Budget safari Kenya

 Going on a safari is tremendously expensive. The bare minimum is 400USD for the most basic one. In this step by step guide, I am going to show you how to do a safari in Kenya on a budget, for a maximum of 240USD.The following guide is regularly updated (2018). If you have any further information, kindly, let me know and I will update it accordingly

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.

 

How to do a safari in Kenya on a budget

 

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:

By the way, remember that, if you like my website and found this post useful, remember to buy your insurance through my link, as I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me maintain and keep Against the Compass going! Thanks 🙂

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. Click here to check prices and availability

 

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. Click here to check prices and availability

 

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. Click here to check prices and availability

Remember that most campsites get fully booked pretty soon so, if the ones I recommend are already fully booked, read this post for more options: Top 10 budget camps in the Masai Mara

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.

The tents of Mara Explorers camp
The tents of Mara Explorers camp – Budget safari Kenya

 

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?

Not really…

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

               

 

Station of the matatus going to Narok
Bus station to Narok – How to do a cheap safari in Kenya

 

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. 

Bus station in Narok, Kenya
Bus station in Narok

 

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!

Read: Visiting the kibera slums in Kenya

 

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.

The road from Narok to Sekenani gate
The road from Narok to Sekenani gate

 

Maasai in the taxi from Narok to Sekenani
Maasai taxi mates

 

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!

Safari at the Maasai Mara
Safari! – Masai Mara budget safari

 

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)

 

TOTAL COST:

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

 

Final conclusion

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

If you like my website and found this post useful, remember that, if you book any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me maintain and keep Against the Compass going! Thanks 🙂

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70 comments

  1. I like to think of myself as a frugal traveler, but you really take this concept to a higher level. Hopefully, we’ll make it to Kenya one day and can use some of your helpful tips. I would love to see elephants at the Maasai Mara in person as well as the other amazing wildlife.

    1. If you go and use these tips let me know! It’s not about being frugal, it’s about having time to assess to the situation! Always try to travel slow!

  2. You mentioned booking a private jeep. I definitely agree with that. We went on a private safari in Tanzania. Not only could we decide to stay with animals because we were interested or move on since there was no one else we had to compromise with, but the real key for us was not battling other people to be able to see or take photographs.

    We saw other safari companies that had six or more people in their jeeps and they were coming out of every window hanging over the top of each other trying to get photographs. My husband and I both looked at each other and agreed that those options might have cost less, but that kind of situation wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable an experience.

    1. I totally agree with you. You won’t do a lot of safaris in your life, so sharing a van with other people just to save $20 or $30 is not worth it at all! The journey is much more enjoyable if you are only one person. You also tell the driver wherever you want to go and for how long you want to stay starring at the animals. Thanks for your comment 😉

  3. Very smart! It is almost always cheaper to put your own package together than to go with the full tourist option. I found similar in India where I was lucky enough to have a local guide to get me good deals

  4. TOP! This was exactly what I was looking for… I am going to put this into practice in a month, I will let you know how was the experience! 😀

  5. Wow! Very detailed and really helpful. I know that this trio would really cost me a lot but when I read that you can do it for 170usd. You got me there. Now, it’s more affordable and I’m really looking forward to visiting this place soon! Will save your article.

    1. Hi Cai, thanks for your comment. Yes, the safari is more than affordable (if you take into account that most of the travelers pay astronomical fares). If you go and try my tips, let me know if they worked!

    1. WOW, Zimbawe, I’ve always wanted to go there as well. I was told that it’s one of the cheapest countries in East-South Africa. Hope you enjoy the rest of Africa. Let me know if those tips worked for you 😉

  6. When you put it like that then yes 170 is great value considering what you pay for a pre-arranged tour. Especially, as the tour you mention only does 1.3 days of actual game-drving!! That’s terrible value for money! Great to know you can take things into your hands and get a better deal!

    1. Yes, all these tour groups suck a lot and what you do is basically paying all this money for the transportation to the park and back to Nairobi. Doing it on your own is more than doable

  7. When we went on a safari in South Africa a few years ago, I was definitely shocked at the prices. It’s not a cheap vacation, for sure. But these are really great insider tips, so it seems doable for sure. I think I’d be too scared to sleep in a tent though, not because of the animals, but because of the spiders!

    1. Hey Laura, thanks for your comment. Yeah, forthe animals you shouldn’t be scared because all the camp sites are surrounded by fences. But for the spiders… To be very honest I didn’t think much about it… 😀

  8. This is really cool and very helpful, Joan! Going on an African Safari is a dream but I could never afford to spend $800 on a tour only to experience a maybe once-in-a-lifetime adventure for a day. Bookmarking this post for future reference! Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Therie, I am glad you find it useful! Yeah, safari prices are just insane and, even though, as you say, it’s only a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, if we can do it for way cheaper, why not doing it 😉 ?

