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Masai Mara Vs. Serengeti: Where is the Best African Safari?

Masai Mara and Serengeti are two of the most popular parks for game viewing in all of Africa. Masai Mara National Reserve is located in Kenya. Serengeti National Park is located in Tanzania. Even though the parks sit just across the border from each other, the safari experience is quite different. In this guide, I’ll outline the pros and cons of going on a safari in the Masai Mara Vs Serengeti. I’ll cover wildlife viewing, accommodation, costs, the great migration, transportation, visas, and much more.

While traveling through East Africa over the past 6 months, I visited both parks. I took a 2 day safari in Masai Mara and a 2 day safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. In this guide, I’ll outline my experience visiting both parks.

Key Takeaways

The Serengeti is the better choice for viewing the Great Migration. You also have a better chance of seeing the Big 5 in the Serengeti. This park is also the better choice for longer safaris (4-7 days) and luxury safaris.

The Masai Mara is the better choice for those on a tight budget and those with limited time. It’s also the better choice when traveling during the off-season. There is a greater density of animals here.

The best time to visit the Serengeti is late June-August. The best time to visit Masai Mara is July-September.

A 2-day safari in the Serengeti cost about $500-$800 per person. A 2 day safari in Masai Mara costs around $350-$400 per person.

Giraffes and Zebra in the Maasai Mara
Giraffes and Zebra in the Maasai Mara
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Masai Mara Pros

  • Masai Mara is more affordable to visit.
  • There is a greater density of wildlife.
  • The wildlife viewing season is larger.
  • It’s easier to visit Masai tribes.
  • Getting to the Masai Mara is faster and easier.
  • Kenya has a more friendly and welcoming culture.
  • Accommodation is cheaper in the Masai Mara.
  • The visa is cheaper for some nationalities.

Masai Mara Cons

  • The landscape is less varied.
  • The Great Migration season is shorter.
  • Your chance of spotting the Big 5 is lower.
  • Masai Mara National Reserve is smaller.
  • There are fewer bird species.
  • There are fewer accommodation options.

Serengeti Pros

  • The Serengeti is better for viewing the Great Wildebeest Migration.
  • Better chance of spotting the Big 5.
  • The landscape is more varied.
  • Serengeti National Park is larger.
  • There are more bird species.
  • There are more accommodation options.

Serengeti Cons

  • The wildlife is more spread out.
  • The Serengeti is more expensive to visit.
  • The prime wildlife viewing season is shorter.
  • Getting to the Serengeti is difficult and time-consuming.
  • Tanzanian culture is a bit less welcoming.
  • Accommodation is more expensive.
  • The visa is more expensive for some nationalities.
Elephants in the Masai Mara in Kenya

Masai Mara National Reserve

The Masai Mara National Reserve, commonly known as the Masai Mara is a wildlife reserve located in southwestern Kenya. Covering an area of 1,510 square kilometers (583 square miles), the Masai Mara is part of the larger Serengeti-Mara ecosystem that spans across the Kenyan and Tanzanian borders. It is named after the Maasai people, the ancestral inhabitants of the area, and the Mara River, which divides the reserve.

The Masai Mara is home to a wide range of wildlife, including the African “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, and a number of bird species.

Visitors to the Masai Mara can explore the park with guided game drives, walking safaris, or hot-air balloon rides. The Masai Mara reserve offers a range of accommodation options, from luxury lodges to budget campsites. The best time to visit the Masai Mara is during the Great Migration, which runs from July to September.

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is located in northern Tanzania. This large park spans 14,750 square kilometers (5,700 square miles).

The park’s name, derived from the Maasai word “Siringet,” means “the place where the land runs on forever.” This describes the endless grasslands that dominate the landscape. The Serengeti is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visitors can expect to experience an incredible array of wildlife, including the Big Five. The park is divided into three main regions: the Serengeti Plains, the Western Corridor, and the Northern Serengeti. Each region offers unique ecosystems and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Tourists can choose from various accommodation options, ranging from luxury lodges to campsites. You can enjoy game drives, hot air balloon safaris, and guided nature walks.

