Masai Mara Safari: How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Trip

Masai Mara Safari: How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Trip

By |2017-03-16T08:28:37-04:00March 16th, 2017|Kenya|74 Comments

Masai Mara safari - elephants
Our Masai Mara safari…

…it was a safari like no other, way off in the middle of nowhere Kenya, in the low season with few other travelers around, and with plenty of wildlife to spot out in the hills, in the open savannas, in the ponds and rivers and hidden among the low, thick trees.

For three days and two nights our Masai Mara safari lasted and by the end of it, I can state that it was a definite success in every way possible. (Although, as I mentioned in my last post – How to Ruin an Epic Travel Experience – I didn’t quite appreciate it right away.)

I must admit that, at first, I had expected to pay a ridiculous amount of money for such an experience. This is what I had heard from others and also what my very quick initial research showed as well.

The good news is that we didn’t have to shell out a massive pile of money after all and visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve can be quite affordable.

Masai Mara Safari - wildebeest

Here’s how to keep your costs low when organizing your Masai Mara safari:

First, don’t panic!

When I arrived in Nairobi, I had a conversation with another American traveler who had just returned from his trip to the Masai Mara. He mentioned that he did his safari ‘budget style’, staying at a ‘budget tent camp’. I looked up the camp he stayed at – the cost was $750+ USD per night. Holy crap, that was way more than I wanted to spend. I panicked.

Luckily, after an hour of research on websites such as, I discovered that there were a good number of options for far less money than that. Eventually, we ended up with a highly-rated, $130 USD per night lodge (see below) that was more than sufficient for our travel style.

Masai Mara safari itinerary

Here’s a breakdown of our safari itinerary:

Day 1

  • 6.5 hour drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara
  • check-in to the lodge; lunch and 3 hour rest; 2.5 hour game drive in the park; dinner; sleep

Day 2

  • breakfast; full day game drive in the park (7:00am – 4:30pm); an hour at a Maasai village; dinner; sleep

Day 3

  • breakfast; 6.5 hour drive back to Nairobi (arriving at 4pm)

This was a great itinerary for us, with more than enough safari time, plenty of down time to enjoy the surroundings at the lodge and to interact with local Maasai villagers and enough time to recover in between the long journeys to/from Nairobi.

You can do a longer trip as well and I definitely recommend a minimum of 3 days / 2 nights in order to make the most of the experience and give yourself a high enough probability of seeing the Big 5 (lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant and buffalo) on the game drives.

Masai Mara Safari - lion sleeping

Understand the costs

Our transportation and driver/guide were organized by the excursion staff at my guesthouse in Nairobi – the excellent Khweza Bed and Breakfast. I arranged the accommodation myself.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

  • $360 USD: 3 full days of transportation in a 4WD safari van with detachable roof, including a knowledgeable and experienced driver/guide
  • $300 USD: 2 nights in a private, modern cabin at the Jambo Mara Safari Lodge, all meals included
  • $160 USD: Masai Mara National Reserve entrance fee – $80 per person per 24 hours
  • $20 USD – Water, snacks and supplies at the supermarket in Narok, the last big town before reaching the game reserve

Total: $840 USD for 2 people ($420 per person)

As a side note, when booking your transportation, it’s best to go through a company that has their own vehicles and guides, not one that sells you a trip but then passes you on to a different operator. Always ask – whether it be an agency or the staff at your hotel or guesthouse – if they have their own vehicles. The chances of paying more money or having a less enjoyable experience are higher when you don’t actually travel with the company you are paying for your safari.

Masai Mara safari - giraffe

Masai Mara safari – how to save money

TRANSPORTATION – Everyone needs this and I thought it was great to have the same vehicle and driver throughout the trip. Our driver, Bonny, picked us up in Nairobi and was our driver until he dropped us off back in Nairobi on the third day. And he really knew his stuff. When out in the Masai Mara, his well-honed animal tracking skills were on display and he clearly knew the reserve extremely well.

Tip: Hard to avoid this cost. Expect to pay around $360 to $400 USD for 3 days. The price is per vehicle so the more people you have, the lower the cost per person, and most safari vans hold up to 6 people.

