Mara Toto Camp is a small bush camp in Kenya's Maasai Mara...
Mara Toto: Our full report
Opened in July 2013, the small and luxurious Mara Toto is located in riverine forest on a bank of the narrow Ntiakatek River, just inside the northern border of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It is also very close to the edge of the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, so well placed to explore both game-viewing areas freely, and at certain times of the year to witness the wildebeest migration.
Sadly, the camp was washed away in serious floods late in 2015 and a decision on whether to relocate it has not yet been made. Expert Africa hopes it will be put up again, Phoenix-like, and in similar gracious style, in the near future.
Mara Toto was designed as the bushcamp equivalent of its established sister camp, Mara Plains, which has an exceptional reputation for high standards and top-quality guiding. When we stayed in January 2014, we found Mara Toto to be much simpler in style, yet in quality of food, service and guiding it certainly rivalled its more luxurious sibling, and we were very impressed.
Mara Toto’s setting is in ideal leopard territory and at the right time of the year (between August and November, though it can vary widely) the great wildebeest migration passes right through camp.
Each of the five tents at Mara Toto has a private deck overlooking the river, so your safari does not have to finish after the game drive. That said, the views are sometimes obstructed by the bush that is allowed to grow naturally around much of the camp. Even so, you can relax in your hammock, or on one of the two directors’ chairs that furnish the veranda, together with an enormous barrel that acts as a coffee table. We especially liked these, feeling that somehow they were somehow reminiscent of the early explorers.
Inside, the tents are furnished with old Indian chests, wooden bookcases, Persian rugs and brass chandeliers, all sourced from local markets and lending a traditional safari feel. Campaign chests – historically used for transporting goods on expedition – are opened up to offer a variety of teas and coffee, adding further to the authentic feel. Beds can be configured as twins or doubles, with triples possible on request. Electricity is available 24 hours a day, so at night the tents glow from solar-powered lanterns.
Each en-suite bathroom features twin beaten-brass basins with hand soap, and soap for washing delicates in lovely antique-style silver pots and wooden trinket boxes. A spacious walk-in safari shower occupies the centre of the room – with hot water supplied on request and Kenyan toiletries provided. There is also a flushing toilet.
Our only criticism of these tents is that – because they were built around the bush rather than over it – they are a bit close together. To counter this, Mara Toto has built fences between them and is trying to encourage the foliage to grow here too which, once the camp is more established, should help to offer more privacy.
Like the bedroom tents, the central mess tent also looks out across the narrow river and is decorated in similar style, with dark wooden chests, gorgeous leather and beaded floor cushions, brass lamps and Persian rugs. On one side of the tent is a lounge area, while the other hosts a large table for convivial communal dining.
Breakfast and lunch are usually held alfresco, in front of the mess tent, where guests also gather around the firepit for a drink before dinner. There’s a comfortable day bed and a number of directors’ chairs by the river, too – a relaxing spot between safari activities.
Mara Toto also has a loosely termed ‘shop’ – which is more like a swag bag – that has some beaded jewellery and interesting artefacts. Guests are welcome to visit the more comprehensive shop at Mara Plains, which is a five minute drive away.
The activities at Mara Toto focus very firmly on wildlife. The surrounding bush is prime big-cat country and guests have some flexibility on how long and how far their game drives will go. The camp has good access to both the Maasai Mara National Reserve in which it stands, and the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, one of the Mara's more central private concessions, which is just to the north.
The camp has two open-sided Land Cruisers enabling panoramic views and great photographic opportunities – and the vehicles also have fully stocked fridges! Two Canon 50D cameras (with wide-angle and 100–400mm lenses) are available for guests to borrow on a first-come first-served basis), and you will be given the photos on a complimentary DVD at the end of your stay. The managers at Mara Toto are also more than happy to offer photographic advice on request.
In addition, guests may tak to the skies for a hot-air balloon safari (at additional cost), and pay a visit to the local Maasai schools and community projects.
Our viewMara Toto is a high-quality and luxurious bushcamp which has succeeded in combining a fairly traditional 'safari' feel with a high standard of guiding and service. With easy access to both the national reserve and the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, and no major road arteries nearby, the game-viewing experience is relatively exclusive by the standards of the (usually busy) national reserve.
