The Ideal Kenya Itinerary for a Tight Budget … and a Tight Schedule!

By on January 18, 2018 in Africa, Itineraries, KENYA with 20 Comments

The Ideal Kenya Itinerary

If you only have a small budget, a small amount of time and want to experience a slice of Africa, then let me suggest Kenya as the perfect destination to choose.

Hugely diverse, from mountain lakes and world-class national parks to stunning coastline, Kenya is the perfect country if you want to feel like you’ve seen a lot of East Africa in just a couple of weeks.

It’s also one of the best countries if you’ve got small pockets like me and want to still tick some amazing sights and animals off your bucket list.

And did I mention the people are some of the friendliest in the world too?!

Kenya, Masai Mara, Eland

As you may have guessed, I absolutely loved my time in Kenya and was hard-pushed to pull myself away even after 5 weeks there!

However, I know many travellers don’t have that sort of relaxed timeframe (and which of us have masses of cash right?) so I’ve condensed my highlights down into this handy 2 week Kenya Itinerary for those of us on a tight budget.

If you really want to see the best of this fantastic country on a shoestring, then discover my top recommended spots here…


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Day 1: Nairobi

Kenya, Nairobi, KICC View

Stay: Milimani Backpackers

This well-located and lovely backpackers is set in a very safe area of Nairobi. With free wifi, free breakfast and some super friendly staff, it’s a great spot to relax into this hectic city.

Start your Kenya itinerary in the nation’s capital – after all, it’s the city you’re most likely to be flying into, given its excellent global connections.

Check out Skyscanner for the best deals – in my experience, Kenya Airways, tend to offer the most competitive prices.

Nairobi has a bad reputation (cue cries of Nairobbery!) but as a bustling metropolis you might be surprised to find how developed it is and rest assured there’s more than enough to occupy you for at least one day.

Choose from day trips to Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Centre or the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary if you want to get stuck straight into some wildlife.

Otherwise the budget-friendly National Museum or free Uhuru Gardens and City Markets are great options for those looking to save their pennies.

READ MORE:  Top 10 Things to Do in Nairobi

 

LOOKING FOR A BUDGET TOUR IN KENYA?

If you’re interested in an unforgettable, well-priced tour in Kenya with guides you can trust, then email me at steph@bigworldsmallpockets.com and I’ll send you my top recommendations – simple!

Kenya, Lake Nakuru, Buffalo

 

Day 2 & 3: Lake Naivasha & Hells Gate National Park

Kenya, Hells Gate NP, Me

Stay: Camp Carnelley’s

Right on the lake, listen to the sound of roaring hippos around the roaring fireplace in the fun bar here. Rooms are available, but the cheapest are the dorms or the camping options.

From Nairobi it’s easy to catch a local bus or minivan (known as a matatu) to the town of Naivasha, and then onto the nearby lake, which is a few hours west of the capital.

Situated in the gorgeous rift valley area, this beautiful lake is 1884m above sea level and the perfect place to take a sunset cruise.

With hippo spotting and great bird-watching possibilities, these evening trips are superb for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

The next day, I suggest taking a tour to the nearby Hells Gate National Park, which can easily be organised by most accommodation providers at the lake.

The fascinating geothermal landscape of this beautiful reserve is stunning and reminded me a lot of Windjana Gorge in Australia, with towering sandstone cliffs and deep gorges.

But the best thing about Hells Gate National Park however is the fact you can easily explore it on 2 wheels and 2 feet!

Yes cycling and hiking through Hells Gate National Park is unlike any other safari you’re likely to experience as you can get seriously up close and personal with warthogs, giraffes, zebras and more!

This makes for a great encounter with some of Kenya’s most iconic wildlife – an intimate experience you’re unlikely to repeat elsewhere in Africa and an absolute must on your Kenya itinerary.

And don’t worry both the cycling and the hiking here is pretty easy, although I do recommend starting this half day trip early in the morning when things are a bit cooler and you’ll likely have the place to yourself!

READ MORE: Why Hells Gate National Park Provides a Totally Unique Safari Experience

 

5 ESSENTIALS TO PACK FOR KENYA

#1 Headlamp – Required for those all too often power cuts, Black Diamond are always my go-to brand.

#2 Sunscreen & Sunhat – Things get hot here so do be prepared!

#3 Good Camera – An absolute must if you’re looking to capture the incredible landscape of Kenya. I love my mirrorless Sony A6000, which is light, compact and robust – ideal for Africa travel.

#4 Sarong – Whether it’s covering yourself from the dust on safari, using as a pillow on long bus journeys or making into a beach dress, this is a great multi-purpose travel item for Kenya. 1 World Sarongs have a great collection if you’re looking for some inspiration.

#5 Kenya Lonely Planet – Incredibly useful for the maps and accommodation recommendations, the Kenya Lonely Planet is a must-have.

