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Travel: Kempinski Mara Review
Quality of Game Drives
The most important criteria in my opinion. This is the meat of why one goes to Mara – to spot the Big 5 (leopard, lion, wild buffalo,elephant, rhino), or the Big 9 if one includes the Cheetah, Zebra, Giraffe and Hippo.
Kempinski safaris are organised in open sided 4WD Land Cruisers that traverse difficult terrain with ease. The driver gets off the designated path, often navigating his 4X4 beast to get up close and personal to the game.
The guides cum drivers at Kempinski are highly knowledgeable and very forthcoming in offering information about life on the plains. All trackers, rangers and guides at a minimum possess a Bronze Level KSPGA qualification. Our driver had completed his bachelors in tourism with an advanced two year diploma specializing in African wildlife! The camp also offers unlimited day and night safaris, and escorted bird, game and nature walks during your stay.
This is an undeniably important criteria as well. The Olare Mara Tented Camps are located in the Olare Orok Conservancy, which boasts the highest number of large mammals per square kilometer in Africa. With a maximum of 72 beds in four mobile tented camps allowed in the conservancy, staying in the conservancy equates to an average of one guest for every 350 acres. The use of mini-buses are forbidden as this gives guests an exclusive and wild experience with bush walks and night game drives; activities which are simply not possible in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
The Orok conservancy is host to five lion prides for a total of 61 lions; including the Enkuyanai Pride, Moniko Pride, Ridge Pride, Nguru Pride and Motorogi Pride. In addition to the lion prides, other resident animals in the conservancy include two prides of cheetahs – Narasha with her two cubs and two brothers; and another family of three brother cheetahs. We were also fortunate to spot a leopard, Acacia, with her two cubs, Yellow and Fig. For bird lovers, the Conservancy is also home to more than 400 species of birds including vultures, ostriches, marabous, ross turacos and many others, making the stay here a delirious experience for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Something Kempinski is unmatched at is in bringing the entire experience of traversing an empty savannah to life. Equipped with some of the world’s best trained staff and advantageously located properties, they have truly become a master at their art.
On our first night, the staff organised a candle-lit private dinner right on our tent’s terrace. The Maasai staff guarding the property puts you at ease as you enjoy the exhilarating experience of dining in the wild at night. For us, we found the groans of the hippos a little too unnerving to carry on the party outdoors for very long.
The following morning, we left for the half day safari at 6.30 am with our breakfasts packed. Personally, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to participate in the exquisite experience of having breakfast on the savannah plains.
The Maasai have an endearing ritual, which involves guests planting a tree at the Olare Mara property as they leave. One needs only to pay 10 USD and inform the staff at least a day in advance of your intentions, so that they can earmark a designated location for your tree; whereupon one with your name attached will magically spring up the next day. It’s such an innocuously simple gesture that binds you emotionally to the place.
Another recommended activity to the itinerary is the visit to the Maasai village. The Maasai welcome you into their homes with open arms, where you dive into an outpouring of the beliefs and values of this fiercely independent tribe, who shun the modern world in favor of their traditional rites and customs. The Maasai village we visited organised a bazaar in a matter of minutes once the news of our arrival reached them. It is a win-win to buy from these bazaars as you know that the proceeds are going directly to the Maasai families, and there are no middle men to take a bite out of their share. Plus, the goods are just fantastic!
One thing you definitely want to have on your checklist is the Hot Air Balloon Safari, where you get to appreciate the beauty of the Kenyan grasslands from an aerial view. There are several operators in the area that offer this experience. It starts with them picking you up before dawn from your camp and driving you for over an hour to the launch site. The actual ride lasts for about forty five minutes; where we were lucky enough to spot a herd of elephants, cheetahs and wild buffaloes on our ride. The balloon flies very close to the Tanzanian border and proceeds to lands on the Savannah plains, which is followed by an exquisite champagne breakfast set out on the grasslands. It is priced rather steeply at 450 USD per person, but the exhilarating experience of swiftly cruising over the exotic wildlife in a hot air balloon is unbeatable.
On our third day there, we completed our Hot Air Ballon Safari in the morning and kept ourselves free for the rest of the day, so that we could personally say our goodbyes to the friendly and hospitable staff at Olare Mara Kempinski. We planted our tree, asked them to look after it and said “See you again, soon!”, then left for the Ol Kiombo airstrip.
Good to know:
1) Kenya Airways flies three weekly direct flights from Hong Kong to Nairobi on a Dreamliner 787, which departs at 9.40 pm HKT and lands at Nairobi airport at 5.15 am EAT the next day.
2) Air Kenya operates multiple daily flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara. Currently, booking on their website comes with a 5% discount. Flights though expensive prove to be valuable, as the road conditions and traffic in Kenya are one of the most nightmarish parts of the trip.
3) Travel between July and October if you wish to see the wildebeest migration, which is the greatest wildlife show on earth. Remember that our midsummer is the African winter, so you will need warm clothes for dawn game drives.
4) Get into the mood beforehand by reading Karen Blixen’s classic Out of Africa, and I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann; or watching the BBC documentary Big Cat Diary before your trip.