Camping is one activity that most of us are likely to have done at some stage in our lives. It’s a wonderful chance to get out and truly enjoy nature as you fall asleep to the sounds of birds or gushing rivers, and wake up to a fresh and undisturbed environment. It’s the one true way to enjoy the bush, free of buzzing air conditioners or concrete walls diminishing nature’s beauty.
Tented camps were the original safari experience in the days when Hemingway first made the world aware of the sheer magnetism and magic of Africa. These days we still come to Africa to experience its varied landscapes, incredible wildlife and game reserves, albeit in somewhat more luxury and comfort.
For those looking to enjoy Africa like the early explorers, what better way to experience life out on the savannah than from an authentic tented safari camp? And especially if you’re from a big city – it’s a unique experience to immerse yourself in this outer-worldly and completely natural environment. Living in a tent with just the canvas between you and the sounds and smells of the bush is a thrilling sensation.
The Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is well known for its amazing wildlife encounters. The seemingly never-ending savannah is famous for its big herds of plains game and of course one of its main attractions is the great wildebeest migration. To retain the original atmosphere, and to strive for a low environmental impact, many of the camps continue to use tents to this day.
Camping safaris have come a long way since the ‘Out of Africa’ days, and today’s tents are ϋber luxurious and super stylish with clever use of green technology and innovative design. The campss generally offer all the amenities and personalized attention that you’d expect at a safari lodge, including flush toilets, hot showers and electricity.
“We’re stretching the boundaries of what a ‘tent’ and a ‘camp’ can be,” says Tarn Breedveld, general manager of Richard Branson’s new Mahali Mzuri Kenyan safari camp on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve.
In some of these tents you can roll up the canvas on a hot evening, with just a mosquito net between you and the African bush. Security arrangements see to it that the animals keep their distance, and the idea of almost sleeping under an Africa sky is exhilarating to say the least! Here are five of our best-loved tented camps in the Masai Mara.
1. Mara Plains Camp (Great Plains Conservation)
This luxurious camp is located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, a low-density reserve that is free of tourist minivans. Mara Plains Camp is noted as one of the smaller and more personal camps, with a total of just seven twin tents, each enormous in living space, and custom designed to create a homely atmosphere as well as put you right in the heart of nature. Not a night goes by without the roar of lions, leopard sightings are common, and there’s a strong conservation approach that involves guests interacting with the Masai Mara people. Late afternoon drives or walks, visits to local Masai villages and balloon rides are on offer, along with an impressive concentration of wildlife in this famous safari area, making it an ideal African honeymoon destination.
2. &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp
Wherever you look whilst staying at Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, you will see the raw beauty of the African bush before you, and the creative use of canvas has made this innovative tented camp one of Kenya’s best loved. Surprisingly affordable, it sits on the grassy plains amidst animals that are scarcely aware of your presence, with views that stretch forever. There’s a natural and unpretentious feel to this lodge. The Lollop escarpment is nearby, affording an excellent vantage point and the Mara River sees to it that the animals stop by regularly. The camp promises sightings of a large range of predatory and herbivore species, and it’s family friendly – although caution is advised since there’s not much between you and the animals (don’t worry the rangers have it covered!). The pool blends in well as curious warthogs lark about meters away. Ballooning and various game spotting expeditions are but some of the experiences that are on offer.
3. Karen Blixen Camp
Named in honour of the famed Danish author who ‘had a farm in Africa’ on which the movie Out of Africa was based, this camp tries to recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s when she was alive and documenting her challenges and exhilarations among the Masai. Inspired from an era when all camps were tented and temporary, the Karen Blixen Camp is also located on the Mara River, where animals come to drink at dusk as giraffe bend ungraciously, hippos laze in the river and zebra never fail to show up. There are 22 spacious tents at this exclusive camp where simplicity and elegance are all part of the experience of a yesteryear safari. There is that ‘under the stars’ shower experience and parts of the camp include thatched gazebos for convenience and comfort. You get the best of both worlds as the river gently slides by in front of you.
4. Mara Explorer and Mara Intrepids
These are sister camps, set up near each other on the Talek River specifically to catch the wildebeest migration. Mara Explorer has plenty of good reasons to stay, for one it has its own airstrip making it very convenient to get to. It boasts the ‘best outdoor bathing experience’ in the Masai Mara and a sure bet on seeing animals in this part of the park. It’s more wooded than the others, meaning you have shorter views and need to ‘spot’ the animals, but this only enhances the feeling of being amongst nature. There’s a rustic feel to this camp, though the touches of luxury are obvious. The individual chalets are very much tented, while the communal dining area is more practical.
Mara Intrepids is a much more elegant affair, with polished floors, and spacious, tastefully furnished interiors. It offers a similar game viewing experience but is pitched slightly higher at those who expect luxury, but still want that ‘canvas’ feel to their safari. With hundreds of animals migrating annually through the area you’re guaranteed to get some exceptional sightings. As with its sister camp, they’ve taken the liberty to blend ‘tented’ with ‘thatch’ to create the perfect home. It does, however, welcome families with children. The location isn’t far from the private airstrip for convenient access.
5. Mara Bushtops
Mara Bushtops on the other hand has a more modernist approach. Using canvas creatively for ambiance rather than low impact, the camp creates an unbeatable experience where you literally wake up in the morning and gaze over the bush from your luxury bed with sweeping vistas, and surrounded by all the trappings of a VIP resort service. Tastefully furnished, the family tent is an exceptional option for groups looking for a homely villa-like atmosphere. It boasts a swimming pool, spa, library, shop, camp fire area and even an underground wine cellar, all in front of a watering hole. To quote one recent review, “You can swim in the pool and watch giraffe, baboons, gazelle and other wildlife at the same time, a few hundred meters in the distance”.