#5 Insect Repellent – Malaria is a big risk in Kenya, so cover up at night and pack at least 30% DEET spray.

Kenya, Lake Naivasha, Trees

 

Day 4 & 5: Lake Nakuru National Park

Kenya, Lake Nakuru, Flamingoes

Stay: Punda Millias Camp

This delightful camp has some beautiful glamping safari tents, complete with double beds for bargain prices. It’s a popular spot for overland trucks to stop, but even if you don’t have your own cooking gear, the onsite restaurant can sort you out with some food and a beer or 2, as well as organise safari trips.

Sticking in the Rift Valley area, from Lake Naivasha it’s just a few hours bus or matatu journey further east to the stunning reserve Lake Nakuru.

Kenya’s first national park, this place boasts some amazing wildlife spotting opportunities with a huge concentration of animals from buffaloes to flamingos, baboons to gazelles and even the extremely endangered rhinos.

In fact, we saw 7 rhinos on our day safari in Lake Nakuru, plus a baby!

The park is also famous for its tree-climbing lions and yes, we spotted one of those too!

Aaah!!

If you can, allow a whole day to explore this park as, despite its small size, there’s a lot to take in, including some stunning elevated lookouts and at least 1 waterfall.

In addition, the setting of this park – with the city of Nakuru in the background and the stunning salt lake at its centre, complete with flooded tree trunk scenery – makes for a fascinating backdrop to your safari shots.

 

 

Day 6 & 7: Masai Mara

Kenya, Masai Mara, Cheetah Trio

Stay: Mara Camp or Acacia Camp

Nowhere in the Masai Mara is cheap, but staying slightly outside of the park at either of the above basic campgrounds is going to offer the most budget-friendly option. Both these camps should also be able to arrange game drives for you too if you haven’t sorted anything in advance.

2 nights is the absolute minimum you can get away with spending in the world-famous Masai Mara, but if you’re on a tight budget (and timeframe) you’re going to have to keep things short here!

Nevertheless, no Kenya itinerary would be complete without a visit to what I always describe as the best African safari.

From the stunning setting, abundant wildlife and strong indigenous cultural experience, there really is no place quite like the Mara!

In just 1 day there, we spotted more lions than we cared to count, as well as leopards, cheetahs and of course herds of wildebeest, towers of giraffes, dazzles of zebras, pods of hippos and a heap of elephants, baboons, warthogs, hyenas, elands, topis, mongeese … the list goes on and on!

Smaller than the Serengeti and with some seriously photographic green rolling hills, this is the Africa you’ve seen in all the pictures.

You can access the Masai Mara via the town of Narok, which is a few hours bus or matatu ride from Nakuru. You can then try to get your accommodation to collect you from there, although the road is hellish – you have been warned!

That said, your best bet in terms of budget may actually be to join a pre-arranged tour to the Masai Mara in Nairobi and keep costs low by teaming up with others.

Normally accommodation providers in Nairobi can organise these for you, I know for a fact Milimani Backpackers offers some great deals to their guests.

 

More Time? Add in trip to Tsavo East National Park from Mombasa or Amboseli National Park from Nairobi to extend your safari experience.
Feel Like a Splurge? Extend this Kenya itinerary with a trek to summit of Mount Kenya or upgrade to a lodge in the Masai Mara.

 

Day 8 & 9: Lamu

Kenya, Lamu, Fort

Stay: Amu House

This beautiful, traditional Lamu home was been wonderfully renovated with all the love and care you’d want in a small, family-run guesthouse. The location is great and the staff absolutely fantastic. Plus prices here about as low as they get for a private room in Kenya.

Once you’ve had your safari fix, it’s time to head to Kenya’s coast to grasp the diversity of this dazzling country.

First port of call is the incredible city of Lamu, situated right in the north of the country.

Travelling here by road isn’t recommended so the best option for safety, time and possibly your budget too, is to hop on a cheap flight from Nairobi direct to Lamu.

Budegt airlines FLY540 and Safarilink both offer competitive prices, which you can quickly compare at Skyscanner.

Get a one-way ticket to Manda Island and from there hop on the short ferry to Lamu itself.

Once you arrive in town, sink into the tantalising slow pace of life here as the steamy, swahili coast seeps into your spirit.

There’s no cars on Lamu, only donkeys wandering the ancient streets of this UNESCO World Heritage-Listed town, as mosques sing out their call to prayer and the smell of simmering samosas lies thick in the air.

From thin winding streets to beautifully carved doorways, this is the sort of destination where the essence of the place is more a reason to visit that any listed tourist attractions.

It goes without saying, many people describe Lamu as the highlight of their Kenya itinerary.

 

If you like the sound of Lamu, then you’ll also love Zanzibar’s captial, Stone Town.
READ MORE:  Top 21 Things to do in Stoen Town including 9 that are Free!

