Hemingways Ol Seki Mara

Hemingways Ol Seki Mara: Our full report

Rooms
10 tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (100%) From 1 review
Children
Fine for 12+
Open
1st June – 16th April

A designer tented lodge in a stunning location, Ol Seki perches at the end of a ridge in the Naboisho Conservancy, 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 armchair 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 designer toiletries and separate loo area, 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 extensive decking, and joined by a wooden catwalk. The two bedrooms are linked by a lounge in the middle, and Simba is particularly well suited to families with small children. 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.

The most important activities at Ol Seki are the morning and evening game drives in Naboisho Conservancy, the new community-linked conservancy that is shared by just five, small camps and harbours large numbers of big cats, elephants, giraffe and other wildlife. We didn't have the opportunity to go out with Ol Seki's driver/guides, but we have the impression that they are conscientious, well-trained spotters, knowledgeable about the species you will encounter and dedicated to safeguarding their local eco-system. 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 and walks and village visits are also available for an additional $25 per person.

Back in camp, there is a trained masseuse who does massages in guests' tents.

Our view

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 and good service, and where you have a chance to connect with a more grounded, elemental environment. We have only visited the camp, we haven't had a chance to stay at Ol Seki yet, but we're looking forward to the day.

Geographics

Location: Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: 3 nights

Directions: The Ol Seki-Naboisho airstrip is just a few minutes' drive away.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Hermingways

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Ol Seki focuses on international cuisine, with local Kenyan meals an option if requested. We didn't stay (or eat) at Ol Seki, but it has a good reputation for its food. We spoke to the head chef and looked over the menus to get a feel for what can be on offer.

Breakfast, often after a long 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.

Lunch, about 1.00pm, is normally a three-course buffet. Starters may be along the lines of prawn, mango and avocado salad, with main courses such as homemade pizzas. Light desserts may be fruit salad or stewed tree tomato.

Tea and cakes are at about 4.00pm before the evening game drive.

Dinner is the most lavish meal of the day, and is served to the table. To start, there may be an individual mushroom and spinach quiche, or stuffed courgettes. For the main course, perhaps a fillet steak with roasted vegetables, or sweet and sour pork kebabs with cous cous. An apple strudel or banana medallions may be on offer for dessert.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor Dining

Drinks included: With the exception of premium wines and spirits, all drinks are included.

Further dining info: Yes. The Chui and Simba tents have their own kitchen areas where staff finish the cooking and presentation of their meals for those guests, before serving them privately.

Children

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 8 years in the main camp.

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: Hemingways can provide cots and highchairs.

Notes: The many drop-offs and fall points would be a problem for very young children, who would need 24-hour supervision.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

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.

Communications: WiFi reaches most bedroom tents but it is not available in the main areas. Cellphone coverage, especially Safaricom, is usually good.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The bathrooms are plumbed in with flush toilets. Bottled water is provided for drinking.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: All driver/guides have had first-aid training. There’s a doctor at Nkoilale and a district hospital at Sekenani (national reserve gate), both about an hour’s drive from camp.

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.

Fire safety: Each tent has a fire extinguisher and there are fire drills for staff and any guests present.

Extras

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.

Money: 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.

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