“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Author unknown
The main allure of travel is that of wandering in unfamiliar foreign lands. It allows one to let our curious and eager senses guide us through the hours of the day, to lose and find oneself, to be absorbed by the sights of the new landscape whilst mingling with the locals, to be reminded once again of how good people can really be… or simply to just observe your surroundings – like a fly on a wall, as the locals go about their daily activities. Travel weaves the endless possibilities of what our days could become.
We made the journey to East Africa at the end of January to attend a close friend’s wedding at Lake Elementaita, at a camp close to Nairobi. Following our holiday by the beaches of Zanzibar, we planned the greatest adventure for the last leg of our trip – a Safari holiday at the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Despite the modernization of our societies, the African continent still retains an exotic appeal. Contributing a mere 5-6%* to the global tourism market, the continent is relatively sheltered from the commercial exploitation, loss of authenticity, and staged authenticity that international tourism inadvertently brings with itself. To put things into perspective, compare Africa’s 5% share of the global tourism pie to Europe’s 52%, or 22% of Asia Pacific.
There are two ways to get to Masai Mara. Situated approximately 280 km west of Nairobi, one can start by drive down from Nairobi, which consumes about 5-7 hours. The other option is to take a scheduled forty minute to one hour flight with air charter companies which conveniently lands you at the airstrips closest to your camps. We took an Air Kenya flight which flew us to the Ol Kiombo air strip of Masai Mara, where James (our driver and safari guide) was there to take us to Kempinski Olare Mara Tented camps – our home for the next three days.
The air strip is located inside the National Park and you are required to pay parking fees of 80 USD per person when you land here. With bags loaded we excitedly started off towards the camps, only to be stopped mid-stride by a pair of giraffes casually munching on leaves barely a mile from where we stood.
Wildebeests were a common sight in packs of large numbers, followed by practically all the other members of antelope family (Thompson’s Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelles, Impalas, Gerenuk, Defassa Waterbuck, Eland, Topi, and Hartebeest). Amazingly, all of them were spotted within the time it took us to drive away from the airstrip to the camp.
And just as we were feeling satiated with our fill of wild animals, who else but the King of the Jungle himself was found sprawled under a tree right next to our camp in all his glory! And here we thought our game drive was only supposed to begin in the late afternoon!
On arrival, the staff at Kempinski had prepared a traditional welcome by the Maasai people (an ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania) for us. It was quite an experience as they danced and sang their songs of unity and happiness.
We proceeded to the main tent where Dominic, our highly personable camp manager at Kempinskito, briefed us about the layout of the property and the camp rules.
I feel that the main considerations when choosing a site of stay at the Mara are, in no particular order, the Facilities and Service, Quality of Game Drives, Location and finally the Level of personalisation offered. Olare Mara Kempinski fared outstandingly well on each metric.
Facilities & Service
Imagine waking up in the middle of the wilderness and hearing nothing but the sounds of birds chirping, animals grazing and the wind in the tall grass. This is typical of a normal start to the day at Olare Mara Kempinski.
Erected on the banks of the Ntiakitiak River, the camps can accommodate a total of 24 guests at any given time. Each of the 12 tents are furnished in the classic style of the grand African safaris – with four poster or twin beds, outdoor and indoor showers, an over-sized old fashioned claw foot bathtub and a teak deck spreading over 860 sq feet of wilderness. The honeymoon suite even has its very own plunge pool overlooking the stunning Mara plains. Imagine the bliss of lying in the plunge pool while sipping on some expensive champagne as one watches the giraffes pass by!
The camp’s design sensibility blends a rustic African ambiance with the elegance of the Kempinski legacy, keeping it sophisticated, yet restrained and vintage.
The friendly staff led by John and Dominic made for an enthusiastic host, chipping in occasionally with amusing anecdotes about life in the Masai Mara.