 

Day 10 & 11: Kilifi

Kenya, Kilifi, Dhow Sail

Stay: Distant Relatives

An amazing permaculture and sustainable-based backpackers, Romain and his team have done an super job of creating a wonderful rustic resort here that goes way above and beyond your average hostel. With everything from camping to private bandas available in the spacious and beautifully-tended grounds, enjoy swimming in the pool, playing on the volleyball court or relaxing on one of the many daybeds before trying desperately to pull yourself away… I guarantee it will be a struggle!

From Lamu, hop on a short, cheap flight to Malindi, which sits further south on Kenya’s Coast and then head on a matatu to the town of Kilifi.

This gorgeous, relaxed spot has a friendly local community and an arty-alternative crowd of expats that tend to orbit around Distant Relatives backpackers.

Set on the banks of a creek, there’s tons to do in Kilifi including day trips to the coastal resort of Watamu, visiting local markets, swimming in the nightly bioluminescence and enjoying sunset dhow rides.

However, if you just feel like relaxing with a good book and enjoying the sunshine as part of your Kenya itinerary, this is the perfect place to do that too.

READ MORE: What an Amazing Place: Distant Relatives EcoLodge & Backpackers

 

THE BEST TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR KENYA

I would never think of travelling to Kenya without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads who I’ve used during my time in this country and throughout Africa.

I love their great coverage of safari activities – crucial for travel in a country like Kenya – as well as their excellent customer service and ability to claim online, which is very handy if you’re travelling in remote places for a long time

Kenya, Masai Mara, Lioness.

 

Day 12 & 13: Diani Beach

Kenya, Diani Beach, Jewellery

Stay: Diani Backpackers

This cute little hostel is a delightful budget-spot in an otherwise expensive town. Well-located just 5 minutes walk from the beach, you’re bound to find a friendly face at either the pool or the bar here! Owners Jess & Justin are really lovely and always happy to help with any questions you may have.

The country’s top resort, no Kenya itinerary would be complete without a few days in the paradise spot of Diani Beach.

With the turquoise Indian Ocean lapping at its picture-perfect white sand, Diani is the kind of beach many of us dream about!

Largely dominated by all-inclusive resorts, the beach is thankfully still a public space, which means even those of us on a budget you can enjoy this dreamy spot too!

If you’re feeling active, there’s skydiving, scuba diving and kitesurfing all on offer here, as well as boat trips and snorkelling trips to enjoy.

However if you’re too spellbound by the scenery to do much, swinging in a hammock and staring at the ocean is totally acceptable aswell!

At night, let your hair down at Forty Thieves to mingle with both locals and visitors from the world over.

READ MORE: Why I Loved Diani Backpackers

 

Day 14: Mombasa

Kenya, Mombasa, Market

Stay: Tulia House Backpackers

Affiliated with both Distant Relatives in Kilifi and Diani Backpackers, score a great deal on your accommodation in Mombasa by staying at Tulia House Backpackers.

On the final day of Kenya itinerary, head to the ancient city of Mombasa, just a hop, skip and a jump from Diani via tuk-tuk, matatu and a short ferry ride.

Once in Mombasa, explore this historic old Swahili coast city on foot, making sure you allow time for the UNESCO-listed Fort Jesus.

Plenty of international flights depart from Mombasa airport, so either make your way home from here directly or connect with a short flight or a long bus ride to Nairobi to grab your airplane home.

It’s worth noting that the legendary overnight train ride between Nairobi and Mombasa has now been usurped by a modern speedy 4 hr daily train. Tickets are cheap at only $7 USD one way, but need to be booked at least a 5 days in advance either via MPesa (a local mobile-phone based method of payment) or in person at the station – good luck!

 

PIN IT FOR LATER!

 

And that’s it folks, my Ideal Kenya itinerary for those on a tight budget … and a tight schedule!

Have you visited this incredible country?

What were your highlights and what have I missed out?

Please let me know in the comments below…

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 20 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Alain says:

    Distant Relatives owner is not “Ramon”, but Romain.
    Otherwise, many thanks for this great itinerary suggestion.

  2. Valeria Fusco says:

    Hey! This itinerary sounds ideal. Do you have an estimate of how much did you spend during this trip?

    • Steph says:

      Hi Valeria, always hand to estimate costs, because depends if people like to fly / bus / train, how much they eat and whether they like to camp or stay in private rooms. Also the number of safaris / activities soon mount up. If you give me a few more ideas about your travel style I can try and help you out 🙂

      • Theo says:

        Hi Steph, wonderful guide! Thank you!
        I’m also interested in Valeria’s question. If I’d follow the schedule of your guide, take the train whenever I can, eat much but cheap, stay in dorms of simple but fresh guest houses, do all the safaris you mentioned but only one day each, etc. What cost would you estimate? Excluding the flight to and away from Kenya.

