Safari in Kenya? – Tsavo, Amboseli or Masai Mara. Which one is the best?

JUAN MARTINEZ

February 8, 2022

Safari in Kenya? – Tsavo, Amboseli or Masai Mara. Which one is the best?

In order to properly plan the best safari in Kenya, you need to 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. A safari in Tsavo National Park, a safari in Amboseli National Park or a safari in Masai Mara Natural Reserve, which one is the best?

Be connected at all times in Kenya.
I recommend an e-SIM with Airalo. With them, I bought a plan of 10 GB for my whole stay in the country.

Lions at Masai Mara
Pride of lions at Masai Mara Natural Reserve

Planning a safari from zero

When it comes to plan 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.

private vehicle during the wildebeest migration
private safari tour during the wildebeest migration

Best 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.

The easiest way to compare safari tours is with Safari Bookings. Here you can contact almost every operator in Africa and quote a price.
Open Safari Bookings and find the right safari for you.

Car in Masai Mara - kenya safari
Bush lunch during a trip to Masai Mara

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.

Check here tour operators to compare activities and find the best itinerary for you.

Read more: Everything you need to know in Masai Mara

Views in Masai Mara early in the morning - safari in Kenya
Views in Masai Mara early in the morning

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.

Compare here the best safari tours in Amboseli

Read more: Everything you need to know about Amboseli National Park

Elephants of Amboseli at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro
Elephants of Amboseli at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro

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.

Compare here the best safari tours in Tsavo National Park

Read more: Tips for planning your first safari

Elephants crossing at the Tsavo National Park
Elephants crossing at the Tsavo National Park

A safari in Kenya vs a safari in 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.

My top recommendation is to choose two out of the three national parks.
Open Safari Bookings and compare different safari prices.

Read more: How to plan a trip to Serengeti National Park

Lions in Kenya
Kenya is probably the most incredible place for a safari trip

Planning a trip to Kenya independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.

They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.

These are some of the most popular tours in Kenya at SafariBookings

Read more: How To Plan A Safari Trip On A Budget

Internet connection across East Africa

What is the best e-SIM for traveling in East Africa

When it comes to traveling in Africa, having a good internet connection all the time is essential.

When traveling, I started using e-SIMs from Flexiroam or Airalo. I love these two companies, and when crossing the border between Tanzania and Kenya, I recommend getting a Global Plan from Flexiroam and activating it when crossing. Once settled in, I prefer to get a local physical SIM to save some costs. However, Flexiroam has been a lifesaver.

Be connected at all times in Kenya.
I recommend an e-SIM with Airalo. With them, I bought a plan of 10 GB for my whole stay in the country.

Global Plans for Flexiroam start at 10 EUR, and I recommend the 180-day, 10 GB plan worldwide. This one costs 59 USD and is perfect for travelers in Africa.

How to get an e-SIM from Flexiroam:

  1. Verify if your phone is e-SIM compatible (just Google your phone model and the word “e-SIM”).
  2. Buy a Global Plan here (or a country plan, but it tends to be more expensive if you’re traveling to different countries).
  3. Download the Flexiroam app and create an account.
  4. Activate your e-SIM.
  5. Provide the code of your Global Plan (You will receive the code via email after your purchase).

Read more: A complete guide for e-SIM cards when traveling around the world

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