Budget Safari in Kenya Guide 2024

Budget Safari in Kenya:

While Kenya is one of the most established safari destinations, it can be difficult for backpackers and budget travelers to find great deals that do not compromise on quality. Having backpacked Kenya myself sleeping in group dorms, I can confidently say that it is possible to experience Kenya’s wild beauty without breaking the bank. This guide is exhaustive and you may have to jump to various sections of interest using the table of contents below. First, let me get you a glimpse of a budget safari.

So, what is a Kenyan budget safari like?

A mid-range safari package in Kenya just above budget safari packages goes for a minimum of $400 and this has the most basic of amenities. However, if you want to take a budget safari, you’ll have to get creative and find ways to save money while still having an amazing experience. Our blog here at Kambu Campers has tips to save money while traveling in Kenya but I think the most important tip that may get your daily spending to the $200 to $250 range is choosing the cheapest accommodation available. You can expect lower-quality lodging and transport but still receive great wildlife-viewing experiences on a budget safari.

The trick to finding the best deals is researching and planning ahead. It takes patience, but you can find great deals on accommodations, safaris, and transport if you book in advance. Another important tip is to go with a small group or even just one other person. This will save money as the cost of transportation for smaller groups is cheaper than larger ones.

How affordable is a budget safari in Kenya?

I would say there are two classes of budget safaris, the very low-cost backpacker level and comfort level budget safaris. With transport and accommodations being the major contributors to a safari budget, backpackers can significantly save by opting for cheap dorm accommodation and at times public transport options.

For a backpacker-level budget safari, it is possible to experience the safari for as little as $100 per day or less depending on the activities and transportation chosen. Accommodation can range from camping in tents to sleeping in group dorms and transport will be mostly public bus systems. Meal plans are also limited and usually consist of only basic staples, however, if you are creative you can find some delicious meals.

The comfort level of budget safaris offers a higher quality experience while still keeping costs low. With more comfortable accommodations and sometimes private transport (if booked in advance), these safari packages will cost anywhere from $200 to $300 per day depending on the activities chosen. Meal plans are usually more substantial and often include traditional Kenyan dishes.

What most people are looking for when they think of budget safari in Kenya is the comfort-level type of safari with relatively decent lodging such as tented camps and private safaris which can at times be in groups to cut on cost.

During the peak season of July to October, comfort-level budget safaris can range from $250 to $400 per person, and during off-peak tourist season, the cost can drop to as low as $200 per night per person.

It is important to note that the cost of park entry in most KWS-operated National Parks goes from $50 to $80 for non-residents and this contributes significantly to the daily rate. Citizens have it easy with most Parks and Reserves charging about Kes. 1000 to Kes. 1,500 per day.

What kind of activities can I do on an affordable safari package?

To make the most of your money, it’s important to prioritize your spending when planning a trip to Kenya. Even if you have a limited budget, you can still enjoy many exciting activities and experiences by opting for more affordable accommodation options. Before your trip, be sure to research and identify the most enjoyable sights and experiences that fit within your budget. Most activities such as game viewing are doable with a small budget – especially if you plan as a group. Some activities such as hot air balloons may be expensive and usually advise people to forego it if it means it will eat too much into your budget. Hot air balloon safaris go for as high as $500 per person for just an hour’s ride. Read my Hot Air Balloon Ride review here.

In summary, below are what you can expect to experience during your budget safari:

Game watching:

You can go on game drives in the National Parks and you may even catch a glimpse of the ‘Big Five’ animals – elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard. If you visit destinations such as Masai Mara, you can view the famous Marsh Pride of Lions featured on BBC Wildlife Docuseries.

Mara also has over 95 species of mammals and Lake Nakuru has over 400 species of birds! Lots to see.

Photo safaris:

Spend some time with your camera and capture amazing photos of the wildlife and beauty of Kenya. The landscapes in Mount Kenya, Rift Valley, and Masai Mara are breathtaking. I always try to get the best shots in Amboseli against the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. This you can do without paying anything extra – unlike hot air balloon experiences.

Cultural tours:

Learn more about the Maasai culture by visiting a traditional village or going on a walking safari with a guide from the community. For less than $20 per person, you can learn a few words in the local dialect and gain immense insight into local cultures. Being a Kenyan myself, I always enjoy learning various aspects of the Masai culture which is significantly different from my own Kalenjin culture.

