Karen Blixen Camp

Karen Blixen Camp: Our full report

Rooms
22 tents
Children
Good for all ages.
Open
All year

Named after the Danish author of Out of Africa, this beautifully sited, Danish-owned, tented camp is located on the east bank of a broad loop of the meandering Mara River. The camp is a member of the Mara North Conservancy, where the guides usually conducts their game drives, and it’s also within striking distance of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, whose Oloololo Gate is about 15km to the south.Approaching the camp from Mara North airstrip, you turn off the main track towards the river and begin a long, gentle descent across a rock-strewn plain, eventually doing a zigzag into thicker bush and arriving at the camp’s boom gate. The shady parking area is close to the reception, dining area and bar, all of which are sheltered under a large, pitched roof of Kilgoris grass tiles. Beyond the roofed area there’s a terrace of crazy paving with a central fire pit for evening campfire time, surrounded by wood and canvas safari chairs. Beyond the terrace, lawns extend to the steeper part of the river bank, where a tangle of vegetation helps to deter crocs and hippos from visiting the camp.

The river-front lawn is a popular spot for guests to relax. The local hippo pod can always be seen on the sandy shore directly opposite the camp, and after rains a tributary stream of the Mara enters the main river at this point, creating a much larger hippo pool. As well as the wallowing hippos, the area is a favourite watering spot for elephants, buffalo, eland and zebra. During our stay, a large female croc was guarding her nest on the bank, just below the footpath leading away from the lawn towards the north wing of tents.

While the dining arrangements at Karen Blixen Camp are quite hotel-like, with individual tables, the central dining area, lounge and bar (the “mess area") has a relaxed, convivial feel that makes it quite easy for guests to mingle. The staff are friendly and attentive.

The modestly sized freeform swimming pool, behind tents 9 and 10, was looking slightly murky during our stay, but we were told there had been a problem with the pool filter which was due to be fixed.

Karen Blixen Camp has 22 large, platform-mounted tents, ranged along the riverbank, each with a plumbed-in, partly open-air bathroom at the rear, and a veranda with deckchairs at the front. Tents #6 to #1 extend to the north of the mess area and tents #7 to #22 are ranged along the riverbank to the south. All the tents are close to the riverbank, but #6 (the closest to the central area in north wing) and #22 (the furthest away to the south) have the best views and are the most private. Tents #7-18 are a little more closely spaced than the others. Tents #15 and #16 share a single platform, making them ideal for a family. Note that if you’re in one of the more distant tents, it’s a 300-400m walk to the central area, so you’ll need to allow a few minutes to reach the mess area.

The style of the tents is traditional, with a heavy canvas construction, and roll-up window flaps allowing good ventilation through the mosquito screens. The tent floor is of solid, reddish wood and the furnishings aim to emulate a 1920s “Out-of-Africa" style, with an armchair, chaise longue and electric bedside lights disguised as hurricane lamps. A whistle is provided to alert camp guards (askaris) after dark that you’re ready to go to the mess area. Comfortable beds, either set up as twins or a double, are backed by shelving and a writing desk, and the large bathroom and outdoor shower area are directly behind.

The spacious bathrooms, divided from the bedroom area by a tent flap, feature a wooden washstand with double steel washbasins, wooden storage shelves and towel rails, and a conventional flush toilet. Through a flap at the back of the tent, beyond the main bathroom area, is the outdoor shower and bathtub, fully screened for privacy, but completely open to the sky. Toiletries are provided in refillable glass flasks.

The main activities at Karen Blixen Camp revolve around game drives in the Mara North Conservancy in the camps’ ten Land Cruisers. These are completely open at the rear, with roll-up sides, and they’re fitted with six comfortable, leather-and-canvas-upholstered seats in three rows of six. They all have power points for charging batteries – but check yours is working before relying on it.

We enjoyed very productive wildlife-viewing during our stay at Karen Blixen Camp in November 2013, with multiple sightings of lion prides, as well as cheetahs and a night drive (returning to camp about 8pm) that yielded a beautiful serval cat and, remarkably, an aardvark busy excavating a burrow. Our uniformed driver/guide was experienced and efficient without being notably enthusiastic.

As well as the Mara North Conservancy, Karen Blixen Camp can do game drives in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, usually going out for a full-day game drive with packed meals. The camp also has access to its own private Oloisuk Concession – an area of 9km² where they conduct nature walks focusing on tracking, plant life and birds.

Other activities include visits to a local Maasai compound and back-of-house tours of the camp, giving an interesting insight into its sustainable practices. These can include a visit to the remarkable catering school set up by the camp, where local students learn cookery and nutrition from an energetic young Danish chef.

Our view

Karen Blixen Camp is a well run camp that’s perennially popular with visitors who are not looking for a hosted safari experience. Comfortable and professionally managed, with good guides, its location and aspects of its environmental practice make it stand out.

Geographics

Location: Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: 3 nights-plus

Directions: 30 minutes transfer from Mara North airstrip.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Karsten Ree

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: The camp’s food has an excellent reputation, but during our stay was not up to the standards we had been expecting. Early morning tea or coffee are served in the mess area and a standard buffet breakfast of cereals and fruit (with cooked breakfast to order) from 8am onwards. Our lunch (from 12.30–2pm) included a rather salty pea soup followed by a Kenyan-style “beef fry" of curried beef with rice, chick peas and chapattis. Dinner (from 7pm onwards) started with beetroot soup, and was followed by a choice of Nile perch swamped in tartar sauce or somewhat fatty lamb chops. Vegetarian options are always available on request, but you need to specify your requirements when booking.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Soft drinks, house wine and beer are included. Spirits and premium wines are charged at extra cost.

Further dining info: Room service is available.

Children

Attitude towards children: Children are welcome

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: Bow and arrow games can be organized.

Equipment: High chairs and baby cots are available.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: The camp is largely powered by solar energy with generator backup and the tents have 24-hour power. Hair driers can be used on request. Battery-charging in rooms.

Communications: A Wi-fi network is available in the central areas. Airtel and Orange phone networks are generally available in camp, though the most popular network, Safaricom, is only available up the hill away from the river.

TV & radio: The TV in the manager’s tent is brought out for large audiences for special events.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The camp uses its own borehole, with a back-up supply from the river. From the camp’s water tank, the water goes to a filtration system before being distributed. Plastic-bottled drinking water is supplied to the tents. All rooms have the same plumbing, with hot showers available at breakfast time and from around 4-8pm. The camp also using a limited number of gas water heaters

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: First aid training has been done with St John Ambulance and the local clinic at Mara Rianta village can be reached in less than fifteen minutes. There’s a helicopter landing pad nearby, just up the hill.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: The camp’s main gate is patrolled around the clock and there are askaris on site day and night. After dark, all guests are escorted to and from their tents.

Fire safety: Every tent has a fire extinguisher but no fire-training has been done so far.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: There’s an extra charge for laundry, which is usually hand-washed (though they also have a machine) and line-dried. For cultural reasos, ladies’ underwear can’t be laundered.

Money: Guests put their valuables in lock-up bags which are then brought to the office. The lock boxes in guest tents is not for valuables. Foreign exchange is available subject to the camp having enough cash on hand.

Accepted payment on location: Amex, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, with no surcharge unless a cash advance is required. All the main currencies (Kenya shillings, US dollars, Euros and Pounds sterling) are accepted for cash payments.