Have you ever sat on your laptop on a quiet weekend’s day, scrolling through your Facebook feed, when out of the blue across your timeline comes this stereotypically perfect photo? At first, you think its an advert because of its perfection, but there’s no product placement.
So where then?
Kenya, that’s where! Home to the birthplace of safari! Kenya, where majestic, engrossing pictures are the consistent norm and each day is an experience out of The Lion King. Host to the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. To the Big 5, unbeatable views of Mount Kilimanjaro, and of the Great Rift Valley. Kenya, home of the Swahili and the Kikuyu.
Interested? Good, because we’re just getting warmed up! Below you will find a bountiful breakdown of all the beautiful options you will ever need for your trip to Kenya. You’ll also get a few “must-brings” and “must-knows”, just for peace of mind. Safari holidays require planning, and we’ve got your back.
The Kenya Safari Experience: Options, Areas, and Alternatives
At the start of your journey, you are going to need options when planning your safari. Kenya is a large country, 590,000 sq km to be precise. It is made up of 47 semi-autonomous counties and holds two of the world’s largest landmarks. Perhaps more pertinently, Kenya is host to over 30 game reserves!
So where to start?
The Maasai Mara
When it comes to Kenyan safaris, there is no better place to start than with its most popular reserve, the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Located on the Tanzanian border and amalgamated into Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is Kenya’s “home of safari”. There can be no debate when considering its ratings and reviews that this reserve can give you the most authentic safari experience. Its popularity being a testament to its deserving position as one of Kenya’s best.
Welcoming, on average, around 150,000 tourists every year to The Mara Triangle, we have to ask, what makes this majestic landscape so popular?
Well, let’s start with the migration patterns of the herds of wildebeest, gazelle, zebra, and antelope, as well as the predators that follow them. If you time it right (July to October), you will be able to catch these majestic herds beginning their migration north. Into Kenya from Tanzania and the Serengeti they come, known as the “Great Migration”.
The Mara is home to the Big 5 (rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and lion), birds of prey, and pretty much any other sort of African wildlife you can think of!
Our next point of popularity involves a bit of history. According to legend, the Kenyan safari expedition is the original when it comes to the history of safari expeditions. If you get into one of the reserves’ many 4×4 vehicles, you will be joining a long line of safari explorers that dates back all the way to its pioneers.
We think it’s pretty amazing knowing the Maasai Mara is apparently where it all began!
Amboseli National Park
The second most popular option for Kenya safari tours can be found at the Amboseli National Park, located further south along the Tanzanian border towards the Kenyan coastline. This is a special one for us as it has a very unique and very specific attraction: THE view of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Have you ever seen that famous shot of Africa’s highest mountain in every movie ever, and on postcards, and calendars, and just about every other generalized safari shot? Well, this is where it was taken from.
Amboseli, sitting right on the border, hosts an unobstructed, unbelievable view of Kilimanjaro. However, if this wasn’t enough for you, this is also Kenya’s elephant territory. Kenya hosts some of the largest herds in the world and Amboseli is the best place in Kenya to see them. You won’t be able to fathom their sheer size, as well as the thunderous noise they can generate when on the move.
From savannah landscapes, dried-up riverbeds and tree-covered grass plains, to Lake Amboseli’s wetlands and sulfurous springs, there really is a lot of variety here. You can get a “5 different habitats” kind of experience. Where variety and scenery is your thing, Amboseli has it for you.
Oh, and the bird population is one of the best in the world. 400 species to be precise!
Samburu (Shaba) National Park and Buffalo Springs
When we originally looked into Samburu (also known as Shaba) National Park, we found on the surface it looked like a regular old reserve with no unique traits. But, after experiencing it and getting the opportunity to take it in a little bit deeper, we came to realize two things.
Firstly, we were on the equator. As in the centerline of latitude that spans the entire globe. We don’t know how you’d feel about that, but for us, it gave some serious perspective on how vast this beautiful world of ours is. This brings us to our second realization.
