Backpacking Kenya on a budget is one of the best in Africa for it and to spend two weeks in Kenya is a good enough time for backpacking around to get a taste of the place. Although you certainly would be a bit rushed to do so.
The average traveller that I met there had around two weeks to travel in the country so I thought I would put this itinerary together for those with a similar time scale.
Bear in mind there is so much to do in Kenya that in two weeks you will have to decide on regions carefully. What I am suggesting here will be a lot of moving around.
It’s just to give you a rough idea and you can mix things around depending on if you want to have more beach time than being inland.
I have written a lot of other articles to different parts of Kenya and have added links to them in the specific sections, to help plan your trip better.
The articles will give you more in-depth information about the destination. Three of them are about safaris in Kenya so you have plenty of wildlife options to do.
For a very detailed guidebook for your backpacking in Kenya adventure I recommend the Lonely Planet Kenya (Travel Guide) It’s the guide I used to help plan the in-depth details of the destinations in Kenya.
Backpacking Kenya Itinerary
1st Day – Backpacking Nairobi
Get out of Nairobi as soon as you can!
If you only have 2 weeks in Kenya do not waste anytime in Nairobi, it’s just another big city and not the safest either. I’m not a big fan of the place at all. But hey, who knows, maybe you will like it.
You would have to spend your first night in Nairobi pretty much anyway as it’s the main point to fly into the country, or to arrive from Tanzania.
If you didn’t arrange a Masai Mara safari before arriving then organise one as fast as you can in Nairobi, hopefully within the day. There are plenty of agencies around and they should be able to join you up with a group already going.
Ask in your hostel/hotel what agencies they recommend and maybe you can meet some fellow backpackers there to go traveling with.
If you have some time to kill in Nairobi then heading to a nearby orphanage for baby elephants which is definitely worth a few hours as they are so adorable, and your money goes towards a good cause as these elephants are rescued from the wild after their mothers have been killed by poachers.
The elephant orphanage is run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. That’s a link to their website and you can always send a donation there way even if you don’t go to visit them.
2nd to 4th Days – Masai Mara Safari Kenya
A Masai Mara safari in Kenya is one of the quintessential African experiences to have, and one of the main reasons for visiting Kenya, if not Africa.
Safaris in Kenya are slightly cheaper than neighbouring Tanzania so are great for the budget traveller in Kenya. This is perfect for arranging a safari from Nairobi to Masai Mara.
Try and arrange a safari before arriving in Nairobi so you don’t have to spend so long there like I mentioned before. Otherwise arrange one as soon as you arrive to hopefully get out the next day. It’s what I did and had no problems with it.
Sometimes arranging Kenya budget camping safaris is better done by visiting the agencies in Nairobi. However you won’t save that much more and means spending an extra day in Nairobi to organise it.
I’ve visited the Masai Mara twice and both times were the same. Most travellers I met had a similar experience with booking the two nights safari and doing the same things.
The first day you will be taken from Nairobi for several hours to the place where your camp is, which should be on the edge of the Masai Mara to give quick access to it.
The same day they will give you an evening safari into the park.
The next morning you will be out on a full day safari. This is the African wildlife trip you have probably been dreaming about. Along with the adjoining Serengeti National Park in Tanzania it’s the best wildlife safaris I’ve had in Africa, out of many.
At night you will be staying at the same campsite. The following morning they will take you one more time into the Masai Mara before leaving around 10-11 a.m.
They will take you towards Nairobi, but instead of going all the way back get out at the turnoff after a few hours driving. At that turnoff you will go the other direction from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha. It will take around one hour so is not so long.
A good book to pick up about safaris in Africa that includes a Kenya safari is the Fodor’s the Complete Guide to African Safaris
4th to 6th Days – Lake Naivasha and Hells Gate National Park
Lake Naivasha and Hell Gate National Park gives you the chance for some relaxing time and some adventure.
You will probably get there too late on the first day from the Masai Mara to do anything. Get a guesthouse by the lake and just chill in a hammock, if they have any.
Meet some other travellers and hang out but be mindful of hippos as they are known to come up on the riverbanks where the hostels/guesthouses are.
Did you know hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa?
The full day you have at Lake Naivsaha and nearby Hells Gate will be busy.
