Planning a luxury trip to Maasai Mara however simple it seems may be met with a lot of complexity. Not unless you are planning for a tailor made package whose charges are already set by the operator, planning a Masai Mara tour should be done prudently. This is especially if you are planning for your first trip. Planning a trip by making a quote have become Popular amongst travelers. It sounds good, flexible and makes you the key decision maker in your trip. However, you have to trend Careful with this rising method.
To begin with, Masai Mara Game reserve is the most visited park in East Africa. For the years I have worked as a travel consultant, 80% of the bookings/quote request I receive from travelers are either exclusively to Masai Mara or have Masai Mara as the primary destination. Actually, it is only in Masai Mara that you will find large crowds of thousands with long snarling traffic of vans covering the stretch of the Roads; especially during immigration seasons.
Masai Mara is the destination to which every tour operator in Kenya carry operations. It is in Maasai Mara, that you will have either the most fulfilling trip or a shoddy and regrettable one.
Familiarize with the cost
The very first step to planning a successful Masai Mara tour is to familiarize with the trip value based on the basic cost of services in the park. Don’t just sit and send a quote to your tour operator without any prior knowledge of the general price of activities and facilities in Masai Mara. This is will enable you set priorities and budget for the size of your group and number of days to travel. Also you will avoid being overcharged, hence maximizing on your budget. For instance, a couple may be having a budget of 4900 USD for their trip excluding their international flight. From the stories they may have heard from places of work Mara is a great place for experiencing adventurous Bush walks, sundown night fire in the forest, night game-drives and Maasai village /cultural visits where indigenous tales, folks, clothing, children in mud walled classroom brings you to the Last streak of uncivilized society.
The couple are planning to have all these activities on-board; and obviously a daily morning hot air balloon ride plus luxury accommodation in a lodge or camp for 5 days and 4 night. Let’s move on and break down the cost for them . To begin with, the trip will involve several other industry players in the tourism sector.
1)Park authority- The park is managed by Narok County government in collaboration with Kenya wildlife service and neighboring Maasai Community. The park fees for each traveler is 80 USD for non residents and ksh5000
for Kenyans for every 24 hrs. No cost cut for half days. Travelers residing inside the Mara triangle in movable tents pay 70 USD per 24 hrs and citizens pay ksh4000(there are only portable campsites inside Mara triangle conservancy, no lodges or luxury camps). Therefore, the tour operator will budget for 80×2persons×5days=800 USD. This is the total price for Park fees.
2) Hotelier – This is a camp/lodge owner who will provide accommodation, night security, meals, organise sundown activities plus any other activities related to catering. Considering that many tour operator are located in Nairobi, the driver is entitled to a rest having operated throughout the day from morning 8:00 am to 6pm and also that one has to get a permit and hire a game-ranger for night game-drive; most hoteliers assume the responsibility for night game-drives.
On average for the driver allowance, game ranger and other charges the camps or lodges charges 75 USD per person sharing with 8 travelers. In this whether you are on a private trip or a group Safari you will have to share as a group owing to the sensitivity of night hours. No night Bush walk, off-road driving or stepping out of the van for photo taking. For Bush sundowning in company of a Maasai Moran the charges are 20 USD per person. For the Bush walk taking a maximum of 4 hrs a day the charges are10 USD per person when the tour operator link with a Maasai tour guide well known to him around the chosen camp or lodge, the price may go up to 40 USD per person when the camp or lodge have to offer for the tour guide. For a good standard luxury accommodation; fees including meals and room service the price range from 400 USD per night to 1600 USD per night(not per person) dependent on your taste of prestige and budget. With above budget range you will be able to get:
i) Top quality accommodation. This is accommodation offering quality and hygienic facilities and room service, quality meals and a private bathroom. It must be a well known and top rated facility.
ii) accommodation located close to one of the main gate at most 4km from the reserve.
iii) Accommodation strategically positioned in an animal frequented area. These are camps in the neighbourhood to the reserve (at most 4km apart) and if possible they are located along the Mara river. This will enable you watch the immigration right from your camp or lodge. At times, wildlife will pop up near your facility.
NB: Maasai Mara being a game reserve most of the park boundaries are not fenced therefore there is free movement of wildlife to the neighboring camps and lodge.
Breaking down the cost in the hotelier subsection.
Basic luxury accommodation for four nights
meals inclusive 400×4=1600
20USD ×2persons ×2days= 80 USD.
20USD×2persons ×2evenings=80 USD
Total cost on this subsection is 2060 USD
3)Hot air balloon operator – these are companies specialized in balloon rides. They Don’t offer game-drive and transfer services. Balloon ride mainly operates in the morning when the atmosphere is calm. For a good ride, 1hr, they charge an average of between 390 USD and 460 USD per person depending on the capacity and the provider. Balloon ride however provide the best quality experiencing compared to Bush walk and game-drive It is however quite costly and takes a shorter time(1hr covering . Putting the cost at about 420 USD per person for for 4 mornings then the final cost in this category will be 420 USD×2persons×4 mornings=3360 USD.
