Porini Mara Camp

Porini Mara Camp: Our full report

Rooms
7 tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (95%) From 4 reviews
Children
Best for children 12+
Open
1 July to mid-April

The first tented camp in the Mara region to be run with support from the local community, Porini Mara Camp is a genuine eco-camp nestled around the banks of the Ole Sabukiye River in the Ol Kinyei Conservancy (18,000 acreas of private land, founded by Porini Mara's owner), in the northern part of the Mara eco-system.

Porini Mara Camp's central area consists of the dining and lounge tent, which is on a low rise, with views down to the guest tents and the river. There's a friendly, informal mood in camp, with guests encouraged to chat to staff and learn about the local economy and eco-system. Tea and herbal teas, coffee and cold drinks are available throughout the day and there are rustic sofas to slouch on, with cow hides on the floor.

The seven twin or double tents at Porini Mara are smaller and the furnishings more rustic than those at Porini Lion Camp, but they are still a good size. The camp has recently undergone a soft refurbishment and so we though the tents were looking nice and fresh when we visited. The tents are mounted on wooden platforms raised on posts, thus dealing with the rare occasions on which the river floods, and are made of buff canvas, with built-in dark green vinyl ground sheets laid with bright rugs. There is a single and double bed in each tent, constructed rustic timber. There's a writing table and folding stool, and clothes storage and hanging rail. On the veranda area at the front of the tent, are two canvas directors' chairs and a small table.

At the back of each tent, the bathroom area has a plumbed-in flush toilet on a wooden platform, a pedestal washstand with a single basin, and a corner shower with a wooden floor and shower curtains. Toiletries are simple and filtered drinking water is supplied.

Both open and closed vehicles are available for the twice-daily game drives which form the main activity for guests based here. Porini Mara is the only camp that conducts game drives in Ol Kinyei, but they also do game drives in the Naboisho Conservancy and if you'd like to do a full day in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, that is a third option. The highly committed and well-trained driver-guides are adept at locating wildlife and positioning the vehicle for good photographic opportunities. However, they avoid any stress-causing situations with the wildlife during game drives and are respectful of the environment – of which they are the guardians on behalf of their community.

The popular bush walks from Porini Mara are conducted out on the open plain with traditionally armed Maasai guides and rangers carrying only light arms as an escort. These walks deliberately avoid wooded areas where dangerous animals might unexpectedly be encountered, and the camp considers these walking activities to be safe. We're not aware of any incidents which would call this into question. However, we are not confident that, in the highly unlikely event of a dangerous encounter while walking at Ol Kinyei which required an armed response, the guides and rangers would have the necessary experience or weapons to deal with the problem animal. In consequence, and out of an abundance of caution, unfortunately we can't recommend these walks to our travellers.

Ol Kinyei Conservancy's wildlife is exciting and diverse, with all the usual suspects from the Mara plains present here. There is one very large pride of lions in the conservancy as well as other, smaller groups of lions ousted from this and other prides. Cheetahs, leopards are often seen on game drives as occasionally are aardwolves and wild dogs. According to Porini's owners, Ol Kinyei is becoming a popular area for females to have their cubs away from the busy areas of the reserve itself. Big herds of elephants, sometimes numbering more than 100, are also a common sight. For birdwatchers, Ol Kinyei's diverse habitats, with open grasslands, rocky outcrops and hills, extensive acacia woodlands, and numerous springs and watercourses, offer a multitude of sightings. You should look out for Usambara barbet and Karamoja Apalis.

In common with all properties in the Mara, early-morning balloon safaris (approximately US$500 per person) 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.

Porini Mara takes its light environmental footprint very seriously (the camp is one of only eight in Kenya with an Eco-Tourism Kenya Gold Award). There are no genuinely permanent structures and everything in camp is removable or biodegradable, meaning that it could be dismantled and within a season the bush would take over and no sign would be left of the camp. None of the wood used is from endangered or unsustainable sources. Mahogany is often seen in safari camps: not here. And you won't see any non-indigenous plants or trees around camp, either: all the camp flora is local.

Waste disposal is handled very responsibly, with all the trash from the camp being sorted and most of it transported back to Nairobi Limited quantities of paper and cardboard are burnt on site and biodegradable waste from the kitchen is composted in a covered pit. Pre-fabricated, underground septic tanks deal with guest toilets, so precious local groundwater and surface water are never polluted.

