Before our trip to Masai Mara National Reserve last August, we wondered whether it is possible to visit the Mara on a budget? I mean, the Masai Mara Game Reserve is a little piece of paradise.
The Mara opens the doors for you to see the ‘heart of Africa.’ You will view all the Big 5 in their natural homes, visit a Masai Mara village, and Marvel at the park’s exotic aura, adventure, thrilling wildlife, and the raw beauty of Africa, all of that and more in just one single location.
So, we were not sure whether our budget of $200 per person per day would earn us a stay and game drives in the Mara.
Well, great news: you can absolutely visit Maasai Mara National Reserve on a budget. You will just be experiencing a little different side of Kenya from the luxury-lovers and resort-goers. Here is how to keep your costs low when organising your Masai Mara safari.
My friend and I started planning our Kenya safari trip to the Mara 3 months in advance. We agreed that my friend would search for cheap flight deals to Kenya, and I was tasked to find a great Masai Mara holiday deal for two people. We found a cheap flight from Miami to Nairobi Kenya on Skyscanner for about $720 per person.
Well, I did my online research and approached as many Kenya tour operators as I could, and finally narrowed the search down to AjKenyaSafaris.com. You need to have an on the ground agent to help you with things such as booking tour vehicles, airport pick-up, and so on.
The deal we eventually booked was a 3 Days, 2 nights Masai Mara Safari Itinerary, and I can proudly state that it was a success.
Our Masai Mara Kenya Safari Itinerary
Here is a breakdown of our safari in Kenya itinerary:
This national reserve is a 5 to 6-hour drive from Nairobi. Along the way, we had a distant view of Mt. Margaret, the Pyrethrum plantations, and Mt. Longonot.
We checked-in to the lodge, had lunch, and took a 3-hour rest. At around 6:00 p.m., we enjoyed an evening, 3-hour game drive in the park, and later had dinner and slept.
We woke up at around 7:30 a.m. and had breakfast. My friend and I enjoyed a full day game drive in the rolling grassland in search of Kenya’s Big Five – lions, elephants, cape buffaloes, rhinoceros, and leopard. We also saw many other plains game including a wide variety of species of birds this reserve is popular for.
We later spend 2 hours at a Maa village, had dinner, and slept.
This was our last day in the Mara, and to be honest, we never wanted to leave. We had breakfast and drove back to Nairobi – we arrived at around 5:00 p.m.
This was an excellent itinerary for us, with plenty of downtimes to interact with local Maa villagers and to enjoy the picturesque surroundings at the lodge as well as more than enough tour time. We also had plenty of time to recover the great long journey from and to Nairobi.
If you’re planning a Masai Mara holiday in Kenya as well, I recommend a minimum of three days\two nights.
This will allow you to make the most of the unforgettable experience and give you a high probability of seeing Kenya’s big five on the game drives. You can also try walking safaris, hot air ballooning, and watch the different species of birds.
The Total Masai Mara Safari Cost
AJKenyaSafaris.com arranged everything, from our transportation to guide\drive and accommodation.
First, I had an online meeting with one of their safari guides and told him my ideal safari adventure and my budget.
James was then able to give us a lot of budget friendly, but highly rated Masai Mara safari lodges. I double checked all his assertion with reviews from booking.com and tripadvisor.com. We finally settled on a cabin that charged $150 per night on a full-board basis.
In total, we spent $900 USD ($450 USD per person), and we don’t regret trusting this tour operator. The cost is inclusive of:
> Masai Mara entrance fees of $80 per person per day.
> Accommodation in a mid-luxury, Masai Mara safari lodge on a full-board basis. You can get a cheap camp for as low as $130 per night for two people. Camping tents start from $25 but we wanted something more comfortable.
> The cost of Masai Mara safari Van - $130 with exclusive use of the car – only two of us onboard.
> Mineral waters and refreshments during game drives.
> Round the trip transport – including airport shuttle services.
How to save money on your Masai Mara safari
1. Group Masai Mara Holiday vs. Private Safaris
Fully organized Masai Mara group tours put you together with other travelers and include game drives, meals, transportation, and accommodation. The cost per person is roughly $360 to $400 for a three day\two-night Maasai Mara tour.
However, in my opinion, if you are two or more persons, it is better to go for private safari holidays. For us, we truly enjoyed game drives because we stopped whenever we wanted, we literally dictated the day. However, on a group Masai Mara holiday, you are limited to what is outlined in the itinerary.
We spent about $240 per person per day, and only because we decided to add some luxury and a few treats to our trip. Otherwise, it is possible to spend $200 per person per day and have a great trip.
2. How to Save on the Masai Mara Entrance Fees
Masai Mara National Reserve entrance ticket fee differs for non-residents and residents. Non-residence children three to eighteen years old pay 45 USD, and adults pay 80 USD per 24 hours. Kenyans enjoy a discounted admission.
If you’re staying at the lodge inside the reserve for two nights, you will have to pay the entrance fee twice in order to cover the entire 24 plus stay. However, if you are staying outside the reserve, you’ve a high chance of paying once, saving $80.
3. Transportation Cost
It is cheaper when you have the same drive and vehicle throughout the safari. Expect to pay roughly $360 - $400 USD for three days. This price is per van, meaning that the more persons you’ve, the lower the cost per traveler. Most tour vans hold six to 8 people, each with a window view.
There are different accommodation options in the Mara, including ensuite safari tents that can sleep up to four persons, ensuite cottages that sleep up to five persons, and budget dome tents that sleep up to two persons. The tents have proper beds and are comfortable.
The most affordable accommodation option I saw was a tent for about $25 per person at the campsite. Outside the entrance to the reserve, there some simple campsites and lodges that provide more permanent rooms, basic cabins, or tents for roughly $60 to $80 USD per night.
Note that most budget accommodation options might not include meals. Consider going for an option that includes meals since you will be in the middle of nowhere, and it will save you a good deal of stress and hassles in a new country.
If travel is something you love to do, it is always hard when your budget bites back. But by being ready to compromise and adjusting your priorities, you can find a wiggle room in your finances.
You should also know that you can negotiate or ask for discounts. With that in mind, you should have your perfect Masai Mara safari experience all lined up.
You can visit Masai Mara all year; however, the ideal time for wildlife viewing is from late June to October, the dry season. Planning your Masai Mara holiday around this time allows you to view the migrating animals.