Amboseli National Park lies at the Kenya-Tanzania border with grand views of Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. Hoping to witness the iconic Kenyan landscape, I meticulously planned an independent, budget trip to Amboseli for my first ever game drive without considering the current time of year…the rainy season. Naturally I was never able to lay eyes on the magnificent mountain as I discovered it was typically hidden beneath the thick layers of clouds year-round, but it didn’t matter. The journey there itself along with a wonderful stay in a tent house and spectacular game drive equated to a wonderful weekend getaway.
Searching for visits to any national park within Kenya proved to be a painful task. Average prices for 3-day/2-night excursions ranged between $380-$500 per person. Seriously? Why so much? Gas is expensive (~90¢/liter, comparable to gas prices in Germany!), lodges for foreigners are expensive (~$100-$150/night for a 4-star hotel), daily car hires are expensive ($120-$220/day), and national park fees for foreigners are absurd ($60-$70 per DAY depending on the park)!
Thanks to my stumbling upon www.we4kenya.com, I was able to plan the perfect Amboseli National Park tour for a backpacker/budget traveller. For 3-days/2-nights, it cost me only $210 to take public transportation from Githurai to Amboseli, a game drive, and all food and accommodation. The lovely Dutch/Kenyan couple who runs we4kenya gave me all the information I needed to arrive to Amboseli without any hiccups. My schedule and itinerary are detailed below.
From the chaotic River Road in Central Nairobi, I found the small van for Loitokitok that cost 600 shillings. This road is jam-packed with buses, matatus and vans departing for locations all over Kenya, even Mombasa. It’s almost impossible to find the exact bus, but with inquiry and help from locals, I eventually found the right van. Per we4kenya’s instructions, I disembarked at the small, unmarked village of Isneti after an uncomfortable 3.5-hour ride.
I had organized a motorbike pickup through we4kenya for 400 shillings one-way, and sure enough, my ride awaited me in Isneti.
From Isneti the wonderful motorbike ride through the villages to the lodge took about 40 minutes. It wasn’t far, but the roads were rough. Crops, typical huts, and excited village children filled the scenery. This was authentic Kenya.
Finally, the lodge. We4Kenya offers 3 types of accommodation: camping with your own gear for 1,500 shillings/night, tent house for 2,700 shillings a night with breakfast or 4,200 shillings a night for full board, and a standalone cottage for 3,700 shillings with breakfast or 5,200 shillings for full board. (All prices are per person.) I opted for bed & breakfast for my first night and full board for my second night, totaling to 6,900 shillings for two nights. I brought plenty of snacks and my own dinner for my first night.
The property even had a manatta, a traditional mud hut made of cow dung, which was used for the kitchen. I was told that with all the materials collected, it takes about 2 weeks to build this hut and lasts for 10 years. The staff included Maasai from the nearby villages, and they were still accustomed to cooking over fire for all their meals.
For a full day’s game drive, guests have two options: hire a local car for 120,000 shillings or an open-roof jeep for 220,000 shillings. I was content with the cheaper option, and fortunately had another person to share the car with. After tip, the total for the game drive was 130,000 shillings for two people, bringing it down to 65,000 shillings per person. The park fee was $60 per person. A very basic sack lunch was provided for the day’s drive.
We saw wild animals, animals, and more animals throughout our game drive. Giraffes, thousands of zebras and wildebeests, herds of elephants, hyenas, buffalos, baboons, incredible birds, flamingos, hippos, ostriches, and even two sleeping lion cubs.
All in all, my first game drive was a fantastic experience. The next morning after breakfast and checking out, I hopped on a motorbike and headed back to Isneti to transfer to a van for Nairobi. Along the way we even saw zebras and giraffes in the villages! We must remember that animals know no park borders and roam wherever they please. Members from villages near Amboseli even stay up all night to guard their crops from wild animals.
The journey back to Nairobi cost 600 shillings, took 3.5 hours, and was uneventful. From Nairobi I rode the matatu back to Githurai which concluded my trip to Amboseli. My total expenditures below:
Transportation from Githurai to Nairobi: 80 shillings
Transportation from Nairobi to Isneti: 600 shillings
Motorbike ride from Isneti to we4kenya: 400 shillings
Tent house day 1: 2,700 shillings
Tent house day 2: 4,200 shillings
Shared game drive: 6,500 shillings
Park fee: $60
Motorbike ride from we4kenya to Isneti: 400 shillings
Transportation from Isneti to Nairobi: 600 shillings
Transportation from Nairobi to Githurai: 60 shillings
Grand total: 21,540 shillings or approximately $210
That breaks it down to $70 per day over 3-days/2-nights–what a deal for a Kenyan safari! Even my program manager and other foreigners I’ve met were impressed with how I was able to bring down the costs. The biggest money savers were public transportation over taxi/private car hire, camping over luxurious lodge, and sharing the game drive with another person. This is probably be the most affordable and adventurous way to experience Amboseli National Park.