How to Travel to the Masai Mara on a Budget (under $500)

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Have you ever thought about visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve but thought that it would be way out of your price range?

Safari holidays are notoriously expensive, but I’m here to let you into a little secret and tell you how you can experience the Masai Mara on a budget! When I say budget, I mean for only a few hundred dollars!

Yes really!

Every time I go to the Masai Mara, I never want to leave. I say every time, because I’ve been there 4 times already, and I’m going back for the 5th time later this year for round 2 of my This is Kenya tour. It feels like home.

I always stay at a place called Mara Explorers Camp & Backpackers, owned by my friends Moses and Laura.

I met Moses in 2009 when he was my overland tour guide and we’ve been friends ever since. Then back in late 2014, I went back to stay with him and his wife Laura for the first time, at the camp they’d built together in the heart of Maasai land.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

They picked me up in Nairobi, on their way back from visiting family in the city and we drove the four hours to the Mara, stopping just outside Nairobi to take some pictures of the magnificent Great Rift Valley.

When we stopped in the town of Narok to have some lunch and pick up some supplies from the supermarket, I spotted one of the best signs I’ve seen in Africa for a while. “YOU SATAN!! YOUR YOKE IN THIS TOWN HAS BEEN BROKEN” I declare this county free from all demonic alters.

Only in Africa.

Good to know. I hate it when Satan has an unbroken yolk in a town I’m visiting, don’t you?

The tarmac road ends just outside of town and it’s bumpy bumpy all the way to the Mara. This is what they call ‘the African massage’, and it often comes with a free ‘dust facial’.

We passed Maasai women walking along the roadside, bowed low, carrying heavy bundles on their backs, supported by leather straps across the top of their heads. It didn’t look at all comfortable and as always, I was amazed by both the physical and mental strength it must take to do this.

By the side of the road women sold fruit and vegetables from wooden stalls and children waved (or stared) as we bounced along.

A few miles from our destination, I was just dozing off, when Moses stopped the car and pointed out a couple of giraffes in the distance. We pulled over and got out of the car, but on closer inspection, more giraffes emerged from behind the trees. I stopped counting at around 40 and I can say that I have never seen anything quite like it. I wasn’t even on safari yet.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

The first few days in the Mara were spent relaxing and pottering around camp with Moses, Laura and their friends, playing with their puppies, doing laundry or visiting the nearby township of Sekenani, to eat nyama choma (barbequed goat), drink (warmish) Tusker beer and have a little daytime boogie at Mercy’s Place (now called Rex’s Place), the ‘coolest’ little bar in town.

Whilst I was there, I took a nature walk with George, a Maasai tribesman and guide at the camp. George picked me up early in the morning and we began our our ascent of nearby Siana Hill. George kept watch for animals, barely breaking a sweat, whilst I huffed and puffed the whole way up. George told me it was the altitude, that many visitors struggle, and that I should drink a cocktail of sheep fat and tree bark to make it better.

I told him I’d take his word for it.

We chatted no stop during the walk. He taught me to say hello in the Maasai languange, Maa and I called out “Sopa” to all of the Maasai cattle herders we passed along the way.

I asked him about Maasai culture, and he threw the questions right back at me. How much does a house cost in England? Do people keep animals? Do you have land? What crops do you you grow? But my favourite question…

“Helen, how many wives could I have if I lived in England?”

“You’re only allowed one wife in England. How many wives do you have?”

“I only have one wife. One is enough for me!” He said with a roll of his eyes and a smile.

We finally reached the top and the view was incredible, the silence was liberating. I felt as though I could see the whole of Kenya.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

A few days later, I was joined by my husband Matt (who would also probably agree that one woman is quite enough to handle) and I was excited for him to experience his first proper safari. And what better place to do it, than in the Masai Mara!

We were up at first light. I popped my head out of the tent and shone my torch around, looking for signs of life. The sun wasn’t quite over the horizon just yet but no eyes were staring back at me, so I declared it was probably safe for us to leave the tent and head to breakfast.

Matt groggily followed behind. The previous night was only his second night in Kenya, and whilst I’d fallen straight to sleep, used to the early nights and early mornings, his body clock hadn’t quite adjusted and the hyenas cackling had kept him awake. He soon perked up when he saw Moses and Laura were waiting with a stack of pancakes to set us up for the day.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Once we’d entered the park, it wasn’t long before we came across a lion. He was painfully thin, with only one eye and hanging casually from his mouth was a dead cow.

