In order to properly plan a safari in Kenya, you need to better understand which one of the three big parks suits you the most: Tsavo, Amboseli or Masai Mara?
Either you plan a safari in Kenya independently, or have a tour operator taking care of everything in the back, organizing your first safari is not easy at all. There are too many options to choose from, price categories that are on a first sight difficult to understand and a timetable you need to delicately plan in order to not spend hours and hours on the road.
I traveled to Kenya reporting on national parks and safari experiences, and was able to explore some of its safari parks. These are my thoughts on which safari experience in Kenya you should visit. Tsavo National Park, Amboseli National Park or Masai Mara Natural Reserve, which one is the best?
Starting from zero
When it comes to start your plan for a safari trip in Kenya, the first question to answer is mobility and flexibility. Unlike Europe or North America, where traveling from A to B is extremely simple and options are endless, transportation in Kenya does not work like that. Unless you have a very high budget and can afford traveling by private charter (around 200 – 300 EUR per flight), the only way to properly move around is by land.
Therefore, either you start your trip in Nairobi or Mombasa (Kenya’s two key cities), expect to drive for hours and hours in order to get to a national park or a natural reserve. For example, Masai Mara is located just 280km away from Nairobi. Still, you need about 6 hours to get there. The same goes from Nairobi to Amboseli, where its distance between is just 190km, but you need 4 hours to get there.
And while is possible to plan a 10 day trip and visit all three most important wildlife parks in Kenya, Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo, take into consideration this would involve spending most of the time driving from one side to the other and wasting valuable time.
NOTE: a standard safari trip in Kenya would involve visiting two parks for 2-3 nights each. This will be enough time to get a good glimpse of the wildlife in Kenya and not get overwhelmed by the long and monotonous drives.
Where to go for a safari in Kenya
On a first sight, Masai Mara seems to be the perfect place to go for a safari. It is the epicenter for the wildebeest migration within the months of August to October and it is worldwide known as one of the best national parks in the world.
However, expensive permits, availability in accommodation and long drives, should be factors to be considered before you book your trip.
Fortunately, Tsavo or Amboseli are offering great options for those with limited budget, time or a tight schedule.
INSIDE TIP: Located just 7 km away from Nairobi, the Nairobi National Park is a good place to visit only if you are planning to skip any other bigger National Parks in Kenya. The wildlife here is way less than anywhere else in the country and I would prefer to pay a bit more, extend one or two nights and visit Amboseli.
Why should you visit Masai Mara Natural Reserve?
Beside the wildebeest migration, Masai Mara is always great. It is the only park in Kenya where you can spot all big five in a single day and experience wildlife encounters that will simply leave you speechless.
It is one of the most beautiful safari spots in the world and even if you miss the migration, you will never leave disappointed.
On the other hand, Masai Mara’s entrance fees and overnight fees are the most expensive in Kenya. Expect to pay anything between 200-300 USD per day for a simple private tour and depending on the time of the year, reservations have to be done months in advance.
Still, for those looking to see the best of Kenya, Masai Mara is the option to go.
Read more: Everything you need to know in Masai Mara
Why should you visit Amboseli National Park?
Located at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the landscapes in Amboseli are magical. Elephants roaming freely in groups of 20 or 30, and thousands of flamingo flying around and dancing in the air. Additionally, to its smaller size and closer distance to Nairobi, Amboseli has become this quick getaway from the city and an easy place to explore wild Kenya in a limited time.
With lower prices, great road conditions connecting the park and extraordinary wildlife, Amboseli is never a miss.
However, wildlife in Amboseli is way less than in Masai Mara. Big cats are more difficult to spot and leopards have not been seen in decades around this area.
Why should you visit Tsavo National Park?
Tsavo seems to be the perfect introduction for a safari in Kenya. It is the largest national park from all three in this article, and due to its location, the logistics of planning a trip to Tsavo are the simplest in whole Kenya.
Great signalization and easy access makes Tsavo a good place for a self-driving safari and since it is the least popular park from all three, you won’t be surrounded by a dozen cars when you spot a lion or a big elephant.
On the other hand, many think Tsavo is not as special as Masai Mara and Amboseli. The spotting of wildlife is way more difficult due to its massive size and large vegetation. Also, travelers can unfortunately spend a full weekend here without spotting a big cat.
Read more: Tips for planning your first safari
What about Serengeti?
Combining Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara on the same trip seems to be the most reasonable choice when it comes to planning a safari. They are not only the center for wildlife experiences in the world, but they are also located right next to each other.
And its true. Visiting both parks on the same trip is an experience of a lifetime and something only few people can do. However, before you back your bags and book a lodge, take into consideration the logistical challenge that visiting Masai Mara and Serengeti on the same trip is.
First of all, Masai Mara is located in Kenya, while Serengeti is located in Tanzania. Beside the visa costs and border crossing, there are no direct connections from Masai Mara to Serengeti. You will have to drive back to Nairobi, from there go to Arusha and once in Arusha take a transfer to Serengeti – something you need to plan at least 2-3 days in doing.
Additionally, while Serengeti is one of the most extraordinary safari parks in the world, it is also one of the most expensive. A day in Serengeti starts at 300 USD per person, while a day in Amboseli can get as low as 100 USD per person.
Combining Serengeti with a trip to Kenya as doable, it just requires a bigger planning from your side.