The Masai Mara and the Serengeti are East Africa’s quintessential definition of a top-notch African safari destination. They both boast high concentrations of wildlife and host one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet, the Great Migration. One is in Kenya and the other is in Tanzania. Ideally, you should plan to visit both, but if you’re only able to go for one, which would it be?
Game Reserve or National Park
Masai Mara is a large game reserve in Narok County in Kenya while the Serengeti National Park lies in northwestern Tanzania bordered to the north by the Kenyan border as it continues into the Masai Mara National Reserve. A national park is an area designated and run by the government, while a game reserve exists specifically for the preservation of wildlife and the wilderness.
Size and travel distance
Masai Mara covers some 580 sq m and it is the northernmost section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which covers 9,700 sq m. You can go on a 3-day Masai Mara game drive safari itinerary which will include a first-day game drive, a full day game drive on the second day and another morning game drive before leaving on the third day.
The Serengeti, on the other hand, covers 5,700 sq m of grassland plains, savannah, riverine forest, and woodlands. Four days and three nights minimum is the time needed to gain maximum benefit visiting the Serengeti. The distance from Nairobi to the Masai Mara by road is 280 km which is 6 hrs 32 mins by road and a flight time of 45 mins. On the other hand, the distance from Arusha to the Serengeti National Park by road is around 235 km, over 4 hrs by road and a flight time of around 48 mins.
Landscape and Sceneries
The terrain of the Mara is primarily open grasslands with seasonal rivulets and in the southeast region are clumps of distinctive acacia trees. The Serengeti is usually described as divided into the Serengeti plains, western corridor, and the northern Serengeti. The Serengeti plains are the almost treeless grassland of the south and are the most emblematic scenery of the park while the black clay soil that covers the savannah of this region is called the western corridor. The northern Serengeti’s landscape is dominated by hills and open woodlands ranging from the Mara River in the Kenyan border to southern Seronera.
Similar to the Serengeti, the dominant inhabitants of the Masai Mara are the wildebeest and their numbers are estimated in the millions. Thompson’s gazelles 500,000, topi 97,000, elands 18,000, and 200, 000 zebras. The Big Five, impalas, duikers, and coke hartebeest can also be found in large numbers. The distinct Masai giraffe dwells here and the large roan antelope and the nocturnal bat-eared fox can be found in the Mara. The Mara also boasts over 450 species of birds.
The Serengeti is popularly known worldwide for its abundance in wildlife and high biodiversity and most of the animals found in the Mara can also be found in the Serengeti but in larger numbers. The Serengeti also boasts over 500 avian species including secretary bird, kori bustards, helmeted guinea fowls, crowned cranes, Masai ostrich, southern ground hornbill and many more. The Grumeti River Forest is a great spot for bird watching.
Entry fees for the Mara are currently around $80 for adult non-East African residents and around $30 for children while the Serengeti charges around $75 per person within 24 hrs for single entry and around $30 for children. Accommodation options include camping tents, tented camps, standard hotels, safari lodges, and luxury hotels.
The Great Migration
The annual migration of close to two million wildebeest, zebra, and other antelopes gather up their young and migrate from the north of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve in search of greener pastures. Their journey covers 1,800 miles and runs in a clockwise circle. The Mara and the Serengeti are the only two places on earth where the Great Migration, a phenomenal event, occurs and that’s one of the reasons they are so popular today.
Other destinations to include on the trip
Destinations usually combined with the Serengeti include Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park, and Tarangire, while the Masai Mara is usually combined with Lake Naivasha, Lake Turkana, Lake Nakuru, and many more.
So what’s your verdict?
The Masai Mara is generally cheaper and you can sweep the park in as little as two days given its smaller size, whereas in the Serengeti, you would need around four days if you want to visit all the regions and it is also more expensive. The Serengeti offers a full-on nature experience being a huge national park, but if you’re after seeing an abundance of wildlife, Masai Mara’s wildlife is competitive in that area, thus making it a great choice for first-timers on a budget with limited time. If you have a higher budget and want to see the great migration and have more immersion into nature, choose the Serengeti. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.