Saruni Mara is set on a high ridge ...
Saruni Mara: Our full report
On a wooded, south-facing hillside in the far north of the Mara North Conservancy, Saruni Mara is a stylish and unfenced bush lodge with six individual cottage-villas. Unlike most other properties in the Mara’s conservancies – it is built with a degree of permanence, setting it apart from the numerous tented camps found nearby.Related to Saruni Samburu, Saruni Mara is quite a drive north of the other camps in the Mara North Conservancy. Some may see its remote location far from the main national reserve as a negative, certainly those fixated on seeing river crossings (for which you have to be inside the Maasai Mara National Reserve) would. But we saw it as a delightful retreat in what is now becoming quite a busy area – the Mara North Conservancy is one of the oldest and has the most camps of all the conservancies. From Saruni Mara, your first few hours game drive are delightfully quiet – with few other vehicles around to interrupt your game sightings.
Saruni is also located nearby a small village which gives your stay here a more rounded experience than that of just wildlife. Each day you pass by a community – and in doing so learn a little about the way of life here. A winding road takes you from the flat plains of the Mara North Conservancy, up to the lodge itself which has a high vantage point. You see the lodge from the front as you approach, and can marvel at how each room and the main area is individually cantilevered to the hillside.
A stone pathway takes you from the where the vehicle drops you, through grassy lawns to the main areas and your rooms. The first place you reach is the office and shop where the managers are usually to be found, when they are out hosting the guests. It is also where WiFi is available, and a vast array of tempting curious including beaded items from the local community and more opulent ones from Nairobi. If you are lucky, one of the two resident eland might be snoozing here on the porch, posing for up close photographs too.
The path then leads on to the main dining and lounge banda which has an almost ‘cottage-like’ appearance, with dark wooden beams running through white-washed plastered walls and some areas of exposed stone. These walls run along the back and sides of the building, but it is totally open at the front to take the in views. The high thatch roof then further adds to the bright and breezy feel of this room. It is not an overly stylish area in its décor, in fact its actually rather plain. But simple pieces of Swahili furniture add character, and its rustic yet uncluttered look works really well.
A stone bench scattered with cushions offers a place to sit during the day, whilst a softer arrangement of chairs and sofas face a fire lit on cool evenings. We loved the enormous dining table made from old railway sleepers full of its original knots and holes – just watch where you put your glass of wine down! Communal meals are served here, with lovely old fashioned silverware giving a faintly colonial feel to your dining experience.
The Masai Wellbeing Space is a spa and treatment base near cottages 1 and 2 run by trained Maasai massseuses. A free, introductory, thirty-minute massage is offered to every guest. There’s a bathroom here so you don’t have to go back to your room to prepare for your massage after a game drive. Next to the main banda, is an extensive library which is a quiet place to seek refuge, read up on birds and wildlife whilst taking in views from the open front. That said, it was quite a dated building when we were there – people may prefer to lounge on the veranda of their individual cottages instead.
The six spacious cottages at Saruni Mara are built in the same country farmhouse style, and are very comfortably furnished. Most have fixed bed arrangements. One room can be a double or a twin. To the east of the central area are cottages #3, #2 and #1 (the family villa). To the west are cottages #6 (furthest away, usually used as the honeymoon room), then #5 and #4 closest to the lounge and dining room. Each is furnished in a slightly different theme - Artist, Observer, Writer, Photographer, the Family Villa and the Honeymoon Villa. But broadly all are the same.
Each has lovely wooden floors, polished to a high shine and huge four-poster beds draped in mosquito netting. The woven rugs scattered across the floors, occasional piece of antique furniture such as a stunning brass spotting scope and sherry decanter, add an old colonial charm. There is a lounge area with a sofa or pair of armchairs, then a writing desk, luggage rack and a huge wardrobe where you will also find a small safe for valuables and a hairdryer. Then their terraces give sweeping views down towards the Mara North Conservancy, and a comfortable day bed from which to enjoy them.
The ensuite bathroom is mostly a continuation of the white-washed cottage walls. However, the area by the shower is made from canvas with wide gauze windows giving the shower an almost outdoor feel to it. The powerful shower here might well be the best we have had in the Mara with ample hot running water. Twin ceramic sinks are set atop a wide wooden tabletop in front of a large mirror. Organic toiletries are provided and there is a flush toilet.