4) Maasai Community- This is another player in this couple trip. Perhaps, due to the story they have heard about the culturally rich tribe called Amaasai who reside on the park neighbourhood, then why not sneak into a Maasai village and witness things by yourself. Your tour operator /agent will drive you to a Maasai village(no charges). At the Maasai village you will pay 20USD plus other charges for ornaments, artifacts. Put total charges at 100 USD
5)Tour operator – This is the organizer of your trip. He begins by providing technical assistance of planning your itinerary, budgeting for it, booking accommodation, insurance, provides Transfer services and a driver/tour guide. He is your guardian for the entire trip duration starting from the time he picks you up at the airport to the time he sees you off to the airport. Putting vehicle Park entry fees, fuel, driver allowance at about 240 USD this will put the total 5 days operator services price to 1600 USD with benefits inclusive.
Bringing the cost together:
Park fees= 800 USD
Hot air balloon=3360 USD
Maasai village= 100 USD
Tour operator =1600 USD
Total= 7920 USD
This put the travelers initial plan at a total disarray. What’s next.
Don’t book everything. Set priorities right!
One thing I can attest to as a travel agent is that wrong priorities really cause regrettable travel experience; especially for travelers who set quote for a trip with most of the above activities included.
Don’t be so adamant with these activities if really they don’t fit your budget. You are pushing your travel agent. Yes, he will most probably put you into an extremely cheap accommodation that will help fit your budget. This can be horrible and greatly in inconveniencing. What is the essence of checking into a lodge in Narok town just to have a one hour balloon ride in the morning? Yet you would have got a more better accommodation in Mara region and in a place you will be able to view wildlife, save time wasted in daily transfer and also a place from where you can have night game-drives- the best time to watch Hunting and nocturnal wildlife. All this within the same budget.
How to fix the budget
Start with the basics
As you prepare to make a quote start with budgeting for the basic. What kind of accommodation do you prefer? Luxury lodge, Luxury tent. Even without any prior idea on the actual facilities cost , a budget of between 400 USD- 1600 USD per night that is the standard range for a good standard to luxury accommodation with all favourable services for an international traveler. For these couple planning with a budget of 4900 USD the best accommodation is a standard double at a competitive lodge or executive suite at less competitive but reputable lodge. This will cost about 400 USD per night.
Tour operator. This is the other basic that you must budget for put it at 1600 USD for five days(transportation with the standard toyota land cruiser)
Nb: opting for the safari van prices can cost about 1150 USD for the 5 days. Putting the total basic cost together accommodation plus tour operator the price range at about 3200 USD for 2 persons 5 days.
Work with the remaining resources. Make wise choices
First and foremost understand each and every activity and its significance. For instance, it would be so misplaced foregoing a hot air balloon ride for a Masai village tour just because of low cost and the great stories of the rich and uncontaminated culture. Unfortunately, just when you get to a Masai village, a Masai Moran will Welcome you. Speaking in a perfect English(Yes, more perfect than an average Kenyan) he will confess to be an ardent follower of Manchester United and not just that, he will remove his Samsung galaxy underneath his red patterned robe and call someone to inform there are guest on the gate. You will unleash your adrenaline. You will call it day time robbery or a scam when the women in the village push you hard to buy some ornaments in hard currency. ” Weren’t expect these people to do some barter Trade,” you will ask yourself. You failed to do your research.
The Masai like every other Community in the world has elements of westernization. They have smart phones are in social platform and formal education. Masai warrior no longer dwell on cattle rustling. The only thing I can attest, Masai are proud of their culture, they value their traditional clothing lifestyle(so as the modern clothing ;either way a Masai do wear). They still perform rites of passage, are nomadic, value traditional diet and live in Bomas. The rest you see in the Media is a well exaggerated story by travel and destination marketers.
So what is the best for me.
According to my experience aligning the activities in priorities.
1)Game-drive – by operator(basic)
2)balloon ride- owesome but expensive, take short time(1 hr)
3) Night game-drives – owesome Fairly expensive
4) Bush walk- good, cheap.
5)Masai village tour – good, can be expensive
6)Sundowning- Fairly good, cheap.
Discerning the above, you can Make a decision. By having a balloon ride 840 USD (for both daily). You can’t put have a 4 or 3 mornings balloon ride it is way beyond your budget. But two mornings balloon ride will work. Else, you can choose a single morning and add some of the other activities.
Write to your tour operator to provide details of available lodges with room standards against prices. Also compare the location of the lodge to the major Gates: Talek Gate,Sekenani, Ololamutiek gate and Musiara gate. Lodges and camps near Mara river are the best for watching immigration. Get the prices and choose 2 or 3 lodges that charges approximately your prices.
Offer the quote
Send your offer to the tour operator. In your quote tell him the cost of your entire budget, accommodation facilities and standards you prefer, all activities budgeted for.
This is Mr Wilson. Kindly plan for me an itinerary of 5 days Masai Mara tour. 2persons. My budget 4900 USD. Accommodation at Mara River lodge (standard double), AA Lodge (executive suite), Chui resort (executive suite). The quote includes: All transfers from airport and back, 4 nights accommodation in any of above facilities, private safari land cruiser, All Park fees, 2 morning hot air balloon ride for both of us, meals, game-drive. One day Bush walk will also be Okey with us. Thank you.
If the tour operator reply positively, go ahead and make payment. You can request for a scanned documents of all lodge booking receipt as an assurance.
That way your Safari is ready to go with a well articulated budget and plan. Welcome to Kenya.