What You Need to Know about Self-drive Safaris

“What makes a desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well” – Antoine de Saint

As a country, Kenya is absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to exciting safari destinations. We have 54 National Parks (Yes! 54!) including “Marine Parks” that brings to you a gorgeous underwater world riddled with such colourful sea creatures of all shapes and sizes. We have entire counties that are mostly made up of exciting tour destinations just as we have a host of cities that offer you unbelievable nightlife excitement and a populace that is both friendly and eager to educate anyone willing to learn about the tenets and traditions of the local people.

Yes, Kenya is an awe-inspiring safari destination but it can also get very expensive. While there are ways through which you can save or even make money while on safari in Kenya, it is the most adventurous of people that find ways to combine that with the kind of fun that they like to have when on vacation.

Why maybe you shouldn’t do the safe thing

When it comes to safaris, especially a safari in a foreign land, the safe thing to do is to hire a tour operator to do all the bookings for you. The best in the industry will ensure that you have the most memorable of days as you travel to amazing destinations within the country.

The problem is that most of them will take you to the safe and frequently travelled routes. You know, a specific spot at the Maasai Mara or that common lodge in Tsavo East National Park; places where you will find people just like you looking to see things that they have probably seen a million times on NatGeo Wild.

Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that, after all, whether you see a fully matured male lion for the first time or a hundredth time, the effect will still be as flabbergasting!

However, if you want to be the “master of your own destiny” so to speak, then you should definitely try out a self-drive safari!

P.S: This is most advisable for locals as they are more familiar with the country and they would know how to get themselves out of a jam should that happen. Foreigners could too (using these 19 important phrases to help them make friends easily in Kenya) but you would have to leave this sort of thing to your second or third visit to Kenya. Just so you are comfortable enough with the region.

Whether you are a local or a foreigner, the following valuable pieces of advice will work just as well should you decide to go full throttle on self-drive safaris.

Tips to get the most out of your self-drive safaris

First things first, if you are going to go on a self-drive safari, you will need to have a vehicle worthy of the adventure. As such, you should:

Only use a 4X4

And we are talking a proper 4X4. None of those “meant for urban settings” kind of 4X4. We are looking at a brut of a vehicle like a Land Rover Defender and anything meaner (a “Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk” will do just fine too)!!

There is one very good reason for this:

  • The most exciting and least visited places are off the beaten path. This means that they are out there in the sticks somewhere and you will need a vehicle with proper ground clearance, the ability to tow itself out of a jam and something that can carry a mini-safari lodge to keep you comfortable. You know, tents, camping chairs, cooking equipment and such.

After all, the best adventures are the types that do not fall into a strict time schedule. You could be out there for days depending on how well it’s going.

Get a map and drive slowly

Google Maps would do just fine except, there are places…even in the world famous Maasai Mara, that have no coverage. Of course, you could always download the offline version of Google Maps but you best double down on everything and bring an old-fashioned map with you.

Once you have picked a route, be sure to drive at a leisurely pace. For two main reasons:

  • You are not exactly familiar with the terrain so you do not want to drive into ditches while going at 100KPH
  • It will give you time to savour all that your surroundings have to offer

Bring a pair of powerful binoculars for the savouring part of the safari.

Always…always have emergency contacts handy

This is something you should be doing even if you are not headed out to the wild on your own. Most serious safari…let’s call them “fanatics” with a positive connotation to the term…most serious safari fanatics have satellite phones that they can use to call out in an emergency. They also have the best kind of travel insurance just in case.

If you are driving into a National Park, always be sure to talk to the KWS personnel at the gate and ask how you can keep in touch with them should you need to do so. Sometimes they could offer to give you a guide and a guard at your own cost (which is wonderful as long as those people are only there to keep you safe as opposed to hurrying you back to civilization).

Keep a keen eye on the herbivores

Zebras, wildebeest or impala and such herbivores have developed a keen sense of danger. Keep an eye on them wherever you drive by. If they are all looking in one direction intently, it means there’s probably a predator lurking about in that general direction. Follow their gaze and bring out your binoculars. You could be in for a hunting showdown.

P.S: For the love of all that is safe, KEEP YOUR WINDOWS ROLLED UP in these kinds of instances.

The animals always have the right of way!

Respect the animals and the environment in which they live:

  • Do not blast loud music as you drive by (that scares them away which is no good for anyone)
  • Let them cross or slowly get off the road at their own pace (keep your engine off during these instances)
  • Garbage in, garbage out is the rule of the day, every day! Carry your trash out with you. Do not litter.
  • Taking a selfie with a lion is NEVER really a good idea, so get yourself a powerful camera that can allow you to zoom in on the predators and general wildlife from a safe distance.

Bring enough drinking water. Always remember to bring enough drinking water. Other than that, expect to have loads of fun when on a self-drive safari. The best thing about this kind of safari is that it can be considerably cheaper, a lot more enjoyable and rather exciting (getting lost always has that air of excitement to it, doesn’t it?)

Have you ever gone on any self-drive safaris? Share your tips with us in the comment section below.

Our Readers Comments

  1. This is a great blog. I’m all over self drive safaris. Id much rather drive myself than go on an organised tour…and its not dangerous at all if you follow the rules

  2. Many of the rental companies in Kenya register their vehicles as “PSV” (Public Service Vehicle).
    This turns them into gold mines for the police to extort bribes from tourists driving them, with the claim by the cops that the drivers of such vehicles must have a valid PSV license. 30-50 dollar bribe is common and police checkpoints are very common.

  3. Great piece 🙂 I am a big fun of selfdrive safaris and my choice of car non of those big monsters it’s a simple 4×4 called a Toyota Cami. From Mt Elgon to Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda to the shores of Lake Bunyonyi to The shorelines of Lake Kivu to the city of Mwanza to the rough terrains of Serengeti and Ngorongoro to the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma to the Southern highlands of Tanzania to the shores of Lake Jipe the vast Tsavo East, the slippery top of the Aberdares I have done it all. This one car that will take you places.

  4. I just love self-driven safaris. I once went to Shimba Hills National Reserve and I got lost in there. And there’s no network in the park. Luckily I had a copy of the map and a friend to keep me moving haha. We ended up finding our way back at almost 2000hrs. It was fun though.

  5. Awesome read, might be good to also mention, seek information on areas designated as bandit prone, terror group operations, etc.

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