Kruger vs Masai Mara: Which National Park is Calling to You?

Africa is home to the most incredible safari experiences worldwide, but how do you choose between Kruger National Park and Maasai Mara?

Africa is home to the most diverse wildlife in the entire world, making it the number one destination for safari holidays and tours. With protected areas and reserves offering unforgettable safari experiences all over the continent, travellers are more than spoiled for choice.

Two of the most popular safari destinations in Africa include:

  • Kruger National Park
  • Maasai Mara

But which one is better suited to your bucket list as well as your budget? Let’s take a look.

KrugerMasai Mara
Size19,485 km²1,510 km²
LocationSouth AfricaKenya
Famous SitesAmarula Lapa, God’s Window lookout pointTraditional Maasai villages, walking safaris
Fees$20 USD per adult, per day; $10 USD per child, per day$70 USD per adult, per day; $45 per child aged 3-11 per day

Travel on: A safari


Kruger National Park

The expansive Kruger National Park is touted as one of the largest nature reserves in Africa. It’s a South African National Park and is open for both day visitors and those staying for an extended period of time. Situated in the heart of the Mpumulanga province of South Africa, the park covers 19,485km² of rich and varied land, and is home to the sought-after Big 5.

Herds in Kruger National Park | © Joanna Sowa Amrozinski/Unsplash

It is difficult to choose highlights when it comes to Kruger National Park – just being there is already a highlight, but I would definitely say having a wild dog and lion sighting, both right next to the road, all to myself with no other vehicles in sight was incredible. During my last visit the variety of bird life, especially the raptors, was at the top of my list of highlights.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to, first and foremost, adhere to the rules of the park especially when it comes to the speed limit and staying in your vehicle. Choose shorter routes that will allow you enough time to spend at a sighting, to wait a situation out and to take a possible alternative route if the circumstances force you to do it. Travel with a lot of patience, patience brings the best sightings. – Anje, Going Somewhere Slowly

Environment

Kruger is vast in its terrain, offering pockets of different ecosystems from one corner to the next. Generally, the park is made up of what locals call “bushveld,” which is abundant in long grasses, shrubbery, indigenous trees, and bushes. There are undulating plains, water holes and large rocky outcrops too, but the majority of the park is typical bushveld.

Wildlife

Kruger National Park is home to the Big 5 and countless other wild animals, birds, and smaller creatures that one could hope to see on a safari. It’s quite likely that one can see large herds and the Big 5 on a day’s self-drive mission, but travellers can also take private safaris with rangers who track the whereabouts of animals based on the most recent sightings. You can often drive for quite a distance without seeing anything and then just around the corner you’ll find a kill or a herd of lions. It’s the luck of the draw, but a game drive through Kruger is always incredible!

The highlight of Kruger National Park was seeing the Big 5 (Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, and Buffalo) within 4 hours! We had been in Africa for 6 weeks and throughout that time we had seen 4 of the Big 5 across different days and national parks, but the leopard continued to evade us. Two days before we were due to leave the continent, we decided to make one last-ditch attempt to spot a leopard and knowing Kruger is famous for its big cats, it was the obvious choice. Our tour guide was incredible, and although I did put the pressure on him a little bit to find me a leopard, he did not disappoint! I felt like my Africa experience was complete – not only to spot a leopard in the wild, but to see the whole Big 5 collection on the same day!

Although it is possible to self-drive Kruger NP, I can’t stress highly enough how invaluable a registered guide is. They know the park, where the animals hang out, and most importantly, are all connected via radio. This means that when there is a significant sighting, the guides talk in code to each other to share the location with other guides without alerting poachers. With a park the size of Kruger, the animals could be anywhere, and a guide can make the difference between a mediocre day and one of the best days of your life! – Vicky, Make Time to See the World


Travel to: Tanzania


Accommodation

Visitors to Kruger Park have a number of different accommodation options to choose from, ranging from camping to luxury camping, huts, self-catering chalets, family cottages, and luxury lodges all the way to private guesthouses. The park is divided into different camps, each one offering something unique in terms of vantage points, regular animal visitors, price, and style.

Safari Game Drives

Guests of the Kruger can self-drive their own safaris using pinpointed sightings from other guests. The self-drive game drives don’t cost anything once inside the park, where only conservancy and entrance fees are applicable. There are plenty of rest camps along the roads, as well as viewpoints and hides. For a more tailored safari, guests can request and pay for a private safari game drive, usually taking place either at sunrise or sunset.

