Porini Lion Camp

Porini Lion Camp: Our full report

Rooms
10 tents
Traveller's rating
Good (76%) From 5 reviews
Children
Best for 8+
Open
1 June to mid-April

In a riverbank location in the Olare Orok Conservancy, Porini Lion Camp is a traditionally styled tented camp in one of the Mara region’s most successful community-owned wildlife conservancies.

Just north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Olare Orok Conservancy is a community-integrated conservancy, renowned for its pristine environment and big cats. It is a relatively new concession and has changed the way most members of the local Maasai community view tourists. The Maasai landowners here have jointly agreed to give up a large part of their grazing lands through the year in exchange for a guaranteed income from the controlled number of visitors who choose to do their safaris on Olare Orok’s 133km² of bush and savannah.

In 2012 Olare Orok joined with the neighbouring Motorogi Conservancy to the north to form a single tourism and conservation area, managed by the same warden and rangers. The two conservancies are unusual for their highly focused conservation work and success of the integration of tourism into the local community. Olare Orok set the benchmarks for sustainable Mara tourism – one tent per 700 acres (just under 3km²) and no more than 12 tents in a camp. Payments from safari travellers are funnelled direct to the Maasai landowners, who in turn are allowed to use the conservancies’ grasslands when drought is causing hardship for their herds.

Porini Lion Camp is a traditionally styled, tented eco-camp, avowing the principle that every element of a camp could be removed without a leaving a trace behind of the human incursion. All inorganic waste is transported back to Nairobi. The staff – all traditionally dressed Maasai warriors and elders from the local community – evidently buy into the concept and are motivated, friendly and helpful.

We loved Porini Lion’s riverbank location and the ten huge, widely spaced and breezy tents, ranged on either side of the central dining and lounge tent along the east bank of the meandering Ntiakatek River. The spacious dining and lounge tent is furnished in a neutral, modern style, with wood-frame armchairs, coffee tables and rugs, and modern dining tables and steel-frame dining chairs. Coffee in a thermos and tea-making requisites are always on hand.

The ten tents are comfortable and unfussy, fitted out with chunky, modern furniture, with thick, soft rugs laid on the vinyl floors. These are not particularly luxurious or stylish tents, but they are very large, bright (three of the four walls are entirely made of mosquito screen) and comfortably functional – perfect for people who want a tented camp experience without frills. The plumbed-in bathrooms have running water for the basin and flush toilet. Hot water for bucket ‘safari showers’ is provided before dinner, or on request at any time.

The manager when we visited, Philip Keter, was an excellent and thoughtful host, a gold-level guide and a mine of information about the Mara and Kenya in general. He has been with Porini camps for many years and trains the guides for all four camps. The other Porini camps, all bookable through Expert Africa, are Porini Mara, Porini Amboseli and Porini Rhino camps.

The main activities at Porini Lion Camp are wildlife-based. Game drives, with an excellent team including silver- and bronze-qualified guides, largely take place in the Olare Orok Conservancy, not just because it is so accessible and game watching can start within seconds of leaving camp, but because the human presence here is so light, with only two other camps (each with just a handful of tents) sharing the Olare Orok Conservancy as members – Kicheche Bush and Mara Plains camps. Guests from other camps in the Mara region are not permitted to do game drives here. Game drives from Porini Lion Camp also frequently venture into the Motorogi Conservancy.

The big cats are all present here – there are invariably more cats than human visitors in the combined Olare Orok and Motorogi conservancies. There are three prides and usually more than 50 lions in the two conservancies, enabling visitors to enjoy some of the best lion watching in the Mara. In 2012, resident leopards included a female and a cub often seen close to camp, while cheetahs (although they tend to range far and wide), included three mother cheetahs with cubs and three young males.

Over the course of just two game drives, we had close encounters with lions on three occasions and with cheetahs once.

Porini Lion Camp’s location, less than 5km from the edge of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and 15km as the crow flies from the Mara River, is an ideal base for visiting the Mara during the wildebeest migration. Guests normally spend one day out of an average stay of three days on an all-day game drive into the eastern (Narok-County-Council-controlled) side of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

As well as day drives, the camp offers night drives, conducted with red spotlights only, to limit the impact on the wildlife. Most animals have reflective layers at the back of the eye, greatly improving night vision, but often causing them to be badly spooked by brilliant white lights: by contrast red light doesn’t faze them at all and in some cases is invisible to them.

Bush walks take place largely on a high ridge of open ground to the west of Porini Lion Camp and the river. They are led by a Maasai guide from camp and escorted by a conservancy ranger carrying a light automatic weapon. This means that the walks have to avoid dense bush, and are limited to areas where the herds of grazing wildlife – notably zebra, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, wildebeest and giraffe – are not considered a threat. Bush breakfasts, lunches and sundowners can all be incorporated into game drives and walks. We are not confident, however, that in the extremely unlikely event of a dangerous encounter which required an armed response, the ranger escorts would have the necessary weapons or experience to deal with it. Consequently, and out of an abundance of caution, we can’t unfortunately recommend these walks to our travellers.