Activities are quite varied at Saruni Mara, though most people will spend much of their time doing drives into the Mara North Conservancy. Six open-sided Land Rovers are available for guests (three 9-seaters and three 6-seaters) and the camp aims to give each solo guest, couple or family group their own vehicle where possible. For every three night stay, guests are offered a full day in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach the national reserve and so it is always done as a full day activity with a picnic breakfast and lunch. It is also possible to do bushwalks here with Maasai guides, and village visits (for a small extra fee payable to the community).
Our viewLike its co-owned sister lodge, Saruni Samburu, Saruni Mara makes a very strong impression and is clearly marked by the irrepressible character of its Italian owners. If you're looking for a relaxing and stylish bush retreat, with the opportunity to do local game walks as well as game drives, this is an ideal lodge.
Ideal length of stay: Three days or more – so that you can enjoy the activities but also take an afternoon to relax in the lodge which has a lovely atmosphere.
Directions: Saruni Mara is a 1-hour drive from Mara North airstrip.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Riccardo Orizio, journalist, author and safari guide
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Saurni Mara was good when we were last there - strongly influenced by its Italian owner and so with lots of flavor and especially excellent pasta dishes. Both Saruni Mara and Saruni Samburu operate a shared weekly menu so as to avoid repeats for guests staying at both.
When we were at Saruni Mara we experienced both a bush breakfast, and a breakfast in camp. Which you opt for depends on your individual schedule, usually decided with your guide the day before. When we were out in the bush for breakfast, we stopped on a plain under the shade of a tree which acted as our picnic site with a view of grazing zebra in the background. We were offered stools for seating and a Maasai blanket was thrown over the hood of the car as a table. Cereal, muffins, fruit, toast and cold sausage, bacon and boiled eggs were on offer, with tea, coffee and juices too.
When we were at Saruni Mara for breakfast, a few different cereals, fruit platter and selection of baked goods were laid out for us. Then we were also offered a freshly cook breakfast, with eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and toast.
Possibly our favourite meal at Saruni Mara was the lunch we had in camp. As a starter we had delicious rigatoni (oversized penne) in a rich cheese and tomato sauce, followed by a tasty avocado and feta salad, with a spinach quiche. We then finished with a raspberry fool to finish it all off. This was a set menu served to the table. Saruni also arrange packed lunches for people who go out on safari for the whole day.
Then the evening dinners at Saruni Mara started with nibbles around the fire, as guests gathered together after their day out on safari. On one evening we had pizza slices, on another little salmon rolls. Then as a starter you can expect something like a soup or a pasta dish - we had a pea soup and a piece of lasagna. Then for the main course the steak with pepper sauce and vegetables stuck in our memory. The chicken and pesto dish was a little more forgettable. Desert options might include a mango cheesecake, sorbet or peach amarettis.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All drinks are included except for premium wines and spirits, and Champagne.
Further dining info: Meals at Saruni Mara are usually hosted and communal, though on request they can set individual tables. Meals can also be served privately in rooms, too.
Attitude towards children: Children are welcome at Saruni Mara.
Property’s age restrictions: None.
Special activities & services: For the 6+ bracket, the “warriors for a week" programme brings Maasai boys into interaction with visiting children.
Equipment: Baby cot but no cots or high chairs.
Generally recommended for children: Slightly older children would be best, as Saruni Mara feels quite adult and quiet.
Notes: Housekeeping staff will sit with babies and children, and askaris are close by in the evening. It is important to note that none of the staff are specifically trained in childcare.
Communications: There is good phone signal at Saruni Mara and limited WiFi at the office/shop and around cottages 2 and 3.
TV & radio: Staff quarters have a TV for the odd big match or special event.
Water supply: Transported in
Water supply notes: Hot water is available most of the time but as the kuni-booster needs to be lit – guests will need to ask the night before if they want hot water in the early morning. Bottled drinking water is supplied.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Most guides are first-aiders at Saruni Mara. Aitong clinic is not far away and for serious emergencies medevac helicopters can land nearby.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Askaris are on patrol all the time at Saruni Mara and Mara North rangers are usually around the area.
Fire safety: Saruni Mara has fire extinguishers in every room and most other buildings. Most staff have been trained in using them. There’s a firebreak uphill from camp where forest fires would be most likely to come from.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Machine-washed and line-dried laundry is included in the rates, but in common with most camps, ladies' underwear is not washed for cultural reasons (washing powder is provided in the bathrooms for hand-washing any items).
Money: There are safes in each room at Saruni Mara. They cannot offer any currency exchange.
Accepted payment on location: All major currencies are accepted in cash at Saruni Mara, as are Mastercard and Visa credit cards for which there is a 4% surcharge.