Last updated on April 19th, 2023 at 06:27 am
Last Updated: April 2023
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!
I think I’ve been to the Masai Mara about 9 or 10 times now and it’s amazing every time! So here’s the Helen in Wonderlust guide on how to do an affordable Masai Mara safari.
And if you haven’t read it already, read my full Masai Mara safari guide here (after you’ve read this post).
Please Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate sales help with the running costs of this site, so thank you for your support!
The Masai Mara on a Budget & How to Save Money
Table of Contents
Why the Masai Mara is a Great Budget Safari Destination
The Masai Mara is a great budget safari destination for many reasons.
The Mara is just a 5 (ish) hour drive from Nairobi and it’s accessible (for the most part) by public transport – although it may take a little longer if travelling this way. Nairobi also is one of Africa’s main transport hubs so flights to and from Nairobi tend to be a bit cheaper than other African cities.
The park fees aren’t super cheap, however, there are many budget-friendly camps and lodges just outside the park, which means you only have to pay park fees on the days you go inside the park.
It’s also one of the best places in the world for safari, home to the ‘Big 5’ animals and is part of the same ecosystem as the Serengeti. Animals move freely between the parks (including the wildebeest migration), but it’s generally a lot cheaper and easier to visit the Masai Mara than it is to visit the Serengeti.
How Many Days in the Masai Mara – A Budget Safari Itinerary
If you want to visit the Masai Mara on a budget and make your safari as cheap as possible, it makes sense that the shorter your safari, the cheaper it’s going to be.
But, due to the location of the Mara, I would say that the shortest amount of time you can go for, if travelling by road from Nairobi, is 3 days, 2 nights, when you consider the time it takes to get there and back from Nairobi.
Your itinerary could look something like this…
- Day 1 – Depart from Nairobi. Arrive in the Masai Mara in the early afternoon. Relax at camp.
- Day 2 – Full day safari in the Masai Mara. Perhaps visit a Maasai village on the way back to camp.
- Day 3 – Transfer back to Nairobi.
Your final itinerary will probably depend on how you’re travelling to/from the Mara. Your itinerary may be a little more flexible if you have your own transport or have a driver, rather than if you’re backpacking and need to catch buses.
You can of course also visit the Masai Mara and not actually go into the park at all, as you can sometimes see animals outside by the camps, but it’s not guaranteed, and going on safari is kind of the point, right?
How to Get to the Masai Mara on a Budget
All safari companies can organise transport to and from the Masai Mara and if you book a tour it will be included.
But the absolute cheapest way to travel to the Masai Mara, other than getting a lift or driving your own car, is to travel by public bus.
You can get busses (coaches and local minibuses called matatus) from Nairobi to Narok, then change at Narok and get a shared local taxi called a ‘Probox’ to Sekenani, a town just outside the main Masai Mara gate. You can then arrange for the camp or lodge to pick you up from town or somewhere along the road near your lodge.
If you have your own car, you can drive to the Masai Mara or one of the lodges/camps outside the park, but to actually go into the park (and definitely to do a game drive) you will need a 4×4 most of the time.
If you don’t have a 4×4, you can get your lodge to pick you up from a convenient point, but you’ll need to consider finding a safe place to park your car.
Where to Stay – Budget Accommodation in the Masai Mara
The cheapest accommodation is outside the park and most of the budget options are around the town of Sekenani and nearby village of Ololaimutiek. They tend to be cheaper because they’re the most accessible places and you will only have to pay park fees for the days you actually go on safari.
Budget accommodations range from around $15 – $100 per night. Some of the budget accommodations in the Masai Mara include:
- Kobi Farm ($): This is home to my besties Laura and Moses aka Mara Explorers. They have a Pink Container guesthouse (a cool Airbnb) and a private bush camp. I love staying here! They can also arrange bush camping trips staying inside the reserve and Mara Triangle if you like really wild adventures! The container is self-catering but they can also offer meals. If there’s a group of you, they also have a great bush camp at the farm that they can set up for you and your group.
- Maasai Village Homestay ($): If you would like to get an authentic experience of Maasai life and culture, you can stay at the homestead of local Maasai, James Lesaloi with his family. Here you can partake in activities such as herding, milking, fetching water, beading, learning to throw a spear, and shooting a bow and arrow!
- Oseki Mara Camp ($): They have rooms and campsites, so if you have your own tent, you can pitch up for around $15 per person, per night. Rooms from around $70 per person, per night.
- Enchoro Wildlife Camp ($ – $$): They have both camping sites and rooms.
- Miti Mingi Eco Camp ($ – $$): No camping, but they do have static tents that start from $80 for a single, $120 for a double and $150 for a triple. Prices are much cheaper if you travel between 1st April and 30th June.
- Kimana Camp ($$): Recently (2021) under new ownership and management this safari tented camp has been fully renovated and is just a short distance from the Sekenani gate. It also offers a swimming pool and bar. Rooms cost from $150 for a double.
If you camp using your own tent, just check whether your campsite has cooking facilities before you book. Some don’t, so you may need to take your cooking equipment with you unless you can book meals with the camp.
For more options (including slightly more high-end lodges) read this post!
Going on a Safari in the Masai
The experience of going on safari in the Masai Mara is amazing!
Most safaris start at sunrise (the park gates open at 6am), as this is the best time of the day to catch the animals being active before the sun gets too hot. You’ll then spend the day driving through the park, observing the animals, and having lunch in the park before heading back to your accommodation for the night (the park gates close at 6.30pm).
