Mahali Mzuri, on the northern edge of Kenya’s Maasai Mara reserve, offers unbeatable front-row seats to the Great Wildebeest Migration. With just 12 tents, each ruling over an expansive plot, there’s never more than a select cluster of guests, so you almost have the bush all to yourself. Enjoy drives with expert guides, a spa treatment while overlooking the endless plains, and stargazing after sundown – unlike the stampeding hordes, you'll absolutely want to stay put.
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A private dinner for two set up on your tent’s wooden deck
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm, but also flexible if your tent’s ready.
Double rooms from £1378.30 ($1,890), including tax at 16 per cent.
Rates usually include all meals and drinks (including wine and champagne), return transfers from the Olare Orok Airstrips and twice daily game drives.
Head to one of the local villages to experience daily life in the Maasai Mara – guests can assist with morning milkings, or herding the cattle, goats and sheep home at dusk.
At the hotel
Acres of game reserve, spa, telescope, library, games, free WiFi throughout, iPads to use, a Bose sound-system, and laundry. In rooms: Bose iPod dock, Nespresso machine, free bottled water, minibar and Africology bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Ignore any image conjured by the word ‘tent’: this is next-level ‘glamping’. Each of the 12 tented suites is located on a ridge above the river, from which the views look like a still from The Lion King. Families should opt for one of the two tents that include a sofa bed; for the ultimate seclusion, book the one furthest away from the main lodge.
There’s a 12-metre, heated outdoor pool for dipping into between drives. It’s adults-only.
The Nasaro Spa tent has equally dazzling views of the bush, so try not to fall asleep while the therapists do their thing. Treatments include being massaged with smooth rose-quartz and amethyst stones and a couple’s ritual, all performed using Africology products.
You probably won’t be too fussed about the state of your barnet on safari, but the camp helpfully provides options for both scenarios: straighteners for if you care, sun hats for if you don’t. If the Cessna restrictions eliminate the chances of bringing your best binoculars, rest assured – the hotel supplies those, too.
The resort is not suitable for wheelchair users; one tent is accessible via a flat pathway from the main house, but there are steps in the main building that would need to be crossed in order to reach it.
Over-eights are welcome. Two of the tents can accommodate children on the sofa bed. Meals can be modified to suit younger palates and activities are designed to educate younger guests. Families of four will most likely be in their own private vehicle.
Eight and up.
Two of the tents can accommodate children in fold-out beds.
Each child is given a ‘bushbaby bag’ on arrival, packed with colouring books, nature-trail games and a cap, to keep them entertained throughout their stay. Beading lessons with a local Maasai tribeswoman can be arranged, as can beginners’ archery classes.
Each table in the main tent overlooks the valley, with all the far-reaching views you’d expect, but make the most of your private tent by requesting to dine out on its deck. Meals are fully portable: choose the main deck, by the pool or out in the plains.
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa should be your safari style-icons.
Guests can grab a quick snack before setting off on an early-morning drive, or hold out until midway through, when the guide whips up a tasty breakfast in the bush. Lunch is served on the main deck when guests return, and – in case you’re worried it’s too long a wait until dinner – you’re fed afternoon tea before you head out for the final drive of the day. Expect pan-African food made with locally sourced produce, with liberal sprinklings of spice, as well as bush barbecues and champagne picnics. The steaks are also a highlight. Some nights will have additional entertainment in the form of Maasai dancers and a camp fire.
All drinks are included in your room rate, so you can help yourself to the honesty bar at any time, though an attentive barman is on standby to do the mixing if you prefer. The bar area enjoys the same spectacular views as the rest of the resort, none more soul-stirring than at sunset. After a long day out on safari, order a Kenyan Dawa, a mix of vodka, lime juice and honey; the name is derived from the Swahili word for ‘medicine’, so it’ll have you stotting like an impala in no time.
Breakfast is served after (or during if you can’t possibly wait) the morning game drives. Lunch is between noon and 3pm. Enjoy afternoon tea at 4pm, before you set out for your final drive of the day. Dinner is served on your return.
Meals can be served on your tent’s decking area if you prefer.
Mahali Mzuri is set within Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy, an extraordinarily pretty plain, to the north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a five-hour drive from the hotel. Your best bet in terms of arriving by air is to connect to the Olare Orok Airstrip via a Safarilink Aviation or Air Kenya flight from the city’s domestic airport (Nairobi Wilson); flights to the region take under an hour. Transfers from Olare Orok airstrip are included in your room rate, the drive should take around 25 minutes. It's US$90 a person for transfers from Mara North Airstrip (an hour’s drive away).
The hotel’s a five-hour journey from Kenya’s capital, but driving here is not recommended due to the vast distances and the presence of wild animals within the reserve. The hotel can provided detailed route instructions for the brave (and those who have borrowed a sturdy four-wheel drive).
A private helicopter can also be arranged.
Worth getting out of bed for
Game drives are the order of the day here and, during the Great Wildebeest Migration (between July and October) you’ll barely have to leave your tent to get in on the action. Nocturnal guests can book an after-dark drive, and the vertigo-free can enjoy hot-air-balloon rides over the plains. For guests staying a little longer, who wish to venture outside of the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, day trips to the Maasai Mara National Reserve can be organised for an additional fee.