  9. Such great tips…my hope in doing a safari has been restored thanks to you!!! One thing I was wondering about though is the taxi that fits 6 ppl with the driver. We are 2 backpackers and wondering whether the taxi will be able to fit in all of our big 12kg backpacks. I am assuming not. Would you happen to know? If not, we’re gonna have to arrange for our backpacks to stay in Nairobi at the hostel or something. Your thoughts on this are appreciated 🙂

  10. Hey! Joantow This is truly cool and exceptionally accommodating, Thank you for assembling this information.We’ll make it to Kenya one day and can utilize some of your supportive tips. the genuine key for us was not doing combating other individuals to have the capacity to see or take photos.

  11. Thanks for detailed info , that was so helpful , I am planning to go to Kenya for 6 days tour on Feb 2018 with my wife and daughter , I am just asking how is security and safety in the Country?? because I heard that there are some issues and robbery specially when your drive long ways outside Nairobi. Thanks again and best regards.

    1. Hi Ali, the only danger I’ve ever heard of is the crime in Nairobi, which tends to happen at night, if they see you alone on the street. Otherwise, you’ll just be fine. Enjoy Kenya!

  12. HOW TO EAT THERE

    Eastern Africa is known for many good things, but the cuisine isn’t exactly one of them. A lack of taste and diversity are two qualities that are highly recurring in the Kenyan kitchen. But don’t fret, because the aforementioned tent camp offers a shared kitchen as well! So in theory, you could even throw some packets of mashed potatoes and instant noodles in your suitcase and call it a day.

    Alternatively, there are many local markets with fresh produce and small grocery shops, so you can be your own Jamie Oliver in the heart of the wilderness. The price level for food & drinks is surprisingly high, not much cheaper than in the UK. Most likely this is also due to the very recognisable appearance of the average tourist: mountain boots, a backpack, a camera bag and cargo shorts. I’m guessing that prices are a fair bit lower for the local population. But oh well, look at it as an investment into a shaky economy. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, £15 per person per day should be enough.

    1. Thanks for putting these words together. However, at Mara Explorers meals cost at least $10 each! I think you’d need just a bit more than 15£ a day 😉

  13. Thank you! I will use all your links for my bookings. I was planning on a surprise for my husband that has wanted to visit Africa from a long time and all the safaris I looked at were completely unaffordable. If I hadn’t come up with your post I would have got discouraged and not organised the trip!

  14. That sounds very nice, as I hate organized tours and usually do everything by myself. But I would be very worried about not getting people to share the safari with upon arrival. I plan the trip in July, so hopefully there will be lots of tourists there? (there are obvious downsides to this but also upsides).
    I am also not a people’s person so running around trying to find company doesn’t sound appealing.
    And if I do it by myself, which sounds wonderful and all, wouldn’t I be paying about as much as organized trip? (which is offered at around 380 USD for 2 nights safari)
    another question: how would I go about getting from there to Naraku lake? Did you try it?
    Thank you very much for detailed advice in any case.

    1. Hi Vlada, you have nothing to lose. Even if you did it just by yourself, which is quite unlikely, you would pay slightly less than going on a tour and you’d get a car just for yourself, which quite convenient. About coming from Nakuru, I am not sure but, after Masai Mara, I went to Naivasha, which was easily accessible from Narok by bus, which is on the way to Nakuru. Let me know if you need anything else. Cheers,

      1. What you say does sound seductive, heh… You’re right that it is better to overpay for actual “luxury” than for god knows what. I am looking at that second camp as an option. I do wonder if they also offer “morning” drives or evening drives in addition to whole day drives, as I’d like to be able to do 1,5 safari runs, like agencies offer (using 24 hrs permit).

        I think I’ll definitely do Lake Navasha on my own at least, good advice on Narok (I thought about going back to Nairobi for this) – I decided to skip Nakuru. So, what do you think, can I come to Narok from MM AND find transport from Narok to Navasha on the same day? It seems like there are things to do for couple of full days at Navasha, no reason to pay 100 bucks to agency just to come there for half a day!)

        Thank you for your advice, much appreciated.

  15. Wow, very detailed and very useful when you want to go to the Masai Mara. This is also exactly the problem I notice that travelers have, how to get around for cheap, where to sleep etc. As I live in Kenya I decided to create a post about how to get and stay at various places across Kenya on a budget. Keep up these great blog articles!

  16. Hi,

    I saw in the websites Mara Explorers (http://maraexplorers.com/rates/)

    US$ 60 per person person per day sharing (minimum of 2 people required).

    Exclusive use of vehicle US$ 200 per vehicle per day.

    We have a fleet of customised Land Cruisers based at our camp for game drives. The game drive rate is inclusive of an experienced driver guide and fuel. Your personal park entry is payable on top directly to the park gate.

    Does it mean if we want to share vehivcle with other we must now pay 60 USD per pax instead of 25 usd (as u mention above) and for charter vehicle now 200 USD instead of 150 USD as u mention ?

