Hoping to do a Kenya safari but wondering how much it costs? Our guide breaks it down according to the type of safari you are planning.
13 Feb 2023
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We asked Ben to write this article because he has for many years been a leading figure in the Africa travel space, but specifically, his experience and knowledge of Kenya is second to none. He set up our Kenya programme, knows most people in the Kenya safari sector and has organised every type of holiday to Kenya that you can imagine. So over to Ben.
What a ridiculous question!! You might as well ask how long is a piece of string…
That’s what I thought when first asked to write this article. But then I realised, that actually it is a perfectly good question – just simply that it doesn’t have a straightforward answer, that’s all.
So to answer it I have decided to first break things down into the main types of Kenya safari holidays that you can do – and then present my thoughts from there. I've included guideline costs for each type of holiday, all excluding international flights as these vary hugely depending on the time of year.
And as I sit down to review my preparatory notes I’ve just realised how interesting an exercise this will be. Never before have I sat down to list all the different types of holidays you can do in Kenya.. and when I did I was astonished by the sheer variety and scope in front of me. It has been a timely reminder that Kenya is no one trick pony… as you’re about to see… Kenya really does have it all.
This article is divided into costs for the following four sections
1. Classic safari and beach
2. Wildlife-only safari (longer safari, no beach)
3. Self-drive safari
4. Adventure safari (involves rolling up your sleeves and getting more involved)
Impatient for a quick answer? Scroll to the bottom for a table with my summary of costs.
1. Classic Safari and Beach
This I’d describe as ‘visit two safari areas (making sure they are sufficiently different) such as Samburu and the Masai Mara, then head to the Kenya coast Mombasa, Watamu or Lamu. And broadly speaking there are 3 ways to do this, all with marginally different costs.
1. Kenya Flying Safari.
Land in Nairobi and then use Kenya’s excellent network of scheduled light aircraft flights (we use the consistently reliable Safarilink who are excellent) to fly between your two safari areas, and then down to the coast.
Costs: For two weeks, splitting the time roughly half and half between safari and beach - expect to spend between £4,000 ($5,000) and £8,000 ($10,000) per person depending on the time of year, and the size, standard and location of the hotels and safari lodges you choose to stay in.
Good examples of an itinerary like this Lucie's favourite; Kenya big five and beach – Saruni Samburu, Saruni Mara and Sands at Nomad.
Or have a look at Founder Bens's favourite variant; Family safari holiday – El Karama, Mara House and Alfajiri Villas.
I should also add that it's just as easy to swap the Kenya beach bit of this itinerary for Zanzibar. The costs are more or less the same – have a look at this very popular Masai Mara and Zanzibar honeymoon to see what this looks like.
2. 4x4 Kenya driving safari + beach add on.
From Nairobi, pick up a private safari guide and your own 4x4 safari vehicle, and then head off on safari. Good combinations are the Great Rift Valley Lakes (Lakes Naivasha, Elementaita and Nakuru) and the Masai Mara, or if you want to be busier, then sneak in a third safari area – Amboseli in the shadows of Mt Kilimanjaro is a good one, as are the Aberdares which are great if you want to be more active (mountain biking, incredible walking, fly fishing, horse riding).
For a Kenya driving safari – we always try to use a safari-equipped Toyota Land Cruiser with a fridge and [very importantly] a roof hatch for game viewing – I'd suggest you start by looking at 6 – 7 days for the driving safari element, and then 5 to 6 days for the beach part.
I find this type of trip really suits families with children in the 8 – 14 years age bracket. It's great being able to shorten or lengthen your days according to how everyone feels (because you have your own safari vehicle) – and it's easy to get a really good balance between wildlife viewing and fun activities that burn off energy.
Costs: well the cost components are as follows - about £300 ($400) per day for your guide and 4x4 vehicle. Then you add on the accommodation costs – allow say £250 per room in a good standard hotel, and then park fees of circa £60 per day for adults and half that for kids. If you assume 7 days on safari and 6 days on the beach (in a straightforward resort hotel like Hemingways Watamu) – then expect the total to come in at between £11,000 and £13,000 for a family of 4. Time of year, which safari areas you choose to go for, and which accommodation you select will determine the exact figure… all variables that our team can quickly and easily narrow down for you. The best people in our team for this would be Lucie or Ben. Try Lucie first 😊
(Also we have lots of lovely families who’ve done trips like this – who’ve said they are really happy to share any top tips or guidance – so ask us if that kind of ‘from the horse's mouth’ reference would help).
