For our recent safari trip in Kenya, we booked everything independently without any travel agency. It worked out splendidly. We had a magnificent time.
Here is what you need to know about planning and booking a safari in Kenya on your own.
It depends on what you want to see and how much time you have at your disposal.
We decided to visit Amboseli National Park – probably the top location in the world to observe elephants in big numbers and Maasai Mara National Reserve – a place with one of the highest densities of wildlife worldwide.
2. Best time to travel
Again, it’s up to you and animals you don’t want to miss.
During the dry season in Amboseli (May-October and January to March) you don’t need to worry about the roads being splashed by massive rainfalls. On the other hand, during a long dry season, some parts of Amboseli can resemble a desert and dust is everywhere.
Maasai Mara is at its best during the annual wildebeest migration from July to October. But, after gnus leave the savanna, it offers enough space for big elephant herds. Besides, rhinos emerge from their bush shelters.
3. Accommodation research
This part takes most of your research time once you have chosen the destinations. Most lodges and camps don’t have a price list directly on their website, so you need to write an email to every property and get an offer.
For Maasai Mara, this site with property listings was handy: www.maasaimara.com
For Amboseli, www.amboseli.com provides an overview of camps and lodges.
Of course, we also checked ratings on TripAdvisor.
Choosing a good location is essential.
We recommend staying inside the park/reserve. Lodges located outside are cheaper. But you’ll lose time with driving to the park, especially early in the morning.
Based on your itinerary, don’t forget to book a hotel for the night after arriving/before departing in Nairobi.
4. Time for planning
During high season, good and affordable camps/lodges tend to be sold out quickly. Book at least 4-6 months in advance.
Well, this probably is the most restrictive thing on a safari. Good safaris cost a lot. Get ready for prices starting from USD 700 per couple per night (scroll down to see what should be included in this price). But the money is worth it. Spend as much as you can!
Being close to the spot of action every morning is important. In general, high-end camps with proper equipment located inside the parks offer the best sightings.
The good thing about a safari is that there’s no place to spend more money, especially if you book all-in. (Besides tips and maybe park fees of course.)
6. What to ask in your enquiry email
Asking for the price per night is obvious. However, you should always request a list of services, that are included in the offer. Here are questions we asked:
a) How many game drives are included?
Usually, it’s two per day (morning and evening).
b) How about food and drinks?
Full board is typical. Some camps offer all-inclusive for house wine and beer.
c) What type of car will be used for game drives?
This is crucial. There is nothing worse than being squeezed in a stinky old minivan with plastic windows, from where you can’t get a proper view.
Always ask for an open off-road vehicle (Land Cruiser or similar).
d) Is transfer from/to Nairobi included?
Most camps will organise a transfer from Nairobi to the park. Ask if it costs extra. Usually, flying is more comfortable and better for time management. Nevertheless, a road trip will give you insights into real-life outside national parks.
e) Are park fees included?
If not, how much are park fees per person per night?
7. Patience and persistence is a virtue
During our planning, we often had to write a lot of emails about how far along is our booking and if a deposit is needed. Sometimes you’ll need to ask the same question twice or three times before getting a proper answer. Also, about four weeks before the journey we asked again for booking confirmations and double-checked times of our departures and arrivals with the management.
In the end, every transfer, pick up and check in was very well organised without any hustle.
8. Packages we booked
In Amboseli, we stayed at Ol Tukai Lodge (2 nights), booked directly with them and paid the whole price in advance via a generated online link (like PayPal). We used the ‘flying package’ from Nairobi Wilson airport to Amboseli Airstrip and back. The full board was included. We enjoyed two game drives per day in an open Land Cruiser. Because we booked directly with them, we got an upgrade for their Kibo Villa with stunning Kilimanjaro view.
In Maasai Mara, we opted for Enkewa Camp (4 nights), an unfenced tended property in the southern part of the reserve. We booked via email and paid 50% deposit via bank transfer in advance. The offer contained all-inclusive for food and house drinks (beer, house wine), unlimited game drives including bush breakfast, lunch and sundowners and road transfers from/to Nairobi.
All in all, we had a wonderful time during our self-managed safari trip without bigger mishaps. The service was excellent and everything promised in our email communication was fulfilled.
Don’t hesitate and book independently.