The best time to visit the Serengeti is from late June to August when the Great Wildebeest Migration takes place and during the dry season from December to March when wildlife is easier to spot.

Ngorongoro crater
Ngorongoro Crater

Masai Mara Vs Serengeti

Landscape and Habitats

Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park are both part of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem (also known as the Serengeti ecosystem). Even though they are part of the same ecosystem, their landscapes are not the same. Generally, the Masai Mara is hilly and wooded while the Serengeti has more diverse terrain. The Mara River runs through both parks.

The Serengeti is a much larger park. The area boasts a multitude of habitats, including vast grasslands, savannahs, rocky outcrops (known as kopjes), wooded hills, and dense woodlands. The southern part of the Serengeti is covered in endless grasslands. As you travel north, the landscape becomes more hilly. This area is known as the northern safari circuit. It is the most famous safari destination in Africa. The central Serengeti is famous for its granite rock formations. This varied landscape supports an incredible array of wildlife.

In contrast, the Masai Mara National Reserve offers its own unique landscapes. The terrain in the Masai Mara is characterized by hills, wooded areas, and vast rolling plains. Iconic acacia trees dot the savannah of the central Masai Mara. The Mara River meanders through the park, creating a lush ecosystem. The Mara River is edged by riparian forests.

Winner: The Serengeti has a more varied landscape than the Masai Mara.

In the Masai Mara

The Great Migration (Wildebeest Migration)

The Great Migration is a remarkable natural phenomenon that occurs annually in the Serengeti and Masai Mara. It involves the mass movement of millions of wildebeest, zebras, and Thomson’s gazelles as they journey across the endless plains of Tanzania and Kenya in search of fresh grazing pastures. This event is also known as the Wildebeest Migration.

The Great Migration is considered one of the most spectacular wildlife events on Earth. This awe-inspiring phenomenon typically takes place between July and October. You can view the Great Migration in both parks.

In the Serengeti, the best time to observe the Great Migration is typically between November and July. Due to the park’s larger size, the migration season is longer. There are a number of different places to view the migration.

Calving season, which occurs from January to February, sees thousands of wildebeest being born in the southern Serengeti each day. This event attracts predators, making it an ideal time for visitors to observe the circle of life. Near the end of April, when the calves have grown strong enough to begin their first migration, the wildebeests start making their way north.

Another highlight of the Great Migration in the Serengeti is the Grumeti River crossing, which usually takes place between late May and June. Here, visitors can witness dramatic scenes as the herds brave the crocodile-infested waters in their relentless pursuit of sustenance. The survivors continue toward the Mara River.

A cheetah stalking wildebeest in Masai Mara
A cheetah stalking wildebeest

The Masai Mara also offers an exceptional vantage point to observe the Great Migration. The best time to visit is between August and October.

During this period, the herds make their way into the Masai Mara from the Serengeti, culminating in the iconic Mara River crossing. This dramatic event can be witnessed from both the Serengeti and Masai Mara sides. During the crossing, the animals face treacherous currents, steep banks, and lurking predators in their quest for survival. The best time to view the Mara River crossing is usually around September.

The wildebeests spend around two months in the Masai Mara before heading south back into the Serengeti for the next calving season. The Great Migration occurs every year.

Winner: The Serengeti has a longer season to see the Great Migration. There are also more places to view the migration in the Serengeti.

Park Size

When comparing the size of these parks, the Serengeti is much larger than Masai Mara. The Serengeti covers an area of approximately 14,750 square kilometers (5,700 square miles). To compare, the Masai Mara covers an area of around 1,510 square kilometers (583 square miles). The Serengeti is almost ten times larger.

The Serengeti’s vast expanse offers several benefits to its visitors. You can explore diverse landscapes and habitats without encountering large crowds. The sheer size of the park allows for a more secluded experience, giving tourists the chance to immerse themselves in nature and enjoy the serenity of the African wilderness.

The park’s large size can make it challenging to explore in its entirety. It will take multiple days to fully appreciate the attractions within the Serengeti. It is recommended to spend at least four days in the Serengeti. You will miss some attractions if you only have a day or two. This makes the Serengeti the perfect choice for longer safaris.