Masai Mara safari - safari guide and vehicle

ACCOMMODATION – The cheapest option I saw was a tent at a camp site for around $25 per person but it was hard to find a good review online about any of these really low budget options. Go one step up and you’ll find some simple lodges and camp sites just outside the entrance to the park that offer more permanent tents, rooms or basic cabins for around $60 – $80 USD per night. And then there were choices all the way up to $2000 per night if you want! Keep in mind that all the accommodation prices, except for the most budget of options, include all of your meals since you’ll pretty much be in the middle of nowhere. That’s all breakfasts, lunches and dinners during your stay, which obviously saves you a great deal of money.

Tip: It’s best to stay outside the park if you’re on a budget. There’s a village with many options less than 1 kilometer from the main Ololaimutiek Gate. You’ll see why this is a good decision under the “Entrance Fee” section below!

Masai Mara safari - Maasai village

ENTRANCE FEE – The entrance ticket to get into the Masai Mara National Reserve costs $80 USD per person for 24 hours. If you stay at accommodation inside the park for 2 nights, you’ll have to pay this fee twice to cover your entire 24+ hour stay (afternoon of Day 1 until the morning of Day 3). BUT…if you stay outside the park, you can get away with only paying once, even though they will try to get you to still pay twice.

We accidentally showed up at the entrance gate on our first day with only $160 USD, enough money for two tickets. So we were told that we would need to pay again once our first 24 hour ticket period was up. But here’s the thing…our first game drive started at 4:30pm on Day 1 and our second game drive lasted from 7:00am until 4:30pm on Day 2. All of that falls within 24 hours so we actually didn’t need to buy a second ticket and we saved ourselves $80 USD each.

Tip: The only reason you should pay the entrance fee twice is if you are staying at a lodge inside the park (in which case you’re in the park for more than 24 hours) or if you go on a game drive on your third day. Otherwise, only buy one 24 hour ticket when you arrive on that first day. Even if you plan to do a game drive on the third day, I would wait to buy that second ticket as you might see all the animals you want to see on Days 1 and 2 and you might not feel like going back out again on Day 3.

Masai Mara safari - cheetah

Private safari vs a fully organized trip

You can always take a fully organized tour through a reputable agency as well. You can check out the dozens of companies on Safari Bookings, most of which offer both fully organized group trips and private safaris.

Fully organized group trips put you together with other travelers and include the accommodation, transportation, meals and game drives. The cost seemed to be around $360 – $400 USD per person for a 3 day / 2 night Masai Mara safari, with relatively simple accommodation included.

But in my opinion, if you’re already two or more people, you might as well book a private safari like we did as this will give you a chance to spend as much time as you want everywhere you go. On the game drive it was incredible to stop whenever we wanted, watch the lions for as long as we wanted and to really dictate the day. You can also book your own accommodation and save money that way.

Masai Mara safari price ranges

When it comes to overall cost, using simpler accommodation than what we used, two people could have a mighty awesome private safari experience for around $300 USD per person, which is a real bargain.

If you want nicer accommodation, you’re looking at the $350 – $450 USD per person range.

For more than two people, the price will go down, since the set cost of transportation will be divided among each person.

Also, keep in mind that you definitely do not need to book your safari experience in advance. Waiting until you arrive in Nairobi, unless you have a very limited period of time, will allow you to speak to excursion staff at your hotel/guesthouse and other safari operators directly, to really understand what is and what isn’t included and more importantly, to negotiate.

Yes, you can negotiate. You can negotiate for just about everything in Kenya and Masai Mara safari trips are no exception. Shop around, ask for discounts, have a reasonable price in mind that you want to pay and before long, you should have your ideal safari experience all lined up.

And then off you shall go into the gorgeous Masai Mara National Reserve, tracking down wildlife on a once-in-a-lifetime safari!

Any further tips to share from your own experiences? Any questions?

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  1. A K Bhattacharya February 19, 2020 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Hi there!
    I am planning to visit Masaimara in September 2020. Is there any chance that I can witness the great African Migration or do i need to visit any other place for that?

