A safari is one travel experience that’s on almost every traveler’s bucket list. Many people have the idea that a safari costs thousands of dollars and has to be a luxury experience. Luckily this is not the case. This guide explains, step-by-step, how to go on a safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya and see the big 5 on a backpackers budget of less than $200.
If you are in Nairobi shopping around for a safari to the Maasai Mara, you will usually be quoted $280-350 for a standard 3 day safari from the tour companies in the city. You may be quoted more if you are trying to book online before you arrive. If you organize the trip yourself, you can do the same Safari for $180 including transportation, park fees, camping, food, and truck and guide.
What’s the catch?
The only catch is that you will need a group of 4-6 people to split the cost of the truck and guide. To get a group together, I recommend you ask around the hostel or post on online forums for backpackers planning to go on safari in Kenya.
How to Make Reservations with Mara Explorers
Once you have your group together, you will need to email the campground Mara Explorers for a reservation. Tell them that you want to reserve a truck, guide, and space in their campground. You’ll need to tell them the date that you plan to arrive and how many tents you need to rent. If you travel with a tent, you can save some money because you won’t need to rent one.
You want to schedule your safari for the day after you arrive. The trip from Nairobi to the campground takes most of a day. I’ll explain how to get there in the following section of this guide.
The truck and guide cost $200 per day. Split 4 ways, that’s only $50 per person. For this price, you get a 12 hour safari. If you rent a tent, it will cost $30-40 per night. If you bring your own tent, it will cost about $15 per night.
How to Travel to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi by Bus
Once your reservation is confirmed, you can organize transportation to Maasai Mara. You can probably just show up at the bus station in the morning, but it is best to buy tickets in advance just to be safe.
Take the Bus from Nairobi to Narok
You want to travel from Nairobi to Narok, Kenya. Several bus companies operate this route. We used Easy Coach. The station is located in the city center near the corner of Suna road and Ngong road. Tickets cost about $5 one way and the bus leaves at 8:00 am. After enjoying a very scenic ride through the hills, you will arrive in Narok around noon.
Stock up on Food
Now is the best time to do your grocery shopping for your trip. There are several grocery stores in town, including Tuskys. You’ll also find vendors selling fresh produce on the street. You should buy enough food and water for 2 days. Food and drinks are available at the campground but it is much cheaper to buy your own at the grocery store.
We bought easy to prepare foods like tuna, bread, cookies, avocados, bananas, oranges, and pre-prepared rice and chicken for dinner the first night. There is a kitchen at the campground also if you wish to cook something more substantial. There is also a restaurant if you’d prefer not to bring your own food.
Taxi from Narok to Mara Explorers Campground Near Maasai Mara
After you are all stocked up on food, it is time to make the final leg of the journey to the campground near the gate of the Maasai Mara. You will make the trip by shared taxi.
Head to the minibus station in Narok and ask around for a driver heading to Maasai Mara. Just tell the driver that you want to go to Mara Explorers. It is just a couple miles from the park gate. The driver will know the place.
Try to get to the minibus station as early in the afternoon as possible. Only a handful of cars make this drive every day. They leave when they’re full. If you miss them, you’ll have to pay for a private ride. If you have a larger group, you can split the cost of a whole taxi. This would be faster and much more comfortable.
We had to wait for about an hour for our taxi to fill up. We paid $5 each. Our driver squeezed 8 people and their luggage into a compact car designed to seat 4. I was seated in the back where 2 overweight guys and my friend and I were squeezed into seats designed for 2. The ride was rough and dusty. It takes about 2 hours to get to the campground from Narok.
Camping Near the Maasai Mara
You will camp outside of the park just a few miles down the road from the main park entrance. Mara Explorers is a nice campground with decent facilities. They have flush toilets, showers, a bar and restaurant, and a common area with seating. They also have a basic kitchen where you can prepare your food.
There aren’t any designated campsites. You just choose the flattest spot you can find in a field and pitch your tent. The area is fenced to keep wild animals out. I heard elephants trumpeting in the night.
The Safari in the Maasai Mara
The next morning you will leave the campground at around 6 am. Your guide will pick you up at reception. When you arrive at the park entry gate, the guide will collect $80 per person to pay the park fee. Your entry ticket is only valid for one entry so if you leave the park, you will have to pay again to reenter. The process is very fast and efficient. You don’t even have to get out of the truck. The safari will last around 12 hours.
After your safari, you could head straight back to Nairobi that night. You could arrange to have a taxi waiting to pick you up at the campground and drop you back off in Narok. From there, you could catch a bus or minibus back to Nairobi. You’ll arrive at night.
We opted to camp for another night and head back the following morning. We arranged a taxi for the following day with reception. The driver was right on time.
Once back in Narok, you can take the Easy Coach bus or another shared taxi back to Nairobi. We took the taxi because it was leaving sooner. It was also a couple of dollars cheaper.
Final Thoughts: How to Safari in the Maasai Mara for Less than $200
This safari was maybe my favorite travel experience, ever. Standing in the safari truck with my head stuck out the top and the wind in my face as we glided over the African savannah was truly unforgettable. To top it off, I saw the big 5 including a rare black rhino spotting. For $200, this was the best tour value I’ve ever had.
Many travelers choose to go on multi-day safaris that cost thousands of dollars. If you are lucky, you can see all of the animals in one day. The only thing I didn’t get to see that I wanted to see was a kill. Overall, I think a safari is something every traveler should experience. For less than $200, it is affordable. The zoo just doesn’t compare.
To Recap: How to Safari in Kenya for Less Than $200
- $5 from Nairobi to Narok
- $5 from Narok to Mara Explorers campground
- $50 for guide and truck split among 4 people
- $80 for the park entry fee
- $30 for 2 nights camping (if you bring your own tent)
- $10 back to Nairobi in taxis and bus fare
Have you gone on an African Safari? Share your experience in the comments below!
For more budget tips, check out my guide: Traveling Africa on a Budget.