Both this summer and last, I traveled to Africa with the primary intention of going on a safari. The main difference is where I went in Africa. In this article, I am reviewing Masai Mara, Kenya vs. Kruger, South Africa, to determine a better destination for a safari.
Both destinations had pros and cons. Of course, they are quite some distance apart geographically, so the animal sightings have variety. Which is better?
This article is part of my Trip Report: Starting Summer in East Africa including:
Masai Mara, Kenya
I will preface this by saying that my time in Masai Mara was at a luxury safari camp, the JW Marriott Masai Mara. My drives here were in a luxury vehicle and a bit fancier than you will find from my experience in South Africa.
The most important thing for me on a safari is the animal sightings. In my experience, I saw far more cats in Kenya than in South Africa. While we did see some lions in South Africa, it did not compare to the countless lions, leopards, and cheetahs we saw in Kenya. The latter two of which we did not see at all in S.A.
The terrain is also the savannah with vast, wide open plains. This was a magical sight to see. If you did not know, Masai Mara is the same ecosystem as the Serengeti in Tanzania, only separated by a political border, but animals are free to roam in between.
While in Masai Mara, you do have to stay on the roads. However, the definition of roads is loosely given that most roads are just dirt paths. This matters due to how close you can get to certain animal sightings.
Kruger, South Africa
On the other hand, in Kruger National Park, we could see many more rhinos, zebras, and elephants than in Masai Mara. However, we did see all three of these animals multiple times, so it is not impossible to find them by any means. In South Africa, we spent much of our time searching for a leopard unsuccessfully, which gives the leg up to Kenya, but that could simply be our luck.
Kruger, South Africa, was a lot more of a jungle safari. There was a lot more vegetation, particularly tall vegetation, that made it more challenging to see the wildlife. These trees and bushes were magnificent, so it comes down to a preference of whether you like the grassland or dense vegetation.
Kruger, similar to Masai Mara, restricted driving off the road. The benefit of Kruger is that in addition to group game drives in safari vehicles, we could also do self-guided game drives in our rental car. The road was paved, so driving around the national park and seeing the fantastic wildlife was easy. For this, I do need to give the leg up to Kruger.
I forget the exact prices for Kruger National Park, but I know it was far cheaper than Masai Mara. In Kenya, park fees were $70-80 per person per day, a steep price, especially with a larger party. Our family of four in South Africa collectively paid about $75 per day for park conservation and access fees.
Masai Mara, Kenya vs. Kruger, South Africa
Both national parks are stunning and are government owned and regulated. This differs from private game reserves in which private owners have land for game drives, where you can typically go off-roading in search of animals.
Kruger National Park is going to win in terms of accessibility. Not only is it cheaper to access, but it is also easier to drive around. You do not need an all-terrain vehicle, and you can still have fun in a low-quality rental car without a paid guide.
On the other hand, I think that Masai Mara wins in terms of beauty. For me, I love seeing cats on a safari, so the frequent sightings of lions and even multiple times seeing cheetahs and leopards won me over. I also love the savannah’s beauty with vast open plains with many, as my guide put it, “African postcard trees.”
The Last Point
Whether you go to Kenya or South Africa, you are in for a treat. The safaris in both destinations are eye-opening, incredible experiences that are indeed once in a lifetime. I would not hesitate to return to either destination, but I enjoyed my safari in Masai Mara more by ever so slight margins.
In addition to safaris, South Africa and Kenya have much to offer. It is hard to go wrong, from hiking in the mountains to the culture and food in destinations such as Nairobi and Cape Town.
Where is your favorite place that you have traveled to in Africa?