Is it okay to book a safari once I arrive in Kenya or is it better to book in advance? This question comes up repeatedly on various travel forums. Many travelers (including me) like the freedom of landing in a country and watching it flow without being locked into a set itinerary where you are told when and where to eat, sleep, and go. So let’s explore how you can go on safari with a certain sense of freedom while staying safe, comfortable, and on budget.
Let’s start with “Yes”, it is okay to book a safari once you arrive in Kenya. If you wander the streets of Nairobi’s CBD, you will be approached by touts selling cheap safaris. It is very easy to agree with one of them. Vehicles are usually parked near City Market, so if you’re ready to go, you can do so right away. They accept cash, so you just have to go to the ATM, withdraw it, deliver it, and you’re done. Easy.
For those who are happy with getting things done quickly, easily and flexibly in their expectations, this is perfect. For others, this may sound a bit risky. I had a friend who opted for this method and it wasn’t until she and her colleagues got their money from the ATM that they realized they were about to walk through downtown Nairobi and at least one person knew they were carrying large amounts of cash. Suddenly it seemed like a reckless approach.
So we change to “No”. It may not be a good idea to book a safari when you arrive in Kenya. Safaris aren’t cheap … or you definitely get what you pay for! If you find a deal on the street that seems too good to be true, it probably is. You may find yourself eating zikuma (kale) and ugali (cornmeal) for a week and every day dealing with the results of a bad vehicle. Remember, fuel is the same price as at home and the roads are in poor condition (worse than you might imagine), so driving a vehicle here is an expensive proposition.
You want to trust your tour operator. You are about to hand over a large amount of money to make this once-in-a-lifetime safari the one you’ve always dreamed of. Why would you risk that by picking any Joe on the street? Take your time to do your research. Read reviews from tour operators (Trip Advisor, Safari Bookings, and Your African Safari all help) and start an email conversation to get an idea of how they respond to your wishes. While not required, you can also check with industry bodies like KATO (Kenya Tour Operators Association) whose members tend to be more trustworthy and competent than non-members. You also want to know who you are dealing with: an agent or an operator. Of course, if you are dealing with your travel agent at home, then they will connect you with a reputable tour operator. But some Kenyan agents can look a lot like operators on their websites. This means that they will not be responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle and will “sell” it to a tour operator. In this case, you still don’t know who will be responsible for your comfort and safety during the safari and if you trust them. And agents in Kenya are not subject to the same rules and guarantees as agents at home, so if they disappear with your money there is not much recourse.
Kenya is not all bad!
But it’s not just about avoiding suspicious people (I don’t want to sound like Kenya is full of scammers!), It’s also about availability. Most people want to come for the wildebeest migration in July and August. These months are also summer vacations in the US and Europe, so accommodation in Maasai Mara is booked around 97% for the entire period. Christmas is also a peak period, with many Kenyans traveling at this time, as well as international tourists. Accommodation and vehicles can be hard to come by at these rush hours if you leave it until the last minute.
If you are not picky about food, the vehicle or the playground you go to and are on a budget, you can take the risk of booking your safari when you arrive in Kenya. But I recommend that you spend some time looking for reputable tour operators with good reviews so you know that you are safe. Unfortunately, Kenya may not be the best country to trust strangers on the street who have “the best safari deal for you.”
Overland Travel Adventures has rave reviews on Trip Advisor and we love working with our guests to personally design the safari of their dreams. We are a family business with a husband and wife team, Tracey and Francis, who take care of you from planning to execution. Email [email protected] to start planning your vacation today!