Kenya home of endless plains dotted with animals, wildlife documentaries, the Great Migration, rolling hills and lush mountains and a damn good-looking coastline, Kenya was made for safari. But what happens behind these Lion King-esque scenes? What do you do if you’re travelling on a budget, and where are the best places to explore? Read on for our top Kenya travel tips when planning your safari.
1. Should I think about driving?
The first of our Kenya travel tips is having your own vehicle. Although Tanzania is undoubtedly King of the driving circuit, there’s some pretty good 4×4 action in Kenya too. It’s not for the faint-hearted and roads can be bumpy and more than a little bit dusty, but it’s an excellent way to see the country (and it’s great fun!). If you’re a group of three or four or more then it will probably save you some pennies too (big ticks). Try a combination of Naivasha, the Masai Mara, a quick stop in Nairobi and then Amboseli. If you’re short on time, then flying will probably be the most convenient mode of transport, which leads us on to our next point…
2. What about flights?
As with most African countries, internal flights on tiny bush-hoppers are by far the most convenient way to travel but they can be expensive. But all is not lost! Make sure you stick to the more common itineraries – A Tusker’s Journey and Great Rhinos to Great Plains are good examples. Flights are planned to coincide with each other so the more you mix things up, the more expensive it gets. That’s not to say it can’t be done of course, you might just have to dig a little bit deeper… EasyJets of Kenya include Fly540 and JamboJet. They don’t fly to the bush airstrips, but do connect to most major airports from where you can arrange transfers from and simply DIY.
3. Don’t be scared of the Masai Mara
Kenya’s blue chip reserve, the Masai Mara gets lots of attention in the travel media and it’s not always good. But never believe everything you read – a safari done properly in the Mara is almost unbeatable. Key to our Kenya travel tips is avoiding the real low-budget ‘tours’ that you might see offered (you won’t find any at Timbuktu!) – you’ll be squashed in a minibus and spend hours driving. Try travelling in the ‘shoulder seasons’ of June, February and March and investigate the surrounding private conservancies – they have the same astonishing concentration of game as the Mara, but none of the accompanying tourists and many camps offer walking safaris too.
4. Make the most of Nairobi
Chances are you’ll have to overnight in Nairobi at some point on your Kenya safari so why not make the most of it? A few swishy hotels have appeared on the city centre scene recently but if you’re not a city slicker, choose one of the camps in Nairobi National Park – Emakoko or Ololo Lodge are both fantastic. A mere 20 kilometres from the city, staying in the park is an easy way to maximise your wildlife experiences for minimal cost. And it’s a pretty good experience too with leopard, lion and rhino roaming the plains against an unusual backdrop of towering skyscrapers. Pretty cool.
5. The Great Migration
From roughly July to September, the beasties of the Great Migration can be found roaming the plains of the Masai Mara as they cross the Mara River from the Serengeti. The river crossings are quite literally, jaw-dropping and quite rightly top many a bucket list. Organising a migration safari to Kenya at this time requires planning and more planning. One of our top Kenya travel tips is to plan a year or so in advance if you want the best seats in the house. If you’ve got your heart set on seeing the wildebeest but can’t travel at this time (or have run out of time to plan!), think about a safari in Tanzania’s Serengeti instead – the migration happens all year, it’s just a matter of where and when you want to visit.
6. Get back to nature
If you want to go on safari, you’re probably looking to get away from it all. Wildlife-watching is high on the list, as is some time in nature. Not through-the-looking-glass nature, but real, raw, beautiful nature and preferably with no one else around. So why stick to camps and lodges? Good, old-fashioned camping is making a come back and the ideal way to experience the bush as it was meant to be – pop-up tents, home-cooked food around the campfire and fabulous game drives (oh and hot showers!). Check out Gamewatchers Ol Kinyei Adventure Camp for some of the best out there…
7. When should I go?
July to October is the dry season in Kenya and roughly when the Great Migration spills onto the plains of the Mara. The lure of the migration, superb game-viewing in other parks and lots of sunshine make this a very popular time to travel but lots of people tend to have the same idea… For those who want to save some pennies or are travelling last minute, February/March and June are superb times to visit. Baby animals spring around the luscious plains, you’ll avoid the big thunderstorms (less chance of getting stuck in the mud) and there are some excellent deals to be had.
8. Check out the private houses
Three bedrooms, a garden and a private chef all to yourself. Sounding dreamy? Then have a look at some of Kenya’s private houses. If you’re travelling in a group, a private house can often work out cheaper and you don’t have to worry about anyone else being late for breakfast. This is safari 100% on your own terms and Kenya has perfected the private house model, with lots of options available over the different hotspots. Have a look at Mara Bush Houses in the Masai Mara and Mara North Conservancy, Ol Pejeta Cottages in Laikipia and Msambweni House by the coast.
9. Off the beaten track
Step off the beaten track in Kenya and you really find something special. Most people have heard of the Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo but what about Matthew’s Range, a primeval and utterly magical landscape crying out to be discovered on foot. Then there’s Meru National Park, once devastated by poaching but now back on the up (and not many people know it yet). And if you’re looking for something totally different, one of our favourite Kenya travel tips is to abandon four wheels in favour of four legs in Samburu and discover the arid lands from atop a camel or a horse. Who says Kenya is only famous for the Masai Mara…
10. Bush and beach
Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline is something to behold. The porcelain beaches and textbook swaying coconut palms are a million miles away from the bush savannah, but it’s not all about lying on a sun-lounger either. Snorkel the enchanting underwater world at Msambweni Beach or dine on the catch of the day at a beach bar in Diani. With daily flights from Nairobi, the Masai Mara and even some of the bush airstrips, it couldn’t be easier to combine a safari with a spot of sea – a dream bush and beach destination if ever we saw one.