The festive season is here! And rather than fly out of the country, plan to dine in the bush amid the trumpets of elephants and bleats of giraffes at the Maasai Mara game reserve.
With more than 100 camps and lodges, the destination has morphed into an astounding natural beauty, but it can also be crowded and some tented camps lack privacy.
Opt for smaller tented camps and those located in conservancies such as Siana, Olare Orok, Mara North, Naboisho, Ol Kinyei and Motorogi along the park’s borders.
You will stay in a camp that is 700 acres away from your neighbour. Most of these smaller lodges also have their own kitchen gardens, so you will eat fresh food daily.
Matira Bush Camp, for instance, is built on a dense forest vegetation over the savannah, away from the crowded Mara and it is surrounded by a small river.
For an extra cost, you view the wild animals from a hot air balloon. When darkness falls, you will listen to the stories of the Maasai and the voices of the African night by the campfire.
“Our small river, with fresh water and dense riverine vegetation, is a paradise for birds, which present a delightful concert from sunrise to sunset,” said Monica Brown, who runs the property.
Other smaller, boutique lodges include Mara Plains camps, Bateleur South Camp, Elephant Pepper Camp or Saruni Mara Camp which has five cottages, one family villa and one private villa.
The lodge is nestled in a secluded valley in the heart of the Mara North Conservancy. In the camp, there is ‘The Love Shack’ which is the perfect romantic retreat.
Entumoto Private Safari Camp is another lodge that stands elevated in the hills of the Megwarra escarpment.
It is part of the Siana Conservancy, on the border of the Maasai Mara reserve, between the park gates Oloolaimutia and Sekenani. It costs between Sh60,300 to Sh127,000.
If you love game drives, most of the lodges such as Tangulia Camp, situated on private land on the western boundary of the Mara Reserve, allow easy access to the Musiara Marsh, the short grass plains, and Rhino Ridge, in the reserve or across the Mara River bridge into the Mara Triangle west of the river.
Tangulia was started by Jackson Looseyia, a safari guide and Dominic Nchoe. They offer negotiated rates for locals but foreigners pay Sh85,862 per night per person.
“A visitor pays extra for guided walk to the slopes of the escarpment outside the reserve to experience the warmth and hospitality of the nearby village. It is great attraction to most our guests,” said Mr Looseyia.
Other less crowded lodges include the Spirit of the Masai Mara and Sekenani Camp.
There is something brazenly luxurious about sleeping in a bush.
Kioko Musyoki, the Mara Sarova Camp manager says a wildlife safari puts you right in the middle of all the action.
‘‘You get a first-hand account of an epic phenomenon and live to tell the tale,” he said.
If you want to hire a lodge exclusively and have it as a home away from home in the bush, you can pay about Sh3 million for 12 tents in camps such as Mahali Mzuri.
Christmas in the wild
For Christmas and New Year’s at Maasai Mara, the day will start with an early morning game drive, followed by a visit to a village and ends with dancing under the stars.
‘‘We find guests really enjoy sharing part of their day with some of our neighbours. As long as the weather is good, Christmas dinner is served by candlelight out in the bush which is a magical end to the day,’’ said Lauren Beaty, the PR executive of Virgin Limited Edition, which owns Mahari Mzuri in an earlier interview.
For those who love Kenyan cuisine, most of the lodges cater for different visitors.
Keekorok Lodge’s manager Joseph Kiruthi says they serve traditional dishes in the Hippo Bar, overlooking a hippo pool.
If you travel to Mara, you can also do bird watching, sports fishing or play minigolf.