Guiltfree glamping in the Masai Mara

August 27, 2014 | By | 32 Replies More

 

First view upon landing at the airstrip

First view upon landing at Olkiombo airstrip

A luxury tented camp in the Masai Mara offers authenticity coupled with modern creature comforts

When I opened my eyes at 2:30AM, I couldn’t see a thing. I blinked several more times and tugged on my husband, who was sound asleep beside me underneath the mosquito netting.

“Something’s wrong,” I cried out. “I can’t see anything.”

I was afraid I had lost my vision but my husband awoke and reassured me he couldn’t see anything either. It was simply the darkness of night in the bush. Ignoring the rustling noises outside, I rolled over and slept for several more hours.  We learned the next morning that electricity was turned off several hours each night at our tented camp to conserve power, one of many efforts made to preserve the spectacular, but fragile, ecosystem around us.

Visiting the Masai Mara

Olare Mara Kempinski is one of five tented camps within the 20,000-acre Olare Orok Conservancy in southwestern Kenya. The area borders the Masai Mara National Reserve, an uber-popular safari destination because of the density of its wildlife population, numbering more than two million animals—including big ones like elephants, giraffes, lions, and hippos.

The goal of the Conservancy–a partnership between the indigenous Masai people and tour operators–is to preserve this hallowed ground while providing visitors an authentic safari experience. Because only 94 beds are permitted across the five camps, visitors are assured they won’t encounter hoards of tourists or lines of 4-wheel drive vehicles. Instead, there is one guest per 350 acres, and one game-viewing vehicle per 2100 acres. Masai tribesmen are employed as camp guides and guards along with other staff.

A stay at a tented camp

The moment after our small plane landed at the airstrip, we sighted an elephant a few yards away, even before we met our guide. When we recovered from the thrill, we were welcomed with an elegant flute of champagne before beginning  the 45-minute journey to the Olare Mara camp. We traveled in a 4×4 through the vast, open grasslands of the game preserve scattered with acacia trees. Along the way, our driver pointed out birds, animals, and trees, and stopped so we could take photos.

Welcome champagne

Welcome champagne

Ready to go

Ready to go

We were there as one of the first stops on our African safari with our bespoke tour operator, Micato Safaris.

Masai tribesmen welcome us

Masai tribesmen welcome us

Opened in January 2013, Olare Mara Kempinski has 12 luxury tents that can accommodate up to 24 people. Although the rooms have canvas sides and zippered doors, they are more suite-like than tent-like. We settled into Tent #6.

Tent #6

Tent #6

Our tent had a king-size four-poster bed (magically draped with Out-of-Africa mosquito netting) covered with fine linens. At turndown, warm hot water bottles were placed under the blanket on each side of the bed for additional warmth from the cool evening breezes. Small metal sculptures, beaded baskets and rugs made by Kenyan artisans were scattered throughout, providing a local flavor, and soft lighting added to the homey feel.

Our bed

Our bed

For chilly nights

For chilly nights

Sitting area in our tent

Sitting area with a view in our tent

Elevated from the ground on a platform, French doors allowed in natural light. They opened to a wraparound wooden deck where guests can catch a ray of sunshine on lounges and commune with wildlife. A spacious ensuite bathroom had a double-sink, clawfoot bathtub, and separate shower and toilet closet.

Deck behind our tent

Deck behind our tent

Without fences or barriers (except for the nearby Ntiakitiak River), we were close to nature but safely protected. The wakeup call was a greeting outside our tent at dawn by someone from the camp announcing the delivery of a steamy pot of freshly brewed Kenyan coffee. Elegant meals were served three times a day in the communal dining room where we swapped stories with fellow guests about spying at least four of the Big Five. The food was a mix of international cuisine and Kenyan specialties like ugali (a polenta-like dish). Delicious beets, greens and other vegetables came from the camp’s organic garden, the largest in the preserve.

At dawn and at dusk, we set out on bush drives in Land Cruisers that bounced up and down the unpaved, dirt roads. Elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, lions, hippopotamuses, antelopes and other wild animals roamed freely, having found a way to co-exist and share the bounty of the land. Our guide had an uncanny ability to see and hear the animals and birds camouflaged in the tall grasses or behind trees. Elephants are easy prey for safari virgins but soon our eyes and ears accommodated and we proudly spotted harder-to-view animals like a hyena on our own.