Ideal length of stay: 3–4 nights
Directions: Following a scheduled light-aircraft flight from Nairobi's Wilson Airport to Ol Kiombo airstrip (around 1 hour, depending on route), it is a 45-minute drive to camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Mara Toto was very good when we visited in January 2014, influenced by the manager who was keen on healthy eating. This led to some unusual but tasty recipes that managed to avoid the heaviness of a traditional four-course dinner.
We took breakfast out with us – and it was an impressive spread. The vehicle stopped at a nice scenic spot, and a table with Maasai blanket tablecloth, chairs and cutlery produced. Hot tea and coffee, porridge, bacon, sausage and toast are usually on offer, as well as eggs baked in peppers and a mixed-seed homemade cereal. Breakfast in camp is usually a buffet of cereals and fruits, as well as fresh baked bread and a choice of cooked items.
It is also possible to take lunch out as a picnic, when a similar table is laid out in a shady spot with a variety of salads on offer. However, we had lunch in camp, al fresco around a communal table. We had a bulgur wheat salad, a salmon and spinach roll and a mixed bean and green leaf salad, accompanied by fresh bread and followed by fruit salad.
Dinner is a more formal meal, served around an elegantly laid dining table. Our starter was a set option – a tasty gazpacho soup. The main course was a choice between a vegetarian pizza made on a special wheat-free base, or oxtail stew with mashed potato and vegetables. For pudding we had a highly inventive chocolate mousse made with avocado rather than cream. You could barely notice the difference!
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: All drinks apart form Champagne, are included in your stay at Mara Toto.
Further dining info: Mara Toto offer private dinners on guests own verandas.
Honeymoons: Mara Toto is a stunning tented camp with a high degree of luxury, whilst at the same time not divorcing you from your surroundings. Its high quality fittings are perfect for a special occasion and dim solar lighting and tented rooms very romantic.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya
Photography holidays: Mara Toto has two Canon 50D cameras that guests are invited to use. This is with a wide-angle and 100–400mm lens – fun for budding photographers to experiment with. The camp managers also have a good understanding of photography and so can offer up advice and tips that guests may find helpful.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Mara Toto welcomes children aged 12 years or older.
Property’s age restrictions: No children under 12 are accepted.
Special activities & services: The staff at Mara Toto can run a programme designed for children, to include birdwatching, tracking and cooking. They also have a badminton net, so there are things to entertain children here. That said, the camp is unfenced in a leopard-heavy area, and the atmosphere is quite adult.
Generally recommended for children: Due to the camp's location in a riverine forest, and because it is unfenced, we would recommend it only for families with well-behaved children of 12 years or older.
Notes: Children should be supervised by their parents at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: Mara Toto has solar power day and night, with a generator as back up. There are charging points in the rooms, but the solar power cannot support the use of hairdryers.
Communications: There's relatively good cellphone reception at Mara Toto, but note that cellphones may be used only in the privacy of guests' tents. The camp's WiFi – in the main areas and some tents – is sporadic, but guests are asked to be discreet, and not to use computers etc in the main areas at peak times.
TV & radio: No
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Water is pumped from the river and purified on site for washing and showers. Drinking water is trucked in, in large bottles, that are then decanted into smaller ones for guests. This helps to reduce the waste produced by the camp.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Mara Toto has a full first-aid kit in camp and a simpler one in each vehicle. They are 45 minutes’ drive from a clinic at Talek, and have links to flying doctors in case of medical emergency.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guards armed with traditional spears are on duty 24 hours a day at Mara Toto.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in every tent at Mara Toto, including the mess tent. They also have an external fire safety warden who checks the equipment regularly.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Mara Toto. Items are hand washed and line dried. Underwear is excluded but soap is provided in the tents for these items to be handwashed.
Money: A lockable box is provided in every tent.
Accepted payment on location: Tips for the staff and payment for extras can be paid in Kenyan shillings, US dollars or GB pounds. There is also a credit-card machine at the nearby Mara Plains that guests can use – with a 5% surcharge.