If I got a dollar for all the times someone asked me which is the best camp/lodge in the Masai Mara, I would probably be living my best life in a villa in Tuscany or Provence! Truth is there are hundreds of camps and lodges in the Mara (more than there should be really!) each with a certain quality that makes it stand out – rates, location, luxury, cuisine, customer service, a combination of these and so much more. Having said that, when the same names keep popping up then you know there’s something there.
On the last day of November, I found myself outside the Hilton in Nairobi’s central business district awaiting pick up in what was touted to be a trip to the best of the Masai Mara. In no particular order, these are currently the top three properties in the Mara and which I had the privilege of experiencing this past weekend.
andBeyond Bateleur Camp
Set on the western edge of the Masai Mara, Bateleur Camp is tucked among indigenous trees in a game rich corner of the reserve. Furnished in antiques and artefacts of the ’20s and ’30s, Bat camp epitomizes classic luxury and splendor. Late last year, the camp which comprises of the North and South Camps, closed for refurbishments with the north camp re-opening in March and the south camp in June. andBeyond, the luxury travel company that operates Bateleur camp had promised a sumptuous new offering upon the camp’s opening – I must say they didn’t disappoint!
We were received by our host Mr Masibo, his cheerful staff and several bottles of bubbly, kicking off the weekend in style! The lobby at Bateleur’s north camp comprises of an upper level which features plush, cushioned seats around a fireplace while the lower section is transformed into a restaurant during meal times and also includes an extended dining space where breakfast is served on most mornings. The lobby opens up to the Mara plains with meshed windows drawn when there is a draught keeping the wind at bay.
Where the magic lies however, is the the new spacious tents with their huge king size, leather upholstered beds, fully stocked bars that contain liquors, sherries and gins, separate glass encased indoor showers and loos, and the icing on the cake, the new copper bath tubs. Also new to each tent is the open, outdoor shower as well as a sunken seating space that looks out to the Mara. Wallpapers with explorer type maps decorate the area above the his and hers sinks, keeping with the safari feel of the camp. I was darn impressed by how the tents were so extra but in such a dignified manner that you couldn’t find any fault. Sinking in that bathtub felt absolutely heavenly as it was seating on the sunken outdoor space at sunset, gin in hand and just watching nature unfold.
We had lunch at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club on our way to Bateleur Camp and when the General Manager found out where we were headed, he said “I’m so glad you saw my property first!” andBeyond Bateleur Camp is the consummate example of what a vintage safari camp is all about. It has an air of superior charm that is difficult to imitate or replicate. It is best for couples looking for old school glam, not the flashy or ostentatious.
High Season (16 June – 31 October): $1,320
Low Season (1 April – 15 June): $725
Angama Mara Camp
From Conde Nast Traveler to Travel + Leisure, Angama Mara Camp has been featured in just about every luxury travel magazine and newspaper there is. The ticket to its fame for me, is its location perched high up the Olololoo escarpment on a private concession in the Masai Mara. Angama in Swahili means suspended and that’s how you feel when you look out to the Mara from the camp. I’m not one to exaggerate but those views are utterly breathtaking, whether it’s from the beautiful fire pit or from each of its 30 tents. A cozy Lamu seat separates a queen size bed on one side and a free standing bathtub on the other in a spacious tented room tastefully decorated in characteristic Maasai red. Twins sinks can also be found in the main area with a shower and a “loo with a view” enclosed to the left. The best feature of the tents though are the floor to ceiling glass doors that allow panoramic views of the Masai Mara. Enjoy the best vistas early in the morning when the hot air balloons are floating over the Mara – simply incredible!
You can work out at a well equipped fitness center and cool off at the pool during your stay. The Angama safari shop is no ordinary shop. I bet it is the only store selling a coat worth $2,500 in all of Masai Mara! It also stocks Kenyan luxury designer Adele Dejak jewellery pieces as well as some lovely beaded items made by the local Masai ladies in a studio adjoining the shop. Angama’s photography studio is a dream. They rent out cameras, train amateur photographers, collate and send guests a collection of beautiful images they can remember their safari by. Angama sponsors the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the year competition and it was amazing seeing the work of the 10 finalists while we were at the Mara. The winning entry, that won the grand prize of $10,000 + a 5 night stay at Angama including flights, was that of three elephant matriarchs and a calf. (Spot it below).
During our visit there was an American family of 10 that had been at Angama last year and were making a repeat visit to the camp. The camp is best suited for the young, whether families or couples. It is sure to dazzle and impress!
Peak Season (1 June – 30 September): $1,775
Low Season (1 January – 31 May): $1,250
Once a tented camp, Sanctuary Olonana was unveiled as a luxury lodge in mid-July this year. While Angama has bragging rights over aerial views of the Mara, Olonana’s edge is its river front views. The Mara River snakes its way right in front of the the camp and consequently several hippo families have set up home there. The main area is a wide space with several seating areas with a game room just off it. Step outside on the deck to a lounge with views of the river and its resident hippos. Also on the deck is the outdoor restaurant where alfresco dining takes place. I love the light fixtures in each part of the main area – all so unique!
And just like Bateleur Camp, I think Olonana’s new rooms are magic. Gone are the old drab tents that I had slept in a few years ago. They have been replaced with swanky new quarters that I was frankly so excited about. Furnished in grey and beige, the bi-level rooms feature a huge bed on the upper level and a curved seating space with river views on the lower level. A big bathroom space that includes a free-standing white bathtub, a shower and a small deck has been partitioned by sliding doors. I feel that this rooms give you an option on where to hangout – on your bed, the small lounge or out in the deck. I have a bias for Olonana; it is home in a way. Maurice the general manager, Big John the chef and the rest of the staff are family. Sanctuary Olonana is best for families. There is a small swimming pool and slide area for the kids to play as well as plenty of board games and a child minder to keep them entertained.
Peak Season (1 June – 30 September): $1,140
Low Season (1 April – 31 May): $510