I can’t believe it’s been almost a year already, but last October I headed to Africa for the first time with Adam and two of my close friends, Gemma & Alex. Our trip included a 10-night beach break to Zanzibar, followed by a 6-night visit to Kenya to go on safari – this was one mega trip that we were all very excited for! We researched numerous safari options taking into account what would be the most cost effective, the best value for money, the most comfortable, and ultimately give us the best experience.
Despite joining a G-Adventure tour group in Central America when I was travelling solo, I wouldn’t otherwise consider booking with an organized tour company, or join an organised tour group. Of course, in some situations this cannot be avoided. For example, perhaps you are a solo traveller (as I was in Central America) or perhaps you have a tight budget (group travel is often far cheaper). Where possible I would always prefer to arrange trips myself rather than pay someone else to do my planning for me, and more importantly, be able to have control on where I go, what I do and whom I’m with. I’ve become an expert at my holiday spreadsheets, and that’s not about to change anytime soon 🙂
Between the four of us, the overall cost per person to arrange the trip ourselves actually worked out to be not that much more in price compared to similar all-inclusive package tour, except, we had the freedom to do what we want and when we wanted. We chose our route. We chose our guide. We chose our accommodation. We chose when to go on our game drives. And best of all, we chose how long we would hang around watching the animals. Perfecto!
Prices for safari packages can hugely vary in cost depending which National Parks you visit and what type of accommodation you stay in. On average, a comparable 6 day / 5 night package tour in Kenya would cost anywhere between £900 – £1400 per person for an ‘average’ safari (by average, I mean mediocre accommodation), but of course you can easily spend in excess of £4,000 per person if you’d prefer to stay in luxury tented camps throughout your stay. In fact, I couldn’t get my head round some of the prices that we came across in our research. There is no lack of luxury camps that charge over £1,000 per night. Gulp.
We contacted several guides that we came across online as well as a handful of recommendations from our trusty Lonely Planet. Once we chose our guide, I was able to liaise with him over email to discuss our plans, where we wanted to go, and take into consideration a number of suggestions he had for us too. Our guide had been a safari driver for over 28 years, so if anyone knew where to go, it was him!
By arranging everything ourselves, we spent just under £950 per person which covered our driver, accommodation and park fees. Two of the three hotels we stayed at were full board, so only hotel meals were required for one dinner and one breakfast. There were of course a few road snacks to account for, as well as a boat safari, a tribal village visit and a spa treatment, but those were optional costs as outlined below.
(1) Hire of private car and driver – £940 / USD $1184 (total hire cost, to be split between our group)
(2) 6 nights accommodation – £720 / USD $906 (based on 2 people sharing)
(3) National park fees – £350 / USD $440 (per person)
– Private Car Hire – Our driver, the lovely Peter Chomba, charged us 126,000 KSH / £940 for our 6-day trip, which worked out as £235 / USD $296 per person. The fee covered the cost of transfers from Nairobi airport out to Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Masai Mara and back to Nairobi. FYI – I just googled this and the total trip is over 750 km. All our game drives, fuel costs, guide fees and the hire of our monster Toyota Land Cruiser which comfortably seated 8 passengers and had a cool pop up roof perfect for spotting the wild game was included in the price as well.
Note: I can highly recommend our guide Peter Chomba. Contact him here!
– Accommodation – We stayed in a mix of accommodations. One night at a budget camp, one night at a luxury camp, and three nights at a mediocre hotel. I’ll go into a little more detail regarding our accommodations below, so read on. This worked out at a cost of £360 / USD $453 per person.
– National Park Fees – It’s worth noting that park fees range from $70 – $80 per person, per day and differs between all the National Parks. Our park fees tallied up as £350 / USD $440 per person. FYI – if you are due to arrive late in the afternoon then you’ll still need to pay the entrance fee even though you may not have time for a game drive later that day.
We were travelling from Lake Naivasha to Masai Mara, but as we had a few things planned along the way (a boat safari out into the lake and also a village visit), we didn’t arrive until around 4pm. Luckily our driver was happy to take us on an impromptu game drive as we made our way to our lodge which was a 45 minute drive from the park’s entrance, so we were able to make the most of that day’s park fee and spot our first wild animal.
– Lake Naivasha Boat Safari – 9,000 KES / USD $87 (approx. $22 per person)
A great alternative to your traditional game drive in a 4×4, this one hour boat trip took us across Lake Naivasha to see the local wildlife from another view. Lots of hungry hippo’s and birdlife, as well as wildlife viewings on Crescent Island, the film location of the 1980’s film ‘Out Of Africa’.
Note, the cost for the boat was a set price which we split between the four of us and therefore had a private boat just to ourselves.
– Masai Mara Tribal Village Visit – 8,000 KES / USD $77 (approx. $19 per person)
A common stop on the approach to the Masai Mara National Park is a visit to a traditional Masai village. We visited one of these villages thinking it would be a great way to engage with the local Masai people, see them in their traditional clothing and watch their infamous jumping tribal dances (which of course would make for some killer photo opportunities). Wrong! Sadly our village visit was nothing more than a tourist trap, and as far from authentic as it could be. We left feeling very disappointed with this experience and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else unless you have thoroughly researched exactly what you are visiting and paying for.
– Eseriani Spa Treatment At Keekorok Lodge – 3,000 KES / USD $29
The Eseriani Spa was part of our hotel in Masai Mara, a cute little tent on site offering a number of different treatments. We scheduled our appointments last minute and treated ourselves to a 60-minute full body massage. I mean it’s hard work going on safari after all J
Lake Nakuru, Punda Milias x 1 night
Cost: £69 / USD $86 per night
Room type: Buffalo Cottage
Our first stop was at the budget Punda Millas where we were promptly upgraded from our Luxury Safari Tents to the Buffalo Cottage, a large cottage with two spacious en-suite rooms interconnected. This rustic camp was brilliant, there was a small outdoor pool and the main building had a bar with two reception rooms, one with a cozy fire. Although Punda is a little more remote and off the beaten track, we enjoyed our time here and would easily recommend again. Worth noting that Punda Millis is not based within Lake Nakuru National Park, so factor in the time you’ll spend travelling to and from the park for your game drives!
Lake Naivasha, Kiboko Luxury Camp x 1 night
Cost: £149 / USD $185 per night
Room type: Luxury Tent – full board
Set in the shallow waters of Lake Naivasha with only 8 luxury tents facing out into the Lake, we couldn’t have got any closer to the wildlife lurking in the waters around us. Each tent stood alone with it’s own private terrace. At 60 sqm in size, the tents were huge! A gorgeous super comfortable four-poster bed stood in the middle of the tent with a large open plan bathroom at the rear. There was a cute display of welcome chocolates and biscuits, along with the usual tea and coffee stand and a modern flat screen TV – although I have no idea who comes on safari and watches TV!!
Masai Mara, Keekorok Lodge x 3 nights
Cost £159 / USD $199 per night
Room type: Standard double room – full board
Located in Masai Mara National Park, Keekorok Lodge is also part of the Sun Africa Hotel Group. This was our most expensive hotel and unfortunately was a complete disappointment due to a number of issues we encountered during our stay. The hotel has a nice pool area, spa, a viewing deck that over looks a large hippo pool, and an 800m boardwalk from which you can spot lots of wild life.
Sadly the hotel was under a change of management, and there was a severe lack of customer service, especially considering the price. Personally I wouldn’t recommend this hotel, however within time and under new management, perhaps this hotel can vastly improve. Note, this hotel is based within Masai Mara National Park so you’ll save time travelling to the park for your game drives.