Serengeti Vs Maasai Mara: Which One Is Better Safari Destination

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Africa has many amazing safari destinations as the continent serves as a natural habitat for wildlife, has a favorable climate and beautiful landscapes.

The Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are two of the most popular destinations for tourists around the world.

Choosing which one to visit between the two may not be the easiest thing, and that is where this article comes in.

Interestingly – Maasai Mara and Serengeti are adjacent to each other and could have easily been the same park if they did not lie in different countries.

The latter is just south of the former, and the two have a joint ecosystem referred to The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which covers an area of over 11 583 square miles.

The border between the two parks is unfenced, which allows wildlife to roam freely between the two parks.

About Maasai Mara National Reserve

Locally referred to as ‘The Mara,’ the Masai Mara National Reserve is located in the South Eastern part of Kenya, in Narok county.

Best time travel Maasai Mara Africa
Best time travel Maasai Mara

Established in 1961, the park received its national reserve status in 1974. It is pretty vast and covers an area of 585 square miles.

The park is named after the habitats of the region, the Maasai people.

The ‘mara’ bit of the name is from the Maa language, as spoken by the Maasai, to mean ‘spotted place.’

This is in reference to the circles of trees and scrubs that punctuate the savanna plain.

About Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park is in Northern Tanzania, northwest of the Ngorongoro conservation area.

The great Lake Victoria is to the West of the park.

Serengeti in Tanzania safari
Serengeti in Tanzania

It was proclaimed a national park in 1951, which is almost two decades before The Mara was upgraded to the same level.

The park is significantly bigger than the Mara as it covers an extensive area of 5700 square miles.

For This Reason – The Serengeti would be the perfect destination for you if you want to experience the vast African savannahs at their best.

Just like the Mara, the Masai people are the dominant community around the park.

The name Serengeti is also a derivative of the Maa language. It is derived from ‘seringit’, which means ‘endless plains.’

What is Maasai Mara National Reserve Popular For?

The annual wildebeest migration is arguably the main attraction to The Mara.

This is where millions of wildebeests and other grazers cross the mara river in what is the biggest animal migration in the world.

The migration is such grandeur that it has been marked as one of the seven wonders of the world.

Furthermore, the migration attracts predators because of the availability of easy prey.

Crocodiles, lions, and leopards come out in numbers to catch food, which at the time, is in plenty and easily accessible.

The Mara is also home to the Big 5:

  1. lions
  2. elephants
  3. buffalos
  4. leopards
  5. rhinos

Usually, it is uncommon to find all of them in one location.

At the Mara, you will spot each one of these animals within 2 to 3 hours of your game drive.

Enjoy looking Wildebeest Migration
Maasai Mara National Reserve

In addition, the reserve has the biggest rhino population in Africa. It is the only protected area in Kenya with an indigenous rhino population.

The hot Air Balloon Safari experience is also to die for, and people travel from far and wide just to absorb the entire Mara topography from an aerial view.

The ride lasts for an hour or more, depending on the weather, and it starts very early in the morning such that you can actually catch the sunrise.

You will catch unforgettable live actions of wildlife hunting, snoozing, mating, or migrating.

You will also get very nice shots for your Instagram or photo collection. The ride ends with a leisurely ‘champagne bush breakfast.’

You can also experience the exhilaration of encountering the best of the reserve while on top of another animal through the Horseback safaris.

It is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else.

What is Serengeti National Park Popular For?

If you want to see wildlife in a vast unspoiled natural environment, then Serengeti is your place.

It has about 70 species of large animals, which is the highest concentration in the world.

The large diversity of animals is thanks to the diverse habitats in the national park, which include:

  • swamps
  • grasslands
  • kopjes
  • riverine forests

Serengeti has the biggest population of lions, at over 3000. It is the best place to observe them in prides.

With over 518 bird species, including ostriches, flamingos, and vultures, the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of Africa’s Endemic bird areas.

Five of the bird species here are not found anywhere else in the world.

Serengeti also boasts 1000 African leopards and about 8000 spotted hyenas.

Leopard hunting
Leopard prepared for hunting

It is also very thrilling to see the largest land animal, the African elephant, in its natural habitat.

Another intriguing fact about Serengeti is that it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1981.

Just like the Mara, Serengeti also hosts the annual Wildebeest migration, where millions of wildebeests move from the Ngorongoro conservation area, looping clockwise through Serengeti towards the Maasai Mara.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Maasai Mara?

Simply put, there is no better time than the present.

You will have a spectacular experience at the Mara any time of the year. There is always something to see and marvel about.

