Q. We’re planning our safari right now for next summer and we’re going to be ending in the Masai Mara in Kenya. When I went online to see available places to stay, I was absolutely overwhelmed, there are so many. Do you have any recommendations?
A. I know exactly how you feel! There are around 6400 bed nights in the Maasai Mara and surrounding private reserves, more than 100 different properties and camps. Before I tell you my favorites, here are some guide lines for deciding.
First, about half of these are actually inside the reserve, with the other half outside in private reserves. This is very much a southern African model. Consider the great Kruger National Park in South Africa. Most of the lodging is actually outside the park in private reserves like Sabi Sands.
But this model doesn’t work as well in Kenya as it does in South Africa. The game viewing in the Mara is absolutely better inside the reserve than outside. But it is also much more crowded inside the reserve than outside. So for better game viewing: inside the reserve. For a more exclusive or boutique experience: outside the reserve.
The time of year matters. If you are traveling to the Mara when the wildebeest herds have normally arrived from the Serengeti (late June – October), then your best bet is to stay as far north in the reserve, or as far south outside the reserve, as possible. (Except for when they just arrive and just leave.) For the rest of the year (November – May) it really doesn’t matter, as the game viewing throughout the areas is about the same.
Budget is very important. Right now there are three main budget levels: $200-300 per day per person; $300-400 per day per person; and more than $400 per day per person. (These are gross averages. During the lowest seasons, these could be reduced by 50%; during the highest seasons, like the December holidays, they are doubled. There are discounts available in all sorts of ways at all times of the year, and your final costs will also have to at least include transport and park fees.)
The lowest budget level really restricts you to the larger lodges, and there is often nothing wrong with these other than that they’re larger. There are a few camps at this level, but none that I would recommend. So at this first level, I like Mara Sarova Lodge. Also at this level, I like the Mara Serena Lodge but its location is good only seasonally, from July – October, and the company is very directed to large suppliers rather than individual bookings.
Most of the properties are in the mid range, and of these my recommendation is solidly Governor’s Camp. Governor’s actually owns and operates a family of camps in the Mara, and it is Main Governor’s that falls in this range.
At the top end I like Sala’s Camp and Olonana Camp.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you a start. And note one thing: they are all inside the reserve. For me, game viewing is the most important thing!