We have visited over 60 different countries. We have planned, traveled, seen, and conquered. However, Africa has definitely been one of the most challenging trips I have ever planned on a budget. First, it seems that finding good information on the subject is extremely difficult. While I did find some helpful blogs, it was nothing like researching Europe or Asia. I felt like I was all alone visiting a place that had never been discovered when looking for advice from fellow bloggers and travelers. While more and more people are certainly visiting Africa for various reasons (and many already have), finding out how to do it on a shoestring was just plain hard. We are visiting Kenya in December of 2019. The purpose of this article is to save you the hours and hours of endless searching I did in order to plan my trip while still saving you money. So, you’re welcome for taking the dive for you. Here it is, my blood, sweat, and tears spent of backbreaking, headache-inducing searching to help you in the ultimate Africa (Kenya) visiting guide:
1. Determine where you want to go and why.
For us, this was the first difficult decision. We knew we wanted to go on Safari. However, Africa is a big continent, and you can go on Safari in many different areas. The three most famous are Kruger National Park (South Africa), Serengeti (Tanzania), and Masai Mara (Kenya). We decided that, while cheaper to go to South Africa, we wanted a bit more of a wild experience. While I have not been myself, I saw many reviews on Kruger Park that it felt more like a theme park due to fencing and more tourists. Of course, tourists will be present in all three, but I wanted to try out a place that was not necessarily the most popular or easiest. Note that the big five (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, and buffalo) can be seen on most safaris in most of the parks, but it depends what you prefer. Basically, it comes down to two things: your budget and the time of year you are visiting. Rainy seasons are generally April through May and then a bit of a rainy season from October to December. After hours of research, I determined that Masai Mara is the best bet to spot the big five as it is a small area that is teeming with life. Most discussion boards argue on whether Kruger or Masai Mara are better. From my research, especially due to travel alerts, if you are traveling with a family and want comfier accommodations, Kruger may be your best bet. If you are a solo traveler, couple, or don’t mind roughing it a bit, Masai Mara is the way to go.
2. Figure out immunizations.
I received so much conflicting information on the yellow fever vaccine, that I myself, felt like I had a fever. After we booked our flights (more on that later), I was confronted with the realization that we may need yellow fever vaccines in order to complete our Kenya Safari vacation. This was a bit of a surprise to me, especially after living in Bangladesh and not needed vaccinations. Well, after hours of searching after my travel nurse informed me that there was a yellow fever vaccine shortage, I decided to call the Embassy of Kenya directly. Great news! The vaccine is recommended, but NOT mandatory. While this is not a mosquito-borne illness to mess around with, you do NOT need the vaccine in order to enter Kenya, as long as you are entering from a country (like the US and Europe) that is not high-risk for yellow fever. The truth is, they have not had documented cases in Kenya in years, and they are trying to keep it that way. After reading about all of the cases of death after this vaccine, I was quite relieved that I did not have to go through with it! Want to know more? You can find more information on the vaccine here.
3. Book your flights carefully.
This one was a doozy. Why? We are traveling from San Francisco, California. The most popular (and cheapest) air route takes a 12-hour flight to Europe with a small layover and then another 10-hour flight to Kenya from there. Instead of putting our bodies through the ringer, my husband (the brain) devised a way to get us flights that stop over in Europe for a night (feet and legs, rejoice!) instead for the same price as flying there direct. How did he do it? Honestly, it took hours of searching and plugging in different itineraries. What we ended up with was a combination of Swiss Air, Lufthansa, and United. His best planning tools are Google Flights along with his secret weapon: the ITA Matrix. We made these flights all under $1000 per person. We also did this with the small upgrade of economy comfort. Our best advice is to make stayovers on both sides of your trip, if you can afford the extra time. Really, with Europe stopovers on both ends of the trip, we are getting a two-for one deal. However, it pays to check out sites like Secret Flying. I recently saw a sale to fly from Houston to Kenya direct for $600 round trip. It really depends on your city of departure as well as your desires. For us, it was worth potentially spending more to not be on airplanes for two days straight.
4. How to choose a Safari company (and trust it).
Now this one, I can say with confidence, is probably going to be the most difficult part of your planning. Now, if you do a quick google search with the keywords “africa” and “safari,” you will see some “top” companies come up. These companies charge anywhere from $4,000 USD to $10,000 USD per person for a 7 day safari. Think that is expensive? Well, you are not alone! Remember, Abroad with a Brain likes to travel on the cheap, and honestly, we try to avoid paid tours. Usually, we like to explore on our own to find those unique gems that are only found through careful searching. However, this is our first time on African Safari. And what I found was that it can be very tricky and very complicated. To be honest, Africa is huge on my travel list, and what got me started on this in the first place was a Travelzoo special for African Safari for two, including flights for around $4,000, all-inclusive. I thought, “Hmm, if there is an all-inclusive for that price, perhaps I could do it even cheaper?” And thus, my journey began. After first trying companies offering safari, I next tried individual lodges who offered safari. After that, I looked at renting a car myself from Nairobi and driving to Masai Mara. You can do this, by the way, but you do have to hire a licensed professional to go with you in your car as you are not allowed to drive through it alone, without a license. Now, this is possible, but after all the dizzying searching, I stumbled upon Viator and booked a safari that had a free cancellation for $625 per person for a 4 day safari at Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru with Bencia Safaris. Not satisfied after a few sketchy reviews, I decided to go back to the drawing board to do some more digging. I am glad I did, because I found something important that you may want to consider when choosing a safari company: KATO. KATO, The Kenya Association of Tour Operators, offers a bit more piece of mind when booking a tour. Many companies are KATO-bonded. This means that they adhere to regulations established by KATO (think Better Business Bureau) and your money is covered should the company shut down before your tour. This is an extra nice piece of mind, especially when some companies ask you to wire money to them. Now, this is not to say that there are not awesome companies who are not KATO-bonded. However, I decided that it was worth it to me to have the extra piece of mind, which is why I cancelled my original booking.
Basically, depending on your desired level of comfort and location of safari, you can plan on spending $100-$350 per person, per day. When you book with an operator, be sure to check out licensing, inclusions, exclusions, and reviews. You can usually cater your safari to your desires. For example, spending more, you can stay in nice hotels and go without others in the vehicle. Spending less, you will be sharing the vehicle and staying in less luxurious accommodations. This is a great thing to know when you are planning your safari. Even better, I do recommend negotiating. Often, there is a bit of wiggle room to get to the price you are trying to hit.
5. Check in on the friendly blogosphere. I found a few blog articles that were super helpful, especially if you want to try to go it alone (without a tour operator). Here are some of my top finds:
Be sure to follow us as we embark on our journey in Kenya. We decided to go with a company called Wildlife Sun Safaris. They are KATO Bonded and had some great reviews. We will be going to Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, and Amboseli for 5 nights and 6 days for under $700 per person. Our safari will be a joined safari and we will be staying in tented camps (with some amenities). Stay tuned!
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