How to Plan a Thrilling Safari Trip to Kenya

By Ruru Zhou | Updated Aug. 16, 2023
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Africa's awesome wildlife has always been a top draw for adventure seekers. So, you may be dreaming of a once-in-a-lifetime safari adventure to behold the majestic wildlife in Kenya.

However, planning such a trip, particularly for first-timers or families, can be overwhelming due to the number of available options and making the best of the weather conditions.

Our experience and knowledge of safaris across Africa could provide helpful insights into making your important trip decisions. Whether you are planning a family trip, an anniversary celebration, or fulfilling a bucket list journey, our article offers solutions tailored to all types of adventures.

The Best Time to Travel to Kenya for a Safari Trip

The best time to visit Kenya weather-wise is during its dry seasons: from July to October and from January to March.

During these periods, the weather is warm during the day and cool at night. Animals are easy to spot as they gather around waterholes. There is also no vegetation to obstruct your views.

You may worry about the crowds. It is true that this period is the high travel season and there are many crowds in the parks, but a skillful driver and guide would help you to avoid crowding wherever possible. If you really hate crowds, we suggest that you avoid the period from July to September as this is the busiest travel time.

If you care more about the travel price, you could travel in the rainy season from March to May. It is the low travel season and you can get great discounts on lodges. However, for a safari trip during the rainy season, you'd need quite a bit of patience and flexibility. Disruptions and changes of plan are possible, such as roads in the park becoming impassible due to floods and mud.

We can tailor a Kenyan itinerary for you based on your schedule, enabling you to experience the best of Kenya's wildlife.

We have more detailed travel advice on the Best Time to Visit Kenya

Choosing the Right Safari Parks

Kenya safari parks

You may have heard about the Maasai Mara National Reserve, however, it may not be the best choice for you if you prefer a quiet safari experience...

There are numerous private reserves and public national parks in Kenya. Here are our recommendations to tailor your safari experience, depending on your personal interests, your travel budget, the length of your itinerary, and who are you traveling with.

Maasai Mara National Reserve

Zebra and wildebeests grazing in a grass of african savannah, Kenya

If you want to see the Great Migration and the most animals or the Big Five, Maasai Mara is your best choice (from July to October).

This national park has the densest concentration of animals. Each year from July to October, millions of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle travel across Maasai Mara.

Maasai Mara is the premier park for you to have a hot-air balloon safari. Watching millions of animals grazing below, you are a king surveying your domain. Watching millions of animals grazing below, you would be like an eagle surveying your domain.

Maasai Mara is the only park in Kenya where you may spot all of the big five in a single day. Having a skillful driver is very helpful to lead you to find them as he would know where the animals appear. The chances of you seeing them in Mara are still far less than in Kruger National Park in South Africa though.

Please be aware that Maasai Mara is the most crowded park in Kenya, especially during the migration period from July to October. Lodges and camps are the most expensive and can be fully booked early. We recommend that you book at least 6 months in advance to ensure a suitable lodge of your choice.

You should also know that as Maasai Mara is very big, there may be long drives along the tracks to search for the animals you are looking for.

Amboseli National Park

Amboseli National Park in Kenya

If your time is tight and you want a simple safari, Amboseli is your best choice. The park is small, being about one-fifth the size of Maasai Mara. It is close to Nairobi and easy to access, which makes it great for short trips.

There, you will see herds of elephants in groups of 20 or 30, and thousands of flamingoes flying around and dancing in the air. If you are lucky enough, you can catch sight of Mount Kilimanjaro.

However, the amount of wildlife in Amboseli is less than in Maasai Mara. Big cats are harder to spot. But your skillful driver and guide would use their knowledge of the park to increase your chances of seeing these elusive creatures.

Lake Nakuru

Flamingos in Lake Nakuru

If you're keen on a bird safari, Lake Nakuru National Park is a great choice. More than a million pink flamingoes flock to the shores of Lake Nakuru. There are also white rhinos, warthogs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, ostriches, and lions in the park.

Besides, Nakuru is also very easy to travel to. It is only 170 kilometers from Nairobi (2–3 hours' drive). The short distance means that a day trip to Nakuru from Nairobi is possible.

Samburu National Reserve

Samburu safari

If you're seeking a unique safari experience without crowds around you and wish to encounter distinctive wildlife, consider Samburu National Reserve. This park is very different from other popular parks, such as Maasai Mara. The landscape is strikingly raw and overflowing with untamed wilderness.

Besides, the park has its own unique "Special Five": the Beisa oryx, Grevy's zebra, Somali ostrich, gerenuk (a long-necked antelope), and reticulated giraffe. You could opt for a camel safari there.

Furthermore, it's common to see large herds of elephants migrating in search of water in this park.