  2. Debasis Mazumder January 15, 2020 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the details. We soon hope to experience Masai Mara magic like you did.

    You have mentioned that your BnB organized the overall transportation and driver/guide.
    My query is, how common is it for the other BnB/Hotels in Nairobi to organize it? I do not want to book the safari from an agency.

    Also, while doing my research I read the cost of one way transportation from Nairobi to Mara can be around $200 in a vehicle. So a 3 Day cost of $360 seems to be an amazing deal. Can I hope to get a similar deal if booking our transportation and driver/guide from our place of stay in Nairobi?

    • Derek January 15, 2020 at 7:07 am - Reply

      Hey Debasis – The reason I had my BnB organize it is because they have their own safari company, their own vehicles and their own guides. Most hotels will just sell you a safari with another company. So it depends on where you stay in terms of how good of a deal you can get.

    • Partha Dey January 15, 2020 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      I Debasis, even I am planning to visit in August 2020. It will be great help if you can share your experience and some key information on arrangement

      Looking forward to hear from you soon


    • Gambhir Agrawal January 20, 2020 at 11:20 pm - Reply


      would like to visit Masai and other parks, looking for co travelers,

  3. India October 4, 2019 at 2:24 am - Reply

    Hi ! I was wondering if you’re coming from the Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta airport, did you go straight to the Lodge? Or did you wait around? Because my flight comes in at 9:50 pm and I know a bus or public transportation comes in the morning and I wasn’t sure what people usually did . I am also coming by myself.

    • Derek October 4, 2019 at 2:55 am - Reply

      We stayed in Nairobi for 4 days before we went to Masai Mara. There’s no way to get to the Masai Mara if you arrive at 9:50pm. You’ll need to wait until the next day.

  4. Sunil Chengappa August 31, 2019 at 2:51 am - Reply

    So The Information was Good and Needy… Reaching MM on 05/09/2019 and we are a group of 22 from India.
    Thanks Derek for the content.

    Hope to enjoy the peace and creation….

    • Gambhir Agrawal January 17, 2020 at 12:31 am - Reply

      HI sunil,
      Please share some tips and procedure in details to plan out, for myself.

  5. Natalia Correa August 6, 2019 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    Hi Derek. Your post was very helpful. I’m planning a trip by myself on a few weeks and I was wondering if you have any suggestions as for the outfits. What should I wear?

    • Derek August 11, 2019 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Hey Natalia – Simply dress comfortably and according to the weather. There really isn’t anything specific for clothes. When we went, we just wore shorts and t-shirts while on safari!

    • betty September 9, 2019 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      You can wear anything decent…the weather is mostly sunny but the evenings are abit cold.

  6. Charani Hekha July 30, 2019 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Hi Derek,

    We are planning our trip to Masai Mara for 3 days and 2 nights.
    we are renting a car (land crusier – suitable as it is allowed in all reserves/lakes). Since we will be taking this car to the reserve, we wanted to know where we can arrange for a tour guide/ranger to accompany us.

    • Derek July 31, 2019 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Charani – Thank you for the message. You should be able to hire a guide at the entrance gate to the park. I’m not sure if you can arrange this in advance but you would definitely want a guide with you. Masai Mara is very large, the driving is challenging inside the park and it’s very easy to get lost when driving around.

  7. James July 24, 2019 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I was trying to find a destination for my next short vacation next month. On this website, the issue of cost seems to be so complicated– with too much discussion about cost, so I’d thought of going to other places than Masai Mara, safari, and those stuff…

  8. Ty July 19, 2019 at 9:30 am - Reply

    Hi Derek!
    Really informative and useful blog post for planning our first trip to Kenya. Thank you!
    After gaining costs from Khweza they seem to have increased since your trip – even after negotiating.
    Do you know of any other companies for a tour guide and collection/drop off at Nairobi that we could try? We have tried a few other companies but no costs seem to be as good as yours.


    • Derek July 26, 2019 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      That makes sense as costs do go up over time and there are often changes to various fees and taxes. But honestly, Khweza offers the best value that I know of and that’s who I would still recommend.