3/ Trains, planes and automobiles
Yes, really! Kenya has a new, shiny and very efficient rail service between Nairobi and Mombasa. Built with Chinese investment it follows the same route as the well-known ‘lunatic express’… the train line built in the the1800s by the British at the height of their empire… and what used to take nearly 12 hours, now takes a very easy 4 hours. Anyway, I digress. The point is, the train line means that for about £20 per person ($30) – you can quickly join up a Kenya safari holiday with its stunning coastline – so here is how to do ‘the classic Kenya safari’ trains planes and automobiles style.
Automobile – From Nairobi… do a driving safari linking up Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, with the Masai Mara (see above for details on car type etc).
Train – return from safari back to Nairobi… get the train to Mombasa and transfer to a lovely beach at either Diani or Watamu.
Plane – from the coast take a short (1 hour) flight back to Nairobi, and then onwards home.
So what does it cost… for two weeks (5 days safari, 7 days beach and 2 travel days) using the above framework – a sensible guide price is as follows; doing it simply: £2,750 / $3500 per person. £4,000 / $5,000 per person for a mid-level, or doing something special £6,500 / $8,000 per person.
IMPORTANT SUSTAINABILITY SIDE NOTE
This is the perfect point at which to address the elephant-in-the-room question of sustainability. Holidays from the US and Europe to Africa pack a pretty hefty carbon footprint.. there’s no avoiding that. Now I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I imagine that many of you dear readers are, like me, interested in the topic generally, so here in no particular order are some thoughts.. short ones 😊!
**International flights – a big carbon footprint. Probably 50% of the footprint of most Kenya safari holidays. We offset the carbon of all trips made by our team and we encourage our clients to also offset their carbon.
**We believe that what gets measured gets managed, and so we have launched a carbon scoring system that enables us to work out the carbon footprint of different holiday itineraries accurately. We believe it is the most accurate in the world for Africa – but it takes quite a bit of time to work out for any given holiday. So we are not quite there yet…currently we have templated carbon scores for example similar holidays which gives a good idea of what your carbon score would be, but we are working on doing it for every single holiday so that you can use carbon scores as part of your decision making of one holiday over another. Until we’ve made this an automatic part of every holiday plan we do – feel free to ask us to do it specifically for you if it is of interest. We’d love to, and to get your feedback too.
**When it comes to sustainability, our role as travel organisers requires real sensitivity. So many of our customers are actively adapting lifestyles at home to be more sustainable… electric vehicles, reducing single-use plastic, installing solar etc – but a common feeling for many is that when it comes to holiday choices you want a break from that. You do a lot for 48 weeks of the year, but for 4 weeks of the year you're away, you want to suspend responsibility and simply focus on the core goals of a holiday vacation… having a brilliant, relaxing and rejuvenating experience. So if that’s you, then we get it.
Our role as Africa travel experts – I see as being to inform and share ideas, rather than to preach and presume. So that’s what we are trying to do – and our “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” version of the Classic Kenya Safari and Beach holiday above is a good example of an itinerary that has – relatively speaking – a lower carbon score.
2. Kenya wildlife safari
For many visiting Kenya, it is all about the wildlife. And because of the sheer diversity of Kenya’s wildlife – it is one of the best places to do an extended safari of 3, 4, or even 5 different safari areas.
I find this is overwhelmingly the choice for my customers from Australia, the US and southern Europe – as they have gorgeous beach holidays aplenty much closer to home. They want to focus on what makes Kenya so unique… and that is unquestionably all about its wildlife and topography.
So lets talk prices. For a classic Kenya Wildlife Safari that looks something like this;
1 night in Nairobi – getting your bearings, meeting your safari guide and so on
2 nights Aberdares – high altitude mountain scenery
3 nights in one of the Laikipia Conservancies… Loldiaga Ranch, Sosian, Lewa or El Karama for example.
3 nights Samburu region
3 nights Masai Mara.
... you should budget £6,500 / £8,500 / £11,000 per person depending on what standard you want to go for from simple, mid or upscale. Example trip: This explore Kenya trip takes you to Amboseli, Lewa and Masai Mara.
This assumes that you travel between most places by light aircraft. If you do the safari by road, reduce all those prices by £1,500pp. In this case, you’d meet with a private safari guide and 4x4 vehicle when you arrive in Nairobi and you’d then have the same for the full duration of your holiday, driving between most of the safari areas in your own vehicle.
This safari-style does involve some longer travel days – but has the notable benefits of having a private guide who really gets to know you (and vice versa) which by the second half of your safari can really start to pay dividends, as they’ll know what you are interested in, what you’ve not seen or experienced yet, and so on.
