23rd June 2024

Serengeti vs Masai Mara – Which is Better for an African safari?

A small lion cub cuddles up to it's older brother, they are laying on the floor with their heads are pushed together in the Masai Mara, Kenya.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (however affiliate links may be used, including Amazon Associates, which mean I earn commissions on purchases at no extra cost to you) and all thoughts are my own.

East Africa claims to be the “home of safari”, and I’m not going to argue with this claim, so there’s only one real competition to be had, which is better? The Serengeti or the Masai Mara?

Can you visit both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in one trip?

I was privileged enough to visit both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in June/July 2023 on an epic Africa overland trip from Cape Town to Nairobi, which you can read all about here! So of course, I’d say that you have the time and the budget, there’s nothing stopping you from seeing both.

I booked my trip with Intrepid Travel. My 64 day Africa Encompassed Northbound tour was made up of 4 shorter back-to-back tours. The two tours that would cover both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara would be “Zanzibar to Nairobi” (12 days) and “Gorillas and Gameparks” (16 days) – one day of each tour overlaps in the middle. They can be booked as one continuous tour here – “Beaches, Game Parks and Gorillas” (27 days).

If you have less time to spare, Intrepid offer a 13 day “East Africa Safari & Coast” tour that covers both national parks. In both instances, I’d recommend spending extra some time in Zanzibar at the start or end of your tour (depending on which way you are travelling).

Before you sign up to an Africa overland tour (like those listed above), you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. You can read my post on whether an Africa Overland Tour is for you here. If you want a higher level of luxury (camping, chores and a big truck won’t suit everyone!), there are plenty of other options for you!

An elephant hiding behind a tree, raising his trunk and looking at the camera in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Which park is more accessible?

Both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara cover huge areas of land, so the exact travel time will depend on the location of your accommodation.

Despite the two parks being in different countries, Nairobi airport can be used to access both. From Nairobi airport, a journey to the Masai Mara may take 3-5 hours by car or 1 hour by plane (to one of the 6 airstrips located just outside the Masai Mara National Reserve). By comparison, it would take 6-8 hours by car to reach the Serengeti from Nairobi airport, or you could fly to one of the Masai Mara airstrips and drive across the Kenya/Tanzanian border into the Serengeti. You should check your visa requirements for both Kenya and Tanzania if you are hoping to fly into Nairobi and then travel to the Serengeti.

The Serengeti is also accessible from two Tanzanian airports (Arusha and Kilimanjaro, which are located close to each other) by way of a 6-8 hour drive, depending on where you are staying within the park.

If you are travelling from the UK, generally flights to Nairobi are cheaper than Arusha/Kilimanjaro. Flights to Nairobi are also quicker. A direct flight from London to Nairobi is 8.5 hours, whereas you are more likely to require a connecting flight (taking 11.5+ hours) to reach Arusha/Kilimanjaro from London.

If you’re short on time and hoping to fly in and fly out of your safari destination, the Masai Mara is therefore slightly more accessible.

Bungalows overlooking the beach and ocean on Zanzibar.

Where else can you visit alongside the Serengeti and the Masai Mara?

Due to the close location of the parks, both options can be combined with other incredible destinations.

However, if you are budget-conscious or lacking in time, you may wish to stay within one country only. As a UK resident and British citizen, visas for most countries within East Africa cost between 50 and 100 USD each. Moving between various countries can therefore become expensive. If you are planning to travel overland, border crossings can also be time-consuming (even if there aren’t queues, the systems can be slow and inefficient!)

Tanzania

If you want to stay within Tanzania only, a common multi-destination holiday combines an adventurous safari in the Serengeti with the beauty and relaxation of Zanzibar. Both are incredible bucket-list destinations and well worth your time.

Of course, Tanzania is also home to Mount Kilimanjaro, a must-see destination for the active and adventurous. If I ever return to Tanzania, I would definitely consider doing the hike (although who am I kidding, I get out of breath going up the stairs).

