Kenya is one of the best places in the world to see large game and beautiful bird life. The experiences I’ve had on safari have been unforgettable and I hope to have many more in my future. But one of the most difficult aspects of planning a Kenyan safari is figuring out how to get the most out of your money. Luxury safari tents and $400 per night rooms abound, but it is still possible to fully enjoy Kenya’s natural beauty on a more limited budget. Here’s how to do so.
Written by Dave Cole.
First steps – Animals and Planning
To figure out where you want to go, you should determine which animals or birds you want to see. If you are set on experiencing the flamingoes at Lake Nakuru or the herds of elephants of Amboseli National Park, you will want to ensure that your timing is right. Animals may move seasonally, so it is best to research their location based on the calendar beforehand. The dry season months of July to October are optimal for large game, as the animals are gathering around water holes and thus are easier to spot and photograph. A safari during the months of September to March/April will yield the most migratory birds and some beautiful photographs of them.
Expenses to Mind
Certain areas of expense should be considered in planning a budget safari. First, park entrance fees for non-residents of Kenya can be very steep. A few days in one of the more expensive parks can run into the hundreds of U.S. dollars, so be sure check the current park fees on the Kenya Wildlife Service’s useful website. As with most hard-to-reach areas of the world, food can be quite expensive, so energy bars and light, nutritious snacks are key to saving money. Additionally, most camping safaris require that you bring your own sleeping bag, which will typically be a cheaper purchase outside of Kenya.
Tip: If you’re in Kenya as a student (e.g. for an internship or for an elective at a Kenyan university) you’re eligible for considerable student discounts. Send a copy of your student ID and a letter from your dean to parks[at]kws.go.ke. For Lake Nakuru, Hell’s Gate NP, Tsavo East and Western Masai Mara you will have to apply separately via www.maratriangle.org.
Do it Yourself or Tour Operator?
DIY safari is certainly feasible given Kenya’s abundance of nicely paved roads and camping grounds. However, in doing so you incur the expense of car rental without the benefit of experienced guides, most of whom communicate with other guides in the park via radio about the location of animals. And even if you do have a radio, this important chatter is often times exclusively in Swahili. Kenya is unique among countries in the region in that its tourism industry is heavily developed and very professional (they have been catering to international tourists for over a century). Given the great number of reliable tour operators, there is price competition, which favors the budget traveler. Also, many of these operators will include park fees and prepared meals in their packages, which will further reduce any perceived savings from a DIY safari.
Choosing a Tour Operator
Many tour operators have websites with posted rates for different options. If the rates are not listed, most companies will quickly respond to a price inquiry. A lot of tour providers offer camping safaris to multiple parks, which will reduce the costs associated with lodges or luxury camping sites. However, if you plan to spend time in Nairobi before going on safari, you may want to wait until you arrive in Kenya to book. Recommendations from other travelers can help you find tour operators without an online footprint, many of whom are well experienced and excellent. Also, if traveling solo or as a couple, you may have the opportunity to join a larger group, which will reduce rates for everyone (always nice to please fellow travelers).
Know the Details of the Tour Package
Before booking any tour, it’s important to clarify what is included in the price. It is ideal to find a package that includes park fees, meals, tents, camping fees and water. If your group is large enough, you can whittle down the daily price of the safari to around $125 per person. And if you go during the rainy season, you can usually get cheaper rates at the risk of seeing less wildlife. Whatever you end up paying, the thrill of observing the big cats, elephants and rhinos in the savannah will stay with you for many years.
About the author
Dave Cole is a travel and food writer and photographer who is traveling around Africa and is currently based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He has lived in Spain and Portugal, where he fell in love with each country’s cuisine, culture and language. Dave’s writing and photography currently focus on his interactions with the scenery, people and food he encounters in Africa. He shares these experiences on his blog Cook Sip Go. You can also connect with Dave on Twitter.
Do you have tips on how to arrange a budget Kenyan safari?