The location of Governors' Camp brings it year-round popularity.
Governors Camp: Our full report
One of the oldest camps in the Mara, located on a thickly forested meander of the Mara River, Governors Camp is also one of the biggest. This is really the main location of a giant camp split into three neighbouring sites, consisting of this the main Governors camp, Little Governors and Governors Il Moran camps, all clustered around the river in the northwest corner of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The name refers to the site supposedly being favoured by the colonial governors of Kenya.
Main Governors’, as it is sometimes known, was the first of the Governors’ group, built in 1972 on the site of an old campsite on the riverbank, and now much extended so that the whole camp covers more than 1.6 hectares (4 acres), ranged around a deep ‘w’ on the Mara.
The camp is unfenced and, happily, they have managed to preserve much of the original forest. Entering the camp from Governors’ own Musiara airstrip, you drive down the entrance track through dense stands of trees and jungle, and into the car park. It’s a busy area, with lots of vehicles, staff milling around and all the paraphernalia you’d expect of a place that regularly looks after more than 70 guests.
This is one of the busiest camps in the Mara and can sometimes feel like a human zoo within the wildlife reserve. Despite being busy, however, Governors’ has a pleasant, laid-back feel to it and is probably best suited to travellers who are happy being left to themselves, participating in hotel-style meal times and joining up with others for the shared game drives.
The key asset here is not the camp itself: it’s the location. Governors’ has one of the best spots in the Mara and the owners haven’t been in this business for more than 40 years without learning how to make the most of it. Of the 37 tents, 28 face the river, with its hippos, birdlife and even the occasional wildebeest river crossing during the August to October migration (the most likely crossing point in camp is just downstream from the lawns and deck area where guests often have afternoon tea). Nine tents face the plain – six of them family-sized units – where ambling elephants and the odd roaming lion pride can be spotted from your ‘front door’.
Around camp, the wildlife has adjusted to Governors’ human community in their midst, and while predators stay away from camp, some species have learned they will be tolerated and even tacitly welcomed. Popular residents of camp are the large colony of dwarf mongooses, while the big, one-tusked bull elephant who was trawling the camp for Green Heart fruit when we visited in September 2016 was going down a storm with family guests.
Governors’ is a permanent camp, both in the sense that it was built to last, and in the sense that its original designs made no attempt to reduce its environmental footprint. It still doesn’t reflect many modern environmental standards, though it has recently started a recycling project in Ongata Rongai, near Nairobi, employing people to recycle Governors’ waste cardboard and paper into fuel briquettes. The camp buys these back from the project to fuel their new hot water system.
The central areas of Governors’ Camp incorporate a reception office and a small shop, pleasant lawns and a drinks terrace overlooking the river. There are plans to completely refurbish this area at the end of 2016. The dining-bar-lounge tent is a capacious marquee-like structure with a tiled floor and simple directors’ chairs and tables. The chunky bar stools are a reminder that Governors’ is a social scene as well as a safari camp: people make friends here quickly and any pub-goer will feel at ease.
Crazy-paving paths link the main areas of the camp to the tents, which are fairly close together. These are suspended from heavy steel frames built on solid concrete plinths, set with crazy paving. Stretched across the frame is a durable canvas flysheet, with a second thin flysheet above that to provide some sun protection.
Tents at Governors' CampThe standard tents are smaller than the average for this level of camp, but reasonably comfortably furnished, with rush matting covering the concrete bedroom floor, twin or double beds, bedside tables, plug sockets taking three-pin, UK-style plugs (generator power available for charging batteries between 5am and 11pm), and a small glass-topped dressing table with a director’s chair.
Outside each tent, on the veranda, there are two more director’s chairs and a table – though all too often the general access path to the tents cuts in front of the verandas, so your privacy tends to be curtailed. These director’s chairs are the only seating in the tents – no recliners, daybeds or armchairs – so there is nowhere really comfortable to flop apart from the bed itself.
The built-in tent bathrooms have half-height wood-panel walls, a tiled floor and an attractive ‘country cottage’ paint scheme that makes them a lot lighter than they would otherwise be, given the amount of tree cover and the lack of mosquito-screen ‘windows’ in the bathroom area. The bathrooms have standard flush toilets and adequate walk-in showers, but no shower screens. Hot water is provided by a Kenyan, wood-burning ‘kuni booster’ for each tent.
The one suite at Governors’ Camp is the same as the standard tents at Governors’ Il Moran Camp.
