The Best Safaris In Kenya

How Much Does A Kenya Safari Cost?

How Much Does A Kenya Safari Cost?
By Stuart Butler

When calculating the cost of a safari in Kenya, the first thing you need to know is that Kenya, and East Africa in general, is not as cheap as you might assume.

In fact, a safari in Kenya can be very expensive indeed and that’s not even for a luxury experience. It doesn’t have to be this way, if you’re willing to change your wildlife expectations a little! But more on that later.

There are almost as many different ways of doing a safari as there are stripes on a zebra and how, when and where you safari makes a huge difference to what you pay.

The price of a safari in Kenya

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Costs for mid-range safaris

For a multiday, mid-range safari visiting some of the big name parks and reserves then you’re looking at around US$250-300 per person, per day.

This includes accommodation in a comfortable, if often uninspiring, safari lodge or camp and three reasonable meals a day.

It will also include park entry fees, which for the main parks is often around US$70 per person/day (although at the time of research all park fees had been reduced by 50% in response to the Covid-19 crisis), and a safari in a shared vehicle. This vehicle might be a good quality, open-sided jeep with just a couple of other guests in it, but equally it could be in an over-crowded minibus.

Costs for luxury and high-end safaris

If you want a better safari experience (and really you should aim as high as you possibly can), then you’ll be looking at an exclusive safari in one of the incredible wildlife conservancies. These are community or privately-run wildlife conservation areas that often fringe the borders of the main national parks and are run with the benefit of local communities and wildlife conservation in mind.

A visit to one of these conservancies guarantees you one of the worlds finest safaris. The whole experience will be very exclusive with minimal other safari vehicles around. You will stay in luxury (but not normally over-the-top) safari tents and enjoy world-class dining (with most alcoholic drinks included in the rates).

The price will include a superb wildlife guide and safaris in custom designed, open-sided vehicles. Your group will often have this vehicle all to themselves. The price also includes all conservation fees and any park entry fees.

So, how much are we talking? Well, at a minimum expect to pay $350 per person, per night at a quiet time of year. But, for the really superb places with the best guides and wildlife experiences it’s not at all uncommon to pay anything from US$600-1,000 a night. At these prices you’ll be glad that gin and tonic was included in the price!

Now, before you instantly baulk at these prices you need to take time to understand what it is you’re paying for and why, no matter what it takes, you should strive for a top-end safari in a conservancy.

A conservancy is normally located on either communal land owned by the community as a whole or on private ranchland. On a community conservancy the tourism stakeholders (i.e. the safari camps) lease the land from the local communities on the condition that the land is managed in a manner that is of benefit to both people and wildlife. The fees you pay to stay on a conservancy go toward paying the land leasing fees as well as various community and environmental projects.

Meanwhile, conservancies on private ranchland have to make enough money for the landowner to financially justify turning his land over to wildlife conservation and tourism instead of cattle ranching. In other words, staying in a conservancy is not just a great safari experience but it’s also very good news for the local ecosystem.

Budget safari

Most of us want to save money where we can and spending hundreds of dollars a day to look at animals might seem a bit excessive.

For low cost budget safari, a quick-fix, three-day safari from Nariobi to the Masai Mara, Tsavo or Amboseli parks can be had for just US$250 all in. For this price you’ll get transport from Nairobi, accommodation, meals and a couple of game drives. It might not include park entry fees (and the tour company may well forget to mention this).

Sounds great, but there’s a couple of very significant catches that should make you approach bargain offers like this with the utmost of caution.

Firstly, most of these budget safaris are very rushed, and a three day point to point safari leaving and returning to Nairobi will quite likely only give you one actual day on safari.

The vehicles used for this type of safari are almost invariably battered old minibuses which are uncomfortable and offer poor or obstructed views. This is especially so if the vehicle is full (and the safari company will likely do all it can to ensure that the vehicle is full). Half the passengers may not even have a window seat. These vehicles are often old and breakdowns are very common. It’s common to lose a significant amount of safari time – or even all of it – due to breakdowns.

If this happens don’t expect much of a reimbursement from the operator. Some of the drivers used on these budget tours are excellent and highly knowledgeable and passionate about the parks and wildlife. Sadly though, some companies cut corners and use drivers who are matatu (public minibus) drivers in Nairobi and have zero interest in or knowledge of the parks and wildlife.

Worse, they may not know or respect park rules and regulations. It’s these guys who are mainly responsible for the horrible images you might have seen of forty or fifty vehicles tightly packed around one poor cheetah.

