Travelling to Kenya’s Masai Mara can set you back some decent cash. The African continent is well regarded for the extremely high prices tourists pay when it comes to embarking on any safari trips. Lack of infrastructure and the complicated logistics make of wild game reserves expensive places to stay at and to get to. However, there are some ways in which you can save some money: transport is one of them. There are different ways to reach Masai Mara and they cater for all types of budgets, with light aircraft being the most expensive one, followed by private transportation. Some tourists are not willing to stay on the road for almost 7 hours and they opt for the short flight between Nairobi’s Wilson airport and an air strip in Masai Mara, but they must pay a steep price for the comfort. Flights for the journey Nairobi-Masai Mara return vary between the US$200 – US$400 dollars mark and sometimes even more. The second choice and the one most widely used is private transportation between your pick-up point in Nairobi and the Masai Mara. Lodges usually charge US$150 dollars for one way for the whole vehicle. If you travel within a group of three people you end up paying for the return trip US$100 (US$150 one-way times 2 = US$300 dollars for the return trip for the whole vehicle. This divided by three people = US$100). For budget travellers, luckily enough, there is one more way they can choose from and this can help them save enough money to pay for one-day ticket entrance fee to the Masai Mara park.
Disclaimer: Most of the posts I write are based on my own personal experience. In this case, I used private transport to reach Masai Mara but in order to keep things informative I have decided to provide details of using public transport between Nairobi and Masai Mara, so readers can choose between these two options.
To reach Masai Mara using public transport you will have to travel first to Narok. A matatu (local public transport bus) runs from Nairobi to Narok and the map below shows the place where you can get the bus from in Nairobi (The one in Cross road). However, please double check with your hotel before you make your way there.
The area is known as the Central Business District (CBD), and Narok Line Services runs frequent bus services between Nairobi and Narok
The picture above was taken from Google maps, but it shows what the area where you get the matatus from looks like. Use common sense when in the area: do not leave your personal belongings unattended or do not flash money or personal valuables around. Ideally, you will need to take the first van in the morning as this first half of the journey takes 3.5 hours to 4 hours depending on traffic and then you will need to catch a second bus from Narok to Sekenani gate (Masai Mara) at around midday to be able to get to the park before the sun sets. Furthermore, to be able to arrive to this area of Nairobi (CBD) at around 6:30 am to get the first bus (7 am), you may have to pay for an uber or taxi. So, unless you stay somewhere close to this part of town, you will need to include within your budget an extra US$10 dollars (give and take) for the transport from your hotel in Nairobi to the CBD.
Matatus (picture above) in Kenya will only leave once they are full, so departure times are not always closely followed by the drivers. You will need to carry your suitcase/ backpack with you inside the matatu so be prepared for a rather uncomfortable journey. As mentioned on the disclaimer earlier, I did not use this option (public transport to Masai Mara) myself but I did use public transport in Tanzania quite a lot and I can tell you, buses especially matatus, when they are full are not very enjoyable. If your aim is to save money, matatus are the way forward though. If comfort weights heavier than savings, then this is not for you.
Once you get off in Narok, you will be dropped at Total Narok service station (petrol station).
Then you will need to make your way to the bus station (see map above) which is just an open-air square in town, close to a Naivas supermarket. You can either walk or take a taxi. According to google maps the walking distance is estimated in 21 minutes. On the map, to the right and in yellow, you can see the road coming from Nairobi. Being dropped at the petrol station to then have to walk back to the bus station does not make sense to me. I believe you can ask the matatu driver to drop you at the intersection of the Nairobi highway with the road leading to the bus station.
The picture above shows the Naivas supermarket and right across the street (picture below) you will see the entrance to the bus stop to the left of the picture.
There are matatus running to Masai Mara until around 1 pm. Some people say matatus to the park will only run until midday. This is the reason why it is so important to leave from Nairobi as early as you can. The matatu covering this part of the journey is the C12 and the price you pay for one way is 500KES (roughly around US$5 dollars).
If you can’t take any of the public matatus, you can still make it to the park by sharing a taxi with 4 others. Price will be the same as the matatu and the same principle applies when it comes to the taxi only leaving for the Masai Mara when is full. Tip: Ask the taxi driver for his telephone number so on your way back to Narok from Masai Mara you already have someone to call and pick you up from the camp.
Pros and Cons of Private transport vs Public transport
- Privately rented transport will pick you up from your hotel doorstep or from the airport. Public transport runs from CBD area in Nairobi, so you need to make your way there.
- Privately rented transport will give you plenty of room to place your luggage and sit comfortably throughout the whole journey. Public transport won’t. You will have to rest your suitcase on your lap and for a journey of more than 7 hours, half of it being on unpaved roads, this is not very pleasant.
- Privately rented transport is shared between your group of friends, I would say a maximum of 4 people. Public transport only leaves once they are full. To put it mildly, you will feel packed like a sardine.
- Privately rented transport will stop for you to take some nice photographs at least at the viewing points for the Great Rift Valley and should you need a trip to the bathroom. Public transport won’t.
- Privately rented transport will cover the whole journey and you won’t have to change. Public transport won’t. You need to change buses in Narok and on top of that you need to either walk from the drop off place in Narok until the bus stop for the matatus/ taxis going to Masai Mara
- Privately rented transport will make it to Masai Mara, providing you leave Nairobi at 7 am, at around 2 pm with a stop for pics. Public transport most likely will make it to your accommodation at around 5pm providing you don’t have to wait that long in Narok.
- Privately rented transport will drop you at your chosen camp. Public transport will drop you on the main road and most likely you will have to cover a small distance on foot before you can finally get rid of your suitcase and rest.
- Privately rented transport will pick you up from your chosen camp and drive you back to Nairobi until your destination, be it your hotel or the airport. Public transport will have to be arranged through your camp, so a taxi can pick you up and take you to Narok and then change to the matatu from there to Nairobi.
- Privately rented transport will set you back US$100 depending on the number of people travelling (one way between Nairobi and Masai Mara is charged at US$150. In our case, we were three people. US$150 x 2 = US$300 / 3 = US$100. If travelling in a group of four, it will be US$75). Public transport will set you back 300 KES (US$3) for the journey Nairobi-Narok and maximum another US$5 if done on a shared taxi for the journey Narok-Masai Mara. In total for public transport back and forth US$3+US$5=US$8 x 2 = US$16.
At the end of the day, you choose how to travel between Nairobi and Masai Mara based on your own personal circumstances: budget, time and comfort. For those seeking comfort and money is not a problem, flying is the way forward. For those of you who can’t afford the steep flight prices but don’t want to share transport with the locals, private hire is your choice. And finally, for those of you who savings are vital, and time spent on the road is not a problem, then public transport is the answer.
Thanks for reading this far.
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