Safari vs Beach Costs
At this point, it’s worth making an observation about the cost of this type of tour compared to the costs of the other Kenya safari suggestions – and it is that as a rule of thumb – a full day of safari costs between 3 and 4 times that of a day on the beach. So spending a full 2 weeks in safari areas will result in a much bigger price tag, than the classic safari and beach holiday.
3. Kenya Self-Drive Safari
I’ve always been puzzled by why more international visitors don’t do self-drive 4x4 safaris in Kenya.
It's quite a mystery because self-drive safaris are a well-established option in countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Malawi. These countries have a healthy number of operators that provide not just the 4x4 car, but also a full list of camping equipment from roof tents, mattresses and sleeping bags through to cutlery, crockery and camp furniture. On top of that, a core part of their service is usually to assist with route planning, booking up of campsite locations and providing guidance on red tape issues such as insurance, what to do if you have a breakdown or a flat tyre, and dealing with entry fees for national parks.
On the face of it – Kenya is about the most exciting country you could imagine for a self-drive safari. The arterial roads are getting better and better, there are diverse and interesting wilderness areas all over the country, and many of the risks and challenges of a self-drive holiday are easily managed… as most people speak English, extensive and accessible network of petrol stations and supermarkets for fuel and provisions, cell phone coverage is widespread and very good, and there are good support networks for breakdowns etc.
And indeed there is a strong culture within Kenya of self-drive safaris. Most of my friends in Kenya have a handful of bedrolls, a tent, cool box, gas stove and will regularly head out in a 4x4 for a long weekend to either enjoy a bit of camping and wildlife viewing in a national park or to get off the beaten track for some hiking or mountain biking. These friends usually stay at simple campsites that often also have some self-catering basis.
There aren’t really any compelling reasons why this doesn’t translate into hordes of international visitors doing the same. And my best guess is that in the coming 2 or 3 years we are going to see a dramatic increase in people taking this exciting option as a way to explore Kenya.
What type of vehicles do we recommend?
Unquestionably the two best vehicles for self-driving in Kenya are either a Toyota Landcruiser VX or a Landrover 110. They both have their pluses and minuses – and which one will suit you specifically is often down to group size, the particular national parks you are going to and prior experience.
So what does it cost? Let's break it down.
Expect to pay between $200 and $300 dollars per day for a good quality 4x4.
Camping equipment – budget $15 per person per day.
If you want a driver any part of the trip – this will cost $40 to $50 per day.
A full tank of fuel (usually diesel) will cost $110 as of Feb 2023.
The overall costs of the holiday will of course need to allow for; accommodation or campsite charges, entry fees for national parks, and lastly your food/drink kitty.
Roll all the above costs up – and for a full 2-week self-drive safari in Kenya staying in an equal mix of campsites, self-catering bandas and then 2 nights in a fully catered safari lodge at the end – and you’ll end up looking at about $8l000 in total for 2 people.
Risks – the top 5 mistakes to avoid making.
1. Be wary of hiring any car without being very confident that it is well maintained. The extra $50 a day you spend by picking a reputable and well-established provider is worth every penny.
2. Check the insurance set-up carefully. Comprehensive insurance cover is not the norm in Kenya… so get the full details and be ensure you are clear on any excess fees.
3. It's not just about the vehicle. Take the time to check the camping equipment being supplied… ask for photos, and be clear that you will compare the photos you are sent with the equipment you receive when you pick up the car.
4. Breakdown cover and “what ifs”. Give your provider 2 or 3 breakdown scenarios, and ask them what they would do. Establishing a clear set of expectations about this can make a big difference to your being able to relax as you get to the remoter parts of your trip.
5. Park fees and campsite booking support. Doing red tape-intensive tasks in countries you don’t know can take a disproportionate amount of time and effort. Many people don’t realise that there are companies which can organise these aspects of their Kenya self-drive safari. Make sure you ask about this before you confirm and pay your deposit, as their insider expertise can prove invaluable.
4. Kenya Adventure Safari
By ‘adventure’ – I mean safaris in Kenya that involve a rolling your sleeves up a little more. “And what does that mean Ben” I hear you ask.
Rolling your sleeves up means Kenya safari experiences of a more active, immersive, experiential nature. Sometimes these are safaris that might involve a little time being more independent on the holiday too. For example there are some exceptional self-catering safari lodges in Northern Kenya that are at the very apex of experiences the country has to offer. But just getting to them is an adventure… part of the experience.