A number of vehicles had a gathered to watch him, including the Absolute Africa truck we would join a few days later for our safari in the Serengeti. As we sat there, the smell of rotting flesh would occasionally catch the wind and make its way up my nostrils, the cow already beginning to decay in the heat.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

The lion looked physically exhausted, obviously having dragged his kill for some distance. Occasionally he would pick the cow up by it’s neck, drag it a little way, stop, rest, look around and then carry on. Unfortunately for the lion, he’d chosen the wrong meal that day, because cows, being domesticated animals and all, usually belong to someone. And in a land where ones wealth is measured in livestock, cow theft is taken very seriously.

There exists a delicate balance between the Maasai and the animal kingdom and in this modern world, development and dwindling lands forces these two worlds to collide more regularly. We were to learn later, that the (very angry) Maasai owner of the cow had arrived, chased the lion away, and reclaimed his property.

I felt sad for the lion and the Maasai. But mostly for the cow.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

We spent the rest of the day in the reserve, with George as our spotter. We saw so many animals, including elephants, lions, cheetahs and some even posed for the camera.

Happy? Yes I was. To quote one of my favourites, Karen Blixen “Here I am, where I ought to be.”

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Later that afternoon, just minutes after we’d arrived back at camp, a commotion began.

A female impala and her baby had wandered in and the dogs went crazy. Mama impala made a run for it, and managed to escape, but the baby couldn’t find her way out and was running round in circles, chased by 7, very excitable puppies.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Eventually, Moses and Laura rounded up the dogs and George managed to get hold of the baby impala, who was visibly shaking.

George, with his magical Maasai ways, managed to calm the impala down, stroking her until her breathing slowed, before carefully laying her down on the floor, tucking her legs beneath her.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Whilst we were busy with the baby, David, who worked at the camp, had ridden off on the bicycle and located the mama in the village.

As Moses and David drove off to reunite the mum and the baby, George’s son appeared at the gate, frantically shouting for his dad. George said his goodbyes and went to see what was the matter.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

The following morning, I asked George what had happened. “Lions were attacking my cows. I had to scare them away.”

Of course he did. Because life is never dull in the Masai Mara.

How to Experience a Masai Mara Safari on a Budget

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Mara Explorers Camp

Moses and Laura’s place is a gorgeous little camp called Mara Explorers Camp & Backpackers, which lies just outside of the park, near to the Sekenani township. I also wrote about it here. the camp is not to be confused with the more high end Mara Explorer Camp!

Staying outside of the park means it’s a lot cheaper, as you have to pay $80 for each day you spend in the park, so by staying here, you are only paying for the days you actually go on safari.

Mara Explorers offer packages, or you can arrange everything separately as I’ll explain below.

Mara Explorers Backpackers in the Masai Mara


There are a few different accommodation options, including budget dome tents (sleep up to 2 people – shared bathrooms), ensuite tents (sleep up to 4 people) and ensuite cottages (sleep up to 5 people). The tents are really comfortable and all have proper beds.

If you have your own tent, you can also camp there and use the kitchen provided.

  • Camping (from 1500 ksh per person, per night)
  • Dome Tents (from 5000 ksh per person, per night, full board)
  • Ensuite Tents (from 7000 ksh per person, per night, full board)
  • Ensuite Cottages (from 8,000 ksh per person, per night, full board)

For those in their own tents, you can also add a meal package.

1000 KSH = $10 (approx. – exchange rate and prices correct as of April 2017).


They have a great bar and common area (as you know, that’s one of the things I look for when I book accommodation). There are usually a few other travellers around, so there’s always someone to hang out with for a beer or a game of pool or Scrabble. Plus they throw a great party!

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

The beers are always cold (and plentiful), the food is amazing, they have Wi-Fi, the showers are always hot and the toilets smell fresh! What more can you ask for?

Oh, and they have 7 gorgeous doggies too! The mama, Daisy, the puppies (or used to be) Blackie, Doa-Doa, Porky, Snowman and Freezer and uncle Did-Dik.

Seriously one of my best recommendations for where to stay in Africa – and I’ve been around y’know.

Masai Mara Safari Packages

Mara Explorers offer various safari packages which can include things like the Nairobi Giraffe Centre, David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and other national parks, such as Amboseli, Lake Naivasha, Tsavo East or West, Lake Nakuru and Samburu (I’ve been to all of them and they are fab).