You can also opt for a safari tour of Kruger National Park where the highlights will be covered in a package that includes accommodation, food, and your game drives.

I’ve been to Kruger National Park twice now, so there are a couple of different highlights that stand out for me. The first was during my trip back in 2000, when I stayed in a gorgeous private game reserve called Londolozi. They were managed at that time by a company called Conservation Corporation Africa (now known as & Beyond), and it was from them that I first learned about the important connection between ecotourism, conservation, and local communities. Seeing the local guides so passionate about protecting the park’s animals, especially when a pack of rare African Wild Dogs managed to get outside the fence, forever changed the way I wanted to travel. It was the beginning of my own passion for nature/wildlife conservation, which led me to form Green Global Travel with my wife 10 years later. The second major highlight was in 2016, when I had the chance to take my daughter to Kruger National Park. Sharing this life-altering experience with her was a major dream come true, and created memories we’ll both treasure forever.

In 2000, we spent three days in the private game reserve and another four traveling through the park on our own (in a rental car). Getting away from the crowds in the heart of the park and visiting the more remote portions led to some incredible sightings, from a huge herd of Elephants crossing the road to a massive male Lion rubbing up against my driver’s side door. Lastly, please don’t get out of your car outside of the proper areas for doing so, or feed the animals. We saw travelers doing both, and it’s a tragedy waiting to happen! – Mary & Bret, Green Global Travel

Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is located in the southwest region of Kenya, bordering Tanzania. This majestic expanse of land covers an area of 1,510km2 and is home to countless species of animals and birds, including the Big 5. Aside from the beautiful big cats, Maasai Mara is renowned for the annual wildebeest migration from July to October, which is a spectacular sight to be a part of.

Go looking for the Big Five in Kruger National Park | © Jonatan Pie/Unsplash

The highlight of our trip to the Masai Mara was seeing the Big Five (African Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, and Rhino) all in one day! We have traveled to so many African parks around Southern and East Africa and never before have we seen so many animals in such a short period of time. At one point, a young male leopard even came up to our safari vehicle and brushed against it. The whole experience itself was incredible and life changing.

Although you can self-drive into the Masai Mara, I would highly recommend booking your safari with a tour operator or lodge to make the trip completely pain and care free. Getting into the Masai Mara is best done by bush flight and some of the best places to stay are actually inside the park. Also the Masai Mara is a very big park and by having a guide instead of self-driving ensures you get someone who knows their way around the park. – Natasha and Cameron, The World Pursuit

Environment

Maasai Mara is known for its open plains and rolling savannah – one of the main reasons why it’s the ideal location for witnessing the annual wildebeest migration. Game viewing is somewhat easier than in the Kruger Park as there are fewer places for animals to hide.

Wildlife

The beautiful Maasai Mara is also home to the Big Five, and it’s quite likely you will get to see each member of this illustrious group during your stay. There are a number of large herds of herbivores such as zebra, giraffe, and elephant, and one can definitely hope to see baboons, monkeys, small cats, warthogs, rhinos, and hippos too. There are over 60 species of mammals, around 500 species of birds, and countless other creatures that could cross your path at any moment.

Accommodation

There are over a hundred options for accommodation in the Maasai Mara, most of them leaning more towards luxury accommodation. Tented camps give you an African flavour that allows guests to feel a part of the surroundings, while lodges with separate units look like a picture-perfect movie set. There are few budget varieties in accommodation, but package Maasai Mara deals can be purchased to get a little of everything.

Safari Game Drives

Game drives in the Maasai Mara are nothing short of magnificent. Guests can self-drive or they can pay for guided safari drives with rangers and trackers. If you’re new to Africa and have never been on an African safari, it’s advisable to pay the extra money to get a guided safari. The background information and personal stories shared by rangers and trackers are priceless. Trackers will be able to read the land and thus trace and track animals along the drive. This should give you the opportunity to see all the wildlife you hope to see.

Kruger vs Masai Mara?

When you do a comparison in price, Kruger Park works out to be a more affordable option, but you might have a better chance of seeing all the animals you want to see in Maasai Mara, due to the smaller space. Either way you look at it, both Kruger Park and Maasai Mara offer an incredible African safari experience and if possible… you should do both!

Antonia is a passionate writer and an avid reader. Eat well, travel often - are some of the words she lives by. When she's not writing or reading, she loves getting out in nature, hiking or losing herself in unknown cities.

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