Secondly, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, the accommodation on a budget safari will be in small dome tents which are set up on public campsites with no facilities except a tap and a basic toilet block (and sometimes not even these). Meals are prepared by the group as a whole and are often not what was promised. These safaris only ever take place in the main national parks and reserves and never in the conservancies (from which they are banned).

DIY or solo Kenya safaris

An ideal compromise between a budget safari and something more tailor made is a DIY safari.

Simply rent a quality 4WD jeep with a driver (it’s also possible to go it totally alone but for security reasons we’d recommend having a driver – it rarely adds much to the overall cost.

Chuck a tent, camping gas stove and a pile of food in the back and off you go. You’ll be responsible for your own itinerary and (accommodation bookings aside) will be able to chop and change as you go. It will be far more comfortable than sitting in a minibus with a dozen other people and you can mix some nights of camping with nights in quality lodges.

Renting a jeep with a driver is normally around US$150-200 per day and includes fuel and most driver expenses. You will be expected to cover your accommodation costs, food and park entry.

This is a particularly rewarding way for a family to travel. Note though that most conservancies will not allow you to enter in your own vehicle. If travelling this way and planning on spending time in a conservancy then conservancy camp staff will meet you at the entrance where you’ll transfer to one of their vehicles for the duration of your stay. Your driver will normally be given accommodation while he waits.

How much to tip on safari in Kenya?

At the end of a safari drivers, guides and accommodation staff will expect a tip. As a very general rule the standard is to pay each staff member the equivalent of one extra day of work. This can quickly add up.

How to save money on a Kenya safari

There are a few ways to save some dollars. The two most obvious involve the time of year that you come on safari, and where you go on safari.

Seasons

High season (July-September & Christmas-February) will always cost the most, and low season (March-April & November) will of course cost the least.

The difference in price between the two periods can be as much as 50% for accommodation. So, it goes without saying that going on safari in the low (green) season saves you a lot of cash.

But, with far from optimum wildlife viewing at this time and many camps actually closed, we would instead suggest going on safari in mid season (late-May-June and October are superb). Prices are probably around 25% lower than high season but the wildlife viewing is often good and there are far fewer crowds.

Where to find cheap(er) safaris

If you want to see the Big Five (elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo leopard) then you’ve got little choice but to visit big name parks such as the Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo.

But, Kenya’s diversity of wildlife is incredibly rich and sadly many equally interesting animals get overlooked in the hunt for another lion photo.

If you’re willing to broaden your animal checklist a little and visit some of Kenya’s lesser known or smaller parks then not just will you get a more diverse picture of Kenya’s environments and wildlife but you’ll also save yourself a whole heap of cash because everything, from park entry fees to accommodation, is invariably a fraction of the price of the big name parks.

The west of Kenya is especially rich in such parks and reserves. Some suggested ‘off the beaten track’ and therefore cheaper parks include:

Kakamega Forest Reserve. Visiting this park out in the far west will allow you to walk through dense dark rainforest catching glimpses of elegant colobus monkeys and noisy hornbills.

Saiwa Swamp National Park, also in the west, has a raised wooden boardwalk that runs above a swamp where rare sitatunga antelope live.

Ruma National Park, also in the west, has towering roan antelope and one of Kenya’s healthiest (but elusive) rhino populations.

Hells Gate National Park in the Rift Valley, presents the opportunity to rent a bicycle and cycle over classic open savannah grasslands past herds of zebra.

The ideal would be to mix up a variety of lesser known parks with a couple of days in the big name parks.

Another way to save money is not to visit a national park or reserve at all. There’s plenty of wildlife living free outside of all the protected areas (some accounts say that 70% of Kenya’s wildlife lives outside of all official protection.

In the Loita Plains and hills area just to the north of the Masai Mara National Reserve there are a growing number of Maasai-run small, cheap camps and even home stays.

Spending a few days at one of these will give a great insight into Maasai life, help the local communities and allow you to watch herds of grazers at close hand as you just walk around.

Then we come to ‘urban’ national parks such as Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks. Both are impressive parks with a wide array of megafauna (rhinos are commonly seen in both parks). Although the ticket entry price is expensive, the fact that you can just hire a jeep or join a half-day tour from either Nairobi or Nakuru city centres and then return to sleep in the city means that you can get your wildlife thrills in a short space of time with minimal effort or expense.

How Much Does A Kenya Safari Cost?

Stuart Butler

Stuart is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China and the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. He also writes widely about East Africa and conservation issues.

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