Have Bikini. Will Travel: The Ultimate Guide to the Maasai Mara
This year I had the unique experience to visit over 70 properties in the Maasai Mara across twelve conservancies. You might say I’ve become a safari expert, not only on when and where to go, but on what makes a good safari camp. So here it is. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Mara.
When to go:
July, August, and September are the most popular months if you want to see the great migration. However, it’s also the busiest and most expensive time to go. I would avoid it if you can.
The Maasai Mara is an enormous ecosystem where life, on a big and small scale, gets played out daily, twelve months a year. It is teeming with wildlife: hippos galore, massive herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, big cats (lions), and smaller cats (cheetahs and leopards), elegantly awkward giraffes, tree bulldozing elephants, and if you’re lucky, rhinoceros too. My advice is just go, even during rainy season (April & May), you won’t be disappointed.
For detailed insight into what you can expect and when, Alex Walker is your man. He runs some of the most spectacular camps in the Mara and Serengeti, and is my go-to guide for the region. See his guide “What to do when” for more detailed information.
Where to go?
Think of the Maasai Mara like London. While you can stay in Zone 1 (the National Reserve and Mara Triangle), Zones 2 & 3 (greater Mara) are equally, if not more, interesting. The Mara is in fact a network of conservancies with ever-changing borders, and each conservancy (just like each London borough) has its own unique characteristics.
Personally, I prefer the North: Lemek, Mara North, and Ol Motorogi. These conservancies are less well known, more exclusive, shared by a very small number of eco-camps, and still very much home to local Maasai communities. Unlike the national reserve, which is the exclusive domain of animals and tourists, the outer-lying conservancies exemplify a delicate balance between man and nature that is hard to find.
Where to stay?
- Teeming with wildebeest and giraffe where you can have your own “Out of Africa” moment
- Stay at Serian (The Original) by Alex Walker for it’s mix of quirky, bohemian, and cool (ok, Serian is actually part of Mara North, but it's closer to Lemek)
Tented accommodation at Serian The Original
MARA NORTH CONSERVANCY
- I fell in love with this conservancy, largely because I spent 3hrs being lost in it, but also because of the wonderful owners of Richard’s River Camp, Richard & Liz, who have made it their home.
- That night there it was a full moon, which rose from behind the hill so brightly I thought it might have been a football stadium. Elephants danced behind us at the dinner table, lions called out across the plan, hippos sang from the river below, and baby bats hung from the apex of the dining tent.
- Stay at Richard’s Camp, which is elegant, understated, and utterly wild
Evenings at Richard's River Camp
- There are a number of (mostly luxury) properties along the Oloololo escarpment as you weave your way towards the main entrance of the Mara Triangle, including Angama, &Beyond Kichwa Tembo, Bateleur Camp, and Sanctuary Olonana.
- Stay at Angama Mara, a small luxury hotel (12 tents) for those who want to be “above it all”, with wide sweeping vistas of the national reserve, modern interiors that would not be out of place in New York, and an excellent wine selection to match.
- A river runs through it, home to the famous Governor’s Camp, Little Governor's Camp, Il Moran Camp, and Private Camp.
- For a smaller, more intimate experience, stay at Sentinel Mara Camp – lovely little fly camp (i.e. non permanent) nestled on the banks of the Musiara marsh.
MARA NATIONAL RESERVE (TALEK RIVER)
- So you want still want to stay in the National Reserve? The Talek river is the epicentre of the Mara, with a plethora of choice for places to stay.
- My favourite is Naibor Camp – chic and simple, with lovely big wooden furniture and great food. Watch out for the hippos who emerge from the river at night and graze around the tents.
Entim Mara – this camp has a very special view that grows on you the longer you stare at it, a great spot for viewing the migration without leaving your camp chair.
Ilkeliani Camp – sister camp to Entim, outside of the national reserve on the other side of the Talek river. Some of the best food I ate in the Mara.
OL MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY
- Bordering Mara North, this conservancy has a similar feeling of wildness that opens up into a vast plain.
- For contemporary Africa cool, Richard Branson’s property Mahali Mzuri is a good option.
- My favourite is Mara Plains Camp – the ultimate Out of Africa experience. Exquisite details, exceptional food and service, both in camp and on safari. Quite simply, breath-taking.
Tented accommodation at Mara Plains Camp
NAIBOSHO & OL KINYEI CONSERVANCIES
- Naibosho is not my favourite conservancy, however Ol Kinyei is unusually picturesque with mossy green meadows that border the river like the land that time forgot.
- Feels like lion country here. Stay at Porini Mara or Porini Cheetah camp for its simplicity and remoteness.
MARA NATIONAL RESERVE (SAND RIVER)
- The Riviera of the Mara. In wet season there’s a beach like feeling created by the river with its sandy shoreline. In dry season it’s a river of sand… hence the name, Sand River.
- There’s something almost Tuscan about this part of the Mara, as you gaze out across the Tanzanian border with its gentle rolling hills in delicate shades of purple and blue.
- Stay at the elegant Sand River Mara or Sala’s camp, which is a little more homely, not least of which to three prides of lions.
- The south-eastern most part of the Mara, close to Sand River but outside the National Park.
- I didn’t make it here due to the rains so I can’t vouch for it personally, but it is home to Cottar’s 1920s camp, which is as close to an original Out of Africa experience as you can get.
- On the eastern edge of the Mara, nestled in a valley. This is a relatively new conservancy, which feels less wild to me than other parts of the Mara.
- Stay at Mara Bushtops Luxury Camp.
Olarro Lodge & Olarro Plains – both owned and operated by Hermes Retreats. Very chic décor with beautiful views over the valley.
- Feels a bit removed from the main action of the Mara as it is quite far to the east, however the views are excellent.
Olarro Plains from the air|