Mara Toto Camp is a small bush camp in Kenya's Maasai Mara...
Mara Toto: Our full report
Having only opened in July 2013, Mara Toto is a relatively new bush camp located just inside the northern border of the Maasai Mara National Reserve boundary. A small camp, it is also has game driving rights both in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and in the Mara North Conservancy and is therefore very well placed to explore both game-viewing areas freely.
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.
Its established sister camp Mara Plains has an exceptional reputation for high standards and top-quality guiding. We found Mara Toto to be much simpler in style, having been designed to be the bushcamp equivalent to Mara Plains. However in quality of food, service and guiding it certainly rivaled its more luxurious sibling. We were very impressed after our stay here.
The camp is set on a bank of the little Ntiakatek River, under the shade of a riverine forest. This is 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 light canvas tents, at Mara Toto has a private deck overlooking the narrow 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. Relax in your hammock, or on one of the two directors chairs that furnish the veranda. We especially liked the enormous barrel that acts as your coffee table - it is somehow reminiscent of the early explorers. Maybe it was once filled with brandy to ward off long cool nights on the savannah.
Inside, the tents at Mara Toto 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, which adds to the authenticity of the tent even more. 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. The spacious walk-in safari shower occupies the center of the room – with hot water supplied on request and Kenyan toiletries provided. There is also a flush toilet.
Our only criticism of these rooms is that they are a bit close together. This is because they were built around the bush, not over the top of it. To combat the issue, Mara Toto has built fences between them and are trying to encourage growth between them too which once the camp is more established should offer more privacy.
The central mess tent also looks out across the narrow river and is in keeping with bedroom tents - decorated with the same explorers campaign style. Expect dark wooden chests, gorgeous leather and beaded floor cushions, brass lamps and Persian rugs. One side of the tent is a lounge area, whilst on the other is a large dining table large enough to accommodate the maximum number of ten guests in camp.
In front of the mess tent is a cleared area where al fresco dining often occurs for breakfast and lunch. There is also a fire pit where guests gather in the evenings for a convivial drink before dinner. Close to the river is a comfortable day bed and a number of directors chairs, where guests can sit and relax outside of their activities.
Mara Toto also has a loose shop – which is more like a swag bag that has some beaded jewellery and interesting artifacts. There is also a more comprehensive shop at Mara Plains that guests can go over to visit on request.
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 national reserve in which it stands, and the Mara North Conservancy, 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 – on a first come first served basis) are available for guests to borrow, and you can receive the photos on a DVD at the end of your stay. The staff are also more than happy to offer photographic tuition on request.
Other activities on offer include hot-air balloon safaris (available at an additional cost) and cultural visits to the local Maasai schools and community projects.
Our viewMara Toto is a very high quality and luxurious bushcamp which tries hard to maintain a fairly traditional 'safari' feel – something it has accomplished well. It is located near the boundary between the national reserve and the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, one of the Mara's more central private concessions. There aren't any major road arteries nearby – so the game-viewing experience is relatively exclusive by the (busy) standards of the national reserve.
Ideal length of stay: 3–4 nights
Directions: Scheduled light aircraft from Nairobi's Wilson Airport to Ol Kiombo airstrip (around 1 hour, depending on route). It is then 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 last visited – largely due to the manager who was very keen on healthy eating. This lead to unusual but very tasty recipes that didn’t leave you with the usual exhaustion of eating four course dinners every night.
We always took breakfast out with us – and it was a very impressive spread. At a nice scenic spot the vehicle would stop, and a table with Maasai blanket tablecloth, chairs and cutlery would be 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 the 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. Fresh bread accompanied the meal and a fruit salad followed it.
Dinner is then a more formal meal, served around an elegantly laid dining table. The 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 mash potato and vegetables. The pudding was then 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: 12+
Special activities & services: The staff at Mara Toto can run a program for children, to include bird watching, tracking and cooking. They also have a badminton net and so there are things to entertain children here. That said it is quite an adult atmosphere at the camp, and it is also unfenced in a very leopard heavy area.
Notes: Due to the camp's location in a riverine forest and because it is unfenced, we would only recommend it for families with older, well-behaved children of 12 years or older. Children should be supervised by their parents at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: Mara Toto has solar power throughout the day and night, with a generator back up. There are charging points in the rooms. No hairdryers are permitted due to the sensitive solar power source.
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 is sporadic – it is in the main areas and some rooms (but the camp asks that you are discrete – not using them at peak times for guests in the main areas).
TV & radio: No
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Water is pumped up from the river and purified on site for bathing and washing. Drinking water is trucked in, in large bottles that are then decanted into smaller ones for guests to drink. 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 from Talek where there is a clinic, but also have links to flying doctors for serious emergencies.
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 that comes to check all the equipment on a regular basis.
Laundry facilities: A full Laundry Service is included at Mara Toto. It is hand washed and line dried. No underwear is allowed but soap is provided in the rooms.
Money: Safes are provided in every tent, in the form of a box that you can lock.
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 – for an additional 5% charge.