BUDGET BUCKETLIST: How to do a cheap safari in Kenya
Budget Bucketlist is the reason you’ll love us: for this feature we take bucketlist destinations, and tell you how to do them cheaply. Guess what: your dream is actually more affordable than you thought! So take that Craigslist add offline where you’re selling your kidney, and read this instead. This time we focus on how to do a cheap safari in Kenya, one of the most beautiful countries in Africa (and perhaps even the world)!By ExploristaTeam.
Kenya: raw nature, steppes and savannas, The Lion King, and of course safari. But going on safari, you may think, isn’t that an activity reserved for retired doctors and stock market brokers? No! Obviously you can go on a big spending binge, and book an organised week-long safari tour through Kenya will set you back at least £2000. But journeying through the most famous country in eastern Africa, with her beauty that we’ve in films and on television, really doesn’t have to cost you a month and a half’s wages.
Kenya has an incredibly rich and long history. Many of the earliest human remains were found in the region, which is why eastern Africa is often also called the birthplace of humanity. Even so, the country itself is relatively new, having only been independent for half a century: until the beginning of the 1960s Kenya was still a colony of the United Kingdom, and to this day it remains a part of the Commonwealth. Its capital is Nairobi, which is one of the largest cities on the continent with 6.5 million inhabitants. The eastern coastal area of Kenya is predominantly muslim, but the landward parts are mostly protestant or catholic, and in Nairobi there’s even a jewish synagogue. Throughout the year temperatures fluctuate between ‘a light summer jacket’ and ‘Dante’s first circle of hell’, and frost generally doesn’t occur.
Out of all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya classifies as one of the most developed and safest to visit, and together with Gambia, Tanzania and South-Africa, its got the best facilities and services for tourists. So start packing and buy that extra memory card for your camera, because you’ll need it!
HOW TO GET THERE
At a distance of about 7000 kilometres from Europe, flying is the only viable option to get to Kenya, except if you’re planning on making the roadtrip of a lifetime. According to Skyscanner, the cheapest round trip fare to Nairobi from London is £376, but don’t knock flying from Germany, Belgium or The Netherlands. Their flights can sometimes be cheaper, and you’ll get there in no time and very cheaply with a budget airline.
From Nairobi it’s a 4.5 hour drive to the most famous national park of Kenya, the Masai Mara. The first three hours of this trip will take place on the only ‘highway’ of the country, which consists of a two-lane street running through villages and containing, surprise-surprise, speed bumps! But hey, at least its asphalted! The last hour and a half of the journey to the southwest is not: driving a stretch of 80 kilometres on an unpaved and often muddy sand road is an adventure by any definition. As you’ll understand, this is not a journey to taking on after having flown in cattle class for 9-11 hours, so spending the night in Nairobi is a necessity more than a luxury. And the city is definitely worth a visit on its own, but be cautious: its nickname ‘Nairobbery’ doesn’t come from thin air!
The price of a comfortable, no-frills-attached rental car for 8 days from the international airport Jomo Kenyatta is £320. This includes all taxes and insurances and the first 1750 kilometres, which should easily suffice for the week. Please note that you have to be at least 23 years old to be able to rent a car though! Gasoline in Kenya is about £0.85 per litre, and as such driving to the Masai Mara and back again will cost you £33, based on the conservative estimate that you’ll drive 14 kilometres per litre. Add to this that you’ll be driving fair distances within the national park itself to spot all members of the Big Five and any trips you’ll be taking in Nairobi itself to do grocery shopping and some sightseeing. In total, £60 should be enough to cover all stops.
Total of transport costs: £500 per person
HOW TO SLEEP THERE
Accommodations are an aspect you can easily save on while in Kenya. In Nairobi a dorm bed in a reputed hostel with free wifi and parking is possible from £5 per person per night. Alternatively, staying in a private room in a somewhat outdated hotel will cost you £20. Spending the night within the national parks themselves is crazily expensive, as is to be expected: £300-£450 per room per night is the norm rather than the exception. Luckily local businessowners know the financial struggles of broke wanderlusters all too well, which is why there are always numerous affordable accommodations found within a few km of the entrance of every national park. At about a 15 minute drive from the entrance to the Masai Mara, for example, there’s a relatively luxurious tent camp where prices start at £25 per person per night. And you have to admit that it’s a pretty romantic idea, spending the night in the middle of the African savannah, with only the tent cover between you and the night’s sky… until a certain oversized eight-legged visitor comes over to accompany you under the blankets, that is. But hey, weren’t you going to Africa to experience the exotic wildlife in the first place? ;)
Total of accommodation costs: £153 per person
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.
Total of expenses on food & drinks: £120 per person
HOW TO DO AMAZING SHIT THERE
The Masai Mara is actually the most-visited attraction in the south of the country, and as such highly overpriced. Entry to the national park is about £48 per person per day (£28 for students), excluding an additional £4 per day to bring your car in. Because no trip to Kenya is complete without seeing all of the members of the Big Five, you’re gonna need three full days to drive around the park. Ka-ching! If your seasonal timing is right, you might even be able to witness the massive Wildebeest trek across the Mara river! Maybe three days even sound as very little to you, but believe me when I tell you that you’ll very quickly get used to all the miracles of nature surrounding you, and that the first zebra is pretty much the same as the next one.
In the neighbourhood of the Masai Mara it’s also possible to visit a traditional (albeit commercialised) Masai village, and witness the original way of life of the biggest tribe in Kenya. On the way back from the Masai Mara to Nairobi it’s only a small detour of 2 x 30 minutes to Naivasha, a city that borders a huge and beautiful lake. There are many small companies that offer short boat trips to the lush and green Crescent Island, straight through herds of hippos relaxedly swimming in the water, where you can get off and walk amongst the giraffes and wildebeest (at a fair distance). A nice change of pace and scenery, since you’re not actually allowed to leave your vehicle and walk around in the Masai Mara itself!
Total of sightseeing expenses: £225 (£163 for students) per person
TOTAL FOR 8 DAYS: £998 per person (£906 for students)
About the author:
Wesley Pechler – 22 – works in a supermarket – ultimate budget traveler – 30 countries in Europe & Africa – vegetarian – likes musicals – hella gay (his words, not mine) – has better hair than me –https://instagram.com/wesleypechler