Although it is not as big or popular as the Mara or Amboseli, these factors actually play into Samburu’s favor. Blessed with the same wildlife as the other two, Samburu is quieter in regards to tourists. This makes it ideal for those who are looking for a more recluse getaway without sacrificing the quality of experience.
Included within the Samburu National Reserve is the Buffalo Springs Park, located opposite the Ewaso Nyiro River. Named after the clear oasis found at the western end of the park, this small paradise is host to some of Kenya’s most beautiful and encompassing flora and fauna.
From the tall majestic doum palms to the wide-brimmed Acacia Elatior. With the large amounts of Commiphora and the scatterlings of Adenium Obesum, also known as the “desert rose”. Safari in Samburu can be the ideal remote getaway.
Shimba Hills and Diani Beach
And now for a change of scenery. From the broad landscapes of the Serengeti, we move east to a lesser-known part of the country, a place that not many would think of when considering going on safaris in Kenya.
The Shimba Hills are located 15km from the majestic Kenyan coastline. 33km from Mombasa, this smaller reserve offers one of the best conveniences we have ever had the privilege of discovering. And so we give you one of our (and Kenya’s) best-kept secrets for those looking to go on safari.
When you think that Zanzibar is not too far away, it should click that Kenya has some pretty amazing beaches as well. 35km east, on the coastline, is Diani Beach.
Voted Africa’s leading beach destination for the third consecutive year, there is nothing else to say other than this is the “tropical safari getaway” you didn’t know you needed.
If a tropical getaway sounds like a delightful benefit worth adding to your tour of Kenya, then we seriously recommend you check this combo out.
Next up we have Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park, home to the country’s largest rhino conservation, the Great Rift Valley, Soda Lakes, and let’s not forget flamingos! Lots and lots of flamingos. So many you sometimes cannot distinguish between the ripples of the water and the rustling of pink feathers.
The lake that inhabits this reserve to which it gives its name plays host to one of the largest “pink parades” in the world. The vast amounts of algae in the lake’s water acts as the perfect drawing factor for these pink-feathered fowls.
Although reduced in numbers after the flooding in 2013 with their migration to the nearby Lake Bogoria, flamingoes still frequent these waters, hoping to find a home to settle in. A safari for flamingoes, who knew?!
Lake Nakuru is situated in Africa’s “Great Rift Valley”, a vast cleft that cuts through mid-eastern Africa like a sort of trench. The splitting of the Nubian and Somali plates has resulted in a vast escarpment that makes some serious scenery, African-style. With the sub-Saharan landscape of acacia trees and grasslands, mixed with the roaming herds and valleys below, you have yourself the perfect “African savannah image”.
Flat lakes and flocks of flamingos, with enormous mountains and deep valleys. The Great Rift Valley is a must, and Lake Nakuru Nature Reserve is our best place to start.
Welcome to the capital city of Kenya! In line with what could be called a reoccurring theme of the entire country, there lies a nature reserve right outside the city boundary. With lions and antelope staring up at concrete towers and highways, this makes for a very interesting and highly stereotypical African image.
When considering those who come looking for variety in their Kenya safari holidays without having to be in the isolated wilderness, we found that staying in the capital was incredibly convenient. While still being able to experience the comfort of the city and its scenery, tourists can explore a Nairobi National Park that is filled with buffalo, rhino, giraffe, zebra, lions, hippos, and many others.
Kenya’s first reserve ever built, the Nairobi National Park allows tourists to experience Kenya’s cultural scene whilst still being able to sate their safari needs. Stay at one of Nairobi’s many hotels and explore the main tourist attractions of the area.
Catch the zebra and wildebeest migration of July and August or take part in the daily “Nairobi Safari Walks”. Frequent the Wildlife Conservation Education Centre and learn more about the country itself and the habitat it fosters for its wildlife. Explore the city and the many cultural attractions it has to offer.
