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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Fairmont Safari Club, Maasai Mara, Kenya

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Maasai Mara Tented Camp was a real indulgence – we had gone on safari in Tanzania and in Kenya's Ambosoli Park and had stayed in places that ranged from decent to very good, but nothing like this.


We had a beautifully decorated tent overlooking the river with a fancy bathroom and large outdoor enclosed shower with a view (also an indoor shower if you prefer). The rugged tent kept out the monkeys that liked to sit on our front porch and had a large canopy bed and even a Nespresso machine.


There were lots of hippos in the river and there were viewing platforms in various spots overlooking where they congregated. They were very loud, especially around 4 am when they were getting back in the water after a long night of foraging. There were a number of crocodiles in the river too and they would sun themselves on the banks right in front of the main building that held the restaurant and bar.

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Speaking of the restaurant – the food was fabulous and plentiful and the service was great. For each meal you had the same waiter or waitress taking care of you, so they quickly learned all your preferences. He or she was also in charge of arranging your 'wake up coffee' service early in the morning when it was still pitch black out to get everyone up before the sunrise safaris.


The safaris here were timed to when the animals were most active – early am and late afternoon/early evening. Another bonus of the timing is you get to see the sunrise and the sunset and its fantastic lighting for photos. Many of the safaris we did in other places were day-long game drives, so you usually leave after breakfast instead of before and are out the whole day, but a lot of animals including the lions spend most of the day asleep, so if you want to see them active the schedule at Fairmont makes more sense. It also leaves you a lot more free time during the day.

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After the three hour morning game drive, we came back to the lodge for breakfast – a very nice buffet with many different stations – one with fresh fruits and vegetables, another with cereals and nuts, and then the large selection of hot dishes. In addition, the chefs will make you any kind of eggs. They even had lox, my favorite!


After breakfast most people opted for a nap, but there was also the pool and spa to spend time at. When we returned to our rooms the tents were spotless – which means the cleaning crew keeps the same crazy hours as us safari goers. We had the same person minding our room each day as well so they also got to know our needs. The staff were so friendly and helpful and always eager to please. Those are the little things that really make the place special – you feel so taken care of.


In the afternoon you could read a book by the pool or river or use the wifi at the stylish, comfortable lodge (the only place with wifi) and then go to lunch - which some days was a large healthy buffet and others was a beautifully plated 3 course meal - I'm not sure which was better!


The very best part of the place were the safari drives. We loved our driver, Anthony. He was extremely knowledgeable about all the animals, animated when telling stories about them, and both funny and personable while being completely professional. Fairmont also keeps you with the same guide the whole time, which was good because they knew what animals you'd already seen the day before and they always tried to show you something new. He was so well informed that I asked him lots of questions that had come up over the last two weeks of safaris in the different parks and he was very patient and answered all of them.

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We saw many lions – even while mating (which they do every 20-30 mins for three days straight during mating season!); also cubs playing with their mama's tails and jumping back and forth as they swished from side to side. One day we found a cheetah which are fairly rare. There were lots of wildebeest and zebras and all kinds of antelope – including some types we hadn't seen at the other parks and the mini species which is a favorite – the dick-dick. There were buffalo, elephants, ostriches, hyenas, giraffes and many bird species. The only one of the 'big five' we didn't see was the leopard. We kept searching, but leopards are solitary animals and spend most of their time in trees and are harder to spot. However, we had already seen them in Serengeti Park, so for us it was not crucial, though it would have been nice.

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The animal populations were less dense when we were there than in the Serengeti – partly because of the time of year (their migration sends them in a big circle through both parks – which is essentially the same park just on either side of the Kenya/Tanzania border) and partly due to being in the 'conservation area' of Maasai Mara. The animals know no boundaries and will go wherever there is food and water, but some areas have people living there and these places have fewer wild animals.


One very special animal that Anthony brought us to see were the rhinos. There are only two left in Kenya and they are highly protected – rangers guard them when they go out grazing during the day and at night they are caged behind an electric fence since their horns are so valuable – worth more than their weight in gold – and the poachers are fierce. The rangers house is also right next to the enclosure in case poachers try anything at night. So we did see them up close, though it was a semi- zoo experience I wasn't expecting. Rhinos are generally very far from humans (understandably), so its tough to see them close up in the wild – we did see them in Ngorogoro Crater but even with good binoculars they were barely distinguishable from other large animals.

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The rangers were kind and proud of the rhino protection project. They have a tough job of safeguarding Kenya's wildlife – in Maasai Mara its a little easier since its the most touristed park with the most resources, but in some more remote parks being a ranger is quite a dangerous job as the poachers are often involved with organized crime and have many weapons and will sometimes kill the rangers to get to the elephants or rhinos.


All in all, the Safari Club was an excellent escape and if you are a Fairmont rewards member like I am they regularly issue third night free certificates, so we only paid for two nights. One thing to consider is that the certificates are good for room only so if you plan to add on the meals ($90/night pp for full board) and the game drives ($60/each pp) it is about the same cost or sometimes more than just paying for the extra night, but if you want to take a 'day of rest' and just have one meal at the bar or add on one of their extra activities such as the visit to the Maasai village ($25/pp) then it could work out well.

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Safari's are expensive all over Africa, but we both thought Fairmont Safari Club was a good value when compared to other options since it includes all meals and safari drives for two people at about $400/night. Most people seem to hire a guide in Nairobi and take the long 5 hour drive on bumpy roads to their accommodation, but once you add guide fees, the jeep, the meals and the place you stay -  its probably not going to be much less and the facilities will be tough to find at that price (plus you need to add national park fees which add up quickly to both options). The added bonus is you can take a 45 min scenic flight on a small plane and your guide picks you up right at the airstrip, offers you welcome drinks, and then starts with a short game drive before bringing you over to the club. Saving all that time on the transport allowed us to go to the elephant orphanage and the giraffe feeding sanctuary in Nairobi before flying in and to spend the afternoon at the pool upon our return.

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This was a very 'civilized' way to have a safari – with excellent guides, deep comfort, personalized service, indulgent food and naps – how can you go wrong?

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©Christina Kay Bolton


Fairmont Safari Club, Maasai Mara, Kenya:

Last modified on Thursday, 01 March 2018
Christina Bolton

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