7-Day Kenya Itinerary: Nairobi, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara Safaris

by Sojourner

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Creating a Kenya itinerary can be dream-worthy but also a bit difficult coming from as far as the U.S.! Kenya is a beautiful country with stunning sights, lots of shopping, and tons of history and culture. There is so much to choose from during your visit. And as a Black American I was so excited to learn more about the diaspora!

I went on a group trip to Kenya with Intrepid Travel and Nomadness Travel Tribe as part of their BIPOC Digital Storytellers Mentorship Program. We were a group of 11 travel digital storytellers, two drivers, and one guide tasked with seeing as much as we could during our seven-day adventure. So, if you’re interested in creating your own Kenya itinerary, keep reading for inspiration! It was iconic.

(FYI: This trip was free as I was part of the program. This post may also have affiliate links. If you buy something using my link, I get a small percentage for mentioning/recommending it. Lucky for you, it doesn’t change the price for you at all, and it’s a super easy and generous way to say thanks for all the work I put into writing this post!!)

FAQs on how to plan a trip to Kenya

When is the best time to visit Kenya?

June to October is the best time to visit Kenya and the peak season. It’s the post-rainy season, and June and July signal the grand wildebeest migration that thousands of tourists come to observe during their safaris. Since the wildlife is more accessible to spot and there is less rainfall during peak season, the parks get very crowded. Therefore, consider going into their shoulder season months in January, February, November, and December.

What is the weather like in Kenya?

Shaping your Kenya itinerary based on the weather is a good idea. June to October is the dry season in Kenya, during which tourists can expect sunny skies and minimal rain. March, April, and May are the rainiest months, which I experienced firsthand. I visited at the end of April, and there was intense flooding, so it is risky but cheaper than peak season. 

What are the visa requirements for Kenya?

If you are a U.S. citizen, you will need a visa to visit Kenya. I did mine on their Sherpa website about a month before my trip. It is an eVisa that you print out and costs $75. If you travel with Intrepid Travel, their pre-departure preparation can help guide you through the Sherpa process. However, visas, flights, and vaccines are not included in the tour price.

What are the vaccine requirements for Kenya?

As you create your Kenya itinerary budget, add vaccines! The yellow fever vaccine is required to enter Kenya and can cost upwards of $300. Malaria pills are also highly recommended, as are other vaccines such as cholera and polio. Make an appointment at your local pharmacy or travel health clinic for more information.

Where to stay in Nairobi

Sarova Panafric Nairobi 

The Westlands is one of the most popular neighborhoods in which to stay while visiting Nairobi. This area is excellent for first-time visitors and central to many tourist attractions and restaurants on your Kenya itinerary. I stayed at the 4-star Sarova Panafric Nairobi Hotel, which was an excellent choice. The rooms were comfortable, a spa and pool were on site, and they offered an airport shuttle. There is also a restaurant with a breakfast buffet that also offers lunch and dinner options. 

Things to do in Nairobi

Feed giraffes at Giraffe Center

An ethical and more responsible way to feed giraffes is through the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s Giraffe Center. Tickets are under $12, and the conservation center is a safe place for over 300 giraffes to live. Upon arrival, you are given a bowl of food to feed them. Remember that they have long tongues and will link the bowl clean if you get close. Intrepid organized my visit to the Giraffe Center and included a driver; however, you can find many other alternative tours to plan your visit, too.

Do a walking tour of Nairobi

To get a feel of Nairobi, consider a walking tour. The city is vast and can be overwhelming if you visit. But with a walking tour, you understand the sites around you and have a guide who explains it all. It’s a must-have activity at the beginning of your Kenya itinerary! 

Learn at the Kenyan National Archives

Located in the Central Business District (CBD), the Kenyan National Archives is an excellent place to learn about Kenya’s history. It is a small museum dedicated to understanding the country’s political history and culture. Kenyan artifacts are also on display. You can also visit the archives on a walking tour. 

Honor the lives lost at the August 7 Memorial Park

The August 7th Memorial Park honors the lives lost during the fatal bombing and terrorist attack outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Over 200 hundred people were killed, and thousands more were injured.  There is also a Peace Memorial Museum where you can learn more about the attack and how it has shaped Kenyan life.