  9. Rama July 2, 2019 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Hi Derek, A quick question, Regarding the $80 USD entrance fee, do we need to pay the entrance fee for driver as well or the driver can come in for free? is there any fee for the vehicle to entra the Masai Mara National Reserve?

    • Derek July 2, 2019 at 10:26 am - Reply

      The driver goes in for free. The vehicle fee will be included in your safari price. So the only extra amount is the entrance fee for you.

  10. Vishnupriya June 4, 2019 at 3:22 am - Reply

    Hello Derek !!
    Been thinking of a trip to Masai Mara from India since a while but not able to plan out an ideal itinerary. Few qns ..
    Is march or september a better time to visit …….. would 4 days be suffcient if I am only looking for masai mara game drives .. and are the cat family members really seen as close by as seen in pictures ?

    • Derek June 5, 2019 at 8:13 am - Reply

      4 days for a safari in Masai Mara is a good amount of time. Just remember that you need 1 day to get there from Nairobi and 1 day to get back to Nairobi. As for the big cats, nothing is guaranteed of course because they are wild animals but yes, there is a high chance that you will see them from very close distances.

      • Tabs November 3, 2019 at 6:56 pm - Reply

        Hi Derek
        Is it okay to plan the safari once we are in Nairobi or pre-plan from.the UK.

        Also, is December a good month for safari from your experience?

        Kind regards Tabs

        • Derek November 4, 2019 at 1:50 am - Reply

          Sure, you can do that. But like anything, you’ll have less options and won’t be able to shop around for the best offer/deal since you’ll have limited time when you arrive. And since many companies might already be sold out, you’ll have to take what you can get. As for December, it typically rains during that month but usually only for a short time each day.

    • GARY ANSTEY September 1, 2019 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Very good information. I am travelling with my wife and son and plan to rent a land cruiser with a driver from Nairobi next week. And spend 24 hours in the Masai Mara in order to see the Wildebeest Migration. Our priority is to see the migration, not predators. I’m struggling to find out whether the migration is in the MM at the moment. Any websites or suggestions? Thanks

  11. Carol Smith May 30, 2019 at 12:57 am - Reply

    Hi Derek !
    Thanks for a wonderful article. Just wondering if despite what you said about staying outside the reserve and saving park entry costs, is it not better staying inside the reserve if we don’t mind spending an extra USD 70 per person ? I’ve been planning my Masai Mara safari with this operator, Shoor Safaris, and they suggested staying inside the reserve as it saves time heading into and out of the reserve every time you do a game drive [ if staying outside the reserve]. The operator is reputable and was recommended by a friend who traveled with them
    Apparently some of the camps outside the reserve can be at least 15-20 mins drive from the main entry gate ?

    • Derek May 30, 2019 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      Hey Carol – Either one works. Our place was 10 minutes or so drive from the main gate but even 15 minutes is not much in the end. We preferred to be outside because there was a village nearby that we could visit too when we weren’t in the game park. But of course, either option will be excellent!

  12. DR DEEPAK GUPTA April 23, 2019 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Derek could you tell me any online website where i can book my vehicle with an experienced guide ? we are 2 persons planning a safari for 6 days to masai mara and lake nakuru.
    thanks Dr Deepak

  13. Thuy Vo February 5, 2019 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for your sharing. May I ask you about the entrance fee. When you said your first game drive started at 4:30pm on Day 1 and the second game drive lasted from 7:00am until 4:30pm on Day 2. Everything was within 24hrs, so you don’t have to pay it twice. It means you only paid $80 on Day1, stayed inside the park for 2 nights and nobody showed up to ask for another $80 for day 2? I am a bit confused.
    Thank you so much!

    • Derek February 8, 2019 at 6:47 am - Reply

      Yes, that is correct! The ticket is valid for 24 hours.

    • shawn nguyen February 24, 2019 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      Lol, I am Vietnamese and plan on going to Masai Mara too. I am going from California. Here is my email [email protected] so we can exchange ideas and good info. Thanks

  14. Sarah January 6, 2019 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Hi Derek, I have booked accommodation in the Masai Mara for 5 days and have contacted the guest house to get prices on game drives ,they said to will be from $200-300 a day for a vehicle and a driver but we (2 of us) were hoping to do 3 days of safari so this would really add up and be quite expensive. Is there any way to get game drives a lot cheaper from any other companies?