Tsavo National Park

If you're after a serene self-driving safari amidst great expanses, Tsavo National Park is an ideal choice. As one of Kenya's largest national parks, it sees fewer visitors, making it perfect for a self-drive safari.

At Tsavo, you don't need to worry about being surrounded by dozens of cars when spotting a lion or a massive elephant.

However, the spotting of wildlife is way more difficult due to its massive size and large amount of vegetation. A skillful guide is very important to help you find the animals there. Without one, you could spend a full weekend driving around without spotting a big cat.

Best Safari for a Family Trip

Nairobi National Park

The highlights of a family safari in Kenya are much the same as for couples: the thrilling variety of wildlife. However, when traveling with kids, there are special things to consider. Your children may be thrilled at the sight of wild animals initially but could quickly grow bored or tired during long, hot game drives. Choosing child-friendly lodges is also a significant factor.

If you are traveling with children, pick parks that offer a diverse animal population, are easily accessible, and have family-friendly lodges. The following parks could be perfect for your family trip:

  • Maasai Mara National Reserve
  • Lake Naivasha
  • Lake Nakuru National Park
  • Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park
  • Nairobi National Park

Continue to read: how to plan a Family Trip to Kenya

Personalize Your Safari: Explore the Best Activities

maasai mara safari

There are many activities you can do during a safari trip, such as game drives, walking safaris, self-driving safaris, aerial views of magnificent wildlife, and visits to local villages around the park. Choose the best activities to suit your preferences.

If you are passionate about a certain type of animal, consider a specialized game drive safari. This experience would mean being accompanied by an experienced guide, focusing on spotting specific animals that you're the most passionate about, such as big cats.

However, this may not be the best fit for first-time safari explorers. For first-timers or family trips, a general safari trip is recommended. This type of safari offers chances to see as many animals as possible without dedicating long drive times to tracking one specific species.

When planning your trip, tell our travel advisor what experiences you are looking for. They will custom-make the best safari trip for you, ensuring that you go home with unforgettable memories.

How Long Should Your Safari Trip Be?

Kenya safari experience

How long your trip should be depends on what you want to see. Generally speaking, if you mainly want to see the classic Kenyan wildlife, a week-long safari would provide a sufficient and immersive experience. Selecting two or three national parks within a convenient distance of Nairobi, such as Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara National Reserve, would help you make the most of your time.

However, we recommend that you stay for longer in Kenya, if you can, to further immerse yourself in the diverse wildlife, unwind on the spectacular beaches, and gain a deeper understanding of the local culture and people.

If your safari trip is a significant event or a bucket list goal, you might prefer a relaxed pace to savor each moment and indulge in a more comprehensive exploration. In such a case, allow more time for your journey.

Remember, your safari is not just about the destination but also about the journey that unfolds along the way.

What Should Your Budget Be?

Kenya safari experience

While a safari trip can represent a significant expense, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that makes it well worth the money you spend. A safari tour is usually an all-inclusive experience, including accommodation, meals, and game-viewing activities.

The exact price of a Kenya safari can vary. Things like how luxurious you'd like your stay to be, whether you fly or drive between destinations, whether or not you go private and exclusive, the time of year you travel, and any extra stuff, such as spa days or cultural visits, can all change the price.

We can, however, give you a rough idea of the costs (per person per night) in high season for reference:

  • 450 USD for a budget camping tour
  • 800 USD for a mid-range lodge tour
  • 1,000 USD for a luxury lodge tour

If you are particularly worried about your budget, you may choose to travel in the low season (March to May), which can significantly lower your travel prices. At Global Highlights, we are committed to crafting a safari experience that's tailored to your unique budget and personal desires.

How to Travel to Kenya and Get to the Safari Parks

The major gateway to Kenya is the capital of the country: Nairobi. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is the primary point of entry, with flights in originating from various locations across America and Europe. For example:

  • For travelers from the United States, Delta Air Lines provides a direct flight service from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO).
  • If you're traveling from Europe, British Airways offers a non-stop flight from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) in Nairobi.

Traveling from Nairobi to Your Safari Destinations

Kenya transportation

Upon landing in Nairobi, numerous flights are available from the city's Wilson Airport to most safari destinations. Taking a flight is the most comfortable way to reach your safari destinations. There are several flights each day so you don't need to worry about missing one. Take Maasai Mara, for example. There are multiple flights per day from Wilson Airport to Maasai Mara by different providers.

Please note that these routes typically use small, light aircraft with 12 to 50 seats.

You may consider using a private transfer by land, but we don't recommend it. Traveling by land in Kenya is challenging because of the long journey on bumpy and dusty roads. Your comfort and enjoyment of the safari experience are our priorities and we believe that air travel provides the best solution for these long distances.

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