Masai Mara vs Serengeti — which is best for an African Safari? Few people forget their first experiences with East Africa’s wildlife havens, namely Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai Mara and Serengeti, both iconic safari destinations in their own right, share the spotlight as hosts to one of Africa’s most sensational wildlife spectacles: the annual Great Wildebeest Migration.
These two world-renowned safari destinations are part of the same cross-border ecosystem and share many similarities in terms of landscapes and wildlife. But there are distinctions. Which reserve is best for you will be determined not only by your preferences and priorities but also by the time of year you visit. We’ve put together a guide on Masai Mara vs Serengeti — which is best for a safari in Africa?
Location and landscape: Masai Mara vs Serengeti
Covering more than 30 000 square kilometres, the Serengeti National Park is expansive, whereas the Masai Mara is much smaller, spanning 1 510 square kilometres. Both wildlife areas have very similar landscapes, especially where they meet at the Mara river. While most people imagine the Serengeti as a desolate, dry grassland, it has a changing landscape that is largely determined by rainfall. During the green season, there is a flat, golden savannah, lush grassy vegetation, wet season wildflowers around the Ngorongoro Crater, as well as thick forests and lakes. Depending on the region you visit, you’ll discover that the Serengeti boasts an abundance of natural resources and diverse wildlife.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is located within the Great Rift Valley — a 5,600-kilometer fault line that runs from the Red Sea in Ethiopia through Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The Mara offers four distinct types of terrain to visitors. To the east are the Ngama Hills, which have leafy bushes and sandy soil — home to an abundance of rhinos. The Olooloo Escarpment, a towering sheer cliff rock wall, lies to the west, while the Mara Triangle, along the Mara River, features lush grasslands and acacia-filled woodlands, and a diverse range of wildlife, including migrating wildebeest. Lastly, the Mara plains are rolling grasslands dotted with boulders, termite mounds, and the occasional bush.
Wildlife: Masai Mara vs Serengeti
The Masa Mara vs Serengeti wildlife show offers something truly spectacular. Both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. They are best known for the natural phenomenon called the Great Migration — an annual migration of wildebeests between Tanzania and Kenya. But there’s also plenty of local wildlife. Both parks are Big Five destinations with lion, leopard, buffalo, and elephant sightings, as well as cheetah, giraffe, and other animals. Rhinos are rare throughout the ecosystem, but they are more common in the Masai Mara.
The best time to visit: Masai Mara vs Serengeti
While both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara provide year-round wildlife viewing, the change in seasons affects which animals are on the move and which you are most likely to see in large numbers.
The best time to visit the Serengeti
The Serengeti offers incredible wildlife viewing all year, so visitors will have something to see in every season. Though the timing of the wildebeest migration varies from year to year, June and July are the best months to visit. The famous Mara River crossings can be seen in the north of the park around September. February is the best month for wildebeest calving, as well as the best time to see predators in action. The dry months of June to October provide the best opportunities for general wildlife viewing. Overall, wildlife enthusiasts should plan their trips to coincide with the drier months between June and October. Bird watching in the Serengeti is excellent all year, but especially so from November to March.
The best time to visit the Masai Mara
Wildlife viewing in the Masai Mara is typically at its best during the drier months of June to October and December to March. Because of the lack of rain, resident wildlife behaviour concentrates around rivers and waterholes, making wildlife viewing opportunities easier to find. The great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara occurs between July and October when the animals migrate from the drier Serengeti to greener pastures.
The Great Migration: Masai Mara vs Serengeti
One of Africa’s most impressive wildlife spectacles is the annual circular migration of over two million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles. It’s no surprise that many visitors plan their trip to East Africa around it. Because of the Serengeti’s larger size, the great migration lasts longer in the Serengeti than in the Masai Mara.
The months of January and February are ideal for a safari in Southern Serengeti. It’s calving season and thousands of calves are born here every day, attracting a large number of predators. When the calves are strong enough to begin their first migration, the wildebeest and their herd begin moving north in long, noisy columns toward the end of April. They cross the Grumeti River in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor around June and July, which is another migration highlight.
The survivors continue north, eventually reaching the Mara River in August. This river crossing, which is possibly the most exhilarating experience of the great migration, can be seen from both the Serengeti and Masai Mara sides of the ecosystem. Once all of the wildebeest have crossed, they spend about two months in the Mara before returning south to the Southern Serengeti.
Accommodation and Cost: Masai Mara vs Serengeti
A frequently asked question is; what are the accommodation options and costs when it comes to the Masai Mara vs Serengeti? Although both parks offer every level of accommodation, the Serengeti may have the largest selection of small high-end accommodations. There are a few more mid-range options in the Masai Mara, as well as a lot of budget accommodations just outside the reserve. Camping trips to the Serengeti are regularly done within the park, as opposed to budget camping trips to the Masai Mara, which are usually operated outside of the reserve.
A safari in the Masai Mara is generally less expensive than one in the Serengeti. For starters, the Mara has more affordable accommodation options than the Serengeti, with many of them located outside the reserve. Because of the Serengeti’s size and the fact that the primary point of entry is through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, staying outside the Serengeti and entering the park for day visits is not an option. The Masai Mara’s reasonably priced accommodation options are mostly concentrated on the reserve’s eastern edge, which can make the experience quite crowded, especially during peak season.
To book accommodation in the Serengeti, click here.
To book accommodation in the Masai Mara, click here.
Why choose the Masai Mara for your safari?
The Masai Mara is a breathtaking kaleidoscope of wild and rugged landscapes, warm and welcoming people, and an exciting array of wildlife — both big and small. The Masai Mara, world famous for hosting the epic Great Migration, welcomes 1.5 million wildebeests onto its sprawling savannahs from July to October. The Masai Mara National Reserve and conservancies are teeming with life, offering safari visitors a diverse range of activities. From a sunrise hot-air balloon adventure to a guided safari experience, the Masai Mara will leave you with unforgettable experiences and lifelong memories.Masai Mara Tours
Why choose the Serengeti for your safari?
Apart from the theatrics of the Great Migration, the Serengeti’s sheer size distinguishes it from other wilderness areas. The Serengeti, one of Africa’s Seven Wonders, is one of the most important ecosystems on the planet, supporting an abundance and diversity of wildlife and birdlife that is difficult to match anywhere else. The national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also has the highest concentration of large predators in the world.
It has been brought to life in film and literature, and it continues to inspire writers, photographers, and travellers worldwide. Its lion prides, the millions of wildebeest and zebra, and the endless expanses of open grasslands combine to form Africa’s most powerful and alluring stage performance.Serengeti Tours