Visit the local markets

Shopping at local markets, such as the Maasai Market and Village Market, should be part of your Kenya itinerary. They are the perfect place to buy souvenirs for yourself or your loved ones. But be prepared to barter for what you want, as bartering is a part of Kenya’s shopping culture. When someone gives you a price, offer half that and negotiate to get the desired deal. 

Support Kenyan women at Kobe Tough 

Beadwork is important to Kenyan style and culture. Women make many famous, colorful bead designs, and Kobe Tough’s products support the single mothers, orphans and widows who make them possible. Kobe Tough provides a space for women to upskill their craft and earn a better wage for their work. Visiting Kobe Tough was outside of the original Intrepid itinerary for Kenya. However, going to a bead factory is included in many Nairobi tours, as is the Giraffe Center and an elephant sanctuary.

Where to stay for a Kenyan safari

Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge

If a visit to Lake Nakuru National Park is on your itinerary, the Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge is the place to be! The sunrises and sunsets were some of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. The buffet for all the meals includes a variety of food and dietary needs, too. The rooms are spacious and all come with a back patio to sit back and relax when you have downtime. Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge is also not a glamping or camping experience; it is a hotel room.

Zebra Plains Mara Camp

Visiting Maasai Mara National Reserve is high on any traveler’s Kenya itinerary. Our accommodations at Zebra Plains Mara Camp were the perfect choice if you want a glamping experience in Kenya. Zebra Plains is Kenya-owned and operated, and 80% of its staff is from the local Maasai community. Every meal is buffet-style, and at night, there are Maasai warriors who can walk you to your room safely if it is too dark. Zebra Plains offers classic and luxury rates based on your price point. 

Tips for planning a safari in Kenya

Pack accordingly

What you pack for your trip to Kenya depends on the weather. I recommend neutrals such as creams, browns, and utility greens to blend in with the environment. Layers are also helpful, so bring jumpsuits, light sweaters, deet wipes, comfortable pants since you will be sitting, and close-toed shoes. Check out my safari essentials for ideas on safari inspiration.

Get started early

The earlier you start a safari, the better. Given you only have seven days, your itinerary may be packed with things to do in Kenya. Opt for early mornings to enjoy more activities and to better build in travel time during your adventure.

Consider doing a bush lunch 

Consider packing lunches to continue maximizing your time on a 7-day safari in Kenya. While your campsite at Maasai Mara or lodge at Lake Nakuru may offer a buffet lunch, eating outside during the game drives is another option. Bush lunches are a way to save money and time, so you don’t have to go back and forth between every game drive. It’s also fun to eat and see a giraffe walking nearby! 

Learn about the Maasai Mara tribe

Maasai Mara is the smallest and the most visited in Kenya. Maasai warriors are known for their high jumping, traditional clothing, and cultural practices that are deeply rooted in their connection to nature. My tour was coordinated with Intrepid Travel and other companies have partnerships with other Maasai Mara villages as well.

Visit a national park for a game drive

While Nairobi has an in-city national park, many travelers go on safari to Lake Nakuru National Park. Some go to Lake Nakuru for a day trip, but I recommend staying overnight. With at least one night, you can take your time to enjoy multiple game drives. Read the following section below to learn more about the wildlife you can see at Lake Nakuru.

Camp at Maasai Mara National Reserve for your safari

Maasai Mara is arguably the best safari experience in the world. It’s one of the most popular amongst travelers, and according to our guides, the wildlife views never get old. On your Kenya itinerary, it is ideal to go camping or glamping to enjoy your game drives and safari experience fully. Read the following section below to learn more about the wildlife you can see on the reserve.

End with a hot air balloon ride

A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara was one of the highlights of my trip to Kenya! You get up very early, but it is absolutely worth it. Flying over the wildlife that you drove through the day before during a game drive is epic. Afterward, we landed and drove to a champagne bush breakfast. The spread included pancakes, eggs, meat, mimosas, and more.

Lake Nakuru National Park vs. Maasai Mara National Reserve

Deciding what to put on your Kenya itinerary is one of the most complex aspects of planning your trip! Most travelers need help to choose which safari experience they want while in Kenya. Since I did both Lake Nakuru National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve, here’s what you need to know to plan your safari in Kenya. Also, this will help you decide which to prioritize if you only have time for one. 

Flamingos are present at Lake Nakuru

A unique point about Lake Nakuru National Park is the presence of flamingos. Due to the blue-green algae in the lake, flamingos flock to the park. Even though they can be present in other months, the best months to see them are July, August, September, December, January and February. Therefore, if you want to see flamingos, choose Lake Nakuru.

