Two nights as super rich Mara traveller

JWMarriot2 (1)

A spa at JW Marriot at Maasai Mara. FILE PHOTO | POOL

I stop at the swaying bridge wondering if the tented camp in front of me is worth the $2,900 (Sh404,550) per person per night.

I am at Kenya’s most expensive lodge, currently, the JW Marriott Masai Mara which opened its doors recently. Oh! Not figuratively, because the lodge is not fenced.

Built-in the wilderness, you saunter in just like wild animals would. But unlike the elephants, monkeys or buffalos that wander freely, you would have to pay top dollar to secure the most costly sleep and holiday experiences.

We travelled by road. Being a slightly big group, some of us dread flying on those turbulent-y little planes that offer an eye bird’s view of nature but make you mumble ‘Jesus, I’m sorry!’, we took a van.

With good company and a cosy car, you barely notice the five hours on the road fly by.

We arrive at Maasai Mara’s Sekenani Gate at noon and swap cars. We now sit in open tour vans, and then comes the Prosecco.

Nothing speaks to luxury like sipping sparkling wine in the wilderness. On our way to the lodge, warthogs, in plenty, scamper. Male zebras fight. It is low season for the animals too, so there are not so many of them roaming the savannah.

After 25 minutes, we arrive at the lodge, and just like many hotels in Maasai Mara, the entrance is not grand. Just signage, then a bridge.

We walk through the dancing bridge to the big reveal. “Wow,” everyone says. There is a cozy restaurant built near a gigantic fig tree. A lounge area is beautifully decorated. Unconventional and artistic artworks fly across textured walls.

We explore the space further, the exquisite rooms with outdoor bathrooms and jacuzzi, the spa also with a jacuzzi, and the bar with an array of high-end whiskies and wines.

Then there is the most comfortable bed I have slept in so far, which comes with a pillow menu.

During my stay, I resolved to think like a very wealthy person on holiday to see if I would appreciate the lodge better.


The Fig Tree Lounge at JW Marriot in Maasai Mara. FILE PHOTO | POOL

I was insistent on taking only one type of rosé throughout my stay. Not that there was limited stock. They have over 55 varieties of wine in their cellar, from over seven countries, but taking anything more than the Barton & Guestier Rose D’Anjou, a French wine from one the oldest wine houses in Bordeaux, France would taint my palate.

The Food and Beverages manager and resident sommelier at JW Marriott Thelma Kinyutu, one of the few Kenyan women who have risen to such ranks, offers a second rosé option, the Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel.

And whispering to my soul it does, especially when soaking in the jacuzzi.

At this lodge, I experience the calmness of the mind, mingled with joy, things that had escaped my life for months.

The super-wealthy, I imagine, prefer personalised care. One night, I call James O, a Maasai room attendant who writes me night letters; tiny handwritten letters that he would put on my bedside table.

He sets my jacuzzi on and puts an arrow by the door to show that I do not want to be disturbed.

I sit in the jacuzzi for hours, gazing at River Talek, just a stone's throw away. It is the most peaceful place to pass the night. A stick falls from the tree leaving me frightened, fearing it is a leaping leopard.

The stillness and silence at night in Maasai Mara is calming; aside from the voices of the wild echoing in my room, the occasional creak of crickets, and the faraway whoops of the hyenas.

Having a massage in the wilderness or doing yoga under the stars might be something the wealthy would love too. I think.

Self-care or wellness retreats have become an indulgence of holidaymakers. So at 5:30 pm, I book a yoga session.


Wilson Kalage, a resident fitness trainer at JW Marriott in Masai Mara. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Wilson Kalage, a 33-year-old resident fitness trainer, takes four of us through the breathing and achingly efficient stretches.

“We do different types of yoga poses that help stretch the back, thighs, and the whole body. I get people as old as the late 60s, coming for yoga. Other holidaymakers train at the gym,” he says.

The downward dog, tree pose, and backbends are not easy-peasy.

At 6:15 pm, we turn around in a goddess pose to watch the sunset. It is breathtaking. We do a few more stretches before the stars start filling the skies. Wilson asks us to lie on our mats, facing the beautiful sky. Yoga under the stars is heavenly.

Across the gym, there is a spa, tastefully decorated and facing the vast grassland with scattered acacia trees.

The next evening I meet Hellen Mbugua, the wellness and spa manager. She says most of the guests who book massages are couples. But some solo walk-ins, as I did.

“Couples on honeymoon or bae-cations [referring to vacations spent with a bae, aka a romantic partner] come here to be pampered after the game drives. The massages are so relaxing that most men sleep five minutes into the sessions. Women take longer,” she says.


Hellen Mbugua, the wellness and spa manager at JW Marriott in Masai Mara. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Relaxing Zen music with water sounds plays from afar. Face down, she gradually starts massaging from feet up. She takes about 40 minutes to knead the stress out of my body.

It is relaxing but I struggle to sleep instantaneously. She finishes and I am given hibiscus tea then comes the immersion therapy. I immerse myself in the jacuzzi.

They ask if I want my dinner served by the spa area. They change the music to Country, I imagine eating crispy salmon in a bathrobe, inside a spa deep in the jungle, would be ideal.

Sh1 million in two nights

Competing in a class of its own, as the other luxury rooms in Maasai Mara such as Sir Richard Branson-owned Mahali Mzuri, 1920s Cottar’s Lodge, Ishara Mara, and Olare Mara Kempinski are priced slightly less than Sh400,000 per person per night, the JW Marriott general manager Barnabas Wamoto says, “this is perhaps the most luxurious lodges in this region, a rare find.”

So who actually stays in this opulence? I ask Mr Wamoto who says it is families, honeymooners and individuals. While checking out, we meet a Kenyan mid-aged lady wearing palazzo pants, and dainty sandals checking in, solo.

She walks tall. I want to whisper, “Have you no qualms about paying close to Sh1 million for two nights?”


A yogi during a sunset session. FILE PHOTO | POOL

I whisper, perhaps too loudly, that one of my colleagues hears.

“If I was filthy rich,” my colleague says, “I would definitely pay for three nights, but accompanied with a partner.”

The consensus is that anyone who has made vast sums of money should have vastly expensive things to spend it on.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.