Planning for a Safari in Kenya

Kilimanjaro runway. Ol Donyo LodgeArriving at Ol Donyo Lodge. Kilimanjaro

Fly-in safari

Kenya has traditionally been an overland safari destination where guests travelled from place to place in 'pop-top' mini-buses that seat 6 / 7 people accompanied by a driver / guide.  In recent years with the increase in scheduled flights to the various safari destinations, flying has become a very popular way to travel.

The advantages of doing a fly-in safari are:

1. Less time is needed to get around - people tend to have less time these days for holidays and they can see more in a shorter space of time.
2. Far more comfortable way to travel, the roads in Kenya are generally good but there are areas where they are particularly bad and very tiring and dusty to travel on.
3. During the rains, the roads tend to deteriorate quite quickly.
4. Kenya from the air is fairly spectacular.
5. Guests already spend a great deal of time in a vehicle while on game drives in the parks and transferring between places by road just adds to the hours confined to a vehicle.
6. A courier (private guide) can accompany guests on their trip, which effectively replaces the role of the driver/guide.
7. Drastically reduced risk with regard to vehicle breakdowns, accidents and banditry.

The main disadvantage is the cost of the flights.

If guests have the budget, we recommend that they fly. We recommend that guests who are elderly, frail or have back problems fly as much as possible.

Flying times: The times listed are approximate:


  • Nairobi - Tsavo ±1 hr
  • Nairobi - Amboseli ±45 mins
  • Nairobi - Nanyuki* ±45 mins
  • Nairobi - Masai Mara ±45 mins
  • Nanyuki - Samburu** ±20 mins
  • Nanyuki - Masai Mara ±1½ hrs

 *Nanyuki airstrip services properties in and around the Aberdares, Mount Kenya, Timau and Laikipia. **The flight to Samburu from Nairobi goes via Nanyuki and returns via Nanyuki - total flying time is ±1 hr.

Drive in safari (overland) in a mini-bus or 4x4 vehicle

Going 'on safari' in Kenya used to mean doing the entire safari in a 'pop-top' mini-bus from start to finish.  With the advent of scheduled flights to most safari areas, this term now applies to both types of travel.  4x4 vehicles are available (more costly than a mini-bus) but in limited numbers, the mini-bus is still the most popular mode of transport for an overland safari.  Safari vehicles seat anything from 5-8 guests depending on the type of vehicle used. Both 'seat in bus' and private vehicle overland safaris are available.  As a general rule, 'seat in bus' safaris are based on scheduled departure dates, but often a group forms around the same date resulting in a departure taking place anyway.

The advantages of doing an overland safari are:

1. The same driver / guide accompanies guests throughout their trip, from their arrival to departure.
2. Considerably cheaper than flying.
3. Great views of the extremely beautiful Kenyan countryside and rural villages.
4. Can stop anywhere along the way should something interesting be seen.
5. Excellent photographic opportunities.

The disadvantages are:

1. Long periods of time confined to a vehicle. It can get very dusty and uncomfortable.
2. Bad road conditions in some areas.
3. Exposure to breakdowns, accidents and banditry.

Driving times - guideline

The times listed below are approximate and are obviously dependant on what part of the area guests are traveling to:

  • Aberdare National Park - Samburu National Park ±3½-4 hrs
  • Aberdare National Park - Mount Kenya Safari Club / Nanyuki ±½ hr
  • Lake Nakuru - Masai Mara National Reserve ±4½-5½ hrs
  • Lake Naivasha - Masai Mara National Reserve ±4½-5½ hrs
  • Mount Kenya Safari Club / Nanyuki - Lake Nakuru ±4½ hrs
  • Mount Kenya Safari Club / Nanyuki - Lake Naivasha ±5 hrs
  • Mount Kenya Safari Club / Nanyuki - Samburu National Park ±3-3½ hrs
  • Nairobi - Aberdare National Park ±2½-3 hrs
  • Nairobi - Masai Mara National Reserve ±5 hrs
  • Nairobi - Amboseli National Park ±3 hrs
  • Nairobi - Samburu National Park ±4 hrs
  • Nairobi - Mount Kenya Safari Club / Nanyuki ±3-3½ hrs

Combination of fly-in and overland safari

This is the best way to plan an itinerary as it gives guests the best of both worlds.  Two of the best combinations are as follows:

1. Fly from Nairobi to Samburu National Park where a driver / guide meets the guests with a vehicle to begin their overland safari.  They start in Samburu, drive on to Mount Kenya, then onto Lake Nakuru or Lake Naivasha and finally onto the Masai Mara.  The Masai Mara marks the end of the safari and the driver / guide drops the guests off at the Mara airstrip for the flight back to Nairobi where a representative meets the guests to transfer them either to their hotel or to JKIA for their flight home.
2. The driver/guide meets guests on arrival in Nairobi where they start the overland portion of their safari.  From Nairobi they drive to the Aberdares, onward to Mount Kenya and then Samburu where upon completion of their stay they fly to the Masai Mara from the Samburu airstrip.  Upon arrival in the Mara a guide from the lodge will collect the guests and take care of them for their stay in the Mara.  Upon departure, the lodge transfers the guests to the airstrip for their flight back to Nairobi. The Masai Mara tends to be the highlight of the safari, which is why we recommend that it is put at the end of the itinerary if possible.

There are any number of fly / drive combinations that can be done and by flying some portions, the safari is not quite so exhausting for guests.

Luxury mobile safaris

The luxury mobile safari was basically conceptualised and born in Kenya many years ago.  As a result the Kenyan mobile safari is probably one of the most polished and slick mobile operations in Africa.  The concept is that a combination of luxury lodges and Hemingway tents are used for accommodation and as the crew dismantles the mobile tented camp and move onto the next stop, guests either drive or fly on to a luxury lodge for a couple of nights after which they continue on their journey to meet up with their mobile camp.  This is probably the most exciting way to do a safari in Kenya.  If budget is of not much consequence and the guests have an adventurous spirit, this is the ideal type of safari to book.  The itinerary is tailor-made with regard to which areas are visited and are generally 10-14 days in length.

The Kenyan Coast

The Mombasa coast has long been known as one of the best beach holiday destinations in Africa.  The city of Mombasa is not where guests generally head to as the main beach resorts are on the north and south coasts.  The resorts along this coastline tend towards being very large and very touristy, the smaller more private properties are further up the North Coast in Malindi, Watamu and on Lamu island.  When booking, we recommend that the North coast hotels (such as Voyager, Whitesands and Serena) take preference over the South coast properties, as they are generally of a higher standard and run by the more reputable hotel operators. 

Please note that Mombasa is home to many European charter flight tour operators and in season, tourists arrive in masses and the large resorts get very busy.

Safari options from Mombasa:

1. The big plus with Mombasa is its proximity to Tsavo National Park.  It is possible to do day trips to the park from most hotels.  Guests depart via road from their hotel at 05:30 and head for Tsavo East National Park.  They spend the day in the eastern section of the park with lunch at one of the lodges to return to Mombasa at around 17:00.
2. Overnight trips to Tsavo are also an option.  Guests depart via road very early in the morning from their Mombasa hotel, do a game drive in the eastern section of the park and overnight in West Tsavo at Finch Hatton's or any of the other properties in the area.
3. It is also possible to fly directly from Mombasa to the Masai Mara and vice versa.

Up the North Coast in Watamu, Malindi and on Lamu Island there are not quite the number of properties that there are closer to Mombasa and they tend to cater for a slightly higher budget.

Lamu in particular is extremely charming and has a fascinating history.  Airkenya operates a flight directly into the airstrip on Manda Island, which lies directly opposite Lamu Island.  Guests are then collected by staff from their hotel and transferred across to Lamu by boat. Crossing directly to the town does not take terribly long (+-15 minutes) but Kijani House and Peponi are both a little further around the island and it takes about 25-30 minutes to get there. Kipungani Bay is about a 45 minute boat ride right around the island, so guests must make sure that they are carrying sunblock and a hat for this part of the journey. It is very worthwhile for guests to do a town tour of Lamu while they are on the island. The various hotels can make the necessary arrangement for this tour.

The thrill of anticipating what could be around the next corner is sometimes a heart stopping experience and will be talked about for years to come. Walks are conducted by fully trained and qualified guides with a wealth of experience in this field. Some lodges do not offer walks as they don't have qualified guides to take them. Walks are booked directly by guests at the lodge.  At some of the luxury properties, walks are included in the tariff.

East Africa Safari Tours in Kenya and Tanzania
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