A safari can be likened to an “all inclusive” beach holiday, with the main differences being that activities (i.e. game drives) are included in the cost and you can’t venture out on your own (for obvious reasons!). So, it’s important to ensure that you pick the right Camp(s) / lodges that work for you.
This is Part 2 of our 4 part series on our African Adventure, where we will focus on accommodation options and costs:
Once we decided on the country (Kenya) and National Park (Masai Mara), we then had to select a Camp. There are 2 main options in the Masai Mara, outlined in Expert Africa’s useful map below:
- The National Reserve (pink areas) – This area was established in the 1970s and is protected by the Kenya Government. There is no shortage of accommodation options in this area, however the Kenyan government has imposed a few restrictions to protect and conserve the wildlife and land, which all lodges and camps must adhere to.
- A Conservancy (green areas) – Conservancies are private lands which were established to conserve the environment & wildlife and to protect and empower the local Maasai community. Each Conservancy usually contains just a handful of Camps, but an abundance of wildlife.
Benefits of staying in a Conservancy
Although, it’s typically costlier to stay in a Conservancy than the National Reserve, for us the benefits far outweighed the cost:
- Fewer vehicles
- conservancy vehicles are allowed in the National Reserve (pink areas), but not vice versa
- with fewer vehicles, the animals were relaxed as their space was respected. We were often alone or with no more than a couple of vehicles at an animal viewing. In the National Reserve, it’s not uncommon to see up to 30 vehicles at a particular spot during peak season.
- Fewer viewing restrictions
- vehicles are not restricted to designated tracks and can veer off the beaten path in search for animals.
- within the National Reserve, all vehicles are required to stay on track regardless of how far an animal may be. Depending on the number of vehicles, park rangers may limit your time at a particular animal viewing.
- Night game drives are permitted – animals are most active at dusk or after dark and is often the best time to see a kill or watch them in action. Night drives are not permitted in the National Reserve.
- Bush walks – some Camps will offer its customers the experience of a guided walk within the conservancy, which can be a thrilling experience. This is not permitted in the National Reserve.
Tips if you choose to stay in the National Reserve
- Stay in one of the exclusive camps closest to the Mara Triangle to reduce your journey time to the Mara River & triangle each day
- Try and avoid camps near the river. Staying near a river can mean encounters with mosquitoes and the stench of rotting carcasses.
- Many fellow travellers combined both options to maximise their experience. We didn’t fancy packing and unpacking for 2 nights, so chose to stay in one place. If you do combine staying in both, our safari specialist advised us to stay in the Reserve first as a Conservancy will feel like an upgrade.
We stayed at the Porini Lion Camp in Olare Orok Conservancy for 4 nights, which we booked through the owners, Gamewatchers Safaris. Gamewatchers are an excellent operator with the founder, Jake Cook, being instrumental in establishing the conservancy model. They spent considerable time helping us decide the best option that would suit us. And the added bonus was that we cut out the middle man, avoiding the exorbitant agent mark-up.
The Porini camps offer eco-friendly accommodation, which was clean, comfortable, homely and very spacious, with wifi available in common areas. Each room had flushing toilets and safari showers and was serviced daily. To minimise its footprint on the environment, minor luxuries such as laundry were not offered. As with most Camps, there is no fencing and whilst it’s considered safe to wander within the Camp grounds during the day, a Maasai guide would escort all the guests to / from their tents to the common areas before dawn or after dusk. The grounds were patrolled by Maasai guides in the evenings and nights.
Through our research, we found out that most properties offered more or less the same amenities. At Porini, the furniture was ho hum and the food simple, but what stood out about them was the quality and commitment of the Maasai guides. They are also one of the few operators that provided both a Masai Guide and a Spotter on every game drive, which maximised our chances of seeing these magnificent creatures in action. The guides were so knowledgeable and knew the terrain like the back of their hands. Thanks to their expertise and dedication we saw more animals than we could imagine, which made this one of our best holidays.
At a minimum, the cost of a Safari should include the following:
- accommodation with daily housekeeping
- all meals (we were given tea / coffee with biscuits before breakfast, full breakfast in the bush, lunch, snacks during sunset and dinner which was more than plenty)
- unlimited bottled water, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer & wine, non-premium branded spirits
- 2 game drives during the day and 1 night drive in the Conservancy if staying for 2 nights or more. You can opt for more than 1 night drive, but 3 daily game drives can be tiring (Refer to Part 3 on What to expect on Safari).
- national reserve and / or conservancy fees. If staying for more than 2 nights, 1 day will be spent in the National Reserve
- bush walk (not all camps offer this, so its worth checking if this interests you)
- return airstrip transfers
- return charter flights
Note: what we found is that not all camps included the return airstrip and charter flights in the cost. Whilst you won’t have a choice but to book the airstrip transfer directly with the Camp, the charter flights are operated by external companies and can be booked with them. They charge approximately $350pp for a return trip.
Our safari cost US$5,380 for 2 adults and it included all the above plus:
- Airport pick-up in Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi
- One night stay at Eka Hotel in Nairobi
- Drop-off at Wilson airport to catch our safari charter flight
- Pick-up from Wilson airport following our safari and a day trip to Giraffe Centre & Elephant Orphanage
- Drop off to Jomo Kenyatta airport to catch our flight to London
Porini Lion Camp was a great option for us and we loved our time there, however here are some tips if you choose not to stay here.
- ATR has a useful site which maps out the location of each camp and provides costs and reviews. Our advice is to read the reviews in conjunction with those on Tripadvisor (TA).
- Obtain a quote directly from the Camp first before booking with an agent; we found the agent mark-ups to be as high as 20-30%. We found the Camps with good TA reviews to be very prompt, professional and reliable.
- If travelling in peak season, book early as the good camps get booked out months in advance. And as most operators require a 20% non-refundable deposit, cancellations tend to be rare.
- The Camps drop their prices considerably at the end of peak season, so if you’re flexible with your dates, early October is also a fantastic time to visit.
Have you stayed at one of the Porini Camps? We’d love to hear your experience of how this compared to what we’ve described Porini to be.