Mara Plains is a small and luxurious tended camp in Kenya's Mara region...
Mara Plains Camp: Our full report
Nestled in the trees on the edge of the Ntiakatek stream in the 120km² (30,000 acre) private Olare-Motorogi Conservancy (previously known as Olare Orok), Mara Plains is a small, luxury tented camp which prides itself on offering a personal and high level service. Along with access to Olare-Motorogi, the camp is also within reach of Mara North Conservancy and the main Maasai Mara Game Reserve, so guests have almost 2,000km² to explore.
In 2013 the camp opened after major refurbishments and the tented rooms are significantly larger and more luxurious than before. We think the old camp staff, ethos and general atmosphere have mellowed and improved further making this an extremely attractive base for a Mara safari.
With only seven tents, Mara Plains is one of the smallest camps within the Mara region, giving a very personal and intimate feel and a high degree of flexibility.
There aren’t set meal times or activities here, so if you happen to be out on a morning’s game drive and spot some cheetah tracks, they’ll deliver your lunch to you while you continue to observe; if you are out on a late afternoon game drive and following lions hunting, they’ll hold dinner until you return. We had one of the best wildlife sightings we’ve ever had from Mara Plains in September 2012, when – without any other vehicles around, and with no rush to get back – we watched a mother and daughter leopard play for about 45 minutes, until it was too dark to see.
The tents themselves are very large and extremely attractive, using pale canvas and cotton linings and black mosquito screen to create a very stylish effect, especially when combined with decks of old railway sleepers (they imported several container loads from South Africa). They’ve also added new “family and honeymoon tents" which have their own lounge and dining areas, as well as their own entrances, allowing a little more privacy.
Each of the new tents is raised from the ground with richly coloured rugs spread over the large wooden decking topped by a large marquee-style tent with a wrap-around veranda overlooking the plains. Inside, the beds face the plains. There’s an oscillating fan suspended above the bed for warmer nights, although the mosquito-screen “windows" allow the breeze to pass through easily. The en-suite bathrooms are fitted with double wash basins, a separate flush loo, a veru large shower and – most impressively – a deep stand-alone brass bath.
The three tented main areas at Mara Plains before 2013 have now been rebuilt into a single large lounge and dining tent which is completely open sided with sweeping views. The furnishings are slightly colonial in style, in a rich, earthy, red-and-brown colour scheme, and the plush sofas provide a nice spot to relax with a drink – while if you want to brush up on your wildlife knowledge you will find all you need in the small library. Although there’s a long ironwood dining table, guests often eat under the stars – weather permitting.
As well as day-time safari drives, activities at Mara Plains Camp include night drives, guided safari walks, visits to a local village or school, and, at extra cost (around $450 per person), hot-air balloon flights at dawn across the main reserve. The small team of guides, closely led when we visited by the personal and passionate Richard Pye, were absolutely first-class during both our recent visits. Not only did they deliver very relaxed and intelligent game viewing, they were also unafraid to just sit and watch at a great sighting, and yet knew when to give the animals space or leave altogether. In November 2013, we were accompanied on a very rewarding early morning walk by Richard Pye, carrying a .416 rifle, and met after a two-hour ramble, by two members of staff in a vehicle for an excellent breakfast overlooking a hippo wallow. Nearby, a recently abandoned “leopard larder" dangled macabrely from an acacia, while a trio of elderly buffalos eyed us grumpily.
The vehicles are particularly well equipped for photographers, with adjustable camera trays. Each party of guests has the added bonus of the loan of a pair of Swarovski optic binoculars and a Canon 7D camera with 100-400mm lens each tent – great for wildlife portraits. In addition, one of the managers, Lorna, has a strong background in photography and will happily offer tuition if she is at the camp.
The camp remains extraordinarily eco-friendly despite its luxury and comfort. It’s very interesting to do a tour of the back-of-house areas, with the vegetable and salad garden, the huge solar power plant and battery bank, the water treatment plant and the very well-run laundry and stores. The camp runs completely on solar power and all the chemicals needed in camp are manufactured here naturally, so that no artificial contaminants are introduced into the environment.