    • Derek January 6, 2019 at 2:56 pm - Reply

      Hey Sarah – That’s a tough one. It’s usually cheaper to organize the transportation/safari game drive from Nairobi, which is what we did. We used Khweza Tours. Once at Masaai Mara, the prices are higher since you’re kind of stuck out there without many options. You could try and find an independent driver yourself online that is based in Masaai Mara but most drivers are associated with guesthouses and hotels out there since they can earn more that way.

  15. MARGARET o keeffe December 9, 2018 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Hi derek have booked a package trip to masai mara with my niece via nairobi flightx from ireland accommodation and food paid for how much money do i need for other expenses do i need

    • Derek December 10, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Hey Margaret – You’ll need money for the park entrance fee each day (around $80 per day) and then about $30 per day for additional things such as crafts you might want to buy from the local markets or tips for those that assist during your stay.

  16. Janet November 24, 2018 at 5:17 am - Reply

    Hi Derek-

    A friend and I are considering a safari on the way back from the Seychelles- budget would be perfect…can you just confirm that the driver you hired in Nairobi was the same driver who took you through the park? One driver- From Nairobi to the park- through the park and back to Nairobi?

    • Derek December 1, 2018 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Janet – Yes, the same driver who took us from Nairobi to the park was also our driver in the park as well.

  17. Steve November 21, 2018 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Hi Derek, we are looking at going for Christmas. Do you know if you hire your own land rover from Nairobi and drive it to where you are staying at the park is it possible to find a guide/driver to take you in your vehicle? Would this save cost? If I am driving from Nairobi and staying in the park I don’t really want to be paying for my vehicle and another to take us around the safari!

    Cheers, Steve.

    • Derek November 22, 2018 at 1:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Steve – I think that’s a bit difficult because the land rover you hire in Nairobi probably won’t have insurance that will cover driving in the park or cover another driver without having their license when you rent the vehicle. It’s honestly not going to save you much money, if any money, by renting your own vehicle.

  18. Becky Blaine October 28, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Hi, wondering if you have any idea how safe this would be for a solo female traveler? Thanks!

    • Derek October 29, 2018 at 5:05 am - Reply

      Hey Becky – There are endless solo female travelers out there…I meet them every week as I move around the world. Check out and as two great resources from solo female travelers.

    • Carmen Paulino October 31, 2018 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      Hi Becky,

      I’m a solo female traveler, going for Thanksgiving 2018. If you find any tips, please share them along!

      • Lisa Crotty November 2, 2018 at 7:13 pm - Reply

        Hi Carmen, I did a solo Safari in June and had a great time. I went with Bigfoot Safari – they were wonderful and arranged everything. I stayed at Sarova Mara inside the Park I am going back next year and am definitely using them again.m

  19. Carlie & Adrienne Murphy October 13, 2018 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    We are very excited, we leave for our trip on next Friday. We followed your info to the letter, booking through Khweza for our private driver and to stay at the Jambo Mara Safari lodge and we are paying about $50 more than what you paid for your trip. So, clearly your itinerary works! Thanks for the post, we will be sure to tell you about our trip when we return.

    • Derek October 14, 2018 at 9:14 am - Reply

      That sounds excellent and I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful trip! Definitely let us know how it goes once you get back. Enjoy!!

  20. Avantee September 30, 2018 at 4:08 am - Reply

    Hey Derek! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. We’re currently trying to do a budget trip and it isn’t quite working as planned 😛 but we’re still looking forward to it. Would you by any chance be able to share the contact details of your driver Bonny? Is he still around?

  21. Hubert June 18, 2018 at 1:53 am - Reply

    Hi Derek. Thanks for the blog. Very informative. May I ask how it works when booking transportation in terms of food and lodging for the driver?

    • Derek June 19, 2018 at 11:48 am - Reply

      Hey Hubert – In my experience, when you book your trip, the cost for the driver (his lodging and food) is included. Some lodges have rooms for drivers and if not, there are other camps around that drivers tend to congregate at.