Hot air balloons in the Serengeti

The smaller size of the Masai Mara makes it easier for visitors to traverse the reserve and witness its abundant wildlife in a shorter amount of time. This accessibility can be a significant advantage for those with limited time or those seeking a more condensed safari experience. You can see the whole park in a couple of days.

However, the more compact nature of the Masai Mara can sometimes result in increased crowding during peak travel seasons. Particularly around popular wildlife sightings and Mara river crossings.

Winner: The Serengeti is far larger than the Masai Mara.

The Big 5

The Serengeti and Masai Mara both offer some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa. Both parks offer opportunities to observe the African “Big Five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo) as well as numerous other African wildlife species.

The Serengeti is often considered the better choice for a Big Five safari. This is because you have a higher likelihood of spotting all five species there. Particularly the elusive leopard. The expansive park provides an ideal habitat for these majestic predators, increasing the chances of encountering them. Leopards also live in the Masai Mara but sightings are a bit less common. I got lucky and spotted one there but not in the Serengeti.

The Big Five can also be seen in the Masai Mara. In the Masai Mara, you have a higher probability of sighting the rhinoceros. Especially in the western section known as the Mara Triangle. In the Serengeti, rhinos can be spotted in the Central Seronera Valley region Sightings are less frequent compared to the Masai Mara.

Winner: Your chance of seeing the Big 5 is higher in the Serengeti.

Other Wildlife

In addition to the Big Five, both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti are home to a diverse array of other wildlife species, including giraffes, zebras, gazelles, wildebeest, and a range of bird species. These animals can be spotted throughout both parks. The annual Great Migration of wildebeest, zebras, and Thomson’s gazelles between the two parks is a particularly breathtaking spectacle.

As far as wildlife density goes, Masai Mara is the winner. There are more animals per square kilometer. You can see more animals in less time in the Masai Mara. I was surprised by how many animals there were. Just scanning the plains, you’ll see dozens of zebra, giraffes, wildebeest, and gazelle grazing. The animals are a bit more spread out in the Serengeti because the park is so much larger. You’ll have to drive a bit further to find the best viewing locations.

Masai Mara is also the top choice for big cat sightings. There are multiple large prides of lions living in the park. Masai Mara is also one of the top places to view cheetahs. The Serengeti is also a great place for viewing big cats.

For general game viewing in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the best time of year to visit is between June and October. This is the dry season. During this time of year, the animals gather at the water sources, which are quickly dwindling. This makes the animals easier to spot.

Wildlife viewing in the Masai Mara is a bit less seasonal than in the Serengeti. Game viewing is good year-round. This is because rainfall isn’t quite as seasonal as it is further south in the Serengeti.

Winner: Masai Mara has a greater density of animals than the Serengeti. There is also a longer viewing season.


The Serengeti and Masai Mara are both excellent birding destinations. The Serengeti is often considered to be the better destination for birdwatching due to its larger number of species. Around 500 different bird species live in the Serengeti. The Masai Mara, while also abundant in birdlife, hosts a slightly smaller number of species, with around 450 types of birds recorded.

The best time for birding in both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara is during the wet season, which typically spans from November to April. This period is ideal for observing birdlife, as most species are nesting and breeding, resulting in increased activity and vibrant displays. Additionally, the wet season attracts migrating species from Europe and North Africa. This gives you the opportunity to spot some rare and unique species.

Winner: There are more bird species in the Serengeti.

Activities and Experiences

The Masai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park both offer a wide range of exciting activities and experiences. Game drives, night game drives, walking safaris, and hot air balloon rides are available in both parks, providing unforgettable encounters with wildlife and breathtaking landscapes.

Game drives are the most popular activity in the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. They offer visitors the chance to spot diverse wildlife. Guided by experienced drivers and trackers, these drives allow guests to explore the national parks’ varied habitats and witness the incredible interactions between predators and prey.

Both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti can experience crowding, particularly during the peak season and the Great Migration. In my experience, crowds were worse in Masai Mara.