My favourite lesser known destination within Tanzania was the Usambara Mountains. A mountain rage filled with luscious green beautiful views, tropical rainforest and colourful small villages.

If the Serengeti didn’t fulfill your safari fix, there are plenty of other national parks to choose from within Tanzania.

Kenya

Similarly, Kenya is filled to the brim with incredible destinations. Kenya is a country that I feel I didn’t truly see (aside from The Masai Mara and Nairobi) and I am desperate to return to!

Within the hustle and bustle of Nairobi are some fantastic places to visit. I particularly loved The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (home to orphaned elephants and rhino) and visiting The Giraffe Center. No doubt, your Instagram feed will have been blessed with photos of guests enjoying breakfast with the resident giraffes at Giraffe Manor – if you’ve got cash to flash, and book early enough in advance, this is a truly unique hotel.

If hiking is on your agenda, Mount Kenya is the place for you. If hiking isn’t on your agenda, a helicopter ride over the peak may be more to your liking!

Of course, there are a whole host of other national parks to visit within Kenya – uniquely, Nairobi National Park sits right on the edge of the capital city! I would love to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to the largest population of endangered black rhino in East Africa. For incredible scenery, cycling and hiking, head to Hell’s Gate National Park.

After all that excitement, you will need some time to relax! Thankfully, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Lamu Island are filled with beautiful beaches perfect for resting.

Two lionesses standing on a rock watching their prey (a buffalo, not pictured) while another two lionesses stand behind them on the ground.

Which is better for animal sightings?

As far as wildlife sightings go, you can’t go wrong with either option, but I personally had a better experience in the Masai Mara.

Both national parks benefit from the Great Migration, a once-in-a-lifetime sighting where thousands of wildebeest travel across the great plains in search of water. The exact dates of the migration can’t be guaranteed (the wildebeest don’t keep calendars) and each national park is so large that you’d need to check with your safari lodge/tour guide on the best time to witness the Great Migration in that exact area. Sadly, I missed out on the Great Migration in both parks, but that doesn’t mean that I had a bad time!

If you want to see the Great Migration, you may have better chances in the Serengeti. As the Serengeti is a substantially larger area than the Masai Mara, the Great Migration period is longer.

In my experience, the Masai Mara is the place to be if you want to spot big cats. I had been on many different safaris during my 9 weeks travelling from Cape Town to Nairobi and no other national park came close to the Masai Mara for big cat sightings. It felt like we were accidentally stumbling across a lion, a leopard or a cheetah every 10 minutes! We even got to witness a pride of lionesses unsuccessfully hunting a buffalo. What an incredible way to finish off 9 weeks of travel in Africa!

While the Masai Mara is the place to be for big cats, the Serengeti provided me with a wider variety of animals. However, the Serengeti is far bigger than the Masai Mara, so the wildlife density isn’t as great. This means you can be driving for a long time between wildlife sightings. I also didn’t have the best luck with the weather in the Serengeti, and I potentially missed out on wildlife sightings due to poor visibility – hopefully you will have better luck than me on your trip!

The view of a sunrise from a hot air balloon over the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Which national park is prettier?

Surprisingly, each African national park I have had the pleasure of visiting has a distinct look/feel; this is something I was surprised by! That being said, the Serengeti and the Masai Mara are relatively similar in appearance given they form part of the same ecosystem.

The Serengeti is far bigger, so if you’re looking for the classic vast African savannah landscape, the Serengeti is the place for you. The proximity of the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater means you can easily visit both in one trip. If you get bored of the flat plains of the Serengeti (although I’m not sure how you could), the beauty of the mountainous Ngorongoro Crater will appeal to you. Sadly, my time in the Serengeti was marred slightly by really poor weather, and the fog in the Ngorongoro Crater meant I didn’t experience all of it’s beauty.

Don’t worry, you’ll certainly get your fair share of sprawling plains in the Masai Mara too. However, given the national park is slightly smaller, you may find that you stumble across the various microhabitats more frequently.