The park has a high density of wildlife throughout the year, and you are likely to see more than just the Big 5 during your visit.

lions fighting food Aafrican safari
Lions fighting over food

However, if you wish to witness the Great Migration, you should travel to the reserve between July and August.

The wildebeests attract many predators, which results in a marvelous hunting show.

Also, it is relatively drier during this time, so there is less vegetation, and, therefore, it is easier to see wildlife more clearly.

Most travelers plan to go around the Great Migration time.

Even Better – January to March is also a great time to go to The Mara as it is the lion’s season. This is when the king of the jungle comes to hunt.

It is usually immediately after the rainy season when herbivores have a baby boom and wander a lot looking for food and water, attracting the big cats. 

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Serengeti?

Just as is the case with the Mara, there is no bad time to travel to Serengeti.

Ideally, though, the best time to visit the park would be between January to February and between June to September when it is not raining.

Best time of the year totravel to safari destination
Best time travel to Serengeti safari destination

The region rains in April and May, which causes many lodges and camps to close.  

If you are looking to experience the Great Migration, then December to July would be the best time to visit Serengeti.

Similarly, if your goal is to see predators on hunting sprees, then June to October would be a perfect time to visit the park.

For Bird Watchers – The best time to go to Serengeti is between November and April.

During this time, there is a wide variety of birds mainly because European and North African birds would be present, and it is also the nesting time for resident species.

African Gray Hornbill
African Gray Hornbill

When you go to Serengeti, it is advisable to stay for 3 to 4 days if you want to see everything, as the reserve is so vast.

This is especially when you want to capture good pictures for Instagram or just memories.

Serengeti Vs. Mara: Which Is the Better Place to Watch the Great Migration?

Both Serengeti and Masai Mara are homes to the Great Migration.

Wildebeests cross over from Serengeti to The Mara every year. The better place to see the Great Migration depends on the stage of the migration.

If it is the early stage when wildebeests are starting to leave Serengeti, then Serengeti it is.

Facts Wildebeest migration time
Facts about Wildebeest migration

If you want to see the Mara River action, which is admittedly very exciting to watch, then Masai Mara would be the best place.

Still, Serengeti has a longer window of time for watching the migration than Masai Mara.

This is because Serengeti is way larger than Mara, so the bigger part of the Great Migration takes place here.

The Mara hosts the Great Migration for only two months.

When Is the Best Time to Watch the Great Migration In Serengeti?

The vastness of the Serengeti means that there are different times when you can see the Great Migration.

For instance, if you want to witness the wildebeests and the other plain animals crossing the Grumeti River, then June would be the best time to head to Serengeti.

Great wildebeest migration tour guide
Great wildebeest migration

If you want to see the herds traversing across the Serengeti Plains in northern Serengeti, then May to June would be the best time.

The Migration kicks off in Southern Serengeti between January and February when the herds move south to breed.

The calving season attracts hundreds of predators, giving a spectacular live show of hunting.

When Is the Best Time To Watch The Great Migration In Masai Mara?

Depending on the rains, the vast herds of wildebeests arrive in Mara in July or in August.

The herds are in Mara until October.

The main act of the show is arguably when the animals are crossing the Mara River, and it takes place in September.

Serengeti Vs. Maasai Mara: Which Is the Best for Those Who Want to Experience the Masai Culture?

In both Maasai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park, the Maasai are the dominant community surrounding the parks.

As we have seen above in the article, the names of the parks originate from the Maa language, which is spoken by the Maasai.

Visiting Maasai Mara Park
Visiting Maasai Mara Safari

So, when you visit either game park, you are very likely to interact with the Maasai.

The Maasai culture is intriguing because it is one of the remaining untapped cultures worldwide.

The people have held on to their traditional lifestyle as was practiced by their ancestors.

They still wear their traditional attire, live in their traditional houses, and practice nomadism as they always have.

Both Serengeti and Mara will offer cultural tours of the community, but Maasai Mara would be the better option.

Narok County – Where the park is situated, is the biggest Maasai town in Kenya. The Narok museum, which is nearby, is packed with the culture and traditions of the Maasai people.

Serengeti Vs. Maasai Mara: Affordability

Maasai Mara National Reserve

In Maasai Mara, the amount of money you spend will depend on the location of the camp or lodge you will be staying in at the reserve.

Staying inside the main reserve attracts a fee of $70 for adult non-East Africans and $40 for non-East African children under 12 for every 24 hours spent in the reserve.

Elephants from Maasai Mara safari
Elephants from Maasai Mara

It is free for children under the age of 3.