There are private conservancies in both Masai Mara and Serengeti. These private conservancies offer a more exclusive and intimate experience, with a limited number of vehicles permitted.

One potential benefit of the Masai Mara is that you can get a bit closer to the animals. The driver is allowed to drive off-road through the bush right up to the animals. We wouldn’t have seen all of the big 5 if our driver hadn’t driven through the brush to where he suspected a leopard was hiding. After waiting for several minutes, the leopard ran across our field of view in the bushes dragging his freshly killed wildebeest. It was awesome!

safari truck in Maasai Mara National Reserve
Our safari truck in Masai Mara

In the Serengeti, you have to stay on the road. This is probably better for the health of the park and the animals that live inside it, but you just can’t get as close in general. This isn’t too bad though as many times the animals approach the vehicle. We had a pride of lions walking within probably 10 feet of our truck. Almost too close for comfort. We also pulled right up to a group of cheetahs that were laying on a rock in the sun just off the road. The views were great.

Winner: Both national parks offer a range of activities including game drives, night game drives, walking safaris, camping, and hot air balloon rides.

African Culture

The Masai Mara and Serengeti regions both offer the opportunity to explore the rich African culture. Particularly that of the Maasai tribe. The Maasai people are an indigenous semi-nomadic tribe who migrated to Kenya and Northern Tanzania around the 17th century.

Visitors to both the Masai Mara and Serengeti regions have the chance to engage with the Maasai tribe and learn about their fascinating culture, traditions, and way of life. The Maasai people are known for their fierce warriors, distinctive customs, colorful attire, and their unique pastoralist lifestyle.

Travelers can choose to visit Maasai villages, known as manyattas, where they can observe and participate in traditional activities. These cultural experiences provide a deeper understanding of the Maasai tribe’s history, beliefs, and practices, and offer an authentic glimpse into the lives of these interesting people.

It’s a bit easier to visit a Maasai village in the Masai Mara. If you visit the Ngorongoro Crater while visiting the Serengeti, you can also visit a Maasai village there. Some of the safari lodges and campgrounds in and around the national parks also host cultural performances with African music and dancing. These performances may not be too authentic but they are fun to watch.

It’s also worth considering the culture of the country you’re visiting. Kenya is my favorite country that I have visited in Africa. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming, there is lots to do, it’s easy to get around, and the country is simply beautiful. It’s a great place for a vacation.

Tanzania is beautiful as well. Unfortunately, I encountered a lot of hassles and scams while visiting Tanzania including being pickpocketed on a minibus. I also found the people to be much less friendly than people in nearby countries. Maybe I just had bad luck. For more info, read about why I’ll never return to Tanzania.

Winner: It’s easy to visit a Maasai village in Masai Mara. Kenya also has a more friendly and welcoming culture than Tanzania.


There are a wide range of accommodation options to choose from in both the Masai Mara and Serengeti. From rustic tented camps and large resort-style lodges to hotels, both parks offer a variety of choices for visitors with different preferences and budgets. There are budget, mid-range, and high-end luxury accommodations available in and around both parks.

Tented camps are particularly popular in both parks. Most tented camps are fully furnished with canvas tents with twin beds. Some camps offer more basic tents with sleeping pads. Most camps also have a restaurant. Sometimes meals are included with your safari. These are a great choice for those who are on a tighter budget.

Safari lodges are also a popular choice. The lodges are designed to blend into the environment. They are also eco-friendly and offer excellent service, food, and guides. These are a great choice for those who want a more luxurious safari experience.

Masai Mara offers more budget and mid-range accommodation options. Budget-conscious travelers can also find more affordable accommodations outside the park. There are a number of tented camps located nearby. I stayed in a tent camp just outside of the park. There are also camps and lodges located inside the park but they are more expensive.

The Serengeti is renowned for its luxurious lodges. These high-end establishments provide a more exclusive and upscale experience, with top-notch amenities and personalized service. Most Serengeti safaris stay in camps located inside the park. There are also camps and safari lodges outside of the park.

