Leaping into the back of an open top jeep and cruising the savanna in sight of the big 5 is on most people’s bucket lists! But this incredible experience is also associated with huge costs that go way beyond what any backpacker or budget traveller could ever afford. Most would consider the safari an adventure reserved only for the older or more well off traveller; We have this vision of them donned in Khaki pants, 15 grand telephoto lense around their neck being chauffeured around the desert like a colonial conqueror! But times have indeed changed and with some research it it entirely possible to take a Kenya budget safari. So here’s our guide to independently taking a safari as well as a guide to an African safari on a budget and essentially how you can do a backpacker Kenya safari!
Ok, so travelling to Kenya and taking a safari isn’t going to be dirt cheap. We’re not talking about backpacking in South East Asia here but it certainly can be affordable for most backpackers and a Kenya budget safari is entirely possible.
However even at its cheapest an affordable African safari certainly going to be a lot more than your average stay even in the rest of Africa. But we see it as one of those huge bucket list things worthy of the splurge and we’re keen to show how to do a Kenya safari on a budget so everyone can have this amazing experience.
Here’s how to do an African Safari On A budget
Here we will compare how much a cheap tour will set you back compared to independent travel, talk you through doing it yourself as well as considering which option is best and whether its possible to do a backpacker Kenya safari!
So here’s our guide on how to plan an affordable Kenya Safari.
Affordable African Safari: Why Choose Kenya
You might wonder out of all the countries in Africa where safaris are popular, why choose Kenya for your African safari on a budget?
One of the biggest reasons is how developed it is for both tourism and safety. Being better developed for tourism means better transport options, more accommodation to choose from and more competitive rates for drivers and tours. It also means transport options to and from the country will be cheaper, offer a wider range of destinations as well as more availability throughout the year. Kenya’s well developed industry makes it the easiest and cheapest country for a safari.
Kenya has the oldest and most established safari industries on the continent which means higher standards of safety, a well developed pool of knowledge about the animals and the environment as well as a offering a wider range of options. You can also be sure with this experience the services here are much more reliable which is paramount especially in these times of uncertainty with travel.
Kenya also offers one of the most safe and stable safari environments too, the country itself is considered one of the safest in Africa for tourists and generally offers a stable political backdrop to your visit.
Getting to Kenya
Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, is home to the country’s largest and most well connected international airport: Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta.
Travelling to Kenya from Europe, North America and The MIddle East is very reasonably priced and flights are plentiful throughout the year. Visiting from elsewhere in Asia can be a little bit more pricey and involve multiple stops but there are options available. Heading here from Australia and NZ it is best to travel via the Middle East for the cheapest and most direct option.
Nairobi International Airport is also well connected with the rest of Africa with many options for travel within the region. Though these can sometimes be more costly than longer haul trips so plan ahead and research your routes if you are travelling around the wider region.
Popular destinations from Nairobi include:
Cairo, Addis Ababa, Mauritius, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro / Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Mumbai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, / London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich, Istanbul, Geneva
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Though overland travel in Africa is doable it isn’t like it is in places like Southeast Asia and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. For those backpacking or taking longer multi country trips in Africa it is definitely a possibility but many choose to fly instead given how bad the roads can be and how long the journeys are on buses as well as safety concerns at borders.
Kenya shares a land border with 5 countries: Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The borders between Kenya and Somalia should be avoided at all costs. Similarly the border with South Sudan can be unpredictable due to the region being disputed so should be avoided.
Where as the borders with Ethiopia and Tanzania are generally considered the easier of the 5 given the more developed tourism in these countries.
Where Are The Safaris And How Do You Get There?
The most popular place to take a safari in Kenya is the Masai Mara National Reserve which is around 280 km (174 miles) from Nairobi. The drive takes between 4.5 – 6 hours in a car and we think it’s one of he best places for a Best budget safaris in Africa.
This is the reserve we will be concentrating on as it’s the easiest to do independently and an ideal place for a Kenya budget safari. So we will breakdown the Masai Mara safari cost in this post so you can organise your ultimate Backpacker safari!