This is what makes this park so desirable: the access it gives you to the city. Nairobi is a Kenyan cultural hub and if one of your goals whilst visiting the country is to take part in the Kenyan culture then this would be the best place to start.
Unfortunately, due to the cityscape, many of the shy animals are more recluse, such as leopard and cheetah. If it is important to you that you see these rarities, as well as get away from the concrete jungle, then we’d recommend trying one of the other areas on our list. However, if what you are after is exposure to the wide-open savannah, whilst being in the comfort of the city, then Nairobi should be on your to-do list.
Tsavo: East and West
Separated into two separate parks (East and West), Tsavo makes up the largest natural reserve in Kenya, and one of the largest in the world, sitting at nearly 22,000km². With the railway acting as the divide between the two parks, Tsavo is also split regarding its habitat and foliage.
In the East, you are met with large, flat, dry plains, occupied by the Galana River and Yugard Falls. The West is more made up of volcanic mountains and thick trees, waterfalls, and Lake Jipe. Swamps and springs are more frequent here, with the foliage being denser and greener.
These contrasts obviously make for a varying safari experience. If the more common savannah-dwelling wildlife is what you are after, then we’d recommend heading to Tsavo East. You’ll find the Big 5, buck, zebra, wildebeest and other such antelope, by the scores here.
In contrast, should you wish to see rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and specifically birds, we’d suggest West Tsavo. The landscape is more conducive to their living as they are shyer. Obviously, this makes sightings a lot harder to come by, especially during and after the green season.
Further research is advised into the more specific characteristics of Tsavo East and West. They really do vary in nature and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to experience the variety of this beautiful country in favor of your preferences.
Timing, Gear, and Expectations: Preparations for your Time on Safari in Kenya
Now that you know the lay of the land, it’s time to plan how you are going to spend your precious money and time. Kenya is a well organized, efficient country when it comes to its tourism and more specifically its safari tours. Thus, it is worth your while being ahead of the game when preparing for your Kenya trip.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, we’ll give it to you again: a safari holiday in Kenya is all about migration season!
Between July and September, the wildebeest migrate north into the Maasai Mara from the Serengeti. Often your best viewing of large plains of wildlife is now due to this mass movement.
Secondly, this period of time is known as the dry season, meaning watering holes are populated due to a scarcity of water, and shrubbery is at its lowest. For those of you that don’t know, on safari the fewer shrubs, bushes, and leaves there are, the higher the chance you’ll see that lion.
Kenya is notorious for its year-round wildlife viewing, but the migration period of July to October offers you the most in regards to experience and sighting opportunities.
So you have your location, and you have your time. But what to wear? What to bring? Let’s break down the Kenyan safari needs and must-haves:
● A Good Quality Pair of Safari Boots
Essential for walking into the bush. Must have!
Some of our friends’ biggest regrets are that they didn’t bring a quality pair of binoculars! Remember, the wildlife won’t be at your doorstep.
Integral! You won’t be on the hunt for wildlife all the time, and in your downtime, there really is nothing more soothing than a good book, read in the peace of the wild.
Speaking of kindles, ensure you don’t forget cellphones, GPS, and any other kind of charger you’re going to need. Don’t be that guy!
● Warm Layers
Under-appreciated by those who don’t know Africa. Yes, it’s the equator, and yes, it’s Africa, but it can get cold out there.
Once the sun sets, or when the rains come, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the temperature can drop on the Maasai Mara. A good windbreaker and jacket/fleece are a must!
● Sunscreen + Hat
On the opposite end of the spectrum, it can also be blistering hot! The African sun is hotter than people realize, and on the equator, it is more so!
Same reasons, except with an added point of interest. Making use of polarised lenses. If possible, it is recommended. Light reflection and glare can sometimes hinder the spotting of more elusive animals.
The sun has set and you need to walk to the loo in the dark. Do not, and we repeat, do not get caught without a torch! Africa can make wild noises at night, and it helps to see into the dark.
