So – on to the most important considerations – where to stay!
Most of the camps in the Mara are romantically ‘under canvas’ and much more authentically ‘Out-of-Africa’ in their ambience, than many of their counter-parts in South Africa! ….they are stylish, intimate camps with just 5 or 6 ensuite ‘tents’ with flushing loos and showers. Each camp has what is known as a central ‘mess’ tent where guests gather in the evenings for pre-dinner drinks …and then enjoy dinner by candlelight – usually a social affair with other guests (sometimes, the rangers and trackers will join you), and you will discuss the day’s wildlife sightings etc etc ….evenings can linger long into the night around a campfire, especially during the Migration!….Game drives tend to be at their best in the early mornings and late afternoons …. At most of the camps (with a few exceptions such as Ngare Serian), you can’t guarantee that you will have own private vehicle and guide (especially during the Migration) …but you will generally only ever go out on a game drive with one other couple ….All camps are offered on an all-inclusive basis (with the exception of any spa / massage treatments, hot air balloon flights (a thought!?) and a few other things which are extra costs).
My recommended hand-picked best four ‘camps’ in the Mara, for value and location, are :
Naibor – a very contemporary, stylish camp on the banks of the Talek River in the heart of the Masai Mara reserve. Great location for the migration and good chance of witnessing wildebeest river crossings. The camp has three parts – main Naibor with 7 gorgeous ensuite tents and a mess area (dinner is a convivial affair at their long banquet table), then Little Naibor which comprises two suites a little further along the river (a bit more private) – but I am not convinced you need Little Naibor (each of these two suite has two bedrooms so it is ideal for families – but unless you want much more privacy, then stick with Main Naibor) ….they do also have the newly opened Naibor Wilderness (pitched at a slightly lower level than main Naibor) , let’s stick to considering main Naibor …the big ‘plus’ for Naibor is its stylish look and feel, great food and superb location – the migration does tend to head through the area close to Naibor each year ….. approx cost for next year : £450 per person per night
Ngare Serian – great location on the banks of the Mara River. An intimate camp owned by Alex Walker – a well-known filmmaker and guide in the Masai Mara. The camp has just four ensuite tents (each one a spacious traditional ‘marquee’) – each with an expansive wooden deck overlooking the Mara River – so a great place to see hippo just metres from your tent! The only access to the camp is a via a rope bridge across the river! It is very secluded and private – wonderfully authentic – and one of the few camps to offer exclusive use of a vehicle and guide throughout your stay – so this would provide a very special opportunity for you and Tamsin to enjoy private bush breakfasts and sundowners in amazing unique locations, without other guests (the ‘ultimate safari experience’) ….and you could head off on game drives to follow the Migration for as long as you want! Here, you can also enjoy a starlit romantic dinner on your private deck overlooking the river. The camp is located in what is known as the Mara North conservancy which is just outside the actual official boundary of the Masai Mara Reserve – but this doesn’t affect the game experience at all (the wildebeest herds go everywhere!) … many argue that the game experience just outside the official Mara Reserve is a much more exclusive one, as you tend to encounter less vehicles (in fact, you are less likely to encounter any other vehicles at all) …and the wildlife experience is just the same …there aren’t any fences marking boundaries so the wildebeest know no bounds …. ….approx cost for next year : £550 per person per night
Ol Seki – gorgeous camp set on the edge of the Mara. Accommodation is provided in six uniquely designed ’round’ tents ….all with sweeping views of the Masai Mara from their setting on a rocky promontory …each tent is very spacious and Ol Seki does romance wonderfully well….it enjoys a very classically ‘Kenyan’ setting amongst acacia trees….romantic candlelit dinners are all part of the experience here and the camp also has a resident spa therapist. There’s great wildlife in this area – and given that it is just outside the Mara reserve itself, like Ngare Serian, you will encounter less vehicles and feel much more exclusive when on safari – but to see/witness the Migration, you will probably need to spend a day driving into the heart of the Mara Reserve and your guide will then take a picnic with you …it’s a very elegant camp renowned for its warm hospitality from Cathy and her son, Kiko. Ol Seki is a real family affair – where you will meet passionate individuals, who are very proud of their camp and of Kenya. Also, another benefit of being at a camp located just outside the main Mara reserve, is that you can do night drives (which you can’t do at camps which are located inside the Mara reserve itself) …you can also visit a local Maasai village from Ol Seki and also the local guiding school (all Ol Seki’s guides are sourced from the neighbouring Koiyaki Guiding School) …approx cost : £450 per person per night
Governors Il Moran – another small and intimate camp with just 10 ensuite tents (part of the well known Governors Camps portfolio) – with added luxurious touches such as Victorian-style claw foot baths in the ensuite! It also enjoys close proximity to the Mara River….superb game viewing …with a focus on providing old world charm – the ambience of the Africa of old – the traditional safari style – combined with some of the best game viewing in the Mara. Governors also operate the best hot air balloon safaris in Kenya – so if you are considering a hot air balloon flight, this is a great camp to consider. Approx cost : in the similar £440 per person per night price bracket.
If ‘under canvas’ sounds great for part of your stay and you would prefer to combine the tented experience with more of a ‘lodge with six cottages’ …then you might like to consider :
Saruni Mara – this is located just outside the official Mara Reserve – but offers polished wooden floors and elegant décor in stylish cottages …..Saruni Mara offers a unique and very different ‘Warrior for a Week’ programme (you don’t have to stay for a week to enjoy it!) …essentially, you can spend a few days learning the survival skills of the Maasai warriors i.e. learn to track animals, craft your own tools on the plains of the Mara …you will learn in the same way as a junior warrior ….Saruni also has an amazing Spa known as the ‘Maasai Wellbeing Space’ ….it enjoys a fabulous location in the hills of the northern Mara, overlooking a gorge populated by elephant and buffalo, with lush forest behind where you can see unique species of monkeys (known as the colobus and sykes monkeys)…then see the big game on the Mara plains …approx cost per night : £460 per person per night
I do hope this gives you some ‘food for thought’ to assist with your planning …..
You could just do one camp for 3 or 4 nights ….or perhaps combine two camps, staying say 3 nights at each – it really depends how much time you can spare ….you can fly out of the Mara in the afternoon, back to Nairobi – transfer to the international terminal and join an overnight flight back to the UK …or return to Nairobi for an overnight stay – and then fly back during the day the following day. Getting between camps in the Mara is easy – it’s via an open safari vehicle – so essentially you will enjoy another game drive!