Its harder to give a definitive list of what Kenya Adventure Safaris are – as by their nature they are much varied and always take as a start point – what you, the traveller is looking for in terms of comfort levels, balance of independent travel to more conventional safari and so on.
So here is just one example – which should give a good indication of the approximate costs of such a holiday.
2 nights in Nairobi. Start your adventure with a couple of nights in Nairobi. The time that enables you to explore Nairobi Museum, perhaps visit the Elephant Orphanage or Giraffe Centre – and do a bit of shopping.
3 nights Lake Baringo. Pick up a 4x4 hire car (complete with an opening roof for wildlife viewing when you get off the main roads and into the bush). Drive to Baringo. This is a long drive – 5 hrs – but worth it. What a place Baringo is… one of my favourite places on planet earth. Top 3 for definite.
Leave your vehicle at the secure car park and get the boat over to Samatian Island. Stay here for 3 of the most chilled-out, magical, exploring days of your life.
3 nights Lake Naivasha. Get back in your car and drive to a farmstay on the shores of Lake Naivasha. Spend the next two days exploring the lake, Hells Gate National Park or even climbing Mt Longonot which I highly recommend.
3 nights Masai Mara. Drive to the Masai Mara. Stay at House in the Wild in the Mara North Conservancy. Here you have a choice of doing game drives in their vehicles, or we can organise a qualified guide to take over the driving in your own vehicle.
Return to Nairobi. After 3 nights in the Masai Mara, avoid the 5-hour drive back to Nairobi by leaving that for a driver to do, and instead make the most of your final day of wildlife viewing, before taking the short 45-minute light aircraft flight back to Nairobi / or alternatively the slightly longer light aircraft flight direct from the Masai Mara to glorious Diani on the Kenya coast.
That’s 11 nights – packed full of pure adventure. Definitely not for everyone as you’d need good energy and the resilience required for a couple of long car journeys and some map reading. But the rewards if this is a fit for your travel style – are immense. A Kenya adventure safari in true technicolour!
Costs. This sort of trip will cost around $550 USD per person per day as a couple… the bigger your group.. ie. two or three couples or a family group… then costs will come down to around $350pp per day.
So for the above 11 night trip – budgeting +/- $4,750 per person is a good yardstick.
And before I leave this topic… I must just emphasise that there are sooo many different adventures to be had in Kenya. For anyone with a desire for a bit of an adventure, it is the perfect destination. Developed enough to be accessible and to be safe, wild enough to afford genuine wilderness experiences, and big enough to deliver plenty of variety.
Call me – Ben – in the office if you want to get some ideas and make your Kenya adventure happen.
And if I’m not about, then as a next best option, order the Kenya guidebook that I’ve just written together with a friend of mine Jan Fox. You can read more about it + order a copy here.
This article has turned into quite a wide ranging free form ramble, so here is a table that summarizes the key question of how much a kenya safari holiday costs .
Key/ Important info:
- All price estimates assume that safari lodges are on full board basis and beach hotels are half board
- Estimates include all internal ground arrangements – but exclude international flights
- Adding a hot air balloon flight in the Masai Mara costs about £400 / $500 per person – and is one of the most popular additions to a Kenya safari
- Time of year will impact the prices below. In Low season (April, May & November) costs could be as much as 20% lower, whilst in High season (July, August, Festive period) they could be as much as 15% higher.
1 week safari visiting one or two places + 1 week beach
£4,000 / $5,000 pp
£10,000 / $12,500
(for a family of 4)
£2,750 / $3500 pp
£6,000 / $7,500 pp
£12,000 / $15,000
(for a family of 4)
£4,000 / $5,000 pp
£8,000 / $10,000 pp
£14,000 / $17,500
(for a family of 4)
£6,500 / $8,000 pp
Kenya Wildlife Safari
2 full week safari visiting four or five different areas
£6,500 / $8,000 pp
Kenya Self Drive Safari
2 weeks self drive in your own 4x4 safari vehicle
£3,200 / $4,000 pp
£8,500 / $10,500 pp
£11,000 / $13,500 pp
Kenya Adventure Safari
11 days on safari
£5,000 / $6,250 pp
A final postscript.
This article was purposefully framed by ‘cost’, but I think it's important that we don’t subconsciously associate cost with a standard. The higher-priced holiday options aren’t the best. They are simply different. I know you know this… I do too.. but all too often we forget this. And in Kenya, it pays not to, as actually some of the purest and most magical safari experiences the country has to offer are places that don’t have fancy, expensive safari lodges. To get to them you have to be up for a bit of adventure.. and adventure often doesn’t cost that much at all 😊