay in Masai Mara for 3 nights –
Accommodation: 4000KES x 2 = 8000KES ($80)
Nairobi – Narok: 400KES ($4)
Narok – Masai Mara: 500KES ($5)
Safaris: 2600KES x 2 = 5200KES ($52)
Total cost: 14100KES or $141 (assuming that you are a single person travelling, sharing the safari jeep with 5 other persons).
PS the US Dollar to Kenyan Shilling rate may vary, you can check the updated rate here.