There are many different types of travelers, but if there is one single thing that we all have in common, it is that we all freaking love going on an African safari. Or don’t we? Of all the African countries, Kenya is perhaps the best country to do it in. Why? Because Kenya is home to the Maasai Mara, which is the National Park with the highest concentration of mammals in the world.
However, many travelers (especially the budget ones) get very disappointed when they realize how expensive it can be. If you try to book in advance from your home country, you’ll see that prices start at 800USD for just a 3-day safari in the Maasai Mara. Not many budget travelers, and especially backpackers, can afford such a large amount, right?
Moreover, if you want to get a better deal, one of the most common ways is to book it once you are in Nairobi. Normally, backpacker hostels offer the best rates, but the final price will never go lower than 120-130USD per day. The minimum number of days to book is 3 days; therefore, you’ll end up paying at least around 380USD for the Maasai Mara safari. What is included in this package?
- Transportation (from and to Nairobi)
- 3 meals a day (drinks not included)
- Accommodation in a basic tent (often shared) outside of the National Park
- Maasai Mara National Park entrance fee
- One full game drive on the second day + a morning game drive on the third day (van shared with 7 other people)
Yes, you understood it correctly. This package is a complete rip-off. You book a 3-day safari, but you only do 1.3 days of game driving. Why? Because the first day is wasted on driving to the park and setting up the camp. On the second day, you do a full game drive, but on the third day, there’s only time for a quick morning safari, as you need to drive back to Nairobi. And the worst thing of all is that they don’t tell you this before.
In conclusion, forget about booking any package. I am going to show you how to do a safari in Kenya cheaply and pay only 170USD. How?
The key is getting there on your own by public transportation.
Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds.
Safari in Kenya on a budget: A step by step guide
Step 1: Choose your budget camping safari and book it online
First of all, you need to choose the campsite where you would like to stay. Maasai Mara is huge and there are dozens of different campsites and also many different gates to enter by, the most recommended being Sekenani, Ololaimutiek and Talek.
The budget safari campsites are located outside the National Park.
After doing intensive research and talking to some locals, I came to the conclusion that these are the most budget camping safaris in Kenya which offer the best rates:
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Best budget campsite for backpackers
Mara Explorers – This is one of the cheapest campsites in the Maasai Mara, so that’s why here, you are likely to meet many independent backpackers. It is located just 3 kilometers from the Sekenani gate, so it is easy to reach by public transportation. Their tents are quite comfy and they even have Western toilets and showers with hot water. However, perhaps, it might be too simple for you, so if you are looking for a slightly better place within the budget range, you should check any of the below options.
Best budget campsite for families and couples
Crocodile Camp – The top-rated tented camp in the Maasai Mara among the most budget options. With incredible views of the park itself, where you can even see animal activity from your tent, Crocodile Camp brags about having the most comfortable tents at the best price. The staff is amazing as well and the location very good, next to the village of Talek. This is the best quality at the best price.
Best budget guest house
Mama Safi Guest House – This is not exactly a campsite but an actual guest house which is ran by a very accommodating and lovely woman. It is very close to Mara Explorers, so next to Sekenani gate and it would be the ideal place for people who prefer the comfort of a house, rather than a tent. It has a kitchen, a barbecue place and set a fireplace outside every day.
Note: Also, keep in mind that, in the Maasai Mara, the most budget campsites and guesthouses get booked quite soon! Moreover, if you have your own camping equipment, you can also pitch your tent, which will be significantly cheaper. I don’t know about other camps but, in Mara Explorers, we paid 1,500KED (15USD) per person.
Step 2: How to do a cheap safari in Kenya – Know your safari prices
In case you are wondering, ALL campsites offer game drive service to the Masai Mara.
Do you need to book it in advance?
Whereas you should book your room or your tent in advance, you could just show up at the camp and book a game drive for the next day. Don’t worry, they have plenty of cars available plus, if you book once you are at the camp, you might be able to find other travelers to share the costs with, as long as you want to share the car, of course.
Typically, all of them charge between 160USD and 180USD, depending on the month of the year.
This price includes a driver, a guide and a 4×4, which can fit up to 6 people.
Important! New deal from Mara Explorers since February 2018!
Mara Explorers has changed its price policy regarding booking safaris!
Before, the price of a game drive was 150USD a day, which included a guide and a driver. This cost could be split up to 6 people. The problem that Mara Explorers faced is that many solo travelers showed up at the camp, expecting that they could share the car with other travelers. However, this won’t be always the case. Depending on the season you come, you could find nobody to share the car with, so you would end up paying 150USD by yourself.
That’s why, since February 2018, if you don’t book any game drive in advance and just show up at the camp, you will pay 60USD per person, a day. This means that, if you are two people, you would pay 120USD.
On the other hand, if you know you will be more than 3 people, you have the possibility to book the car in advance. If you do so, the total price of the Jeep is 200USD, regardless how many people you are. Typically, all cars can fit up to 6 people. You can email them at: [email protected]
For the rest of the camps, you will always pay 160-180USD per car, regardless you book it in advance or not.