Beach trips:

Relax on one of Kenya’s beautiful white-sand beaches and take part in some water activities such as snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking. You can also take a boat trip to Lamu Island for less than $50 per person or opt for the cheaper option – Watamu Beach which is about 2 hours drive from Mombasa.

Birding safari:

If you are coming to Kenya in the optimal months for birding safaris such as November, you can just find a spot and watch 400+ species migrating from Europe to find the warmt of Kenya’s weather. You won’t have to spend extra to get this experience.

Hiking:

Take advantage of the stunning hiking routes which lead right to waterfalls or other natural wonders. Hells Gate National Park in Naivasha is a great destination to spend a whole day and explore the park’s rock towers, gorges, and wildlife.

What’s an all-inclusive budget safari have?

  • Transportation (from and to Nairobi)
  • Accommodation according to your preferences (lodges, campsites, hotels etc)
  • Meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner)
  • Park fees and conservation fees
  • Game drives and safari walks Day trips to local attractions
  • Services of a professional guide/driver
  • Optional activities such as mountain climbing or hiking (at an extra cost)

I recommend an all-inclusive package for a budget safari as it offers more convenience and comfort but does not come cheap. A quality all-inclusive package will cost you anywhere between $200 to $400 depending on the activities, accommodation, and transportation chosen.

What most budget safari packages wouldn’t offer:

  • Visa fees
  • Flight cost
  • Cost for optional activities such as hot air balloon rides or mountain climbing Transportation to and from the airport (although this is usually included in an all-inclusive package)
  • Tips for guide/driver
  • Fancy accommodations with hotels

What’s an ideal cheap safari package? How many days?

A 3 to 5-day safari package is ideal for budget safaris as it allows you to explore a few different parks and regions in Kenya and get a taste of the country’s amazing wildlife. This will give you enough time to visit at least one National Park, go on several game drives, stop by popular tourist attractions like Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru or Amboseli, and get a good feel of the country.

I suggest spending 3 nights and 2 days in Masai Mara, followed by an overnight stay at Lake Nakuru and another day/night in Nairobi. Masai Mara offers a wide range of wildlife, while Lake Nakuru boasts a diverse selection of both wildlife and birds in a smaller area. You can also explore inexpensive tourist attractions in Nairobi, which offers an exciting safari experience on a tight budget.

As you research the best budget safari package on safaribookings.com, go for options that do not exceed $2,000 for your 5-day trip. This will give you a taste of Kenya’s stunning wildlife, landscapes and culture. Good luck on your next budget safari!

When is the best time for a budget safari?

You can save 30 to 50% if you plan well and opt to come on your safari during off-peak tourist season which can be any month except the months of July to October. During these months, prices are usually higher due to an increase in the number of tourists visiting.

For a great budget safari, I strongly suggest visiting towards the end of May when the weather is drier and optimal for wildlife viewing, and it’s considered a low tourist season before prices go up. In this month, budget accommodations and transportation options are readily available.

7 Key things to note about affordable Kenya safari packages:

  1. Opt for shared transport by joining group tours: Ask your tour operator if they can place you in a group tour to help bring costs down. By sharing transport, you can save up to 50% on your safari expenses.
  2. Be comfortable with public transport: For your transport from the airport to your safari destination like Masai Mara, a 4WD vehicle would typically cost around $250. However, you have a more affordable option. By taking the morning Easy Coach bus from Nairobi’s Railway bus terminal to Narok, which costs just $8, and then catching a public transport matatu from Narok to Sekenani for $4.5, you can travel for a total of $12.5. This not only saves you money but also allows you to experience the journey differently. Just to highlight this. $12.5 is 20 times cheaper than $250.If you’re seeking transportation options to Masai Mara, Kambu occasionally organizes shared transportation, particularly for the Narok-Sekenani route, to spare you from being uncomfortably packed into a small Probox. This ensures a more comfortable journey without compromising on space.
  3. Consider an all-inclusive package: An all-inclusive Kenya safari package may seem more expensive at first glance, but it can save you money in the long run. The package would typically cover accommodation, transport, park fees, game drives, and meals. By bundling these costs together, it may turn out to be a more budget-friendly option than paying for each separately.
  4. Choose budget-friendly accommodation: Instead of staying at luxury lodges or camps, opt for more affordable options like tented camps, basic hotels, dorm-style accommodation or even camping. These accommodations still provide the necessary facilities and services to make your safari experience comfortable without breaking the bank. Our Kambu Mara Camp is among the cheapest options you can find.
  5. Stay outside the Parks: Another way to save money on a Kenya safari is by staying outside the national parks. While you may have to travel further to get into the park, it could save you a lot of money on accommodation costs. You can find budget-friendly accommodations in towns and villages near national parks, such as Narok or Talek for Masai Mara National Reserve.
  6. Be flexible with your travel dates: The peak season for safaris in Kenya is between July and October, but the prices during this time are higher. If you can be flexible with your dates, opt to go during the off-peak season (usually between April and June).
  7. Consider a self-drive safari: If you are comfortable driving in Kenya, consider renting a 4×4 vehicle or Kambu’s Campervan and going on a self-drive safari. This option gives you more freedom to explore the park at your own pace and also cuts down on the cost of a tour guide.