● Malaria Tablets and Insect Repellents
Finally, what should be one of the more obvious items, yet no less important. Kenya is a country at high risk for malaria. Precautions are essential, and insect repellents advised.
Firstly, Kenya has, since 2017, banned any and all plastic bags! Famous for being one of the strictest countries when it comes to plastic usage, Kenya enforces strict regulations to ensure the country remains plastic bag free. Failure to adhere may result in imprisonment and/or a $40,000 fine.
And secondly, most of the reserves on our list do offer laundry services, but the process can be finicky. A lot of laundry is done by hand, meaning your size of laundry is reduced. Along with this, almost all laundry is ironed to ensure the killing of “Putzi” fly eggs. Try to avoid any clothing that could be damaged by the ironing process.
The Kenya Safari Cost
No guide is set without some kind of idea of how much this trip may break the bank, so we’re here to put your mind at ease.
It is first worth noting that when there you will be spending in the local currency, that being Kenyan Shillings. In some of the reserves they may be willing to take foreign currency, but we always believe it is good to have some local coin just in case.
Now to the crux of the matter. It is widely acknowledged that going on safari anywhere is not the cheapest of ventures. When staying in a luxury campsite with all the frills, food included, and game drives in tow, you can understand why. Here are 7 things that will determine the price of your trip:
1. Number of Days
The most obvious one, in our books. The more days you are around, the more money you’ll spend!
2. Time of Year
We’ve been harping on all articles about what time of year is best suited for your safari. Kenya is best visited in July through to September. The problem is, everyone knows this, making it peak season. Thus, you can expect to pay more!
3. Accommodation Standards
In Kenya, you can expect to have your safari holiday from the lowly tent to the luxury 5-star resort. Prices per night can start at $190 p/n and go all the way up to $1000 p/n. So it all depends on your needs and wants.
4. The Location
After spending a lot of time going through various locations, you can understand why some may be more expensive than others. Consider this when looking to do multiple reserves.
Depending on whether you want to do game drives, independent tours of the park, or get chauffeured around, you’ll see your daily expenses move accordingly. A game drive can cost between $150 to $250 per game drive.
Game drives and accommodation can also vary depending on how exclusive you want it to be. A group tour is obviously cheaper than hiring a private ranger to take you around. Personalized meals versus community dining are also options.
Lastly but by no means least, customization can be one of the more relevant points of expenditure. Many people prefer to have their Kenya safari holidays planned for them through itineraries. This is convenient but not necessarily the most affordable.
Depending on specials available and your willingness to explore, we would advise a more customized approach. This ensures that you can get what you want, at a price that suits.
We would hope that after going through this article you have a clearer idea of what lies before you. This and the opportunity to get the best safari in Kenya, suited for your wants and budgetary needs.
The Kenyan Safaris Are Waiting
Well, it looks like you are packed and ready for your safari holiday to Kenya! Can’t say we’re surprised. It is a beautiful country, with beautiful people. If you are looking for that genuine safari experience that has everything from wildlife to landscape, then you can’t go wrong with Kenya.
Being a large country it is perfect for the hosting of so many animals. The people do a fantastic job of maintaining them, and their reserves as well. Let’s not fool around though. It is Africa, and in Africa, you need to be vigilant.
Try to avoid things you think would provoke a situation. Don’t come on safari expecting neatness and order. The campsites may be 5-star, but the wild is not. There is no need for fancy jewelry or high heels. Nor is there a need for camouflage clothing or evening wear. If we had to offer any advice, it would be to keep it as simple and as rustic as possible.
Comfort is key, but so too is experiencing the African wild to its fullest. You don’t want to fly back at the end of your trip feeling like you didn’t get the full experience. Open yourself up to the country and its rusticness and we promise you’ll have experiences to last you a lifetime.
This is the Home of the Savannah, the original home of safari. Where Kilimanjaro is the backdrop to elephants roaming the Maasai Mara. This is the Big 5, the flamingos, the Great Rift Valley. This is Diani Beach and Nairobi. This is Kenya.