Travel guide: How do you do a safari in Masai Mara (Kenya) with a small budget?

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

In this blog, I will tell you how you can do a great budget safari in Masai Mara in Kenya, a great game drive with beautiful animals. And all that cheap, so that it even fits within a backpackers budget!

Kenya isn’t known for being a cheap backpackers destination. To be more specific, most accommodations in Masai Mara (also called Maasai Mara or The Mara), the famous game park, start from just under 1500 euros. Yes, you did read that correctly, one and a half thousand euros per night!Maasai Mara Game Drive Budget


A budget safari in Masai Mara, Kenya

Masai Mara (also called Masai Mara) is a reserve in southwestern Kenya, close to the Tanzanian border. It is one of the best-known game parks in Kenya. Not surprising, as there are many wild animals here and you have a great chance to see almost all of them! The park is more than 1510 square kilometres in size and divided into two areas: The Greater Mara reserve and the Mara Triangle. We visited the Greater Mara reserve, the largest and most visited area.Game drive Maasai Mara Budget

Is a safari in Masai Mara worth it?

Yes, definitely! Masai Mara is one of the most popular parks in East Africa which means you will see dozens of other jeeps and safari cars in the park. Also, sometimes you will be with a large group of cars watching the same animals. (That said, there were many times during the day we shared intimate moments just our vehicle and the animals.) There are few parks where you see so many animals together and have such a big chance to spot the big five! For us, this was our first safari experience and I am afraid we will be ruined for the rest of our lives. This was so cool!

Tip: Did you know that Masai Mara borders on the Serengeti in Tanzania? Animals have no park or land borders so you see the same animals in both parks. In addition, Masai Mara is cheaper than Serengeti. Because of the size of Serengeti, you will need several days while you can see a large part of Maasai Mara in one day.


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What did our game drive look like in Masai Mara?

At 6:30 am we are ready at the entrance of our hotel and are met by the cheerful Branis, a local Masai woman. She is only twenty years old but feisty and with a good dash of feminism: “We girls can do whatever boys can, but better!”. Together with driver Dan, she will spend the next twelve hours trying to spot as many animals as possible with us.

It has rained all night and Ries, in particular, is afraid that most animals will not show themselves. Fortunately, the opposite appears to be true! After a short break in which our jeep gets stuck in the mud, we drive through the park at full speed. We spot zebras, wild hogs (Pumba of the lion king), dozens of beautiful birds, wildebeests (which I did not know of beforehand) and large buffalos.Maasai Mara Game drive budgetMaasai Mara Game drive budget

So many animals in the Masai Mara National Park!

Yesterday we met two girls from Canada who happen to be sleeping in the same camp and we decided to enjoy the safari together, super fun! When we come across an elephant family with two baby elephants we are all impressed. The animals are huge and so beautiful! When we then also see a real cheetah hunt, where five cheetahs catch and eat one wildebeest (it is very rare to see cheetahs succeed in this kind of a hunt), we know that today is a special day!

A special day indeed; we see many more cheetahs (and another cheetah hunt), lions, ostriches, hyenas, and a rare leopard. Hippos bathe in the river along with a few crocodiles and dozens of deer, impalas and gazelles remain at a safe distance. We picnic under a tree and see giraffes both nearby and far away. It is a beautiful day and even Branis is impressed by the number of animals we spot. After we see our final male lion (a small 2 meters from our car!!), we drive up the driveway of Mara Explorers Camp 12 hours later. The four of us arrive back at camp tired but blown away by the Maasai Mara experience! Maasai Mara Game drive budgetMaasai Mara Game drive budget


How to do a budget safari in Masai Mara National Park?

We booked our game drive at Mara Explorers Camp, the campsite where we stayed. While they only offer single day game drives it was an amazing option because you get a full 12 hours in the park. Experiencing both dawn and dusk when the animals are most active. If you compare this to a multi-day safari where you are only in the park for a few hours a day (due to travel time) it’s an amazing deal.

How many days do you need for Masai Mara?

If you have a safari day of 12 hours just like us, then one day is enough to see a lot of Masai Mara National Park. You will be in the park during both sunrise and sunset and you will have a good chance of seeing many animals. If a 12-hour game drive is not an option, consider taking two safari days for The Mara!

Do you opt for a private safari or a group safari?

The jeep we drove in had an electrical outlet to charge camera batteries, and an open roof so that you can also look at the animals standing. A maximum of 6 people go in a jeep and even then there is room enough to have a good view and to be able to photograph well. In my opinion, booking a private vehicle (more expensive) is therefore absolutely unnecessary.

How much does a safari or game drive in Masai Mara, Kenya cost?

We paid 60 USD per person for our safari. This is the amount we paid for the car and guides. In addition, there is a park entrance fee (80 USD per person), lunch and tip. The tea and cookies are included. We brought lunch ourselves, which saved again money because we are backpacking in Kenya!

Maasai Mara Game drive budget

How much did our safari in Masai Mara cost (per person)?

Below you can read exactly how much our budget safari in Masai Mara cost. Keep in mind that we did a full day safari, but that the costs below also include three nights of accommodation. You could also consider spending just one or two nights in the Masai Mara National Park area.