A basic 2 night, 3 day safari costs from $750 for one person, but an amazing $380 pp based on 6 sharing* – so if you can find some friends to go with, it’s unbelievably cheap!

If you contact them, they will be able to give you a quote based on your exact requirements (say if you want to add in additional activities – see below) and the number of people travelling. If you are travelling alone, they may also be able to pair you up with others!

The packages are inclusive transport, game drives, park fees and all meals! A great safari for people on a budget (tips and other activities are extra).

Or you could join one of my Kenya tours, as we always stay at Mara Explorers!

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

What To Do in the Masai Mara

Going on a safari in the Masai Mara should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s such a cool experience and even better if you can do it without breaking the bank!

Safari in the Masai Mara

For those who aren’t on a package, you can just do game drives by the day.

Park entry for those staying outside the park is $80 pp for adults and $45 for children. East Africa citizens pay 1200 ksh for adults  and 300 ksh for children.

Then you can hire the safari vehicle for the day, which costs from 15,000 ksh (approx $145) for the full day which includes driver/guide, fuel and water. The safari vehicles seat up to 6 people. So if you are in a group, or you join one whilst you are there, it works out pretty cheap!

I think 2 days is a good amount of spend on safari, however even if you only go for 1 full day, you’ll still see a good amount of animals.

Other Activities in the Masai Mara

A safari is a given, but there are loads of other things you can do whilst staying at Mara Explorers.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

  • Nature walk up Siana Hill for amazing views all over the Mara.
  • Maasai village visit, including a visit to the school and an overnight stay if you wish! This is different to any other Maasai village visit I’ve been on before and as you know, I have strong opinions about visiting tribes.
  • Have dinner in Sekenani township (this is one of my most highly recommended things to do while you are visiting the Masai Mara).
  • Drinks at Rex’s Place after dinner, pop into Rex’s Place for a drink. 99.9% of tourists will miss this place but it’s really cool. You’ll either be sat inside the bar made of corrugated iron, or sat outside round the fire with Maasai warriors, locals and safari drivers.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

  • Hot air ballooning is a beautiful (if expensive $450) way to experience the Mara.
  • Bush camping, an amazing experience if you like to be right in the action.
  • Horseback safari .
  • Have breakfast in the bush.
  • Go for sundowners (beers) with your guides.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Getting to the Masai Mara

There are various different ways you can get to the Masai Mara and Moses and Laura can help to organise your transport.

Getting to the Masai Mara by Private Transfer

You can be picked up from Nairobi by taxi using a local driver from Sekenani which costs 12,000 KSH (approx. $116 one way) for up to 4 people. They also have bigger vehicles if you are a bigger group (price upon request).

The journey takes around 7 hours including a lunch break in Narok and a stop on the escarpment overlooking the magnificent Great Rift Valley.

If there is a group of you, this is a very economical and affordable way to get to the Mara.

Getting to the Masai Mara by Public Transport

Alternatively, public buses (known locally as matatus) do make the journey from Nairobi – Narok – Sekanani (Masai Mara). This takes around 10 hours.

You will need to get a very early bus from Nairobi (by 7am), change at Narok (best to arrive before or around midday) and then you can make your way to Sekenani and ask the driver to drop you off at Mara Explorers camp.

Matt of Great Distances wrote a great post about his own experience using public transport to get to the Masai Mara and he stayed at Mara Explorers too.

Getting the bus is a lot cheaper (around $10 each way) but they aren’t as safe and accidents do happen from time to time. Plus you won’t be able to get out to take photos of the Great Rift Valley.

So my advice, if you can afford it I would definitely advise to get a private transfer!

Flying into the Masai Mara

You can also fly into the Masai Mara.

The nearest airstrip to Mara Explorers is Keekorok. I would contact Mara Explorers camp to arrange details, as you’ll need to get picked up from the airstrip.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Where To Stop for Lunch

Regardless of whether you get a private transfer or public bus, you’ll almost definitely stop in Narok, the last major town before the Mara.

I recommend having lunch at Narok Coffee House. It’s pretty cheap and the food is good. I also quite like River Breeze restaurant too.

Avoid the Dream King Buffet. A lot of safari companies stop here, but I thought the food was crap and I wasn’t impressed that they charged me five times the price for my food when I was on my own, than when I was with Moses and Laura on a different day.

Other Considerations

This is your last chance to get cash out too, so stop by one of the ATM’s in town to get money for beers and tips!

Just so you are prepared, the tarmac road end a few miles outside of Narok, so it’s bumpy from then on, so bring your sports bras ladies.

