Menu

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

Budget Safari Masai Mara

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!

Yes really!

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

Lion, Masai Mara, Kenya

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.

Maasai Tribe in Kenya

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?

Elephant in the Masai Mara

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 β€˜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

Group Tour Masai Mara Kenya

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! πŸ™‚

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!

Zebras in the Masai Mara

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.


Pin This Post For Later

Budget Safari Masai Mara
Budget Safari Masai Mara
You May Also Like
About Author

I love to travel all over the world, but it's Africa that holds a special place in my heart. My mission is to help people travel Africa in an authentic, safe, fun, adventurous and ethical way.

20 Comments

  • 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. πŸ™‚ Great story as always Helen! love your work!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
    • Helen
      April 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Colleen! What a lovely comment! Glad you enjoyed it! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • 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?

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
    • 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 http://www.absoluteafrica.com/The-Gorilla-Stop/GS4. Then I also found this one – http://www.gorillasandwildlifesafaris.com/gorilla%20safaris/uganda-gorilla-tracking-tour.htm

      Reply
    • Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Hi Kate,

      And here’s another: http://ugandatrek.com/uganda-group-tours/

      Book your permit in advance as they can run out!

      Helen

      Reply
    • 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! πŸ™‚

      I hope that all helps!!

      Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
    • 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! πŸ™‚ 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.

      Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
    • 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 safaribookings.com. 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!

      Reply
  • 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

    Reply
    • Helen
      December 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • 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 πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • 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!!

      Reply
  • 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..

    Reply
    • Helen
      May 25, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Great! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • 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 !!

    Reply

Leave a Reply