Safari in Kenya on a Budget: Insider’s Perspective:

Planning a budget safari in Kenya can be overwhelming, especially with the abundance of information available online. As a local and avid traveler myself, I have some insider tips that will help you plan your dream safari without breaking the bank.

Firstly, when it comes to budget accommodations, always opt for campsites over lodges or hotels. Camping not only offers a more authentic experience but is also significantly cheaper. There are many campsites situated within or near national parks and reserves, offering stunning views and proximity to wildlife.

Secondly, consider traveling during the low season (April-June and October-November) when prices are lower, and there are fewer crowds. This will not only save you money but also allow for a more intimate safari experience.

Next, be mindful of the mode of transportation you choose. Taking public transport or hiring a car and self-driving can significantly reduce costs compared to going on organized tours.

Additionally, do your research and compare prices from different safari operators. While some may offer all-inclusive packages at seemingly lower rates, there could be hidden fees that add up quickly. Opting for independent game drives with a guide can be a more affordable option.

When it comes to food, always inquire about meal options beforehand. Some campsites offer self-catering facilities, allowing you to buy groceries and cook your meals, which can save you a considerable amount of money in the long run. Our Kambu Mara Camp gives you the option to make your food or rely on the on-site restaurant.

Another tip is to be flexible with your itinerary. Consider visiting lesser-known national parks or reserves instead of popular and overcrowded ones. Not only will this be a more unique experience, but prices are also typically lower in these areas.

Lastly, don’t forget to negotiate! Many safari operators are open to bargaining, especially during the low season when business is slow. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts or special offers.

If you are comfortable driving yourself in Kenya, you can rent Kambu’s Campervan and embark on a self-drive safari, which can significantly reduce costs. Our campervan comes equipped with all the necessary camping gear and is perfect for budget travelers. You can also opt for a car hire with a driver which still offers you flexibility which can result in some savings while still giving you that authentic safari experience.

How can I keep transport costs lower for your budget trip?

Use public transportation:

While not very common in the Kenyan tourist sector, you can opt to use public means from Nairobi’s capital to various tourist destinations such as Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Amboseli and more. Unlike public transportation in developed countries, there are different classes of public transport means – those that have super small seats where you’ll be cramped up in a small space and some with a bit more spacious and at times air-conditioned. Some buses run by Eldoret Express, Modern Coast, or Mash are much cheaper than other private transport options and are very decent – clean, spacious, on time and have air-conditioners. A bus ride from Nairobi to Narok will cost you Kes. 1000 and another ride from Narok to Sekenani, the most popular Gate to Masai Mara will cost you another Kes. 600. That’s a total of Kes. 1600, about $10.50 but can plan to spend $10 to $15 as the earliest estimates above came to a total of $12.5 transport cost. If you hire a private safari car to get you to Masai Mara from Nairobi, you’ll pay about $150 during low tourist season and upwards of $250 during peak season. The $10.50 or $12.5 public transport cost is 20 to 23 times cheaper than $250.

The reason I like public transport options for transfers from one park to another or from Nairobi to your tourist destination is that 4WD safari cars don’t provide any additional benefit when you’re using paved roads. Kenya’s infrastructure is very good compared to Tanzania or Uganda and most routes you’ll be taking are well paved and in good condition except for a few bad patches. Ultimately, it comes down to preference – do you prefer the convenience of a private driver or the budget option of a public bus? Whichever route you choose is up to you but remember that if you’re on a tight budget, stick to the basics and use public transport as much as possible.