When To Visit the Masai Mara

You can visit the Masai Mara all year, but the best time for wildlife viewings is in the dry season, from late June to October.

The wildebeest migration reaches the Mara around July. This is a great time for wildlife spotting as the wildebeest and zebras band together for safety, however the big cats (lions, cheetah, leopards and hyena) are never really far behind.

We saw an AMAZING wildebeest river crossing in early September when I was last there! From October the herds move back into the Serengeti.

How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

Mara Explorers Community Work

What I really love about Mara Explorers Camp, is the fact that they are very integrated into the local community.

They fund The Porridge Project, which supplies breakfast to all the kids at the school in the nearby Maasai school. They also support a number of students through high school.  So you’re doing good just by staying there.

Plan Your Trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara

Getting there: I always search for my flights on Skyscanner. The major airports are Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and Moi International Airport in Mombasa.

When to go: Kenya is a great all year round destination, however the best wildlife viewing in the Mara is usually June to October and January and February. If you want to see the wildebeest migration, the best time is July to October. The rest of the year they are in the Serengeti.

Where to stay (Masai Mara): I 100% recommend Mara Explorers Camp. You can contact them direct for information on their various accommodation and safari packages.

Where to stay (Nairobi): Prior to your trip to the Masai Mara, I recommend that you stay at Wildebeest Eco Camp in Nairobi.

Useful Resources: If you’re just starting to plan your trip, have a read of my post How to Plan Your dream Trip to Africa (in 20 easy steps) and head over to my Africa Travel Resources page to see all the websites, apps and books I use to plan my trips to Africa plus all of my favourite hotels, campsites and lodges.

Travel insurance: Travel insurance is super important anyway, but especially in the US where medical bills are outrageously expensive. I usually get my travel insurance from World Nomads.

Visa: You can find info on the various types of Kenyan visas at the Kenyan High Commission. You can apply for your single entry eVisa here.

Guide books: I love Lonely Planet guide books and usually always travel with one wherever I go. Try the Lonely Planet Kenya  or the Lonely Planet East Africa if travelling to other countries nearby.

Recommended reading: One of my favourite books of all time is An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants, the true story of David and Daphne Sheldrick. He was a warden in Tsavo National Park and she set up the famous elephant orphanage in Nairobi. It’s an incredible story.

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How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500. How to plan a trip to the Masai Mara for less than $500.

I hope this guide helps you plan your very own amazing (and affordable) safari in the Masai Mara!

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About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!


  • rebecca
    April 7, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    This just sounds Amazing! My eyes went wide the second you started talking about Giraffes. Those photos of the lions were pretty cool! I’m so super jealous. Certainly something I would love to do and will be bookmarking for when I make it over to Africa, hopefully sooner rather then later. 🙂 Great story as always Helen! love your work!

    • Helen
      April 9, 2015 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks Rebecca! I hope you get there soon too! I definitely recommend Mara Explorers Camp when you go!

  • Colleen Brynn
    April 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Oh my god, this is fantastic! I love that they managed to reunite the impalas! What a cute lil guy. I have no words to express the bubbling in my stomach from reading this. Amazing.

    • Helen
      April 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Colleen! What a lovely comment! Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Kate
    July 6, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Hey! Love the informations thank you! Definitely going to contact them for my trip. Do you happen to have any recommendations for companies in Uganda who do gorilla treks that solo travelers can join?

    • Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Hi Kate! I think there are a few! How many days are you looking to go for? Where will you be coming from? What’s your budget?

    • Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Hi Kate, Absolute Africa do one, takes you into Rwanda. It’s £790 including your permit, so not too bad Then I also found this one –

    • Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Hi Kate,

      And here’s another:

      Book your permit in advance as they can run out!


    • Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Hi Kate,

      From my reearch, I think you can buy a permit from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and then make your way to Bwindi and then you will be assigned to a group. So if you book your permit, then book a guesthouse nearby, I think if you can make your own way there (should be really easy for your guesthouse to arrange the transportation to the starting point), then you do your walk with your group. Permits are limited to 8 people per gorilla family, so you will be put with a small group anyway! 🙂

      I hope that all helps!!

