Maasai Mara or Serengeti?
The great Maasai Mara by air
Firstly, what is the difference? Both are arguably the two most well-known wildlife regions in the world, certainly, the top ones that come to mind for a good safari — besides possibly Kruger in South Africa — but why all this hype?
For starters, they are actually the same, only separated by one of those pesky country borders. Hence, the two different names. Maasai Mara National Reserve is in Kenya with Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania. Let’s have a quick look at the differences before our verdict.
Let’s start with size. It’s not even close. The Serengeti is about ten times the size of the Maasai Mara. Combined, these two parks are about the size of Belgium and create one of the largest protected ecosystems in the world. Both are home to an amazing array of animals with incredible encounters available on both sides of the border. And if the large game isn’t your flavour, there are around 500 bird species in either park, something not to miss as birds are incredibly inventive, colourful and boisterous.
The mighty Serengeti. Its name comes from the Maasai language, translating to “endless plains.” Among the iconic wide grasslands, there are strange rocky anomalies, often home to the big cats and rock hyrax. On one of these rocky stages was the only leopard we encountered in our whole time in Africa. Leopards are part of the big five — lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino — partly because of how elusive they are. And the best we could come to this one was about 100m away. Which is a shame but mostly a blessing. Drivers in the Serengeti are not allowed off-road, having to stick to the gouged 4WD routes. This helps protect the ecosystem and the animals, for they were here long before us!
"The Big 5"
In contrast, within the Maasai Mara, we had some of our favourite and closest encounters across the whole of our 3 months in Africa. These were a true privilege, with cheetahs and lions almost within touching distance. We were lucky to spot various babies, lots of scavenger animals, myriads of birds, and all the large herbivores. We were also incredibly fortunate here that after our bougie splurge with a hot air ballooning experience and en route to our champagne breakfast, we spotted lions who proceeded to stand up and copulate. An unforgettable morning to be sure.
Some unforgettable encounters
So, what was our favourite? We appreciated the Serengeti’s respect for the environment more than within the Maasai Mara, particularly when we saw animals panic from cars being too invasive or too loud. In the Serengeti, we also saw our only leopard and we had great experiences watching a cheetah mother shielding her five cubs and a pride of lions wrestling. However, in terms of true animal encounters, we had more luck in the Maasai Mara with a greater concentration and diversity of animals within a similar time frame. Luck undoubtably plays a huge part in any safari with no guarantee of sightings, kills, mating, babies or otherwise. You can improve your chances by staying for longer periods, booking a knowledgeable guide, and coming in the appropriate season based on your desire (be it for babies, the great migration, dry or wet season). But ultimately, nothing is guaranteed. Just like in life!
Maasai Mara, Kenya