Beautiful gazelle laying down in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Which park is cheaper?

It’s somewhat of a myth that safaris are expensive and only enjoyable for the wealthy. While a safari can be extremely expensive, budget options are generally available.

Historically, the Serengeti has been the more expensive option, but recent increases in the Masai Mara National Reserve’s entry fees have somewhat balanced the scales.

However, the Masai Mara continues to be cheaper in the following areas:

RELATED: Do you want to experience a luxury safari without breaking the budget? Read my tips on how to plan an affordable trip to Kruger National Park here!

Two lionesses looking for a hunt in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Which park has the best accommodation?

Both parks have a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and styles, although I found that the Masai Mara has a wider range (both at the lower and higher ends of available budgets!)

I visited both parks on an Intrepid overlanding camping tour, so sadly haven’t experienced the luxury lodges that each park has to offer! In the Serengeti, I stayed at a public campsite without any fences protecting us from the wilderness! It was incredible to hear lions roaring throughout the night, but I appreciate most people wouldn’t be fond of the lack of toilet/bathroom facilities!

Assuming you’re looking for a more comfortable/luxurious affair, below are some fantastic options (estimate costs are based on a room for 2 people).

Masai Mara:

Serengeti:

Hot air balloons floating over the Serengeti National Park at sunrise

Which park is better for hot air balloon rides – Serengeti vs Masai Mara?

Hot air balloon rides are available in both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, and both are incredible! But there are some differences that you should be aware of. A full article on this will be coming soon!

Helen's Place for Victims of FGM in Tepesua Village, Kenya

Which park is better for cultural experiences?

While many places in the Serengeti will promote experiences surrounding the Masai people and their culture, we were recommended by our guides (both within Intrepid and our safari drivers) to avoid these “tourist traps” within the Serengeti and instead wait until we reached the Masai Mara for a more authentic experience.

The Masai tribe are known as fierce warriors, and they call the Masai Mara their home. We had the pleasure of visiting Tepesua Village, to learn more about the Masai culture. Tepesua Village is also home to Helen, an inspiring and fierce woman who fights for the rights of young girls, giving them an education and the choice to choose their future.

Side profile of an ostrich in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Who wins? Serengeti vs Masai Mara?

As you’ll have probably worked out from the above post, you will have a fantastic time in either the Serengeti or the Masai Mara. Safari is one of my favorite activities in the world and these are two of the premier destinations for it!

If I had to pick one park, the Masai Mara would win based on my personal experience. However, it’s somewhat of an unfair battle given the weather in the Serengeti affected our experience, and the Masai Mara ended my incredible 9 week trip, so I will always look back on my time there fondly.

Two giraffes walking towards the camera in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Other Articles About Africa Overland Tours

If you’re considering booking an Africa overland tour, you should read my other posts too (especially if you’re looking to book with Intrepid!):

  • My experience and review of an Intrepid Africa overland tour – CLICK HERE
  • Is an Africa overland tour right for you? CLICK HERE
  • Everything you need to know about an Africa overland tour [COMING SOON]
  • What to pack for an Africa overland tour CLICK HERE
  • How much does an Africa overland tour actually cost? CLICK HERE
  • What can go wrong on an Africa overland tour? CLICK HERE
  • My Africa Overland Tour Diaries – Cape Town to Victoria Falls [COMING SOON]
  • My Africa Overland Tour Diaries – Victoria Falls to Zanzibar [COMING SOON]
  • My Africa Overland Tour Diaries – Zanzibar to Nairobi [COMING SOON]
  • My Africa Overland Tour Diaries – Kenya and Uganda [COMING SOON]
  • Is gorilla trekking in Uganda ethical? CLICK HERE
  • Which national park is better? The Masai Mara or The Serengeti? CLICK HERE
  • Where is the best place in East Africa to take a hot air balloon ride? [COMING SOON]

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