The trip between Nairobi and Masai Mara National Reserve takes place initially on the country’s only “highway” which is a two lane tarmacked road which runs through many local villages. The last 80 km from Narok Town to the reserve however is on unsealed muddy and bumpy roads.
Firstly if you’re looking at Kenya safaris from Nairobi then you need to get yourself to the National Reserve from the capital, there are several way at different costs which you should consider when you’re planning a Kenya safari on a budget.
A popular way to take this journey is to rent a car and keep that for the entire trip into to park and back. Many people take this option as a mid ground between flying and taking public transport. It also allows the additional options of further exploration.
You should also consider renting a jeep rather than a normal car given some of the road conditions.
You can drive around the Reserve in your own vehicle but bear in mind that in order to get the best opportunity for sightings and for not getting lost / placed into danger you should hire a guide rather than driving by yourself. This is also where having a jeep comes in even more handy as the rains can make the roads hard to navigate.
Driving in Kenya can be challenging but rewarding.
Bring a reliable GPS device
You need to be at least 23 to rent a car in Kenya
Prices are between £60 / $78 – £100/ $130 per day for a jeep inclusive of insurance. Petrol is relatively cheap in Kenya
Renting a car is great for those wanting to travel independently but it’s not the ideal way to do an African safari on a budget.
In order to get into the park using public transport you will need to get to Narok Town which is 150 km from Nairobi and 87 km from the Sekenani entrance gate to the park (this is one of many entrances to the park).
Apart from the bus station in Narok being a little hard to find, it’s actually very easy to get to the park and very cheap too so ideal for an African safari on a budget.
There are a few options for public transport on this route:
Take a minibus or “matatu”:
The local minibuses are a good option and take around 3 hours to Narok and cost 350 Shillings (£2.50 / $3.20). You can pay around 20% more for a more comfortable bus.
The first bus leaves between 7-8am from the “River Road” area of the city centre. Try to head for one that looks fuller as buses don’t leave until they are pretty much at capacity.
Take an Easy Coach:
The Easy Coach as the names suggests is a bigger and more comfortable coach than the smaller mini buses and the perfect way to do an affordable Kenya Safari,
The Easy Coach takes around 3 hours and costs 800 Shillings (£5.70 / $7.40) per person each way. Most leave around 8am from the city centre.
You can book tickets here: www.buupass.com
Getting from Narok to the park
After arriving in Narok you will need to walk 1.5 km (15 mins) into the town centre itself or you can take a motorbike taxi.
Then locate the bus station, which is just a dusty car park, near to the Naivas supermarket.
You will either take a shared Matatu or car. You should pre book your accommodation before and let the driver know where you are staying. This bus costs around 500 Shillings (£3.55 / $4.60) you shouldn’t need to pay extra for a backpack but some drivers do try.
It takes 2 hours and can gets pretty bumpy but does pass through some interesting villages and is perfect for your affordable African safari.
Flights are available from Nairobi Wilson airport to the reserve. These take 40 mins and drop you off right in the heart of the park but they are expensive so not ideal for your Kenya budget safari.
Prices range between £97 / $126 – £111 / $144 for a one way plus tax
Prices range between £194 / $252 – £221.80 / $288 for a return plus tax
There are 3-4 flights per day depending on the season.
Kenya Budget Safari: How Much Does An Organised Safari Usually Cost?
Organised tours of course range in prices depending on what time of year you go, standard of accommodation, types of day tours and whether or not food is included as well as whether the trip combines different locations such as different national parks or beach time too. But it may come as a surprise that you can actually get an affordable African safari tour package.
A organised Kenya budget safari tour can start at £95 / $124 PP per day and reach up to £500 / $650 PP Per day for a more luxury experience so plenty of scope for a Kenya safari on a budget.
For example we’ve seen an organised tour which includes accommodation, transport, meals, park fees and guides for £463 / $602 pp for 5 days! That’s actually a very similar price to doing this independently and in fact uses the same sort of accommodation (a tent outside of the park) and the food provided at that camp that we would suggest if you go independently!