In the early morning take a boat out (with guide) onto the lake to go hippo spotting. Again if you’re alone your hostel/guesthouse should be able to arrange others to join. Hopefully you met other travellers your first night there to join.
Come late morning after the boat trip rent some bicycles from where you are staying and head to Hells Gate National Park.
This was one of my favourite things do in Kenya, simply because you can ride through the national park and see the animals really close up.
Thankfully there are no predators around so don’t worry about that. Just enjoy a few hours getting close to zebras, warthogs, deer, and more.
Cycle next to an area that is good for hiking (mentioned in the link to the separate post).
You can go hiking there for roughly two hours through small canyons before cycling back to the lake for a relaxing sunset.
The long way back to the lake goes past some natural hot spring baths and that is highly recommended.
6th – 8th Days – Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the best places in Africa to almost be guaranteed a sighting of rhinos, so is highly worth while just for that experience. It helps that it really is a beautiful lake to hang out by.
It’s only a few hours from Lake Naivasha to get to Nakuru, so leave early from there to get to Lake Nakuru and arrange a full day safari for the next day.
You can stay in the town itself nest to the national park but I recommend trying to do an evening safari into the park if you get there early enough to Nakuru, and then stay at a guesthouse just on the outskirts of the park for some peace in nature.
I even had lions come past the flimsy fence by the guesthouse.
The next day (the 7th if everything’s going to plan) will be spent in the Nakuru National Park, and hopefully this is where you will see some rhinos.
The rangers are experts at finding the rhinos.
If you’re unlucky and don’t see any, which is rare, it’s still one of the best smaller places for a safari in Kenya. In fact the rhinos weren’t my favourite thing about the area, it was simply being in such awe inspiring nature that made it perfect.
You can also do a short hike to a waterfall when out on safari to have a swim to cool off, and have a picnic up on a mountain over-looking the lake.
As usual for Africa and Kenya the sunsets are spectacular.
8th – 11th Days – Lake Victoria
If you go to Lake Victoria you will be really escaping the crowds, but it is a bit of a mission.
It’s at this point however where you may want to deviate from my itinerary and go from Nakuru to nearby Mount Kenya, or head straight to the coast for some beach time.
I can’t help with the Mount Kenya part as i never went there, but I have mentioned about the coast below.
I wanted to get off the beaten path more which is why I went to Lake Victoria. It’s very relaxed in it’s own way, so if you don’t make it to the beaches on the coast just spend an extra day or 2 on the lake. Doing it that way you wouldn’t have to rush, and would save money on flights (see below in Mombasa section).
You will have to leave very early from Nakuru to get to Lake Victoria as it’s a bit of a drive to Kisumu where you will have to spend the first night as it will be to late for the ferry.
There’s nothing special about Kisumu apart from the feeling of being away from the standard “backpacker route”.
The next day take the local ferry across the lake to Mbita and base yourself there for 2 nights.
You will be far away from other tourists and feel some real local Kenyan life. Fishing boats at night light up the horizon with their lights which you can see from your guesthouse up on a small hill. I should probably say, make sure to get a guesthouse on the small hill.
It’s a real magical place.
Your full day can be a day trip out to Mfangano Island where you can get out with the local motorbike taxi “gang” to explore around the island. The “gang” are hilarious and some of the best people i have met.
They will take you up to the mountain where you can go hiking around a bit for amazing views, then head to the shore to eat some very tasty fresh fish from the lake, and just meet some friendly locals not used to many tourists.
I loved it there which is why I recommend it. Bear in mind though you will have to sacrifice time on the coast if you do this.
11th – 14th Days – Mombasa and The Kenyan Coast or Take More Time by The Lakes
Kenya’s gorgeous coast is one of the highlights of travelling there and has a different vibe from inland. Apart from busy Mombasa it’s all about just chilling at the beach.
This is where you will think I’m crazy though. You could technically rush to the coast for just one full day to get a glimpse of the coast and Swahili food.
Do this only if you are willing to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa if your budget can stretch to it, otherwise it won’t be worth it.
The plan would be to leave Mbita on the 11th for a full day to Nairobi, spend the night there (unless there is a late at night flight to Mombasa), and take an early flight on the 12th to Mombasa.
