The sun is low on the Mara plains, the sky painted with red and pink. A hyena howls, a lion roars, the nighttime predators are waking. You hunker down next to your fire, pour more wine and gaze at the stars. This is life at its most raw and intense.
An African safari is breathtaking in its beauty and ferocity. It is a life-affirming chance to connect with nature. Of all the safari destinations in the world, Kenya is the most iconic.
Experience the great migration on the plains of the Maasai Mara; vast spaces painted dark brown with wildebeest herds and the highest concentration of big cats in Kenya. Watch huge elephant herds walk through the lakes of Amboseli with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. Meet the last two surviving Northern White Rhinos in the world, at Ol Pejeta. Spot Nile Crocodiles in the largest desert lake in the world at Turkana. Awe at sunsets over the Tsavo. Baobab trees crowning the park, herds of giraffe galloping across the red soil
From the lush, humid palm-fringed coast to the peak of Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa. From the Maasai Mara’s famous savannahs to the chilly mountain forest of the Aberdares. Kenya’s safaris are world famous. The diversity of the landscape and the quantity of wildlife make this a bucket list destination.
But a Kenyan safari is jaw-droppingly expensive. A night at a lodge or game camp costs anything from 300 USD PPPN to upwards of 10,000 USD. A game drive is upwards of 100 USD per drive. However, the Kenyan locals have a secret, there is a way to do a Kenyan safari without breaking the bank. Leave the 1000 dollar nights to the tourists and do it yourself. You can still sip gin & tonic with an iconic sunset over African plains but for a fraction of the price.
Camping on safari is only or the brave… or the mad some might say. You won't find protective fences, it’s you and the bush and the animals. It’s high adrenaline camping. Nighttime on a safari when the animals wake. Lying in a tent with only canvas between you and the worlds most admire, endangered and hard to spot wildlife is a memory that you take with you forever. Waking to find elephant dung outside your tent or lion tracks through your camp. Cooking breakfast with a grumpy buffalo staring at you. These are experiences you don’t get in the big camps. These are experiences that only a handful of people in the world get to have. Fear, fascination and excitement are a constant.
Ol Pejeta is charged with the responsibility of caring for the world's last two North White Rhinos. It is also a superb game park, with all the big 5 and topography that at times feels more like the rolling hills of Ireland than Africa. Camping is available in 5 different spots, which you prebook. Ol Pejeta supplies firewood; water for washing (not drinking) and if you wish you can hire an Askari (guard) to watch over you whilst you camp.
COST 30 USD PPPN (10 RESIDENT) + 70 USD CAMPSITE FEE
Northern Kenya is an arid desert climate in which Marsabit is an oasis of green. A lush green forest and three volcanic lakes exist at altitude on an extinct volcano. Marsabit is famed for having elephants with the largest tusks in the world. As a consequence, the animals are monitored heavily. The big 5 are all here, although finding them is a little harder in the dense forest. Basic campsites are available with no facilities.
COST: 20 USD PPPN (10 USD RESIDENTS)
Kimana Sanctuary is a wildlife corridor that allows animals to pass from the park at Amboseli down to Chyulu Hills and Tsavo. Kilimanjaro towers over the Conservancy and there is all the Big 5 to spot, this small conservancy offers you the chance to safari away from all the crowds. Camping is available at two spots, both offer long drop toilet facilities and bucket showers.
COST: 35 USD PPPN (20 USD RESIDENTS)
This coastal forest that sits 400 metres above Mombasa’s beaches, has the highest density of elephants in the country. With its tropical climate, Shimba Hills is a land of palms and waterfalls, monkeys and birds. There are no large predators (apart from leopards) but Shimba has elephants, hyenas, buffalo and giraffe. Its proximity to idyllic white sand beaches makes it an ideal safari for a beach holiday. There are 4 campsites, grassed spaces in clearing in the bush with toilet facilities.
COST 20 USD PPPN (10 RESIDENT)
Maasai Mara is last on the list for good reason. The Mara has the highest number of cats in Kenya It is truly lion kingdom and one of the best places in the world to spot cheetah. Camping here presents very real dangers. The rule is to keep your food away and your children close.
The Mara offers 3 public and 8 private campsites, the private sites must be booked in advance. Visitors are required to book an Askari when camping.
COST 30 USD PPPN (10 RESIDENT) + 20 USD ASKARI
Park entrance fees
In addition to camping fees, the parks require an entrance/conservation fee. For a complete list of entrance fees check the Kenya Wildlife services page here http://www.kws.go.ke/sites/default/files/parksresorces%3A/KWS%20Conservation%20Fees%20Poster.pdf
The cheapest way to get there and to get around is to hire a car and drive yourself.
A 4x4 is necessary, especially in the wet season. Driving in Kenya is not for the fainthearted but main roads to the parks are of a decent quality. Stick to the main tracks in the park unless you are a very competent 4x4 driver.
You can hire a ranger or guide at park gates. Your guide will show you the best places to spot animals and is a wealth of information.
Or do like the Kenyans and go it alone. Kenyans prefer to hunt out the game themselves. In places like the Mara, it's possible to spot the big 5 with no help. Nothing beats the thrill of self-driving through Africa's wilderness.