At the same time I’ve also seen tours for 12 days at over £10000 / $13005 PP (definitely not a Safari on a budget!) But it just go to prove there are a lot of different prices and experiences out there!
Safari On A Budget: Booking A Reasonably Priced Tour
Of course, not everybody wants to do such a trip independently. Travelling through Africa on public transport, organising your safari at the last minute and staying outside the reserve in a tent isn’t exactly everyone’s ideas of fulfilling such a once in a lifetime experience. But even with a tour you can still get an affordable African safari.
There are times when penny pinching is actually the ideal way to travel, it makes you really experience the place at a much more local and authentic level and of course you save money too! But there are “big experiences” that might just be worthwhile spending the extra money on comforts and better guides and taking a safari in Kenya might just be one of those.
When you’re booking your Kenya safari holiday I would also suggest not only considering an independent trip but also don’t rule out taking an organise tour either. Many tours offer great value for money too as well as great convenience and the peace of mind that every aspect of such a huge trip is covered so you can just enjoy the experience.
Do some research on tours before and way up the pros and cons of independent travel in Africa and just how much you will save compared to how much organisation it takes. Also consider whether you will feel rushed on a tour. You might want the option to extend your stay so you can wait out the weather, have a rest day or just another shot and photographing those incredible animals! There are also plenty of other things to do around here such as visiting local villages and homestays, sunset drives and bush camping so having the opportunity to extend your stay and do other things is great.
Also bear in mind most organised tours include guide, park fees and food and some do combine not just the safari but other places too, however you might alway want to option to visit those yourself at your own pace! You’ve got to decide which option or combination of options works best for you.
How To Save Money On Your Safari And Make That Backpacker Kenya Safari Happen:
Breakdown Of Budget Costs For Independent Travel & How To Do It!
Whichever way you do it be sure to have good travel insurance that covers you for a safari because getting sick or injured in a remote African National Reserve is going to blow your budget if you’re not covered!
The first way to save a whole heap of money is to take public transport to Narok and then onwards to your campsite, see our guide above for more details. This is much cheaper than car hire, flights or a private driver and is the ideal way to do a Backpacker safari. One of the reasons this area is the best Best budget safaris in Africa
Easy coach from Nairobi to Narok: 800 Shillings (£5.70 / $7.40) one way PP
Bus from Narok to Park Entrance/ Accommodation: 500 Shillings (£3.55 / $4.60) one way PP
Staying in a campsite outside of the reserve itself is much cheaper and you can then pick and choose which days you enter the park which you have to pay a fee for. Accommodation outside the park is also cheaper than those inside, though the park entrance fee is marginally more expensive if you stay outside, but most planning a Backpacker safari will do this.
A recommended budget camp is Mara Explorers.
Mara Explorers is a true Backpacker safari hub but caters to other budget travellers too and is probably the best budget safari campsite in the area.
They offer a range of accommodation options from bringing your own tent and equipment to pre set up tents with proper beds inside as well as kenyan style cabins ideal for sharing between a few people. They also offer self catering or full board options too and each option comes with access to toilets, hot showers and kitchen facilities. It’s an ideal base for your backpacker Kenya safari.
Expect to pay around 800 Shillings (£5.70 / $7.40) PP to camp using your own equipment self catering and 3800 Shillings (£27 / $35) full board PP.
For the budget dome tents rates are around 1500 Shillings (£10.60 / $13.83) self catering and 4500 shillings (£32 / $41.50) full board PP.
Cabins cost 11000 Shillings (£78 / $101.40) for a double full board
Masai Mara Safari Cost: Park Entrance Fee:
When working out your Masai Mara safari cost unfortunately there’s no way to avoid these fees but students do get a discount so bear that in mind when planning your African safari on a budget.
If staying inside the park the entrance fees are: £53.85 / $70 per adult per 24 hours and £ / $40 per child under 12 years of age
If staying outside of the park the entrance fees are: £61.55 / $80 per adult per 24 hours and £ / $45 per child under 12 years of age.
