One of Encounter Mara's strengths is its youthful management team and local community staff.
Encounter Mara: Our full report
Encounter Mara is a luxury tented camp, opened in 2011, tucked in a shady forest of orange-leaf croton and Euclea trees on the edge of a vast open plain in the recently created Mara Naboisho Conservancy. There are no permanent structures at the camp and thus never anything but canvas between you and the bush. The camp is comfortable and stylish, however, and certainly aimed at those who appreciate a bit of luxury.
In 2015, Encounter Mara was taken over by the long-established and renowned camp owners Asilia, effectively making it the sister camp of nearby Naboisho also in Mara Naboisho Conservancy.
Pathways laid with elephant-dung link Encounter Mara's parking area with the camp’s central facilities - dry elephant dung is in plentiful supply in the conservancy and beds down to a soft, springy ground covering that is a pleasure to walk on. The main areas at Encounter Mara consist of two separate tents, one for meals and one serving as a lounge, furnished with chairs and sofas. The lounge tent has a scattering of interesting coffee-table books and fresh flowers, and a charging point for batteries. For much of the year, and depending on guests’ preferences, meals are taken outside: on the lawn for breakfast or brunch, or in a shady spot nearby for lunch and dinner – both thoroughly enjoyable locations. That said, it may sometimes be more comfortable to have dinner in the dining tent, as it can get chilly in the evenings, especially in the slightly cooler months between June and September.
Both the mess and lounge tents are simply furnished, with high-quality, contemporary furniture. This lends a modern, slightly minimalist feel to what is a new camp, and it works really well.
This contemporary style has been carried through to Encounter Mara’s 12 tents, which are classic in design, with flaps that open up almost entirely at the front, and with one wall made entirely of mosquito screen. The tents are bright and airy, with plenty of room for the king-sized beds, flanked by modern and stylish bedside lights. Each tent can be a double or a single, or if necessary can accommodate a double bed and two singles. Soft furnishings are in muted safari tones. Every tent has a large wooden lock-up chest for safeguarding valuables and there is plenty of storage space for clothes.
The bathroom is located, unusually, to one side of the bedroom area, with a chemical loo, twin washbasins and a 40-litre safari shower of hot water, filled by the staff on request. Eco-friendly toiletries are provided in lovely glass flasks, as is filtered drinking water.
Outside on a shaded veranda are two directors’ chairs and a large and comfortable day bed. Most tents also feature a hammock hanging beneath a nearby tree. In short, there are plenty of spots to while away your siesta time – and all of them look out over the plains in front of the camp.
A variety of game-watching activities is on offer at Encounter Mara. Most guests head out twice a day on game drives around the extensive earth roads and bush tracks of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy – from 6.30am to 10.30am (or back earlier if you prefer) followed by brunch, and again in the late afternoon, usually leaving at about 4.00pm after you’ve had tea and a piece of cake, returning to camp as night falls at about 6.45pm. Again this can be a little earlier or later if you prefer. Game drives are in open-sided Land Cruisers with canvas roofs that can be rolled back. The camp has one bronze-level and three silver-level KPSGA guides. Their usual practice is to drive with a guide and an animal spotter at all times. On night drives, the spotter directs the lamp.
During the migration season when wildebeest crossings can be seen, you can also opt for an all-day game drive into the Maasai Mara National Reserve, packing a picnic breakfast and lunch. Separate fees are payable to visit the reserve ($80 per adult).
As well as day-time game drives, Encounter Mara offers night drives. Night drives normally incorporate a sundowner drink and a return to camp for a late dinner, or (by special request) they set off after dinner for a couple of hours, slowly driving through the Mara Naboisho Conservancy’s exciting bush and savanna environment before returning at about 10.00pm.
A more recent addition to activities at Encounter Mara is quite adventurous game walks. The new manager is a FGASA Level 3 advanced trails guide (a highly respected South African qualification), with a vast experience of safari trails walking. The walks go out with an experienced armed guard, carrying a .308 rifle, and are either a nature walk, for families with young children, in the immediate surrounds of the camp; a bush walk for around an hour (minimum age 12); or a longer bush walk for serveral hours (minimum age 16). Although safety is an absolute priority, on the longer bush walks you are quite likely to encounter elephants and big cats - at a respectable distance!
Encounter Mara also offers visits to a local Maasai village, Enooronkon, a 20-minute drive away. These visits last an hour or two and cost US$20 per adult, which is paid to the camp managers and and passed on to the community via the conservancy’s community liaison. Although we didn’t experience this visit ourselves, the managers assured us that this is a much better experience than the average Maasai village visit, with no heavy pressure to buy souvenirs.
A low-profile electric fence surrounds the camp to deter buffalo and elephant. They recently added in a small hide just by the camp, which is near to a salt lick, frequented by elephant, buffalo, and even the odd lion! It's a lovely spot to take a drink and sit with a air of binoculars between activities.
Our viewEncounter Mara camp is a simple set-up which still feels much like a tract of wild bush where the camp has temporarily settled. With its new owners having an outstanding reputation, we think this very reasonably priced option, with its delightful bush-camp feel, is one of the best choices in the Maasai Mara ecosystem if you're looking for a keenly priced camp.
Ideal length of stay: At least three nights
Directions: The nearest airstrip is Naboisho (also known as Ol Seki) which is less than half an hour’s drive away.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Meals are tasty and well prepared. To some extent the day’s meal pattern will depend on what everyone is doing in terms of drives or other activities.
During our visit in February 2012, we were offered an early breakfast with tea or coffee and light bites, returning to camp for a brunch of beetroot and cucumber salad, stir-fry noodles and quiches.
For afternoon tea, expect sweet and savoury snacks, sandwiches and cakes.
Our dinner started with a very good pumpkin soup, followed by fillet of beef with peppercorn sauce and vegetables, and rounded off with a creamy mango mousse.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Local soft drinks, beer, house wine and spirits are included. Imported drinks, including premium spirits, premium wine and champagne, are extra.
Further dining info: They will do private dining for couples.
Attitude towards children: Encounter Mara welcomes children with the understanding that little ones will require supervision.
Property’s age restrictions: No formal age restriction
Equipment: There are baby cots and a few board games, but no children’s club or dedicated guide, and no babysitters are available.
Generally recommended for children: Encounter Mara is fine for children, but is basically an adult camp, so parents will need to be constantly responsible for their offspring.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: There is no internet access, but there is cellphone coverage so guests can use smart phones or dongles with their laptops. However, the camp requests no phone use except in tents. Guests may use the camp’s cellphone if urgently needed.
TV & radio: No TV or radio; this is a remote and peaceful place.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The managers are trained first aiders and so are the guides. There is a first-aid kit in each vehicle and also in camp. The nearest doctor is via ISAA, a medivac organisation based in Nairobi.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted at night between main areas and their tents; conservancy rangers are on call if there are any major issues.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are positioned at every tent and in main areas. Staff are trained to use them.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry – hand-washed and line-dried – is included in the rates, except for ladies’ underwear as they have an all-male staff. Depending on the weather it’s normally returned within 24 hours.
Money: There are lock-up boxes in the tents. No currency exchange is possible.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa and MasterCard are accepted, with no surcharge for payments for drinks and village visits.