A tale of two Safaris: South Africa vs Kenya

posted in: Africa, Travel | 0
Review / Report
Every year, my brother and I take a trip together. An year ago we wanted to go for an African Safari. Who doesn’t like safari – see the big 5 at a close range, at least for a few days live like they do on national geographic. However, the first question we faced was where do we start? Africa is a HUGE place, where do we go for a nice Safari. After doing initial research we narrowed it down to two places: South Africa or Kenya. Second question was, which one do we pick?
I am sure there must be a few people out there, who had also faced this dilemma. We thought why not try both the places and compare, and come back and recommend to other aspiring Safarist what is good, the bad or the ugly. Thats what we did. Last year we went to South Africa and this year to Kenya. And here is what we think about both the places.
(a quick note: the review below, is mainly based on our visit to Kruger park in South Africa and Masai Mara park in Kenya)
Wildlife viewing:

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The best place for wildlife viewing we found out is Kenya. Way ahead of South Africa in many ways. South Africa is quite regulated and approaching animals and disturbing their habitat is not allowed. On the other hands, Kenya rules are less stringent. Guides/drivers can move close to the animals, not in a disturbing way but still you can have a photo opportunity from almost any angle you want. Its just to say that Kenya is flexible. Secondly, Masai Mara reserve have to be the richest area in the density of the big animals. Wow. You can easily see the big 5 + cheetah in a 3 day trip. I think out of these, only the Rhino’s will be tough to find. The other 4 + cheetah can be easily done with in a day. Trust me – after a day in the Mara, you will be bored of looking at Lions from a close range. Our friends who were in Tanzania, on the other side of the border, in the Serengeti National Park were not that fortunate with their animal spotting. Mara National Park might be much smaller compared to other large parks, but it is very rich with its fauna.

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In this aspect South Africa wins. In South Africa you can have a safari the way you want. You can chose to be at a private game reserve where all the program is pre-arranged, or you can do a self-drive safari or you can have a part self-drive and a part ranger driven safari. You have a lot of freedom to choose from. We went for the self-drive safari. What a beautiful concept it is. You can chose to do your drives when you want to do them, and you can go where you would like to go. The roads are fantastic, the trails are well marked and you can just follow your heart and do what you would like (of course, all the while not breaking any basic park rules).
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Again, South Africa wins. In Kenya if you would like decent facilities, you would have to pay through the nose. There are cheap tents for backpackers (which are not that cheap by the way) but anything decent or clean you will need to move to a private fancy lodge in Kenya. In South Africa, if you would like luxury then they have fancy lodges, but if you like nice clean facilities and would like to handle your own planning and drive, then they have great cottages/bungalows with all the facilities you need for a do it yourself Safari. These facilities are clean and beautiful and are set up in a natural setting. Some even have wife and golf courses. I personally, love the American national parks – they are user friendly, clean and beautiful. However, I have to say the Kruger park is way ahead of the best American national park I have visited. The facilities at Kruger are simply amazing, and where else can you have a self-drive Safari in a real jungle.
Again South Africa wins. Planning a trip to Kenya needs some time, as you need to get your basic shots and begin your malaria pills. But South Africa is quite different. In terms of development andĀ facilitiesĀ South Africa would be equivalent to a mid-tier European country. But being sub-tropical you have to worry about mosquitoes. I myself, did not take any malaria pills and in my entire 2 weeks in South Africa, never even encountered a single mosquito. This is one of the main reasons why we went to South Africa last year and Kenya this year. As Kenya needed a bit more planning.
Again, South Africa wins for sure. South Africa is a melting pot. You can easily find people of all races here. You can have European, African or Asian food easily. It is not the same in Kenya. For Indians, there are a plenty of Indian restaurants to choose from.
Tie. I think both countries are very friendly towards tourists. In Kenya they love tourists, in fact after the Mall attack last year and the airport fire the incoming tourist numbers have dwindled down. Kenya is trying hard to welcome tourists. On the other hand, in South Africa anyone can easily pass as a local. There is such a mix of culture that no one usually would stand out.
In terms of Visa for Indians, Kenya wins by a long margin. Kenya offers visa on arrival facilities. There is no headaches of dealing with embassies, etc.
Closing remarks: If you think spotting animals is the most important thing and you dont care about other issues, then I would choose Kenya. But you want a total experience then I would go for South Africa.