Fees can be seen in more detail here: www.masaimara.travel/park-entry-fees
It is possible to hire a guide/ driver on a daily basis from the campsites outside of the park, you can also save money by getting together with other travellers and sharing a car which is ideal for a Safari on a budget.
An example of cost from Mara Explorers is:
£46.15 / $60 per person for a shared vehicle per day, min of 2 people / max 6. This runs from 6:30am – 6pm and includes a guide which is probably the best budget safari on offer.
Most campsites will be able to offer a similar arrangement, private tours are usually available for extra.
2-3 days of safari is generally enough for most people especially if you’re on a African safari backpacker budget.
At many of the camps, including Mara Explorers, it is possible to organise further excursions such as visits to villages, bush camping, homestays and sunset photo trips. So it’s worthwhile considering what else can be added on to a trip when travelling independently.
Food is something you want to consider if you’re looking at cheap African safaris because it can be hard to get hold of once you’re in the parks.
Many of the camps inside and around the National Reserve offer full board options which is essentially 3 means per day, water, tea and coffee with other drinks being extra. The food on offer is fresh and varied and vegetarians like us are well catered for too.
Going full board is a great way to not worry about eating whilst on safari but it can be expensive too even at the cheap end. If you really want to save money and do a super Budget Kenya Safari then consider going self catering.
Food supplies are hard to buy once you are outside of the towns and close to the camp. If you are planning on going self catering it is best to stock up on supplies whilst in Nairobi and Narok. Remember to account for how long you will be staying and bring more longer lasting products.
When To Travel:
The Masai Mara is known for its incredible opportunities to spot wildlife all year round, however there is a peak and a low season where prices can vary and the park can be buisier. There are also different wildlife spotting opportunities and weather conditions to consider too when you decide what the best time to visit Masai mara for you is.
Lion season runs from January to March
The great wildebeest migration is between July and October, one of the worlds greatest natural wonders. This is generally considered the best time to visit Masai mara. This would be the best time of year for photography too.
April to June. This time experiences more rainfall but the area is less dusty and more vibrant. This is the best time for spotting birds. This time is good for a Budget Kenya Safari.
Best Time to Visit Masai Mara :
The long dry July to October season is considered the best time to visit Masai mara as the lack of vegetation makes it easier to spot wildlife, it is also the time of the great migration which is a huge draw. This time is however the most expensive and the busiest time of year so for a Kenya budget safari it might not be the best time to visit Masai mara!
Budget Kenya Safari: Breakdown for Independent Travel VS An Organised Tour:
This excludes transport to Kenya/ Nairobi, visas etc.
Transport return for 2 people: £37 / $48
Accommodation & Food in pre made tent full board, 2 people , 3 nights: £192 / $249.70
Tours and Guides, 2 people, 2 days: £184.60 / $240
Park Entrance Fees, 2 people, 2 days: £246.20 / $320.20
Total £659.80 / $858.05 for 2 people for 3 nights/ 2 tours/ transport to and from Nairobi (Not including accommodation in Nairobi/ extra food and drink/ Tips)
You could save roughly £120 / $156 by going self catering (of course spending some money on bringing food)
You could also save around £30 / $40 by bringing your own tent and camping equipment
So potentially the total could be: £510 / $663 – See you can do cheap African safaris!
A comparable trip we have seen at the cheapest price, similar accommodation, food and tours was £463 / $602 pp for 5 days. This does include accommodation in Nairobi for 2 nights. So you can do a Budget Kenya Safari even using a tour.
As you can see, prices for a budget independent tour vs the cheapest organised tour are comparable, so either way cheap African safaris are out there!
However, it is up to you and your travel style to decide which option is best. We generally think if you do take a tour it would be worth investing in one that is a little more expensive just to be sure of the quality because it’s generally more of a commitment than organising everything yourself. But we also like the idea of being able to add different activities, places or days on to an independent trip and go at your own pace.
Also bear in mind this is a budget guide, there are many other great luxury camps available to stay at as well as hiring your own car or driver if you still want to go it independently but have a higher budget!
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