Staying inside the national parks offers a more immersive wildlife experience. However, staying inside the parks can be more expensive. Availability may also be limited during peak travel seasons. Accommodation outside the park is generally more budget-friendly. However, staying outside the park may require additional travel time to access prime wildlife viewing areas. Most Serengeti safaris stay inside the park. Most Masai Mara safaris stay outside.

I highly recommend spending at least one night camping in one of the parks. One of the best nights of my whole trip was camping inside the Serengeti. I saw one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. At night, I spent hours staring up at the milky way. It was one of the clearest night skies I’ve ever seen. There was no light pollution in the middle of the park which made for excellent stargazing. While trying to fall asleep, I could hear hyenas laughing outside the campground. It was a night I’ll never forget. If you plan to do this, I recommend you travel with your own tent to save on rental costs.

Winner: Accommodation is cheaper in the Masai Mara. There are more accommodation options in the Serengeti. The Serengeti has better luxury accommodation options.

Safari Cost

Masai Mara safaris are far cheaper than Serengeti safaris. Everything from park entry to camping to the cost of the guide and truck costs less in the Masai Mara.

Accommodation is cheaper in the Masai Mara. There are campgrounds near the Masai Mara where you can camp for less than $20 per night. You don’t have to stay in the park.

Accommodation is more expensive in and around the Serengeti. When you safari in the Serengeti, you’ll usually have to spend at least one night in the park as well. Staying in the park is also more expensive than staying outside.

Masai mara park entry is also cheaper. Currently, park entry is $70 per day. The entry fee for Serengeti National Park also costs $70 per day. The problem is that you also have to pay the Ngorongoro Crater park fee when you visit the Serengeti, even if you don’t want to visit the Ngorongoro Crater. This is because you must transit through the Ngorongoro Crater conservation area in order to reach the Serengeti.

You are charged an entry fee when you enter the Ngorongoro Crater conservation area. This fee is around $70. When you leave the area and enter the Serengeti, your ticket is void. When you leave the Serengeti the following day, you must pass through the Ngorongoro area again and pay the same $70 entry fee again.

Me at the Ngorongoro Crater

Even if you don’t want to visit Ngorongoro National Park, you are paying around $140 just to be allowed to drive through the park in order to get to the Serengeti. In my opinion, this feels a little scammy. If you want to drive down into the crater, you’ll pay an additional fee of $295 per vehicle. You can share this cost with everyone in your safari vehicle.

If you book a tour, you wouldn’t even notice this because the tour company pays the entry fee for you. Evidently, there is a way to drive around and access the Serengeti directly but they have thought of a way to prevent this by adding gates where you must pay to pass. Essentially a toll road.

Most people book a tour rather than organize an African safari independently. The tours usually cover transportation, accommodation, a guide, a vehicle, park entry, and food. Most Serengeti tourst start from Arusha. Most Masai Mara safaris start from Nairobi.

A 2-day Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater safaris cost about $400-$500. A 2 day safari in Masai Mara costs around $300-$400. If you are traveling in a group you have a bit more bargaining power. You may be able to negotiate a slightly lower rate.

You can also save some money by booking in person rather than booking online in advance. It’s possible to find some good last-minute safari deals in both parks. Particularly if you’re traveling in the off-season or if you have a bit of extra time. If you’re traveling during the peak season to see the Great Migration or if you only have a limited amount of time, it’s best to book in advance so you’re sure to have a seat.

If your Africa travel budget is low like mine was, Masai Mara is the better choice. To save money on a safari in the Masai Mara, you can organize it yourself and travel independently. Check out my guide to visiting the Masai Mara for $180 from NairobiHere, I explain how to organize your own safari step-by-step.

My friend and I tried to visit the Serengeti independently by booking everything ourselves and using public transportation to get there and back. We ended up paying about the same as everyone who booked a tour and dealt with a lot of unnecessary stress and hassles along the way. If you’re visiting the Serengeti, it’s best to just book a tour.

Winner: It is about $200-$300 cheaper to go on a safari in the Masai Mara than the Serengeti.

The Kenya and Tanzania Visa Process

Another cost to consider is the visa. Most travelers need a visa to visit both Kenya and Tanzania. For some travelers, the Tanzania visa is more expensive than the Kenya visa. The Tanzanian visas cost $50 for most nationalities but $100 for Americans.