Step 3: Take a matatu (local transportation) to the town of Narok
As I said, if you really want to do the Masai Mara safari on a budget, you should go there by local transportation. For this, you will have to go to Narok.
Narok is a town located 150 kilometers from Nairobi and 87 kilometers from the Sekenani gate. Its population is 40,000 people, mostly Maasai. Why do you need to go to Narok? Because this is the place where you’ll catch direct transport to the different entry gates of the park.
How to get to Narok?
There are several matatus connecting Nairobi with Narok all day long. The journey is a pleasant 3-hour drive through the Rift Valley. It costs 300KES (3USD) for the regular matatus and 450KES (4.50USD) for the more comfortable ones. It’s a small price difference (1.50USD), but the difference in comfort is big. I took a VIP matatu.
Where is the bus station?
It’s located in the CBD area. I recommend going there as early as possible; the sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll reach the camp. The first one laves at around 7-8am. These are the coordinates and location: -1.283412, 36.830169
Step 4: Look for the bus station and book a shared taxi to your campsite
The edge of the National Park is filled with Maasai villages, so that’s why you can easily get there by local, public transportation.
In Narok, the matatu will drop you at a gas station. Ask the locals where the bus station is. They will offer to take you by taxi, but just ignore them, as the station is less than 500 meters away.
Until 1-1:30pm, there is a public matatu which goes straight to the different villages just outside of the National Park.This matatu is called C12.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot make it at 1pm, you can still go by shared taxi, which might be a bit pricier. However, I know for sure that there are shared local taxis leaving to Sekenani gate but I am not sure about Talek & Ololaimutiek gates. You should ask at the station but, just in case, try to be there before 1pm.
How to get to Sekenani gate by shared taxi (if you arrive after after 1:30pm)
Once you are at the station, look for the shared taxis to Sekenani gate and say that you want to be dropped off at the Mara Explorers, Mama Safi or any other Sekenani campsite recommended in my article.
Typically, the shared taxi costs around 500KES (5USD) per person. This is the real price and you shouldn’t pay more than that. The taxi will leave only when completely full and they will always try to fit in 6 passengers (excluding the driver), 4 in the front and 2 in the back.
It may take time to fill the taxi completely. I waited for a little bit longer than an hour.
Step 5: Make your Masai Mara budget safari even cheaper – Buy supplies at the supermarket
If you really want to do a real affordable safari in Kenya, you need to stock up on food supplies at the supermarket in Narok. At Mara Explorers (and at any other camp) any meal costs 1,000KES (10USD) at least, and there are no real supermarkets in the villages around the park.
Right next to the bus station, there’s a big supermarket called Naivas. They sell all types of groceries, plus good ready-to-eat meals. I bought one meal for the night and tuna cans, cheese and bread for the following days. Since I spent two nights at the camp, I had to pay for only one dinner.
One note: Mama Safi Guest House has a kitchen, so you can bring your own staff to cook!
Step 6: The journey to the National Park gates
Once the taxi is full, you are ready to go. The whole trip takes between 2 and 3 hours along an unpaved, bumpy road, but the experience is really worth it, as you will be sharing the taxi with authentic Maasai people. Most of the tourists only interact with them when they buy souvenirs, but you’ll be sitting next to them for almost 3 hours. A lot of Maasai people speak some English, so you might be able to talk to them.
One note: Remember to ask the driver for his phone number for the journey back to Narok. The staff of any of tghe campsites can call them for you and they won’t charge you anything extra. Normally, the shared taxis go back to Narok at 8am.
Step 7: Arriving at the camp: Book your safari
As soon as you arrive at the camp, go to the reception and finalize the arrangements for the safari the next day.
If you are on a low budget, you can find other travelers to share the cost with. However, don’t fully rely on that!
Step 8: Go on safari and enjoy!
On the next day, you’ll be departing for the park at around 6:30 am. Be prepared for a 12hr drive! By the way, the entrance fee is 80USD. No one can skip.
Final Kenya safari cost
Matatu to Narok and back to Nairobi: 450KES x 2 = 900KES (9USD)
Groceries: 600KES (6USD)
Shared taxi to Sekenani gate and back to Narok: 500KES x 2 = 1,000KES (10USD)
Accommodation: It depends on the season but, as an average, Mara Explorers costs around 30USD a night per person: 3,000KES x 2 nights = 6,000KES (60USD). If you have your own tent, you will pay 15USD x 2 nights = 30USD
One dinner: 1,000KES (10USD)
Maasai Mara entrance fee: 8,000KES (80USD)
Game drive: 60USD (if you are 3 people or less) or 33USD (if you are 6 people and book it in advance)
Minimum (assuming you have your own tent and you share a Jeep with 6 people) = 178USD
Maximum (assuming you book a tent and pay the price per person for the game drive) = 235USD
You see? I just showed you how to do a cheap an affordable and cheap safari in Kenya, for a minimum of 178USD and a maximum of 235USD. Bear in mind that this would be an average price as there are many factors to take into account. Costs would vary depending on whether you book it in advance or not. You may also bring the costs down if you brought your own camping equipment. However, in any case, it will always be immensely cheaper than if you book it in Nairobi.
You might also want to read: Things to consider when planning an African safari