Hemingways Ol Seki Mara: Our full report
A designer tented lodge in a stunning location, Ol Seki perches at the end of a ridge in the Naboisho Conserva...... ncy, northeast of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Built in 2005, it was bought in 2011 by the Hemingways hotel group.
On an arrow-shaped bluff pointing south, with a 270-degree panorama, Ol Seki, named after the sandpaper tree – symbolising peace and harmony in Maasai culture – offers mind-cleansing views and spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
The innovative architecture at Ol Seki echoes the panoramic views, with the spacious, breezy, wood-floored dining and lounge tents, furnished with big, soft, comfy armchairs and sofas, following the same expansive, bird's eye theme, accentuated by a vintage telescope. The leather furniture, woven rugs and large trunks used as coffee tables lend an old colonial feel to the camp. Down some steps a little below the lounge tents, there is a decked area with a fire pit and directors' chairs – perfect for sundowners or pre-dinner drinks.
The ten unusual tents at Ol Seki (six standard tents and two family suites consisting of two tents each) are 12-sided, with huge fly sheets protecting the canvas tent bodies and polished wood decking laid with chunky rugs and rush mats. The design gives an exotic and graceful appearance, accentuated by their spaciousness and attractive furnishings – gathered drapes hanging in front of the mosquito screen 'windows' and pale covers over the large and comfortable beds. The bathrooms are a little bit on the small side, with a single basin, a shelf of Hemingways branded toiletries and plastic water bottles provided, though the shower areas are reasonably spacious.
The six standard (dubbed 'luxury') tents are named 'Nina', after the architect's daughter. Ol Seki's suite tents are 'Chui' and 'Simba' and are each an arrangement of two luxury tents, surrounded, like all the tents, by rustic flagstone paving, which also forms all paths in the camp. Simba is particularly well suited to families with small children as the two bedroom tents are interconnected with the central lounge. Chui has a similar arrangement, with two bedroom tents and a central lounge tent, however each of the tents is separate rather than being interconnected. A room steward is assigned to each suite. Using the kitchen area in the suite, he serves drinks, finishes the cooking of guests' meals and waits on them for as long as required. We don't believe this arrangement will necessarily be a huge inducement for many of our guests but it's certainly convenient if you want to be self-contained and very private.
Ol Seki's swimming pool was finished in 2019, nestled between the rocks and surrounded by a stone terrace with a sunken seating area and a fire pit.
The most important activities at Ol Seki are the morning and evening game drives in Naboisho Conservancy, the community-linked conservancy that is shared by just five small camps and harbours large numbers of big cats, elephants, giraffe and other wildlife. At present Ol Seki’s guides hold either a bronze or silver Kenyan guiding qualification and we found them to be conscientious, well-trained spotters, knowledgeable about the species you will encounter and dedicated to safeguarding their local eco-system. On our most recent stay in February 2019 we enjoyed some wonderful sightings, which included a cheetah hunting with her four cubs and also a large pride of lions.
If you want to go into the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Ol Seki will organise a full-day game drive, with picnic breakfast and lunch. Their vehicles are solid-roofed Land Cruisers with roof hatches and roll-up sides. This would normally be arranged in advance and included in the total cost of your trip, but if done in person, the camp charges a rather substantial supplementary $130 per person for a day in the reserve.
In common with all properties in the Mara, early-morning balloon safaris can be booked. These last approximately one hour, followed by a bush breakfast with sparkling wine and then a game drive, arriving back at camp around mid-morning. There are several launch areas and you can expect to be woken as early as 4.00am.
Night drives are included in the cost of your stay whilst walking safaris can be arranged at an additional cost of $40 per person for around a three hour walk. Village visits are also available for an additional $35 per person, this can give a fascinating insight in to Maasai culture and a number of the staff come from the village. Cultural visits can be an attraction for many guests, and for the most part this is a genuine experience, however keep in mind that visitors will often be encouraged to buy items of jewelry and other souvenirs before leaving.
Back in camp, there is a trained masseuse who does massages in guests' tents; these start at around $50 per hour. There are also plans to build a small spa tent in the near future – chat to us for the latest information.
The name Ol Seki – 'sandpaper tree' – says it all: this is a peaceful retreat where the stresses of a busy life can be smoothed away by a combination of the inspiring location, good service, and where you have a chance to connect with a more grounded, elemental environment.
- Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 3 nights
- The Ol Seki-Naboisho airstrip is around a ten-minute drive away.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board
- Food quality
- Ol Seki focuses on international cuisine, with local Kenyan meals an option if requested. Everything is freshly prepared, using as much local produce as possible. We really enjoyed the food when we stayed in February 2019 and found it inventive, plentiful and very tasty.
Breakfast, often after a early-morning game drive, is served at around 9.00am. Guests can expect a selection of fruit, cereal and pastries as well as cooked options to order. For those going on a longer game drive a packed breakfast can be arranged.
Lunch, about 1.00pm, is normally two courses. We tucked in to beef lasagna accompanied by a fresh avocado salad; this was followed by a desert of watermelon balls and mint.
Tea and cakes are at about 4.00pm before the evening game drive.
Dinner is the most lavish meal of the day, often consisting of four courses. On our recent visit we started with bruschetta with a balsamic drizzle, this was followed by a light vegetable soup and then a creamy chicken and Portobello mushroom risotto for the main course. We rounded up our meal with caramelised banana.
- Attitude towards children
- Ol Seki recommends the camp only for three years and above.
- Property’s age restrictions
- There are no age restrictions in the suite tents, but a minimum age of 12 years in the main camp.
- Special activities & services
- Hemingways can arrange a number of child friendly activities such as making bows and arrows, finding wildlife tracks and signs and going on short nature walks around the camp. There are also plans to build a small swimming pool, which when finished is likely to keep children entertained.
- Hemingways can provide cots and highchairs.
- Generally recommended for children
- Not really; Ol Seki is quite a sophisticated, adult sort of camp, and there's nowhere for children to let off steam.
- The many drop-offs and fall points would be a problem for very young children, who would need 24-hour supervision.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Hemingways Ol Seki
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Hemingways Ol Seki Mara have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- There is 24-hour power. Solar power is slowly being introduced with hopes for the camp to have it as their primary power source in the future.
- WiFi reaches most bedroom tents but it is not available in the main areas. Cellphone coverage, especially Safaricom, is usually good.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The bathrooms are plumbed in with flush toilets. Plastic water bottles are provided for drinking.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- All driver/guides have had first-aid training. There's a doctor at Nkoilale and a district hospital at Narok both about a 90-minute drive from camp. The camp also has links with a flying doctors service.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- There are askaris on duty day and night. The camp is not fenced so guests are escorted around camp during hours of darkness. There is a lockable trunk in the tents.
- Fire safety
- Each tent has a fire extinguisher and there are fire drills for staff and any guests present.
Guided walking safari
Hot air ballooning
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Included, except for ladies' underwear, but soap powder is provided. Items are collected in the morning, handwashed, and usually returned in the evening.
- There is no currency exchange.
- 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. Village visits must be paid for in cash.
Other lodges in Maasai Mara Conservancies
Alternative places to stay in this same area.