Accommodation outside the main reserve is slightly more expensive.

You will pay $80 if you are an adult and $45 for every child between the ages of 3 and 12. Again, it is free for children below the age of 3.

The rate for East Africans at the Mara is significantly lower.

An adult pays $ 9.96 (KSH 1200) inside the main reserve, and a child $4.15 (KSH 500).

It is even cheaper for Kenyan citizens as an adult pays $8.30 (KSH 1000) while a child pays only $2.49 (KSH 300).

Kenyan residents are required to produce an identification card to prove that they are citizens.

Most of the packages include the entry fee, but it is advisable to check with your tour operator to be sure.

Hunting season lions
Hunting season

Payment can be made either in United States dollars or Kenya shillings, depending on your convenience or preference.

Cashless modes of payment accepted include Visa, Mastercard, or Mpesa.

Serengeti National Park

The Tanzania National Park Authority manages Serengeti.

Access to the park will cost non-East-African tourists $60 (TZS 139,900), with children between the ages of 5 -15 required to pay $30 (TZS 69,960).

Non-East African kids below the age of 5 can access the park for free. These rates are valid for 24 hours in the park.

The rate for East African adults is $30 (TZS 69,960), while for kids aged between 5 and 15 is $10 (TZS 23,320), which is incredibly affordable.

Visitors can pay at the entrance of the park or any of the gates, for that matter. The park has introduced a smart card system to pay for access to the park.

Serengeti Vs. Masai Mara: Which Safari Destination Is More Affordable?

Comparatively, Mara safaris are more affordable than Serengeti safaris.

The reason behind this is that there are many fairly-priced safari lodges very close to the reserve.

In Contrast – There are very few budget safari lodges around Serengeti. Most of the accommodation is inside the park.

Therefore, while you can take day safaris in the Maasai Mara to save on costs, you can’t do that in the Serengeti.

Lions African Safari drinking water
Small lions drinking water

For one, the park is too huge to see everything in just one day.

Both Maasai Mara and Serengeti receive hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

While most visitors are attracted by the wildlife, there are those that want to enjoy the vast landscapes of the parks.

At an annual average of 300,000 visitors, Maasai Mara receives slightly more visitors than Serengeti, which welcomes about 200,000 tourists yearly.

How To Get To The Parks?

Maasai Mara National Reserve has six gates, including:

  1. the Sekekani gate to the east
  2. the Oloololo gate on the northeastern side
  3. the Oloolaimutia gate to the east
  4. the Musiara gate to the east
  5. Talek gate on the north-western side
  6. Sand River gate on the southern part of the reserve

The gates make it easy to access the park from different directions.

The closest gate to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is the Sekekani gate to the east.

African safari Maasai Mara National Rreserve Kenya
Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

It is 139 miles from Nairobi, and you can access it by road or flight. If you are taking a flight, you can catch a plane from either Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airstrip to the Narok Airstrip.

The Serengeti National Park is 208 miles from Arusha.

You can drive there or take a flight to save time since a drive will be pretty long.

Keep In Mind – If you are driving to the park, it is recommended that you stop by the Ngorongoro crater and enjoy the view before proceeding with the drive.

The park has seven airstrips for people traveling by air.

That said, Kenya has more infrastructural development, which makes access to the park quite easy.

Which Is the Better Safari Destination? Serengeti Or Maasai Mara?

Both Maasai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park are amazing safari destinations.

Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya
Maasai Mara National reserve in Kenya

They are basically the same park, only that they are in different countries.

Serengeti is just to the south of The Mara, and wildlife can freely wander between the Mara and the Serengeti.

For instance, wildebeests move from Serengeti to the Mara in what is referred to as the Great Migration, one of the world’s seven wonders.

You could visit both parks simultaneously if you have enough time and resources.

However, each park has perks that put it above the other – it all depends on what you want to experience.

For instance, if you have your heart set on seeing the Big 5, then Serengeti would be better. It is easier to spot leopards in Serengeti than in Mara.

Serengeti park
Serengeti National park

If you want to catch all the action of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, then you want to go to Maasai Mara.

Also, the Mara has a higher concentration of wild animals compared to Serengeti, so it is more likely to see more animals in a comparatively shorter time.

Final Thoughts

The Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park in East Africa, are some of the best on the continent.

They are home to different types of wildlife, such as the African elephant and thousands of lions, which you won’t find anywhere else.

They also boast the reputation of being the home for the annual Great Migration, a globally-anticipated occurrence.

You will not have experienced the true spirit of East Africa if you don’t visit at least one, if not both.

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