Visits to a village in the local community are possible at a cost of US$20 per person. Unlike some camps and lodges where the majority of this payment is treated as earnings, at Porini Lion Camp all of it is donated directly to the village.

In common with all properties in the Mara, there’s also the option of an early-morning balloon flight (approximately US$500 per person). The balloons take off at about 6.00am from several locations within a 40-minute drive of Porini Lion Camp. Flights last approximately an hour, followed by a bush breakfast with sparkling wine and then a game drive, arriving back at camp around mid-morning.

Our view

Porini Lion Camp is a camp for true conservationists and environmentalists, employing only local Maasai staff, including an excellent team of guides. Staying here is a special experience. The game drives are sensitively and intelligently conducted and the vehicles are particularly good. The game walks with lightly armed escorts are fun but guests should recognise that the routes chosen deliberately avoid even distant encounters with dangerous animals and there are currently no plans to offer walks with more heavily armed escorts into denser bush areas.

Geographics

Location: Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: Three nights to explore the area and try all the activities

Directions: The camp is 12km from Ol Kiombo airstrip, a drive of about 40 minutes without game watching.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: The food at Porini Lion Camp is well-prepared, hearty, safari fare. Food-lovers to whom meals are a key element of the holiday experience might consider the cuisine a bit simple. A weekly rotating menu at all four Porini camps ensures that meal selections are not repeated if you’re staying in more than one camp.

Sundowner bitings during our visit in February 2012 were simple nibbles – Bombay mix and crisps – though we understand that normally a changing selection of snacks is offered, including spring rolls and popcorn, chipolatas, olives and dips, veggie tempura, grilled paneer and macadamia nuts.

For dinner we ate mixed vegetable soup, followed by beef stew with steamed rice and vegetables, and finished with a chocolate fondant. On other evenings we might have been started with grilled aubergine, followed by leg of lamb, couscous and stir-fried vegetables, finishing with lime cheesecake.

A full English-style breakfast was served, with a limited selection of fruit, and there’s usually a bread or pastry of the day – for example croissants, hot cross buns, cinnamon rolls or jam muffins.

We didn’t stay for lunch, but it typically includes several light courses – including a starter of cold soup, followed by cold meat and dishes such as tomato and bacon tart, coleslaw, cashew and pea rice, or tomato, basil and mozzarella – and always including a pud, for example passion soufflé or apple pie and cream.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All drinks, including beer, house wine and local spirits, are included in the rates. The camp does not normally carry premium wines or spirits.

Further dining info: Porini Lion Camp can organise private dining in your tent.

Special interests

Birdwatching: Birdwatching in camp is excellent, especially around the tall Warburgia (elephant pepper trees) trees. There is a good variety of raptors in the area and the rare Usambiro barbet can be seen around camp.

See more ideas for Birdwatching in Kenya

Photography holidays: There are few other vehicles in the area, making the experience exclusive and very personal. The Porini Lion Camp Land Cruisers have a number of helpful modifications for photographers, including adept driver/guides and plug sockets.

See more ideas for Photography holidays in Kenya

Wildlife safaris: Open-sided 4x4 safari vehicles and well-qualified guides are the standout features of game drives at Porini Lion Camp, and you rarely see other vehicles. Night drives are also popular and they use a red light to avoid causing stress to the wildlife. Lion sightings are particularly good in Olare Orok, with several prides resident in the area.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Kenya

Children

Attitude towards children: The camp is unfenced and quiet, so is better for well-behaved children over the age of eight years.

Property’s age restrictions: 8+, but walking out of camp is at the discretion of the guide, so normally children need to be fairly big and mature for any foot activities.

Special activities & services: There are board games, and children can make bows and arrows etc, with local Maasai staff. Staff from housekeeping will babysit in the evenings, but not very small children.

Equipment: None

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Communications: There’s no network reception in the camp and no WiFi, but you can get a signal nearby, and the camp does have email that guests can use if urgently required.

TV & radio: None

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Manager Philip Keter and one of the guides are first-aid trained and both do annual refresher courses. There’s a first-aid kit in the camp and one in every vehicle. The nearest professional medical assistance is at Talek, where there’s a clinic. The camp has links to the flying doctors service in the event of a serious emergency.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Askaris and armed, tourist police officers patrol the camp day and night.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in every tent and near the central areas. Equipment is serviced every six months and staff do fire drills. There is also a firebreak that has been cut in the grass around camp.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: No Laundry Facilities

Money: Valuables can be left with the manager, but there is no safe. Currency cannot be exchanged.

Accepted payment on location: Everything is included at Porini Lion Camp, so strictly speaking, money is not needed. Guests who want to tip or pay for anything can do so in Kenyan shillings or US dollars.