Maasai Mara is farther away from Nairobi

When planning your Kenya itinerary, note that Lake Nakuru National Park is only three and a half hours from Nairobi. Maasai Mara National Reserve can be four or more hours depending on the location of your camp. However, both distances and time depend on Kenyan traffic, which can make the trips longer. So, if you are pressed for time, you may consider Lake Nakuru over Maasai Mara.

There are no elephants at Lake Nakuru

One thing to note on your Kenya itinerary is that there are no elephants at Lake Nakuru. Due to the small size of the national park and the electric fence around it, elephants do not live here. They are too large, and their movement would be too restricting since they like to roam. However, there are many elephants at Maasai Mara, so if they are a high priority, I would not recommend Lake Nakuru.

Maasai Mara is larger than Lake Nakuru

Maasai Mara is also more spacious for wildlife to roam than Lake Nakuru. Maasai Mara National Reserve is 583 square miles, while Lake Nakuru National Park is 73 miles. More space means a higher chance of game activity, and Maasai Mara is known to have the best game drives in the world. 

There is a better chance of seeing the big cats and hippos at Maasai Mara

On my Kenya itinerary, we visited Lake Nakuru first and then Maasai Mara. While we saw lions at both, we also saw a pack of cheetahs at Maasai Mara. Leopards are harder to spot during the day unless you do a game night drive, which I did not. Based on the big cats we did spot, you have a higher chance of seeing them at Maasai Mara. There are no hippos at Lake Nakuru, but there are at Maasai Mara.

Both Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru had similar wildlife

If I compare these safaris to the one I did in South Africa, I saw more wildlife in Kenya. The safaris in Kenya also made it easier to spot the wildlife. At both Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara, some wildlife I saw included giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, warthogs, baboons, impalas, and rhinos. Therefore, those are possible no matter which safari you choose.

Sample 7-day Kenya itinerary breakdown

Given all this information, what can a 7-day Kenya itinerary look like? Well, here is a breakdown of activities. However, this does not include travel time, which you must build into your itinerary based on how far you live from Kenya. I flew in two days before the initial start of the group trip as I jumped ahead from the U.S Central Standard Time (CDT) to Kenya’s East Africa Time (EAT). I recommend using a Friday and the weekend to maximize your travel time if you have a 9-5 job.

Day 1: Nairobi Day

  • Breakfast, a walking tour of downtown Nairobi, lunch, and shopping at the markets

Day 2: Travel day to Lake Nakuru National Park

  • Breakfast, lunch, travel to Lake Nakuru National Park, and dinner

Day 3: Lake Nakuru National Park Game Drive

  • Breakfast, Lake Nakuru game drive, lunch, Lake Nakuru game drive, and dinner

Day 4: Maasai Mara Village 

  • Breakfast, leave Lake Nakuru, travel to Maasai Mara, stop at a local village, lunch, and travel to your camp at Maasai Mara National Reserve 

Day 5: Maasai Mara National Reserve Game Drive

  • Breakfast, Maasai Mara game drive, lunch, Maasai Mara game drive, dinner

Day 6: Maasai Mara Hot Air Balloon, Game Drive and travel back to Nairobi

  • Hot air balloon ride over Maasai Mara, champagne bush breakfast, short game drive, and travel back to Nairobi

Day 7: Relax in Nairobi and travel back home 

  • Giraffe Center, visit Kobe Tough, the Nairobi National Park, or spend the day in Nairobi doing last-minute shopping and packing. 

Final thoughts on planning things to do in Kenya

Depending on traffic, you can do a game drive on Day 2 once you arrive at Lake Nakuru. Also, based on your flight back home, you could do another game drive at Maasai Mara on Day 6 and travel back to Nairobi on Day 7. However, you risk being caught in traffic on the day you fly out. Also, you may only have a place to store your luggage if you stay overnight in Nairobi. However, the itinerary outlined gives you a rest day in Nairobi and time to do things that may not have been possible on the first day.

Seven days only scratch the surface of what to do in Kenya since it is a vast and beautiful country. Yet, this Kenya itinerary can be a great start for first-time visitors who want to prioritize wildlife and city life. The beaches in Diani and life in Lamu are other options to consider, too. Regardless, your Kenya itinerary will be perfect for you, and this one designed by Intrepid was for me!

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