Family tents are created by hanging a second tent on the veranda of a normal tent and therefore increasing its overall size – children sleep in this add-on area.
Safari activities at Governors' CampThe principal safari activities at Governors’ Camp are game drives – early morning, and late afternoon – in one of the camp vehicles. Governors’ uses mostly open-sided Land Rovers with two rows of seats in the rear, and the option for one passenger to sit next to the driver-guide. More than 40 driver-guides work for Governors’ camps in the Mara. Many of them have passed bronze-level exams in the last few years, and five have passed silver. The drivers, each based at a particular camp, are responsible for their own vehicles.
Drives take place along the forest margins east of the river, and then fan out around the Musiara sector of the national reserve, to Paradise Plain or Rhino Ridge, or go further to visit the reserve’s Sekenani sector. In terms of visitors, this is the busiest part of the Mara eco-system, especially during the wildebeest migration, when hundreds of minivans and 4x4s crawl the earth roads in the hope of seeing a kill or a wildebeest river crossing. Even off-season, you will inevitably share most of your best sightings with anything from one or two to a couple of dozen other vehicles.
In common with all properties in the Mara, early-morning balloon safaris can be booked. All Governors’ guests take their balloon flights from Governors’ own launch site at Little Governors’ Camp. From Governors’ Main Camp you take a vehicle transfer to their little boat jetty at about 5.30am, followed by the 30-second ferry across the Mara, and then a five-minute walk to the launch site behind Little Governors’ Camp. The flight lasts approximately one hour, landing in the Mara Triangle, where you have a bush breakfast with sparkling wine, and then a game drive, arriving back at camp around mid-morning.
Our viewThe location of Governors’ Camp is unbeatable, with superb game-viewing around the Musiara Marsh. The popularirty of the area means that you rarely have those special moments to yourself – but if you can forgive this, and are comfortable with formal times for meals and drives, then Governors’ is worth considering.
Ideal length of stay: Three days-plus
Directions: The 2km drive from Governors’ own airstrip, Musiara, takes five–ten minutes, though interesting wildlife en route often delays the trip.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Food at the Governors camps isn’t an outstanding feature, but it’s generally good and reliable. A full cooked breakfast, plus fruit, cereals, yogurts and various bread and pastries is served as a buffet.
Lunch is also a buffet, though it starts with the option of a plated soup as a first course. The soup might be carrot & ginger, accompanied by mixed seed bread, feta and dipping pesto. The buffet typically includes dishes such as seared chicken with lemon sauce, fried calamari and various vegetables, with salads and a choice of puds to follow.
Dinner, served at 8.00pm, is a plated meal of three courses, including a choice of two options for the main course. You might start with fish bisque and poppy seed rolls, followed by salad, and a main course of chargrilled pork filet with a Chinese-style sauce, or a risotto of roast vegetables, plus various side dishes. Desserts major on tried and tested favourites, such as pineapple parfait with sesame tuiles. There’s always a cheeseboard on offer if you have room.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are not included, but prices are reasonable, with a beer or a glass of house wine around $4.00 and cocktails around $6.00.
Further dining info: Not possible
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: There are toys and puzzles in the bar, but nothing else. Childminding can be arranged with staff from housekeeping, but there is nobody with a professional childcare background.
Equipment: Cots and highchairs are available.
Generally recommended for children: Yes. Governors’ is family-friendly, and being a bit larger than most camps it can accommodate children without affecting the atmosphere of camp.
Notes: As Governors’ is unfenced, young children will need very close parental supervision at all times. The camp is busy enough, however, for animals approaching camp to be noticed before they have arrived.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: WiFi is available in the main area near reception and it is free for guests to use. Guests can also use the camp laptop if they don’t have their own device. There is good cellphone coverage.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is a doctor on site. Guides are first-aid trained and there is a first-aid kit in all vehicles. The camp has links to the Flying Doctor service as well.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: The camp is patrolled by four askaris during the day and no fewer than 23 at night. Night askaris escort guests around the camp.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are located all over camp and they do fire drills to ensure that the staff are all trained to use them.
Disabled access: In Place
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: Forex is available for key currencies based on the rate of the day. Valuables should be kept at reception. Guests are given a safe bag and a key and the bag is put in a central safe.
Accepted payment on location: Governors’ takes credit card payments, including Amex, with no surcharge. They also take most major currencies in cash, but not travellers’ cheques.