        • Steph says:

          Hi Theo
          Thanks for your question. The following rough outline is given in USD:

          Dorms in basic hostels are a minimum of $10-20 per night in Kenya.
          Some safaris you can’t do in a day. The cheapest 2 day excursion to the Masai Mara for example will set you back at least $350 USD.

          You should budget $10-20 a day for food / water.
          Uber is cheap. Local buses a few dollars. Internal flights can be picked up from $60.

          Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Charlotte says:

    Hi there! Thanks so much for all this information! It’s super helpfull! I was wondering what kind of transport you used. For instance in between Lake Nakuru national park and Masai Mara?
    And how did you arrange these ways of transport? In your hostel or in the city centres?

    Also I read you recommend Milimani and I see more people recommending them. However on hostel world they get some very bad reviews… what was your experience?

    Thanks so much in advance!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Charlotte, great questions and delighted to hear you are planning to travel to Kenya. I had a great experience at Milimani and am surprised they are getting bad reviews. That said, I was there over a year ago, so things may have changed. I used an overland company – Absolute Africa – to cover many safaris and national parks in Kenya. While you can get to Nakuru by local bus, you’ll need to do a safari tour when you’re there. Masai Mara is best arranged as a complete safari tour from Nairobi as the roads are awful and often inaccessible to public transport. Milimani Backpackers offer cheap Mara tours for backpackers. Happy travels 🙂

      • Kathryn Maher says:

        Hi Steph,
        We are in the early stages of trying to plan a trip to Kenya and we were wondering what month you experienced all the wildlife in Masai Mara? Did the safari guides say that they are usually seen most months out of the year?
        Thanks! Katie

        • Steph says:

          Hi Katie and great question. I visited the Mara in late October and found it to be brilliant as you said. Now late October is meant to be the start of the “short rains” but we had no rain and honestly with global warming now you just cannot tell! “Long rains” are meant to be during June-August in Kenya, but again, who knows these days! Honestly, I think any time of year is pretty good for Kenya – the wildlife is there outstanding and you just can’t say on the weather anymore, so go for it!

  4. Deepak Bhatt says:

    Hi I am looking at 6/7 nights and 8/9 days budget vacation with my 17 yr year old son . Pl do suggest an itinerary which must incl Masai Mara

    • Steph says:

      Hi Deepak, without knowing more about what sort of activities you enjoy and what you want to see in Kenya, it’s very hard for me to make recommendations. My suggestion is to take a look at all my Kenya articles, learning more about the best places to visit in the country, and make your selections from there. Best, Steph

  5. Gretat post, I just wanted to ask, do safari prices stay the same even during the migration?

  6. Lenny says:

    Hi Steph, I noticed that you said you went to Maasai mara in late October. Did you get to see the animal migration?

    Could you also please suggest the safari tour provider that you used?

    We are thinking of going in October this year too!

  7. Arthur Schmidt says:

    Going to Nairobi from Addis Ababa by road

    This info is as current as end of May 2019.

    Every morning at 5 am a Selam bus leaves from Meskel square to Arba Minch. You should buy your ticket the day before. The Selam office is at Meskel Square as well. Selam has modern buses with 2 by 2 sets. Together with your ticket comes an allocated seat.

    The distance to Arba Mich is 450 km and the roads are ok and the bus arrived at 1.30 pm. The ticket was 220 Birr.

    From Arba Minch take a minibus to Konso. These buses are running frequently. It takes them 2 hours for the 100 km on a horrible road and will set you 100 Birr back.

    In Konso you can stay in a simple Hotel with bucket showers very close to the bus station. There is a much better one some km away.

    Next morning at 5 am there is a level 1 bus to Moyale i.e. 2 by 3 seats first come first serve. They charge Birr 150 and you run on excellent roads. My bus left at 6 am and arrived 11 at Moyale. It is a short walk to the border and the border processing is straight forward. On the Kenyan side you can have an East Africa Visa or a Kenyan visa.

    300 m from the border is he Moyale Star bus station for Nairobi (KES 2000). I arrived at 4 am Nairobi. They allow staying on board until 6 am and later you can wait for daylight in their office. There was one stop on the long way for food.

    In a short walking distance from the bus station are several budget places to stay overnight. I stayed in the Kilimanjaro lodge for KES 1200. The place was ok.

    Money

    You can change your Birr either on the Ethiopian or the Kenyan side on the road. Ethiopian banks don’t give you real money for their birr.

    Close to the Moyale Star bus station are some banks. Check the rates for KES there. I was offered on the road much poorer rates. Change only the money you will need to go to Nairobi. In my lodge in Nairobi a got a better black market rate.

    • Steph says:

      Arthur, this is superb advice! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment with this to help other travellers and in such detail. What great tips about a very off the beaten track area. Truly appreciate your help here. Thanks again, Steph 🙂

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