    1. Hi Laurent, I don’t really understand what does it say on the website… It’s very confusing. Moreover, I emailed them in November, asking if the prices from my article were correct and they said yes they were, so I don’t really understand what does this mean. I am going to email them again. Thanks for letting me know,

    2. So, I just contacted Mara Explorers and they said that they just implement these rates 2 weeks ago. Basically, they say that, if you are just 1 or 2 people and don’t have anyone to share the car with, you will pay 60USD per person, unlike before when you paid 150USD, regardless how many people you were. Moreover, if you book the car in advance, you will pay a flat fee of 200USD. I will update the post accordingly, as soon as I can. Best wishes,

      1. So the logic is if i travel1 or 2,i can going cheaper by take the shared car (profit will go to Mara if there are 4 people in total since whole car cost 200 USD ), but if our group more than 4 pax,its cheaper to book whole car, correct ?

  17. Thanks for this post. Looking at heading to MM later this year and am excited to see another option. Do you think that just one day is worth it? Would you recommend traveling to another place to do another game ride or is it worth it to go out in MM for two days?

    1. It really depends on your luck. One day you may see no lions or any animal in action, so you might want to do another game ride. As per your second question, I didn’t go to any other park, so I can’t say 🙂

  18. Thank you for a very detailed guide. This is so helpful as i am looking for the most possible budgeted way to go for a Kenya trip.

    How about spending time with the masai tribe in their village to immerse in their culture, did you tried it too? Is there any cost of being with the tribe for a day?

    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    1. Hi Ann, to be honest, I didn’t… I always like to have human interactions with the locals but, the tours to the villages around the park are extremely touristic, so didn’t feel like to try… However, if you just wanna see how they live, I recommend you just go to any village by yourself, go to any of the local restaurants, bars, etc and you will see them in their lives

  19. Hi,
    Thank you so much for you point by point directions. They made my life so much easier.
    I did want your advice on one more thing though.

    I am going to be travelling with my parents. So we’re going to be 3 people in total. We’re budget conscious (i think thats obvious since i’m on your blog), but my parents do not compromise on some comforts. Due to that i was planning on booking the mama safi guest house because it checks all our criteria.

    my questions are :
    1) Will we be able to get the jeep organised by the people at mama safi itself?
    2) Since we’re three people ourselves, would it make sense to take our own jeep or still share it?
    3) We’re determined TRAVELERS and not tourists, and as such want to maximize our experience of the park itself, which is why i was deciding on stay there for 3 nights. For example, ill reach mama safi on lets say a monday in the afternoon, (that day is gone), then tuesday and wednesday full day drives in the park and we leave thursday. (hence monday night, tuesday night and wednesday night). Is this overkill? does it make sense to do this? what does your experience say?
    4) We’re planning on going on the 20th of sep to around the first week of october. Ive checked the weather patterns etc and the internet says its a good time to go. But i would really appreciate your first hand experience as well.

    Again,
    Thank you so much for you suggestions, i am going to be following them to a T.

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment. My answers:
      1 – Yes, you will
      2 – To be very honest, you will not save a lot of money by sharing it with other people. We were 2 people and decided to go by ourselves. The experience is much better because you tell the driver which animals do you want to look for and just paid around 30USD more each.
      3 – The more game drives you do, the more chance you will have to see animals in action. To be very honest, we only did one full day game drive and, whereas we covered all the animals, we didn’t see any action but just laying down. Our driver said that we were unlucky. If you can afford it, go for it.
      4 – I went during these dates as well. Weather-wise is perfect but the migration was done.
      Hope that helped, thanks!

  20. Hey,
    Doing an impromptu trip to Kenya and considering different options. Do you have to pay 80 per day for the entrance to the park? If you pay for each entry I don’t know if your math works and if it’s much cheaper to do it solo without a tour.

    1. Hey! You pay 80 for every 24 hours.

      With the normal tours, you do a full day and a morning drive. If you decide doing a 2-day safari for yourself, even if you didn’t save much, it is better to do 2 full days, on a private car, than doing it 1 day + 1 morning in a van filled with other tourists 🙂

      By yourself, it will always be cheaper plus I personally think that those cheap tours suck

  21. Hi Joan,

    Thanks for this very useful info!! I just did the safari with Mara Explorers and it sounds like they have changed their policy since you last updated the article. There was no one else at the camp that was doing the safari at the same time as me, so had to go alone. I asked if it was still $60usd for one person and they said that was based on double occupancy… so I had to pay $120usd 🙁 I should have done my research, but just accepted the info in your article, so the additional expense was disappointing (but still a great price for having 11 hours in the park!!!). Anyway, just thought you should know from someone who was JUST there, and may want to update the article once again. I’m guessing they were just losing so much $$ taking 1 person out for a day and using all that fuel, paying driver, etc…

      1. No worries! I’m honestly grateful for your article as it saved so much research time for me! And even at $200usd, it was a bargain to go into the Mara with the number and variety of animals you get to see. And the Explorers camp was excellent and the tents were so robust and clean inside, beds were comfortable, food was amazing… thank you again:)

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