The camp is cautious with its use of water: there is no laundry service, no pool and the tents don't have bathtubs. The safari shower system delivers a 20-litre hot shower to each guest (in practice this is plenty, but you can have more if you want), and guests are advised on the soap-up/rinse-off shower method – which, in the Mara's mild climate, is not a hardship.

Guests have access in the camp office to power sockets to charge their camera batteries, but there is no generator in camp. All electricity is generated by solar panels which, in the months the camp is open, always provide enough power for guest lighting and batteries.

All the camp staff are Kenyan, with 90 per cent of them coming from the Ol Kinyei community. Only the manager, chef and mechanic come from outside the local area. The other Porini camps, all bookable through Expert Africa, are Porini Lion, Porini Amboseli and Porini Rhino camps.

Our view

The pioneering Porini camps appeal to keen wildlife enthusiasts who are environmentally aware and enjoy close cultural contacts with the local community. Porini Mara isn’t fancy, but it’s now very nicely established in a beautiful, quiet corner of a conservancy that is exclusive to its guests. The tents are not huge and the furnishings are relatively rustic, but if you want to experience the bush and the animals without the likelihood of seeing other vehicles, and if you care particularly about good contacts with the local community, then we think you will love Porini Mara.

Geographics

Location: Maasai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: 3 to 4 nights

Directions: The camp is a 20-minute drive from Naboisho (Ol Seki) airstrip

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Gamewatchers Safaris (Jake Grieves-Cook)

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: The food at Porini Mara is hearty and well prepared but not fancy or overly creative.

Early-morning tea and coffee are followed by a morning game drive, then a full breakfast is served at around 8.30am. There are three-course set menus for lunch and dinner.

When we visited in February 2019, the following was typical of what was on offer:

At breakfast, frittata chocolate bread and tomato and bacon bread as well as standard cooked options, fruit and cereals.

Lunch is often served down by the river. In the past we have had chilled avocado soup, caramelised onion and potato salad, spinach and feta tart and a cold meat platter. Dinner will also often start with a soup, followed by meat or fish served with frsh vegetables, and finishing with a light desert such as brandy snaps and cream.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Included (premium wines and spirits excluded and in practice not available).

Further dining info: Can be done

Children

Attitude towards children: Although Porini Mara accepts children, it’s rare that they have little ones in camp.

Property’s age restrictions: No official restrictions but best for 12+

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: None

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: The camp is run entirely on solar power. There is no generator.

Communications: There's patchy Safaricom and Orange network coverage around camp, but these cannot be relied upon. There is no WiFi. If a guest needs to urgently get online, speak to the manager who may be able to assist.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Borehole

Sustainability

Supporting locals through employment and donations

Supporting locals through employment and donationsLocated within Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Porini Mara strives to encompass practices that benefit and educate the local community, whilst preserving their culture and protecting their natural surroundings. This is mainly achieved through local employment and donations.

Even from arrival guests get the chance to delve into the local culture as the staff at the camp is sourced from the local communities. Additionally, access to the exclusive 18,700 acres of pristine wilderness is now possible on roads which have been constructed using local laborers. In addition to the local road maintenance team, Game Scouts have been employed to carry out patrols and make sure all the animals are well looked after and their numbers continue to increase.

Guests can relax in one of the six traditional tents, knowing that simply by choosing to stay at Porini Mara they contribute to the locals’ wellbeing, as the entire conservation fee goes back to sustaining the community. Additionally, as locals own the land that forms the conservancy, the camp pays them a monthly rent, helping locals generate income out of the lease of their land. Moreover, the bush camp has established a bursary fund to support access to education for children in disadvantaged families in Ol Kinyei village. Tourists are encouraged to sponsor one child with donations that would cover uniform and books costs, as well as other school fees. This way, guests contribute to the efforts of the lodge of improving gender equality in schools and reduce the impacts of poverty on education.

All these efforts have been essential in maintaining a balance between preserving the environment and contributing towards improving the livelihoods of the landowners. The responsible ethos of Porini Mara therefore ensures that the environment is responsibly managed and this, in return, leads to a superior safari experience for guests.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Guides are all trained in first aid; the head guide was about to have a refresher course when we visited. There’s a first-aid kit in every vehicle. The nearest doctor is at Mara Sarova, 40 minutes’ drive away.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: In addition to askaris on duty at the camp, armed security guards participate in conservancy patrols – although there have been no incidents to date.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in every tent, and regular fire drills are carried out.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: No laundry service provided. Washing powder is provided in the guest rooms.

Money: There’s a safe in the office. Currency exchange is not possible.

Accepted payment on location: No formal financial transactions are carried out at camp.

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