Encounter Mara

Encounter Mara: Our full report

Rooms
10 tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (93%) From 9 reviews
Children
Best for 12+
Open
Closed in May

Encounter Mara is a luxury tented camp, opened in 2011. It is 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 simple 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 as well as Rekero located further away in the Masaai Mara National Reserve.

Pathways laid with elephant-dung link Encounter Mara's parking area with the camp's central areas and tents - 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 dining, with a large communal dining table, and one as a lounge, furnished with comfortable, yet contemporary chairs and sofas. This lends a modern, slightly minimalist feel to what is a new camp, and it works really well. 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.

A short distance away from the main area is a thatch-covered deck overlooking 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 pair of binoculars between activities, and occasionally meals are served here too.

The contemporary style has been carried through to Encounter Mara's 10 tents, which includes a family tent, and 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 at the back of the tent, with a flush toilet, twin washbasins with cold water, 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. A jug of hot water is provided every morning for washing.

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 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. Their usual practice is to drive with a guide, and on night drives, a spotter joins as well to direct 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 are game walks. 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 or a bush walk for around an hour (minimum age 12); or a longer bush walk. If you are looking for a more substantial walk however then you are better off at Encounter Mara's sister camp Naboisho. 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$25 per adult, which is paid to the camp managers 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.

Our view

Encounter 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.

Geographics

Location: Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: At least three nights to explore this part of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy

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

Key personnel

Owner: Asilia

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 June 2017, we were not here long enough to have a meal, but on a previous visit we were offered an early breakfast with tea or coffee and light bites, returning to camp for a lunch of delicious salads, 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. Filtered water is provided in the tents.

Further dining info: They will do private dining for couples.

Children

Attitude towards children: Encounter Mara welcomes children with the understanding that young children will require supervision.

Property’s age restrictions: 6 years or older

Special activities & services: The team at Encounter Mara will happily teach children how to use a bow and arrow, make fire and they will also take young ones on a nature trail around camp.

Equipment: There are baby cots and a few board games, but no children’s club or dedicated guide, and no babysitters are available.

Notes: The camp is very bushy and, although the camp is fenced, small game does still roam around and parents need to supervise young children at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: Lights work 24 hours a day in the tents, but all charging of devices is done in the main mess tent.

Communications: There is a designated WiFi tent and cellphone coverage is also pretty good 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.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: Toilets are flush and cold water is available 24 hours. Hot water is provided on request for safari showers.

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. The nearest doctor is in Talek, a 45-minute drive away.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Guests are escorted at night between main areas and their tents.

Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are positioned at every tent and in main areas. Staff are trained to use them.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Laundry, hand washed and line dried, is included in the rate. No female underwear can be taken, but soap powder is provided in the bathrooms.

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 acceptable, with a 4.5% surcharge.

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