Lion with her cubs

Lion with her cubs

The hippo pool

The hippo pool

Zebra and her foal

Zebra and her foal

Each exhilarating day was filled with surprise: spotting lion cubs playing beside their mother; tasting a mandazi (Kenyan donut) at a bush breakfast; watching noisy hippos roll in the muddy hippo pool; waiting for a parade of zebras to cross the road, each one seeming to pause to look at our vehicle; or savoring an East African Tusker beer or a Swahili Dawa cocktail (made with vodka, lime and honey) by the bon-fire after a long, exhausting day.

Surprise bush breakfast after a morning ride

Surprise bush breakfast after a morning ride

 

Mandazi

Mandazi

After dark, a Masai tribesman armed with a spear accompanied us from the main building to our tent and zipped us in for the night. Exhausted from a full day, we listened to the hippos playing in the nearby river or watched baboons swinging through the brush, we felt as if we, too, were part of the animal kingdom.

A sense of place

One of the boardwalks on the property

One of the boardwalks on the property

Visitors from all over the world travel long distances to visit this savannah, a wildlife haven virtually unscathed by time and development. We felt privileged to witness the different animal species moving together en masse, resting in the bush, and pausing to look at us.

Yet we felt pampered and watched over by the Masai tribesmen and our camp hosts. With solar power filling 70 percent of the camp’s energy needs, we are hopeful that we have had only a minimal impact on the delicate ecosystem. Our knowledgeable guides have taught us so much–not only about the birds, plants and animals–but also about the importance of preserving the bush for future generations.

Sunset at the Olare Orok Conservancy

Sunset at the Olare Orok Conservancy

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Micato Safaris and Olare Mra Kempinski but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.


Olare Mara Kempinski

Olare Orok Conservancy, Talek, Kenya

Micato Safaris

15 West 26th Street, NYC, 1-800-MICATO-1


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Category: DESTINATIONS, FELL IN LOVE WITH

Comments (32)

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  1. I loved reading your article; it brings back so many wonderful memories of my adventure in June!! Awesome photos too!

  2. Muza-chan says:

    Amazing photos, Irene…

  3. noel says:

    What a gorgeous glamping site, fun way to explore the area!

  4. santafetraveler says:

    Ever since I saw Out of Africa I’ve wanted to go to the Masai Mara. I could handle those camping conditions!

  5. Now that’s what we’re talking about! I could camp all year long in this kind of setting. Great photos, Irene. An inspiring post that further whets my appetite for a trip like this.

  6. jane canapini says:

    Glamping IS my idea of camping 🙂 Why should we feel guilty – we’re grownups and we deserve it!

  7. Really putting the glam in glamping, looks incredible. This is so on our list.

  8. Olare Orok Conservancy sounds like the perfect way to explore the wildlife of Kenya in an ecologically-responsible way. I had no idea that other safaris might have lines of 4 X 4 trampling the savannah. The low-density glamping approach seems the way to go. What amazing photos too.

  9. Donna Janke says:

    This is my kind of camping! I’d love to take an African safari.

  10. Juergen says:

    Funny how one can get used to living in a town or city with lights around all night… You should have grabbed a torch and walked outside, appreciate the star filled sky in such an environment! Suddenly the Milky Way is really a milky way of millions of shiny dots, big and small…

  11. Your photos are lovely, I especially love the one with the lion and her cubs.

    Our camping wasn’t so glamorous, we were in a 4 X 4 pickup truck with a rooftop tent. We actually had a lot of fun with it over the 3 week period.

    Ruth

  12. Nancie says:

    What an awesome experience. This company seems to do things right. Protecting the environment and employing the locals is commendable. Your shots are gorgeous.

  13. This sounds like a fabulous adventure. I’ve heard about Micato before. Africa is on my bucket list, so I took notes! 🙂

  14. OMG I am so jealous! This looks amazing! Africa is so high on my list! Thank you for sharing your lovely photos!

  15. Irene, What a perfect way to go on safari. It looks like they took care of every detail and the fact that the tenting experience was eco friendly is wonderful. I love the local touches of indigenous arts and crafts they used in the decor-and the hot water bottle-well what more can I say…

  16. An African safari is high on my bucket list and this one looks amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your glamping experience in the Masai Mara! Great pix. too!

  17. I had backed away from an African Safari and not because of the wild animals, but the wild crazy people wanting to kidnap people. You made it sound so serene that obviously this place is the one to enjoy. Perhaps we should pack battery operated night lights.

    • I understand your fears after the carnage in the Nairobi Mall. Although our trip was before that, we felt like we were in the hands of an excellent tour operator who knew the terrain and avoided risks.

  18. This sounds absolutely perfect! We’ve gone on safari in Zambia and South Africa, but now we’re keen to visit Kenya. Knowing that your safari stay is helping the local people with jobs, etc., is important… (And we love your zebra photo)

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