Short on time? A one-day safari in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru

May 8, 2022

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Two common misconceptions about taking an African safari are that you need to have a lot of money and a lot of time. When I was a broke backpacker, I spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, and found a $100 one-day trip to Lake Nakuru where I was able to enjoy a safari without committing to a multi-day excursion.

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If you are stationed in Nairobi and are short on time, Lake Nakuru is a perfect way to spend a day out of the city. On tour day, expect to be picked up before the sun has risen, likely sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. Luckily, Kenya has some of the best coffee in the entire world thanks to its high altitude and ever-high presence of fertile soil.

A driver will meet you in your Nairobi hotel lobby. From there, you will begin your two-and-a-half hour journey from the city journey to Lake Nakuru. Along the way, you’ll likely stop for a coffee or a quick bite to fuel up for a long day. You might also stop at a shop where safari-goers can purchase locally crafted souvenirs. I remember seeing a necklace that I wanted badly, but as mentioned, I was traveling on a budget. Oh, the regret you’ll have for the things you didn’t buy!

Related: Everything you need to know about going on safari in Africa with renowned expert Marlon du Toit

Once you arrive to Lake Nakuru, each person must pay an entry fee of $35, but, depending on what type of tour you booked, this fee might already be included in your tour cost. Upon payment, you’ll receive your ticket and be granted entry into a world that feels far from anything you’ve seen before. Tip: Bring a good camera on any African safari. A GoPro or even an iPhone simply won’t do the trick.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

Be prepared to move slowly and be utterly quiet. The animals don’t like to be disturbed, and in Lake Nakuru, animals’ needs reign higher than people’s needs. Though everyone’s experience will be different, you can expect to see gazelle, zebra, monkeys and even some rare rhinos thanks to the on-site sanctuary.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you may also spot lions, leopards, African bush elephants and African buffalo. I was fortunate enough to see black rhinoceros and African buffalo on my one day in Lake Nakuru, further proving that you don’t need a lot of time and/or money to enjoy a proper African safari.

Lake Nakuru is particularly known for its excessive flamingo population, which is what drew me to book this day-trip in the first place. However, as we pulled up to the actual lake, I was astounded to see there were hardly any flamingos at all.

Climate change has caused the water to dramatically flood over the past several years, making the flamingo population at the shore sparse. Don’t let those Google images fool you: It’s unlikely you will see the flocks of flamingos Lake Nakuru is so famous for.

As you drive past the lake and circle back toward the exit, be prepared to see giraffes slowly grazing and crossing the pathways. Watching these majestic creatures in their natural habitat will make you wonder how big-game hunters have the heart to do what they do.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

Related: How to ensure your safari is ethical

As you finally exit Lake Nakuru, your tour guide will likely offer you an option to stop at Lake Naivasha on the ride back to Nairobi, where you can take a boat safari to see hippos and more birds. If you’re too tired or decide to opt out, you can instead stop for a traditional Kenyan meal of ugali and samaki. Don’t forget to try the local beer, Tusker.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

While this one-day African safari means an early morning and a packed travel schedule, it’s a perfect option for those who are short on time, finances, or both when traveling through Kenya. Flights from New York – John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Nairobi start at 44,000 miles + $5.60 with United MileagePlus.

Related: Deal Alert: Marriott will open a luxury safari lodge in Masai Mara Reserve

Featured photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy.

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