If you have a 4×4, you’ll be able to drive yourself on safari. But for the best experience, I would consider hiring a local Maasai guide/tracker to go with you. The park is big and unsignposted so it’s hard to navigate without a guide, plus they’ll be much better at tracking down the animals than you are.
If you don’t have your own wheels, you’ll need to book a game drive with your lodge/camp. This usually costs round $150 – $200 for a full day including a driver/guide. If you’ve organised a package, this will all be included.
Park fees are $80 per person, per day (24 hours) if staying outside the park as a foreigner. They’re cheaper for Kenyans and East African citizens.
Costs for a Budget Trip to the Masai Mara
Here are all the things you will need to budget for on your Masai Mara safari. The final cost will depend on where you stay, how you travel and how many of you in a group.
- Transport: By bus from Nairobi it will cost you around $10 – $15 one way depending on what type of bus you travel on.
- Accommodation: Rates start at around $15 per person, per night for camping with your own tent, up to around $150 per room (double), per night in the budget range.
- Game Drive: $100 – $200 per group.
- Park Fees: $80 per person
- Tips: It’s usual to tip your safari guide/driver $20 per day split between the group. Then any other tips for camp staff etc are at your discretion.
- Food: If it’s not included in your accommodation, you’ll need to account for food. I’d maybe budget around $10 – $15 per person, per day if cooking for yourself. If camping and organising meals with your accommodation, the rates will vary from camp to camp.
Now it’s time to cost up/weigh up whether you want to organise everything separately or by yourself or go for a package deal (see below on booking your safari).
How to Save Money in the Masai Mara
Travel to the Masai Mara by Public Transport
The cheapest way to get to the Masai Mara on a budget is by bus which may be a bit of a faff, but will save you a bit of money.
If you get a matatu from Nairobi to Narok, it will cost you around 500 KES. Or to get the Easy Coach from Nairobi to Narok it will cost you around 950 KES, but it will be more comfortable, safe and reliable. Remember, matatus usually only leave when full – so you may be waiting a while. For the sake of $4, I’d get the coach.
Then from Narok to Sekenani, a Probox will cost around 500 – 700 KES.
Speak to your accommodation about the best way to get there as they will have the most up-to-date info and they can arrange your pick up when you arrive in the Masai Mara.
Travel in a Group
It makes sense that travelling in a group will help to save costs. Whilst it won’t save you anything on park fees, going on a game drive in a car split between 6 people is a lot cheaper than a car split between 1 or 2.
Just bear in mind that most safari vehicles fit 6 people, so if you are 9, it can work out more expensive than 6, as you’d need 2 cars rather than 1.
Sharing a room with one or more people will also help to bring the costs down. If you’re solo, you may end up paying for a solo supplement.
Or if you want to travel on an AMAZING group trip, come on one of my Rock My Kenya & Tanzania Adventure tours! 🙂
Bring Your Own Tent & Camp
Some of the accommodations have camping sites available, so if you’re travelling with your own tent, this could save you quite a bit of money as camping sites start at around $15 per night. See the options above.
Cook for Yourself
Groceries are generally quite reasonable in Kenya, so if you have cooking equipment or your accommodation has a self-catering kitchen, you can save money by cooking for yourself.
Just remember to stock up in Nairobi or Narok, as after that, there are only very basic, small shops in Sekenani and the other small towns and if you don’t have your own transport, it’s quite difficult to get out and about.
Maximise Your Park Fees
Your park fees allow you entry into the Masai Mara for 24 hrs, so it makes sense to be smart about how you go on your game drive(s). The cheapest way is to go on a full-day game drive, rather than splitting your game drive over 2 days when you’ll probably end up paying a bit more for the car/guide hire.
Pay in Cash
Some camps have a 5% surcharge if paying by card, so I would check that with them before you go as it may be cheaper to pay with cash. There is no surcharge when you pay the park fees by card.
Having cash also helps if there’s a power outage!
Travel Out of Season
Travelling in the high/peak season (late June – October and around Christmas) tends to be the most expensive time to travel.
During the low/green season (November – May) you will usually find that prices are cheaper and you may even be able to negotiate a little. But, March – May is the real rainy season, so just be aware of that as some camps shut down and the roads can become really difficult.
And if you’re camping – the rainy season might not be much fun!
Booking Your Budget Masai Mara Safari Packages
If you want to book everything yourself, you can arrange your own accommodation, get the bus to the Mara, get your camp to pick you up, and then arrange activities when you are there, as detailed above. This may (or may not) save you money overall, but it will be more hassle.
I would highly recommend booking your budget Masai Mara trip with my friends from Kobi Farm/Mara Explorers. Their safaris are wonderful and I can’t recommend them enough.
Some hostels in Nairobi (like Wildebeest Eco Camp or Milimani Backpackers) can organise safaris for you too -they will usually work with a local safari company to bring travellers together. They may not have safaris going every day, but if you have time, you could wait around for a group to join.
I did this (as a solo traveller) for a trip to Amboseli National Park. It was good, but I ended up sharing with a couple. They were really nice, but they only spoke Spanish and I only speak English, so communicating was done through sign language. It was quite funny though!
Or, join one of my Kenya & Tanzania safaris! Alternatively, check out some of the budget Masai Mara packages below.
I hope this post helps you plan your budget Masai Mara safari. If you have any other tips/recommendations, please leave them in the comments below.