Self-drive transport options:

Rather than hiring expensive 4WD safari vehicles to get you from Nairobi to your destination Park, you can hire a self-drive 2WD vehicle which comes at a fraction of what you would pay for a 4WD. The cost of hiring such vehicles is about Kes. 8,000 per day (approximately $55). You can also buy fuel at the cost price which should come to around $20 – $30 depending on where you’re going and how far.

So, what accommodation can get my rate lower?

Camping:

Traditional tent camping at designated private campsites close to major tourist destinations is a great way to save money and still enjoy Kenyan wildlife. You can rent a tent or bring your own, depending on how much you want to spend and what type of camping experience you’re looking for. Campsites have basic amenities such as toilet/shower facilities and run around $8-20 per person, per night. Kambu Campers has campsites in Nairobi and in the Mara where you can spend as little as $15 per night per person and have access to all basic amenities including hot showers. Read about our budget Mara Camp here.

By choosing to camp, you save at least $100 to $150 that you would have spent on mid-range accommodation options that charge upwards of $150 per person per day.

Budget Hotels & Lodges:

If camping is not your style, budget hotels and lodges are available in major cities and tourist destinations. These have comfortable beds, hot showers, and meals included. Prices range between $30 -$60 per person per night depending on the destination. In Sekenani Gate, you can find accommodation in motels going for as low as $30.

Youth Hostels:

For backpackers and budget travelers, youth hostels offer decent accommodations at very low prices. They usually have shared rooms for up to four people with private bathrooms and shared kitchen facilities. Prices range from $10-20 per person per night depending on the location and type of hostel you choose. Kilifi has a great backpackers hostel and a few other destinations also have hostels. Kambu Campers plans to have an 8-bed dorm where you can sleep for as low as $30 just outside the National Reserve.

Campervan;

By renting a campervan with a bed and kitchenette, you can save money on food and accommodation. You will be able to drive around Kenya for your safari easily without worrying about finding a place to stay or eating out. Unfortunately, the campervan market is not as mature and as per this posting, only Kambu Campers is the only company offering campervans for rent.

Staying outside the Reserve or the Park?

While not confirmed yet, the 2024 season will have safarigoers in Masai Mara pay double the entry fee if they opt for accommodation inside the Park. In the 2023 season, the entry fee for adults was $80 for 24 hours and there is a proposal to have it be $100 per 12-hour period in the coming 2024 Jan – June season. This means that budget travelers will have to pay $160 just to the Masai Mara Reserve by opting to stay in lodges or hotels inside the park. The trick is to stay outside the Reserve so you only pay during the day. That said, we hope the proposal will not be passed by the county.

Budget accommodations for budget travelers:

Greenwood:

Greenwood Safari Camp is a budget-friendly option located just 5 minutes away from Talek Gate. The owner and staff are friendly and can assist you in organizing a Safari tour. In addition to their own pre-set tents, you can bring your own tent for only $10. The half board option costs $15, while the full board option, which comes with a packed lunch if desired, costs $20. When you want to unwind at the campground, you can relax in a hammock or soak up the sun at their swimming pool.

Crocodile Camp:

Crocodile Camp is a highly-rated tented camp in the Maasai Mara that offers budget-friendly options. Its tents have incredible views of the park, and you can see animal activity right from your tent. The camp takes pride in offering the most comfortable tents at the best prices. Additionally, the staff is friendly, and the location is excellent, being next to the village of Talek. Crocodile Camp provides the best quality at the best price.

Kambu Mara Camp:

Kambu Campers Camp located 8 km away from Sekenani Gate offers budget-friendly camping

Key takeaways from this guide:

1. Public transport is the cheapest way to get around Kenya on a budget safari.

2. Self-drive 2WD vehicles can be hired at a fraction of what you would pay for a 4WD.

3. Tent camping is an affordable option close to tourist destinations and costs around $8-$10 per person, per night.

4. Budget hotels and lodges are available in major cities and tourist destinations, with rates ranging between $30 -$60 per person per night.

5. Youth hostels offer decent accommodation at very low prices, with rates from $10-20 per person per night depending on the location.

6. Campervans can be rented for a more comfortable budget safari experience, though the campervan market is still underdeveloped.

7. Staying outside the reserve or park can be cheaper than staying in lodges or hotels inside.

8. Greenwood Safari Camp, Crocodile Camp and Kambu Mara are all budget-friendly options for accommodation if you’re visiting the Mara.

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