To compare, the Kenya visa costs $50 for most nationalities. You also can’t take advantage of the East African Visa when you visit Kenya. This visa is valid for Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. It costs $100.

Both visas are easy to obtain. Kenya and Tanzania both have easy-to-use visa programs. You can apply and pay for your visa online.

For more info on visas, check out my African visa guide. 

Winner: The Kenya visa is cheaper for some nationalities. Both visas are easy to get.

Getting There: Transportation to Masai Mara and the Serengeti

Access to both the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara National Reserve is an important consideration for travelers planning an African safari. The mode of transportation and travel times can significantly impact the overall experience and your itinerary.

To reach the Serengeti, most safaris start from Arusha in Tanzania. Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) is the primary entry point for international visitors. Flights from major global cities connect to Arusha via Dar es Salaam or Nairobi. The flight from Nairobi to Arusha takes a little over an hour. The flight from Dar es Salaam to Arusha takes around 2 hours.

Alternatively, you can start from Dar es Salaam or Nairobi and travel to Arusha by road. There are regular bus services. The bus from Nairobi to Arusha takes around 6 hours. The bus from Dar es Salaam to Arusha takes around 10 hours.

Access to the Masai Mara is often more convenient, as most tours begin in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and one of Africa’s largest transportation hubs. Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) offers plenty of international flights, making it an easily accessible starting point.

From Nairobi, visitors can choose to fly or take a bus to the Masai Mara. Flying takes around 45 minutes. Road transfer can take approximately 5 to 6 hours, depending on road conditions and traffic. Regular flights and bus services are available. Private transport is also an option.

Winner: It’s faster and easier to get to the Masai Mara than the Serengeti.

Zebras at a watering hole in the Masai Mara in Kenya

Where is the Best African Safari?

In my opinion, Serengeti offers the best safari experience in Africa. The park is massive and has an incredibly beautiful and varied landscape. Spending the night in the park is one of my top travel experiences.

With that being said, I enjoyed the safari experience in the Masai Mara better. The atmosphere in Kenya was a bit more laid back. It was also significantly cheaper. I felt that it was a great value. I felt ripped off after leaving the Serengeti.

Which park is better for you depends on several factors. When planning your African safari, consider:

  • The season- African safaris are a somewhat seasonal activity. In East Africa, the major draw is the Wildebeest Migration. This event usually runs from June-September. If you’re visiting out of season, the Masai Mara is often a better choice.
  • Your budget- If you’re on a tight budget, Masai Mara is the best choice. If money isn’t really an object, consider the Serengeti.
  • Personal preference- Both parks offer a different experience. For a complete luxury experience, the Serengeti is the best safari park in Africa. For a cultural experience, you may prefer the Masai Mara. If you want to camp in the park Serengeti is the better choice.
  • Where you’re starting your trip- If you are already in one country, just go to the corresponding park. It’s often not worth the hassle to cross the border and go to the other park.

Who Should Choose the Serengeti?

The Serengeti is the better choice for multi-day safaris. If you plan to spend 7 days or more exploring the area, you’ll have more to see in the Serengeti because the park is much bigger. In the Masai Mara, you might run out of places to see after 4 or 5 days.

The Serengeti is also the better choice if you’re traveling to see the Great Migration. There are more places to view the event. The season is also longer.

Those who want to see the Big 5 are also better off visiting the Serengeti. Your chances of spotting the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and African buffalo is higher in the Serengeti.

The Serengeti is also the better choice for luxury travelers. If you want to stay in a 5 star lodge, eat fine food, and be pampered during your stay, the Serengeti offers a better experience.

If you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list type of trip, the Serengeti is also the better choice. It is the most famous safari park in Africa. It is a destination.

Those who are into birding will also prefer the Serengeti. There are more species to spot.

If you’re looking for a beautiful landscape, you will also prefer the Serengeti. The area is much more varied.

Those who want to stay in the park will also prefer the Serengeti. There are more accommodation options inside the Serengeti than in the Masai Mara. You can camp or stay in a lodge.