  22. Sofia Bertilsson September 29, 2017 at 11:33 pm - Reply


    This was a really good and informative post. Me and my boyfriend are in Nairobi now and wants to go on a Safari to the Masai Mara one of the upcoming days. We are travelling the world for 14 months so budget things is necessary to keep our budget.
    What about tipping? How much should you tip the staff on the safari? And how many staffs were included? We have experiences some cold showers when it comes to tipping before, when they want you to tip much more than we thought would be reasonable. And I do know that the tipping amount always is personal and up to you, but it´s always good to have an idea of what other pays.

    And one more thing, if I understand you correctly, you booked the safari trip from and back to Nairobi as a package, except for the accommodation which you booked your self?

    We are also planning to do a Safari in Serengeti and the Ngorogoro crater when we get to Tanzania, and probably also in South Africa when we get there, so we really looking forward to this!

    Thanks in Advance,

    • Derek September 30, 2017 at 5:35 am - Reply

      Hey Sofia – Yes, that is correct, that’s how we booked the safari. As for tipping, we gave our driver/guide (one person) about $60 USD for the entire 3 day experience. That was the only person we needed to tip.

  23. Sharon Powers March 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    I was in Mfuwe, Zambia in October at Flat Dogs camp, South Luangwa National Park. It was incredible. The cost was so reasonable. It is a small camp, which I loved. The guides were so knowledgeable. I’d go back again and again. Amazing experience. We stayed in the tents which were wonderful and only 45$/night/pp.

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  25. Aaron Teoh March 18, 2017 at 3:46 am - Reply

    Hi Derek,
    I’ve been wanting to visit a safari in Africa but have been putting it off as I thought it’ll involve many thousands of dollars. I’ve done various kinds of travelling but none involving a safari experience due to budget concerns, and it’s comforting to know that such an amazing trip can be done with a more manageable budget. Thanks for the detailed information! Also, I like the aspect of not having to nail down every single detail before setting off, leaves room for spontaneity and surprise 🙂

  26. Kuba March 18, 2017 at 2:06 am - Reply

    You can cut the costs of transport if you rent car in Nairobi. We did that. The road was very easy. Only the traffic on a way back at night was terrible. We’ve seen big 5 without any guide skills

    • Krystian Poplawski December 7, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Kuba,
      Can you give some more details about yours experience please? I.e.what car and rental company have you used? What accommodation you have stayed at and prices? Are you pole?

    • Bala October 6, 2019 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Hi Derek,

      We are a couple from India planning to visit Masai Mara and other places nearby we are planning to have a 7 day trip once we land in Nairobi. Could you please assist us in planning the Safari, we would go with Khweza as you mentioned but at same time do we really save any money if we do it our selves like booking it on or seems to be government websites to book for Safaris. Also suggest a budget friendly and safe place to stay in Nairobi. Thank you

      • Derek October 7, 2019 at 3:19 am - Reply

        Hello Bala – You can contact me through my contact page if you would like to use my itinerary planning service.

      • Gambhir Agrawal January 21, 2020 at 12:22 am - Reply

        Hi, Bala, have you completed your trip to Masai? Please share your experience, suggestions, other details and contacts of budget friendly accommodation and safari bookings etc. in detail.
        If you are still planning then I would like to join you people.

  27. Natalie March 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this info. Glad to hear it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. 🙂

  28. Alex Steven March 17, 2017 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Lovely! post…..the fun that you make on the trip is all that matters at the end of the day. Thanks for sharing mate.

  29. Mser March 17, 2017 at 12:55 am - Reply

    Spending more usually means seeing fewer people because you are staying in a private reserve (rather than visiting a national park where anyone with a few dollars can get in). Nothing worse than being surrounded by a slew of vehicles. My advice is to stay in a private reserve.

    • Derek March 17, 2017 at 1:19 am - Reply

      In the Masai Mara there aren’t any private reserves so no matter what you spend you’ll be in the same place as everyone else.

      • Win Noren April 3, 2017 at 11:12 pm - Reply

        That is not exactly correct. Surrounding the national reserve are dozens of private conservancies. In fact from most of the web sites of the lodgings it is hard to know whether you would actually be inside the national reserve or not. But if a lodging mentions a night game drive option or bush walks, then it is likely in a private conservancy as those are not allowed in the national reserve.