  • Transportation to Masai Mara: 12.5 USD per person one way * (x2) = 25 USD
  • Hotel: 20 USD per person for a two-person tent (x 3 days **) = 60 USD
  • Safari in Masai Mara: 60 USD per person. Park Admission: 80 USD per person
  • Tipping (guide and driver): 30 USD per person (this is of course entirely up to you).
  • Food: 15 USD in groceries for three days

↠ Total: USD 267.50 per person. ↞

* After Masai Mara we drove on to Naivasha by public transportation, for which we also paid 12.5 USD.
** You could do this while spending just two nights in Masai Mara, but we thought it would be nice to have an extra day of rest.

Tip: you can pay for a park entrance by credit card (without surcharge). In most hotels in Masai Mara, you pay a surcharge of 3-5% if you pay with a credit card. There is no cashpoint near the park, the last bank you encounter is in Narok.


↠ Is Kenya an expensive holiday destination? Read our budget blog including our spendings!


Maasai Mara Game drive budget

Could we have done our safari in Maasai Mara even cheaper?

No, we do not think that this could have been cheaper. The cheapest safari packages that we saw started from $350 per person (including an overnight stay), without food, drinks or park entrance. If you do decide to travel with your own tent you will save a few dollars on accommodation. 

Where is Masai Mara in Kenya?

Masai Mara is located in southwestern Kenya, on the border of Tanzania. If you cross the border, the park becomes the Serengeti. The Serengeti is a lot bigger and more expansive than Masai Mara. Masai Mara is 270 km from Nairobi.

Map of Masai Mara National Parkkenya route itinerary

How do you get from Nairobi to Masai Mara by public transport?

Masai Mara is 270 km from Nairobi. You can of course charter a plane for a few thousand euros. Slightly cheaper is a private taxi (+/- 250 euros per car). What we did, as real backpackers, however, was much cheaper and only took an extra two hours:

1. By bus from Nairobi to Narok

First, we took the bus from Nairobi to Narok (a medium-sized city in the west) with bus company Easy Coach (500 KES per person, book at their office in the centre of Nairobi). We caught the 7:30 am bus, but the 8:30 am option works as well.

2. By shared taxi from Narok to Masai Mara

Once at the Easy Coach bus station in Narok we had to walk another 10 minutes to the matatu bus station that is opposite the Naivas supermarket. Here we quickly bought some water and last-minute groceries. Once at the matatu bus station you are immediately accosted by people who want to (sincerely) help you find your way to Maasai Mara. The two cheapest options are to take a matatu or hire a shared taxi. We opted for the latter and waited until we met up with other travellers (our Canadian friends!) to fill up the vehicle. “Full” means there are at least six people in the four available seats.

We chose to share the cost of the two extra seats between the four of us so we could arrive earlier and be more comfortable. As a result, we paid 750 KES per person instead of the normal price of 500 KES. The car ride that followed takes about two hours and runs on a dusty, bumpy dirt road.

In total, our one-way transportation cost 1250 KES per person, which amounts to 12.5 USD per person.Maasai Mara Game drive budget

Where do you sleep in Masai Mara with a small budget?

There are few budget accommodations or hostels in or near Masai Mara. We slept at the Mara Explorers Camp just outside the park for 40 USD per night. We did this in a tent with a real bed. You can also camp here with your own tent for 10 USD per person or sleep in a dorm for 15 USD per person. For us, this was the perfect backpacker’s accommodation. Another option is the Enchoro Wildlife camp, from 50USD per night (per person).

Note: if you sleep in the park, you will have to pay an entrance fee for each day you stay there. There is a reduced rate but you will still pay 70 USD per person per day.

Prefer something more luxurious? Then Aruba Mara might be suitable accommodation for you. From 230 USD per night (for 2 people)Maasai Mara Game drive budgetMaasai Mara Game drive budget

Where do you eat in Masai Mara?

One of the reasons we chose Mara Explorers Camp was because they offer an equipped kitchen. Including a fridge and cook stove. This allowed us to make our own meals, which we love and saves a lot of money. Had we not done that, we would have been able to eat breakfast and lunch for 10 USD each and dinner for 15 USD per person at Mara Explorers.

Please note: there are no supermarkets or ATMs in the village at the entrance of Masai Mara. You will find a few small shops where you can buy fresh produce and water.

If there is no kitchen in your hotel, chances are that you will buy all your meals from your hotel. We have not seen any restaurants in the small village at the entrance of Masai Mara. Take into account relatively high prices in the hotels.Maasai Mara Game drive budgetMaasai Mara Game drive budget

What else is there to do around Masai Mara National Park?

We decided to stay three nights in the Masai Mara area. On the first day, we arrived and went for a run. Day two was our game drive and on day three we relaxed and we went running again. However, you can do a number of other fun activities here. For example, there is a botanical garden ($10) and a Masai village tour with traditional Masai dance ($10). You can do a hot air balloon flight ($300 USD) or just enjoy playing volleyball with the staff from Mara Explorers Camp.


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