Our viewThe location of Mara Plains gives great scope to its activities, which can range across private conservancies as well as the busier national reserve. In camp, we found the welcome warm, the service attentive without being overbearing, and the attention to detail impressive. In short – everything here was both down-to-earth and also first class. Even before the upgrade, Mara Plains was a superb camp; now its new tents have made this the best camp in the Mara ecosystem.
Ideal length of stay: Stay for 3–4 nights to explore the surrounding conservancies and the game reserve itself.
Directions: Olkiombo airstrip, for schedule light aircraft flights, is 11km from Mara Plains and takes about an hour by road. You can also charter a plane to their private airstrip, which is also about an hour’s game drive away.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Great Plains Conservation
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The dining at Mara Plains is very flexible – you’re not tied into set meal times, allowing you to choose between early starts with a packed breakfast, and full-day game drives taking lunch with you.
Generally, if breakfast is taken in the lodge, they’ll have a varied buffet of cereals, fruits and breads, which you can then follow with a cooked breakfast to order. Teas, coffees, juices and a delicious oat smoothie were also available. On a visit in November 2013, we were treated to a superb bush breakfast, including bacon and egg muffins, on the banks of a noisy hippo wallow – quite a contrast!
Lunch is often taken as a packed lunch out on a game drive, and will be something filling and fresh, with light mains and plenty of fresh salads. On a recent visit, a delicious variety of salads, includig a spicy cold chicken salad, as well as fish, were on offer in the camp at lunch time, and eaten under the trees between the main lounge and the bridge.
For dinner, which was served outside on one long table under the stars outside the lounge, we started with an onion puff pastry with balsamic dressing, followed by a beef stew with dauphinoise potatoes, rounded off with a chocolate mousse.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All drinks available in camp are included in the rates, apart from Champagne which is at additional cost. On our last visit a bottle of Möet et Chandon was U$140.
Further dining info: Meals can be served in tents if requested, but such requests are rare.
Honeymoons: Mara Plains is an exceptionally luxurious, yet unpretentious camp, and will suit those that enjoy a down-to-earth atmosphere in very comfortable surroundings. The friendly and attentive service will definitely make you feel spoilt, and the very private tents are lovely.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya
Photography holidays: Mara Plains is a great camp for serious photographers: Canon cameras and 400mm lens are available to borrow, while the vehicles are set up with adjustable bars and beanbags, and there’s a keen photographer on the staff if advice is needed. The camp can burn images to CD, but ideally guests should bring their own storage devices to take images home.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Kenya
Attitude towards children: The managers noted that Mara Plains has a relatively adult atmosphere; only children over the age of 8 are accepted
Property’s age restrictions: 8+ only.
Special activities & services: They can organise bushcraft and spear throwing for children.
Equipment: There is no special equipment, but there is a new family tent.
Generally recommended for children: Mara Plains definitely has an adult vibe to it, so we think it would suit older children better than younger. Younger families could, however, book the camp on an exclusive basis.
Notes: The camp is unfenced so children must be supervised at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: There is free WiFi throughout most of the lodge, but guests will need to have their own device to access it.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Mara Plains has a first-aid kit on site which the managers and some of the guides are trained to use. They also have first-aid kits in the vehicles. In an ermergency, a helcopter could easily land at the camp. The nearest doctor is at Olkiombo at Intrepids which is an hour’s drive away. In an emergency they would link to flying doctors.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There is a guard on duty during the day, and at night, guests are escorted by guards between the main area and their tents..
Fire safety: They have fire extinguishers outside all rooms and organise regular fire drills. There is also a firebreak around the camp.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: There are safes in all the rooms.
Accepted payment on location: Payment for any extras is accepted in US dollars or Kenyan shillings, either in cash or using a MasterCard or Visa, with a surcharge.