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

by wheretheroadforks

Maasai Mara and Serengeti are two of the most popular game parks in all of Africa. Even though the parks are just across the border from each other, the safari experience is quite different. In this article, I list the pros and cons of going on a safari in the Maasai Mara Vs. the Serengeti.

Maasai Mara Pros

safari truck in Maasai Mara National Park

Our safari truck in Maasai Mara

  • You can get closer to the animals in Maasai Mara- 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!
  • Maasai Mara is much cheaper- Everything from park entry to camping to the cost of the guide and truck costs less in the Maasai Mara. If your Africa travel budget is low like mine was, this is the park to go to. You can read my article on how you can visit the Maasai Mara for about $180 from Nairobi
  • The park is less busy- There were areas where you would be viewing the animals with groups of trucks, but for most of the day we were exploring the park on our own.
  • Maasai Mara is in Kenya- This is my favorite country in Africa. People are friendly, it’s more affordable than Tanzania, and the country is simply beautiful. You can also visit my favorite African city, Nairobi while you’re there.
  • The visa situation is better in Kenya- A single entry visa costs $50. For $100, you can purchase the East Africa Visa which allows you to travel freely between Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The Tanzanian visa costs $50 for most nationalities but $100 for Americans. For more info on visas, check out my African visa guide. 

Maasai Mara Cons

  • The landscape is less varied- Most of the Maasai Mara is grassy plains. This is excellent for spotting animals, but the landscape is just not as impressive as the Serengeti.
  • Maasai Mara is a much smaller park- You can see most of the park in a day or two. If you are planning on going on a weeklong safari, you will probably want more territory to explore.
  • Fewer facilities are available- If money is no object and you’re looking for a luxury safari experience, Maasai Mara has fewer options. 

Serengeti Pros

  • The Serengeti is a much bigger park- You could spend weeks touring the area and not see it all. It is a massive amount of territory. 
  • The landscape is more varied- You will drive through desert and grasslands when entering the park. There are interesting rock formations where lions like to relax. There are unique tree species that you don’t see outside of Africa.
  • Serengeti has better facilities- We stayed at the cheapest campground available outside of both parks and the facilities were nicer outside Serengeti. Though it was slightly more expensive. If you don’t have a budget, you can stay in a lodge with every luxury you could need at either park. The Serengeti does have more options for accommodation as well.
  • Camping in the park- One of the best nights of the whole trip was camping inside the Serengeti. I saw one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. Later, I spent hours staring up at the milky way after the sun went down. 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. 
Giraffes and Zebra in the Maasai Mara

Giraffes and Zebra in the Maasai Mara

Serengeti Cons

  • You have to stay on the road- This is probably better for the health of the park and 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 walk 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.
  • Serengeti is much more expensive- The cheapest you’ll get away with a 2 day safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater is about $350-400. If you are traveling in a group you have a bit more bargaining power. Even then, the park fees are very high. We tried to go independently by booking everything ourselves and using public transportation to get there and back. We ended up paying about the same as everyone else and dealt with a lot of unnecessary stress and hassles along the way.
  • You are paying the Ngorongoro crater park fee twice when you visit the Serengeti even if you don’t want to visit the Ngorongoro crater- If you book a tour, you wouldn’t even notice this because the tour company pays the entry fee for you. In order to get to the Serengeti, you must pass through Ngorongoro park. You are charged an entry fee at this time. When you leave the park, your ticket is void. When you leave the Serengeti the following day, you are paying the same entry fee again. Even if you don’t want to visit Ngorongoro National Park, you are paying $150 just to be allowed to drive through the park in order to get to the Serengeti. 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.
  • Serengeti is in Tanzania- I encountered a lot of hassles and scams in Tanzania including being pickpocketed on a minibus. For more info, read about why I’ll never return to Tanzania.
  • The visa costs more- Tanzanian visas cost $50 for most nationalities but $100 for Americans. You also can’t take advantage of the East African Visa.

Where is the Best African Safari? Maasai Mara Vs. Serengeti

In my opinion, Serengeti offers the best safari experience in Africa. The park is massive and has an incredibly beautiful and varied landscape. With that being said, I enjoyed Maasai Mara more mostly because of the lower cost and more laid back atmosphere of Kenya.

Which park you visit really depends on your circumstances, the season, and personal preference. 

  • Consider the season- African safaris are a seasonal activity. Each park has something unique to offer. In East Africa, the major draw is the Wildebeest migration. For help with scheduling, check out the excellent article ‘When’s the Best Time to Go on a Safari in Africa?‘ from Intrepidtravel.com.
  • If you have a smaller budget and less time- Maasai Mara is the best choice. 
  • If you are already in one country, just go to the corresponding park- It’s not worth the hassle to cross the border and go to the other park. It would take about 2 days on buses to travel from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara because you would have to go around and cross the border.
  • For a complete, luxury experience- The Serengeti is the best safari park in Africa. 

Final Thoughts on Maasai Mara Vs. Serengeti Safari

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 Maasai Mara, check out my guide: How to Safari in Kenya for Less Than $200: Maasai 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 Maasai Mara or Serengeti recently? Share your experience in the comments below!

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