        • Derek April 4, 2017 at 7:06 am - Reply

          Thanks for the info. I honestly didn’t hear of any private game reserves or any night game drives so I guess I just didn’t come across it at all. And for those on a budget, which is generally my focus, I’ll guess that the private reserves are much more expensive than what I did above.

  30. Mser March 17, 2017 at 12:52 am - Reply

    You drove 13 hours? Just to save cost of bush flights? Yikes.

    Sad to see you put so little forethought into what is/should be a bucket-list trip. 3 days doesn’t even scratch the surface, especially when your time with the animals is so short. 5 days at a minimum. And if you’re travelling a long distance, try to spend a few weeks at various camps in various countries.

    Maasai Mara – go when the migration is happening. That’s what it is famous for…

    • Derek March 17, 2017 at 1:24 am - Reply

      That might be the case except that I’m traveling around the world full time, so almost every week involves a bucket list experience. I’ve been traveling nonstop since 1999 and I can’t do the most complete experience for every single thing I do and place I visit. I’m quite happy with what I have been able to do in the 18 years of travel I have under my belt 🙂

      • Han May 2, 2018 at 9:52 am - Reply

        Everyone has their own unique speed of immersion into a new world. Sure 3 days don’t scratch the surface, but neither do only 5. I’m sure there’s someone who would insist 10 days! Other’s may cap it off at just one day… its all about perspective.

      • Nikita November 10, 2018 at 8:36 pm - Reply

        Very well said. I just wonder about those people that always have to dim your light cause its too bright for them. Keep travelling as you have done so far. , enjoying yourself and giving good advice. If your light shines into their eyes blinding tbem maybe they should wear sunglasses!! This is about low budget travel not about luxury bucket list experiences. Read the title!

  31. Glenn I March 17, 2017 at 12:12 am - Reply

    I, too, saw huge prices when I casually googled about safaris. Being stuck in one of those big Landrovers lurching around rutted tracks followed by other Landrovers, also looked standard — and unattractive. Thanks for sharing your more-pleasant-sounding experience!

  32. Heidi Smith March 16, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Good review. I really like your explanation of how to save some cash and still have a good experience. Saves me some research, LOL!!

  33. Craig O March 16, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply


    Thanks so much for this information. My gf and I are actually beginning the process of looking at where to travel this fall, and a safari was on our bucket list. This information is extremely helpful and came at a great time. Can you tell me if September, October would be good/bad months to go on this safari? I am not sure what the seasons are like over there. Thanks!

  34. Carole Jorgensen March 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Great info, Derek,
    I traveled in Botswana after volunteering for Cheetah Conservation Botswana and found getting around that part of Africa a bit challenging: very crowded (but safe and friendly) mini buses (you might hold a child or a chicken on the way), crowded (but efficient and clean) greyhound type buses and Overlands. Car rental is expensive and dangerous (sand, pirates–at least 15 years ago–and there are elephants on unlit roads). Overland tours are usually led by South Africans who aren’t especially sensitive or knowledgable about the local flora and fauna and culture. I’d definitely hire a local guide for wildlife if I could. As a wildlife biologist, be sure to ask the tour guide how experienced they are…how many years, do they know the park, do they know the habits of the wildlife. I’d also recommend getting an open rig (jeep type thing)…better for pictures and seeing wildlife, since most WL parks don’t allow you to get out of the vehicle. Those park fees help pay for ranger and wildlife management and are worth the cost if you can afford it and want to support the park. Guide fees for companies–that’s something else.

    • Derek March 20, 2017 at 9:40 am - Reply

      Hey Carole – Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, very helpful! We were definitely lucky to have an experienced guide on our safari but we definitely saw others that weren’t (a guy who was driving a 2WD van around, getting stuck in the mud every 15 minutes and needing another guide/driver to rescue him, while always asking other guides where to look for animals).

      And you are right, the park fees do help pay for the management although from what I learned in Kenya, it’s not quite clear where all the money goes!

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