As you would expect, our safaris in Kenya and Uganda were amongst the main highlights of our trip to Africa; what surprised us though was just how different they were to one another. Though the animals were relatively similar, there were some fairly significant differences between our two experiences. How might you decide on the best safari for you? Read on to learn more about the differences as we saw them…
In Kenya we booked with Safe Ride Tours and Safaris on their ‘3 day Masai Mara Camping Safari’ at a total cost of USD360 per person. By comparison, in Uganda we signed up for the ‘3 day Murchison Big 5 Safari’ through Red Chilli Hideaway at a cost of USD380 each.
The Kenyan tour was slightly cheaper and included food so beat Uganda out by a nose in that regard.
In Kenya, we travelled in a converted Toyota Land Cruiser (which had pretty comfortable seats) whereas in Uganda we were in a converted van (with noticeably less comfortable seats). Each had a roof that raised up and windows that slid open to allow safari-goers to get their perfect photographs; whilst the Kenyan 4WD was more comfortable to sit down in, the van in Uganda was at a slightly better height for standing up in. Regardless, try to get a seat in the middle or towards the back if possible to position yourself well to stand up – we were in the front of the main cab and found ourselves leaning back quite a lot to stand in the opening.
If we had to pick the better transport option, the Land Cruiser in Kenya would by our preference, simply because you’ll spend so much time sitting down so comfort is fairly important.
Kenya – 2 nights accommodation in a permanent double tent with ensuite and power (between certain hours under generator).
Uganda – 2 nights in a permanent twin tent (unpowered, bathroom blocks within close walking distance) + 1 free night each in a 4 bed dorm.
Let’s call this a tie as Uganda offer an extra night but Kenya had an ensuite and power in the tent.
Included in Kenya (breakfast and packed lunch was great, normal lunch and dinner pretty average). It was an additional cost in Uganda but tasty.
Winner = Kenya for value for money, Uganda for quality/choice.
Kenya – Sundowner game drive, full day game drive and sunrise game drive (+ optional Masai village tour for USD20 per person). Uganda – Walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon Nile river cruise, rhino sanctuary visit. We paid more to join the tour that went to the rhino sanctuary but knowing what we know now (and having talked to other people), we would recommend going on the cheaper tour that includes a final morning game drive instead.
If your main aim is to see as many animals as possible then Kenya would win because of the extra time spent on game drives. If you’re after variety, then Uganda offers more – both the game drive and river safari in Uganda were awesome, though the walk to the falls and rhino sanctuary didn’t compare as well in our opinion.
Quality of Game Viewing/Drive
The most important part of any safari comparison, because, after all, you’re on safari to see animals! We were most surprised to find such a variation between the two game drives and although both experiences were amazing, it is worth understanding how they vary.
Masai Mara stretches out as far as the eye can see (and beyond). On our full day game drive, we covered a significant area of the park but it still felt like we barely made a dent. At one point, in the heat of the day, we drove for a good half hour through the long grass without seeing any animals, whilst at other times, we saw relatively well-sized herds.
By comparison, we didn’t go the long periods without seeing animals at Murchison Falls, but nor did we do a game drive in the midday sun. Generally the best time to spot animals is around sunrise and sunset, when the temperatures are more comfortable, so it may not be surprising that our hit-rate was better when we only managed to fit in a sunrise drive.
The tracks varied greatly between the two parks – Kenya had countless smaller tracks which allowed our driver to get off the main ones and really go exploring. Uganda didn’t appear to have many smaller tracks at all, instead favouring key tracks through the park. We were lucky in Uganda and managed to spot a number of animals near the tracks, but when they decide to hang back (like a jaguar did, in a distant tree) there’s really not much that can be done. Kenya was better in this regard as the additional tracks increase your chances of getting in on the action.
Comparing these two is too close to call. The roads in Uganda were more comfortable but Masai Mara felt like more of an adventure. We were fortunate to see plenty of game at Murchison Falls but can imagine this would not always be the case of the animals decide to stay away from the main tracks. We saw far more lions at Masai Mara (and think you’d have a better chance of spotting the Big Five there) but there were generally bigger herds of animals at Murchison Falls. If you can get to both parks to see the difference for yourself, we’d highly recommend it.
What time of year should I go?
We visited at the start of the long rainy season and it was spot on! Prior to arriving, we’d read warnings of the rain causing grass growth to the point that game couldn’t be seen, and animals hiding away, without any need to come out to watering holes. It barely rained the entire time we were in these two beautiful countries and when it did, it was almost exclusively when we were in bed at night tucked up in our (thankfully waterproof) tents. The up-shot of visiting during the offseason was that we practically had parks to ourselves. During peak season, our Kenyan driver explained that the reserve can easily be mistaken for Disneyland, with waits of 45 mins-1 hour for the vans and trucks in front to move aside, finally allowing you to get a good look at that lion (and to quickly snap your prized shot before moving on again). Instead, we often stumbled across animals without anyone else around us and got to enjoy them in relative seclusion. Our accommodation was quiet and everything felt very relaxed due to the small group numbers; both of our safari’s only have two other people respectively.
So who wins? Masai Mara, Kenya or Murchison Falls, Uganda?
The million dollar question and one that we really couldn’t answer! We enjoyed both of our safaris for different reasons. Kenya and Masai Mara will stay in our mind as the first place we saw such amazing animals in the wild and for the sense of adventure as we 4-wheel-drove our way through the savannah. Uganda and Murchison Falls on the other hand will always stand out for it’s variety (the river safari was fantastic!) and the amount of game that we saw within a relatively small area.
Regardless on whether you choose to go on safari in Kenya or Uganda, there is no doubt you’ll have a memorable experience – if your time and budget allows, we’d certainly recommend doing both!
PS: If you’re wondering what to wear on safari, don’t worry. We were told that (as long as you’re in a van), colours don’t really matter – if you’re on a walking safari though, be sure to blend in with examples like you’ll find over on The World Pursuit.
Have you been on safari somewhere else in Africa? If so, we’d love to hear of your experiences – please leave a comment below.