Spend a few hours in Mombasa to see the fort, take a wander around the old city, try some Swahili food (so good), before heading out to a beach a few hours away for 2 nights. With the full day on the beach just take it easy, maybe go out for a few hours in a local boat, do some snorkelling, or maybe take a day to go and swim with dolphins. Whatever you feel like.
If you have a late flight from Nairobi on the 14th day then fly out from Mombasa on the 14th day to Nairobi at midday if there is a flight. Obviously book everything in advance so everything goes ok.
To be honest I would actually recommend slowing down inland and spending a few days extra on the lakes so you won’t be rushing the whole trip.
The coast definitely has a different feel to inland Kenya like I said, but being beautiful beaches it’s also much more touristed (apart from the Masai Mara).
Again if you want to get off the beaten path choose Lake Victoria over the coast.
I didn’t do the coast on my first visit to Kenya. I stopped there on my 2nd trip and only spent a few days there. I liked inland better.
This should give you a rough itinerary for backpacking Kenya.
Naturally with three weeks you get get in some coast time, or if you ignore the Lake Victoria part you could get to the Kenyan coast for a few days on a two weeks Kenya itinerary.
If you are thinking about maybe spending one week in Kenya and one week in Tanzania, then it really depends on how much wildlife you want to see.
If you were going to choose the one week in Kenya option then I would suggest three days in Masai Mara, three days mixed between Naivasha or Nakuru, back to Nairobi for a night and then head to Arusha in Tanzania to arrange a five days safari into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.
As for Kenya itself there is a tonne of other adventurous things to do in Kenya. You could head to Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa.
Deserts in Kenya in the north and north-west are spectacular but would require a lot more planning. Also some Kenya desert regions can be dangerous so check the latest news on the area.
Solo Backpacking in Kenya
If you’re worried about backpacking alone in Kenya, don’t be. You can easily meet some travellers in your hostel on your first night in Nairobi (by the way take a taxi from Nairobi airport straight to your hostel for safety) and you should find a few of them will be heading to the Masai Mara as well
If not the agency will join you with a group of others. At Lake Naivasha there is always a few backpackers hanging out so all will be fine for you.
You can always check forums for Kenya on travel sites such as Lonely Planets Thorntree.
Kenya on a Budget
It is possible to do Kenya on a budget backpacking, but all the safari temptations can be hard to resist. Basically Kenya itself is a reasonably priced country, and food, chilling on a Kenyan beach, a day safari, won’t kill your budget.
But go for 3 days into the Masai Mara and do more day safaris elsewhere will kill the Kenya budget backpacker. Then again Kenya is one of those unique African safari destinations and visiting with doing some safaris would really be a shame. It’s such a cool experience.
Kenya Packing List – What to Pack For Kenyan Safari
I wrote a very long guide for safaris in East Africa. There you will find the clothing and gear that is recommended for what to pack for safari in Kenya.
As for Kenyan dress styles and a Kenya dress code you can see with that link what to expect as well.
Food in Kenya is a mixed bag. In the capital Nairobi you can find food from all over the world, but head to more remote areas and the options become limited. By Lake Victoria or on the Kenyan Coast you will find delicious fresh fish. Along with the seafood on the Kenyan Coast you will also find tasty coconut rice.
But the standard Kenyan food is honestly not much to write home about. Kenya food like Ugali. This is the staple food of Kenya and is quite bland. It’s a cornmeal mash and is really just something to fill you up. Honestly one of my least favourite things for Kenyan food.
Kenya is generally modern enough though that you will find something you like to eat. But if heading to more remote areas like Lake Victoria you may want to bring some supermarket food to supplement what you get there.
Some of the Kenyan desserts however are delicious, such as the coconut macaroon. Also Kenya has a great barbecue tradition and meat being barbecued up is a great thing to have there.
You can find loads more about Kenyan food here.
Go Backpacking Kenya on a Budget
Kenya really is one of those perfect backpacking destinations as it offers so much so enjoy your trip. I hope I helped out a bit with rough ideas on what you can do. Again mix it up and maybe pick and choose what appeals to you.
Or just go with the flow and see what the hell happens when you get there!
Happy backpacking in Kenya!
For Kenya I recommend using the Lonely Planet Kenya (Travel Guide)
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