Out in the middle of Kenya's Maasai Mara reserve, you won't see a restaurant or bar for miles around.
Mr Smith and I look at each other – a look of excitement and sheer terror. Our guide has just spotted a pride of sleeping lions and is driving straight towards them. Have we just got into the car with a madman? He stops an arm’s width away as I begin to brace for attack. I slowly open my eyes – they haven’t moved an inch.
There’s clearly nothing to worry about: our knowledgeable guide knows exactly what he’s doing and at this time of the day under the scorching Kenyan sun, these lions are only interested in napping. We’ve been here all of 30 minutes at this point, having landed at a nearby airstrip and been picked up in our own Toyota Land Cruiser.
We drive on and, after a quick check with the binoculars, we’re told this is a safe place to get out for our champagne reception. As we sip the proffered bubbles we do our best to take in the slightly surreal situation we’ve found ourselves in. ‘Feel at home, away from home’ we’re told as we’re fitted with our ‘tracking devices’: a beaded Masai bracelet and without doubt the chicest all-inclusive band I’ve had the pleasure of wearing.
To call Mahali Mzuri a camp is like calling St Paul’s a church. Sure, our room has canvas sides but that’s where the similarities end. We’d gladly trade our pad in East London for this ‘tent’.
Polished wooden floors are laid with rugs, a brown leather sofa beckons with its plump patterned cushions and the bathroom stuns with its twin sinks, rainfall shower and roll-top bath. Our huge private deck comes complete with another sofa and sun loungers from which to sunbathe, stargaze or animal spot. We find waffle-robes, slippers, insect repellent and sunscreen in the wardrobe. Yet despite the luxury, Mahali Mzuri manages to be sympathetic to its surroundings, discreetly set on a ridge above a wide valley that creates a natural amphitheatre for game viewing. Mr Smith pours me a glass of wine from the fridge as I jump in the tub. I look up from the Masai rubber duck bobbing about (making a mental note to take him home) to clock Dumbo lazily making his way towards us.
Before we know it, it’s afternoon drive-time. As we’re located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, there are no roads to stick to and the maximum number of vehicles allowed at any animal-spotting is five – although it’s often just us. Each vehicle holds a maximum of six passengers (although the most we ever share with is a honeymooning couple). Having already spotted nearly everything we wanted to see on the drive over (elephants, giraffes, hippos, ostrich, zebra, buffalo, warthogs and lions) we can’t imagine what will top it. Sure enough, we end up chasing a coalition of cheetahs who, in turn, are chasing a pack of gazelles. This time the gazelles get away but the thrill of the chase leaves us exhilarated. As if to make up for the lack of closure, the sky turns every shade of the rainbow as we speed back to camp for dinner.
As someone who writes about food for a living, it’s rare, if ever that my next meal is far from my mind. Luckily I needn’t worry here as despite being in a truly remote location, the food does not stop. A brand new menu appears each lunch and dinner, providing ample choice – which is a blessing as there’s not another restaurant for as far as the eye can see.
Local rangers walk us back to base to ensure we’re not eaten by a lurking lion en route. We find the clothes we’d excitedly half unpacked have been buttoned and folded and put in place, hot water bottles hidden away under the covers. I do hope Mr Smith doesn’t expect this treatment to continue at home. In fact every time we return to our room the place has been spruced up, without us ever seeing the wondrous housekeeping team.
We drift off to the sounds of the bush before a tentative knock at our door alerts us that it’s 5.45am. Pre-game pastries and hot drinks await us, as do hot water bottles and blankets in the truck. After another heart-warming drive (this time a leopard mama playing with her cub) we return to a continental breakfast with the addition of a full cooked breakfast (me) and pancakes (Mr Smith).
Finding ourselves with a bit of downtime we venture down to the spa to get pummelled and pulled in all directions. I’m pretty sure I hear Mr Smith snoring but he soon wakes up for the champagne we’ve been left to enjoy on the private deck after our treatments. We while away the rest of the afternoon around the infinity pool where a fully stocked fridge keeps our thirst at bay and towels, sun cream and aloe vera are provided.
We gather in the main tent for afternoon tea and compare sightings with our fellow campers before heading out once again. It appears those sleepy lions have woken up because we witness them devouring a poor zebra. Never did I think I’d see the intestines of a zebra, but each day comes with a new surprise at Mahali Mzuri.
After witnessing such a gruesome feast we vow to eat the vegetarian option tonight. However that promise is quickly forgotten as we gather around the campfire and smell the aroma of tonight’s barbecue: a mixture of East African traditional dishes as well as steak, ribs, pork belly, prawn kebabs, breads and curries. We’re pulled to our feet for singing, dancing and a rousing game of who can jump the highest (Mr Smith). We find ourselves still singing ‘Jambo, Jambo Bwana’ (Hello, Hello Sir), long after we’ve left camp.
Before we know it our stay is over. I choke back tears as we leave; every single member of staff had come to wave us off. Indeed I only managed to cheer up as we got to the airstrip – the sight of a man on his motorcycle chasing off zebras from the runway in order to for our plane to land is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.