  • Alyson
    September 6, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Helen, I’ve been pouring over your blog all afternoon. We’re trying to get to Kenya in October, a special event for my 50th birthday, taking 2 kids with us, 10 and 12. I’m a travel blogger, I have a large well known family travel blog. I’m wondering if your friend Moses would take us on as complete Africa noobs. I’m not looking for a travel blogger discount ( not our scene), just a friendly face to help us plan a budget safari experience. I’ll click through now, see if I can find contact details. It’s all very confusing at this stage but the Masai Mara will be a dream come true for us. Thanks for all the great information on your site, it’s brilliant. I want my own Wild At Heart experience ( Danny Trevallion once kissed me on the lips…oooh the thrill!) Or if you can offer any advice further to what’s on your site, all help appreciated. We’re considering self driving, we have plenty of off-road experience, but it looks a terribly expensive option. I will continue to read!

    • Helen
      September 16, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Alyson,

      Thanks for getting in touch! Sorry for the late reply, just returned from Kenya myself!

      I’m sure they would take you on! 🙂 Just send them an email telling them what you are looking to do and I’m sure they can pull something together for you or put you in touch with someone who can.

      In terms of general advice, it’s hard to do. As you know yourself, offering general advice on any country is difficult as it all depends on a lot of circumstances and I tend to put all my general advice on my blog. But if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask!

      Self driving would be fine in Kenya, in daylight (due to animals on the road/chance of robbery etc), but it may work out just as cheap to get a tour. You would need a 4wd for Kenya without a doubt. To save money you could hire camping equipment. There are plenty of great campsites (Mara Explorers included) where you can go on game drives with. Or maybe even do part package (for the national parks) and mix it up with self drive. Public transport (trains/coaches) is also very cheap (but I wouldn’t recommend the matatus with kids). Taxis and private transfers are also not too expensive.

  • Moni
    October 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Helen, I’m planning a solo trip to Kenya in January and of course would like to do a safari! Ideally I’d like to do 3-4 days (2-3 nights) visiting both Masai Mara and Amboseli. I’m open to either coming back to Nairobi or traveling from Nairobi to Mombasa during the safari. What’s the best way to find a good solo option on a budget for this kind of trip? I’ll be in Kenya for 2 weeks, so I have time at the beginning of the trip if you’d advise waiting until I get there to book the safari.

    • Helen
      October 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Moni,

      There are a few ways you can go about this.

      You can contact my friends at Mara Explorers, they might have a trip you can join.

      Or the next option would be to contact a few different safari operators and ask if they have any trip you can join. You can find some good companies on It’s a good site as it allows you to search by price also.

      You can wait until you get there, and book through your accommodation, that can work well as by that point a lot of the trips are booked, if you try and book too early, there may not be any partially full trips you can join yet. But if you know where you are staying, you could also ask them if they can help you arrange something.

      Don’t worry, you will find a safari! Unfortunately there’s no super easy way of doing it! It’s just a case of asking a few different people.

      I hope that helps!

  • Josphat
    December 15, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Masai people really know how to live with wildlife, lions don’t scare them. You safari to Mara was wonderful, the photos are nice too

    • Helen
      December 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm


  • alexandra sassoon
    March 3, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Hi Helen!

    Love your blog- it is so helpful.

    I am going to be in Nairobi for 2 full weeks for work, and then a girlfriend and i are going to have 8 nights to travel. We wanted to do 4 nights in zanzibar (flight from nairobi) and then 3/4 nights in masaai mara and amboseli. Is this doable or too much?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Helen
      April 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      Hi Alexandra,

      That is a lot to fit in. I would maybe do just Zanzibar and the Mara. You need at least 3 days for the Masai Mara, and Amboseli is in the other direction.

      If you definitely wanted to do Amboseli, I would maybe go to Mombasa instead of Nairobi. Or just do Mara and Zanzibar.

      It takes a whole day to travel to the Mara and only a little less to Amboseli.

      Hope that helps!!

  • Samoina
    May 25, 2017 at 8:12 am

    This is really an amzing and comprehensive post. Very resourceful i must add, you can be sure i will be using some of the pointers you have included here..

    • Helen
      May 25, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Great! Thanks for reading!

  • camilanicodemos
    September 1, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Hello helen

    Me and my boyfriend are planning a 10 day trip to Kenya now in September / October. We are Brazilian and will take a plane from South Africa to Nairobi.

    I would like to know principally the villages and their culture as: Umoja (Womans village) and Nachami. I also want to get to know the national sumburu reserve and explore the country as a whole.

    I would like to understand with you the best way to get from Nairobi to sumburu and where I can stay. Who can I talk to about this route? Does a guide lead us? rent a car I’m kind of lost … Thank you so much !!


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