Who Should Choose the Masai Mara?

If you’re on a tight budget, the Masai Mara is the better choice. The airfare to get there is cheaper. Park entry is cheaper. Accommodation is cheaper. In most cases, the visa is cheaper. You can take a safari to the Masai Mara from Nairobi for under $250 all-inclusive if you organize it yourself.

If you want to see as many animals as possible, you’re also better off going to the Masai Mara. There is an incredible density of animals in the park. While you’re driving around, you’ll see gazelle, zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest everywhere. There are also lots of lions and cheetahs. You’re also more likely to see a rhino.

Those with a limited amount of time are also better off going to the Masai Mara. You can get there faster and more easily. In one day, you can see a big chunk of the park.

Those who are interested in African culture may also prefer the Masai Mara. It’s easier to visit Masai tribes there. Kenyan people are also a bit more open and welcoming of foreigners. You can make friends and chat with people more easily.

If you’re traveling during the off-season, you’re also better off going to the Masai Mara. The wildlife viewing here is a bit less seasonal. Even in the off-season, you can have a great African safari experience and see lots of animals.

My Experience

Zac in the safari truck looking at a giraffe

I took a safari in both parks. First, I took a one-day safari in the Masai Mara with some people I met at a hostel in Nairobi. Later, I took a 2 day safari in the Serengeti.

Personally, I preferred the experience in the Masai Mara. One major reason is that the price was significantly lower. I spent about $200 for a full-day safari. In the Serengeti, I spent closer to $500 for a similar experience. The extra money wasn’t worth it.

It was also easier to visit the Masai Mara. I took a public bus from Nairobi to Narok then caught a taxi to the campground just outside of Masai Mara. The next day, the guide picked me up in the safari vehicle at the campground. We drove to the park. The entrance process was smooth and fast. I paid my entry fee and we drove right in. It just took a few minutes and I didn’t even have to get out of the car. There were no crowds.

Getting to the Serengeti was also pretty easy but the park entrance wasn’t as smooth. I took a bus from Arusha to a campsite outside of the Serengeti. In the morning the guide picked me up and we drove to the park. There were two entry gates to pass through. One into Ngorongoro Conservation Area and then into Serengeti National Park. Both times, I had to get out of the vehicle, wait in a long line, and pay the entry fee. It was a hassle. It also took quite a bit of time.

I also enjoyed the greater density of animals in the Masai Mara. While scanning the plane, I was blown away by the number of animals grazing. There were zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, giraffe, and other species all eating together. It was amazing. In the Serengeti, there weren’t quite as many animals.

The views were better in the Serengeti. The landscape was incredible. There are some magnificent rock formations. The sunset was spectacular. I also saw an excellent view of the Milkey Way at night from camp. Much of the Masai Mara looked the same.

Baboons in the Serengeti
Baboons in the Serengeti. One of these sneaky guys climbed into our safari vehicle and stole some of our food while we weren’t looking.

Final Thoughts

Both Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park offer extraordinary safari experiences. You can’t go wrong with either. The Serengeti’s expansive landscapes and diverse wildlife make it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Meanwhile, the Maasai Mara offers a more concentrated wildlife experience, easier accessibility, and a broader range of budget-friendly accommodations.

Whether you choose the vast plains of the Serengeti or the rolling hills of the Maasai Mara, both destinations offer awe-inspiring views, incredible wildlife encounters, and unforgettable memories. Ultimately, the choice between the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti depends on your personal preferences, budget, and the kind of safari experience you seek.

If you decide to visit the Serengeti, I recommend you don’t book your safari in advance. You can save quite a bit of money by just showing up and booking a tour rather than booking from home. Tours leave every day. Don’t worry about not being able to find one unless you are on an extremely tight schedule.

If you decide to visit Masai Mara, check out my guide: How to Safari in Kenya for Less Than $200: Masai Mara on a Budget. Here, I explain everything you need to know to enjoy a great budget safari including transportation instructions as well as info on booking camping, a car, and a guide. 

Have you gone on an African safari in Masai Mara or Serengeti? Share your experience in the comments below!

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