15 August 2017

Kenya: Glamping in the Wild Maasai Mara

Nothing beats a safari in Kenya like a visit to the Masai Mara National Reserve. For those who enjoy the finer things in life, glamping (glamorous camping) is a wonderful way to experience a tented safari without compromising on comfort.

Upon arrival, a host of smiling staff and the camp manager are on hand to welcome guests. A step stool is quickly brought to the door of the safari vehicle to help guests disembark.

They are then led to a living-room area in a canvas tent, open on three sides and with endless views across the plains.

There are Afghan rugs, and low coffee tables spread with books and brass lamps, creating a feel of old-style safari camping with luxurious trimmings.

Boutique camps are small, so you won't get lost in the crowd or jostle for lounge seats.

Glasses of lemonade in hand, the manager briefs guests about the camp, which is unfenced meaning that wildlife freely wanders around at night. At Mara Plains Camp, a leopard likes to pass by, his rasping cough grating in the quiet night. In the daytime, it's safe to walk around.

The spacious bedroom tents, with mini verandas, are fitted with feather duvets, plenty of towels and closet space, homemade soaps, and drinking water in a jug, not plastic bottles.

The bath water is very hot, even at Elephant Pepper Camp that has traditional bucket showers refilled with each use. At Cottars Camp, you can bathe outdoors in an old-fashioned canvas bathtub while watching the sunset.

There are no TVs in the camp as the bush offers enough amusement. Wildlife is best viewed in the early morning and late afternoon. The 5am wake-up call comes with hot coffee and home-cooked biscuits.

The safari vehicle is kitted with blankets, snacks, beverages, bird books, binoculars and recharging stations. For longer game viewing trips, the camp can organise a full picnic breakfast in the wild. The windowless Land Cruisers allow for almost 360 degrees viewing and photography.

Most luxury camps are located in conservancies -- community lands bordering the Reserve that have doubled the space for wildlife to roam.

Conservancies allow activities such as guided walks and evening cocktails in the bush. The rich wildlife in the conservancies means there is no need to drive into the Reserve.

In the wildebeest migration season, the camp can arrange an excursion to Mara River. Here you join dozens of tourist vans along the riverbank waiting for the undecided, million-strong animals to cross.

Many upscale camps do not have swimming pools but focus on game viewing and activities for children. In the peaceful afternoons, I read a book or napped to the chatter of birds.

In the evenings, a Maasai in traditional wear escorts guests to the dining room along lantern-lit paths. Individual dietary requirements and food allergies are catered for.

Emphasis is on fresh high quality food and meal times are not controlled. The bar is open all day as beverages are included in the booking price.

Pre-dinner drinks are served in the living area, or around a campfire. On a clear night, a table is laid outside and the meal is served under the stars. If it gets cold, blankets are quickly whipped out. A separate table in a quiet corner can be arranged for couples.

At glam camps the camp manager joins the guests and regales them with tales of bush life. Dinner is table-side service. The waiters come around with tureens of steaming soup followed by the main course and dessert.

After dinner, there is more chatting around the campfire, and possibly a display of Maasai dancing, before everyone drifts away to their tents.

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