Olonana, Cottar's or Mara Explorer?


Aug 27th, 2012, 01:47 PM
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Olonana, Cottar's or Mara Explorer?

Can't decide which camp in Masai Mara to choose. We are going in Jan-Feb 2013 and would like to be in a camp that has excellent gameviewing yet some amount of luxury.
Olonana - not crazy about the "stone" structure look and it's fenced. how is the gameviewing nearby and how far is it to Mara reserve?
Cottar's - how's the gameviewing? It seems so far from the well-known (to me, at least) area of MM. Is it comparable to Governor's area or Olare Orok? Doesn't seem to be much on this camp here. Any reason it's not "popular" among the regulars?
Explorer's - too corporate?
any other camps we are missing? We were excited about Mara Plains as it seemed the perfect combo of lux, small and gameviewing, but they will be closed. We previously stayed at Little Governor's and enjoyed it but it seems they haven't quiet kept up with the times for the price they are charging? We do prefer smaller camps (10-ish tents is ideal).
Another question - Olonana seems to have a "low season' price for January, but none of the other camps in the area do. why is that? That makes it more attractivecompared to other camps.
for reference, our favorite camp in Kenya/Tanzania is Migration Camp. If we could get something like that in a great gameviewing area, that would be perfect!
lerasp is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2012, 02:42 PM
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Olonana is fenced on the river side to keep the hippos from appearing on your deck... I barely noticed it. Located right outside the Triangle to the West, in same vicinity at Kichwa Tembo and Bateleur Camps. Tents are very large with two queen beds, excellent guiding and service. Entry to the Triangle is via the Oloololo gate, about a 15-20/min drive, but lots of game can be found walking about around the camp away from the river. They have a small pool which is probably nice during this hottest of months. I'd say this is the most 'corporate' as it is owned by A&K and the 'stone' is found at their dining area; at tents where the pipes/electric come in. With hairdryers that work.

Cottar's is to the Southeast of the Reserve, outside on their own conservancy with plenty of game nearby and the drive into Reserve itself if about 40/min. Lovely tents, great guiding and services; also with a pool. Cottar's also has stone in rear of tent for the facilities that come in - toilet, shower, etc. Probably the most expensive of the three, why you don't see mention here or elsewhere.

Explorer, is probably best situated inside the Reserve at a bend of the Talek River, the tents though the smallest of the three, but do have outdoor tubs (private). Great guides, service, but no pool... but can use pool at their sister camp, 5/min drive at Intrepid's. As I recall, they also have solid foundation at rear of tent to allow for toilet, shower, etc.

At most properties, January is at mid-season rates (vs their peak season rates July-Oct), though some, at their discretion, will offer a special to get bodies into beds, no other reason.

How many days staying? If 4nts or more, the others might have extended stay discounts... ask. Know Cottar's will for 6/nts (maybe 5).

Mara Plains is refurbishing the camp, why the closure. Otherwise, would be a great choice. Can't wait till it reopens.

Good luck!
sandi is offline  
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Aug 27th, 2012, 03:56 PM
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No time to go into detail, but take a look at Porini camps and Naboisho camp (Asilia-owned, sister camp of Rekero). All wonderful.

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Aug 28th, 2012, 02:38 AM
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Hi lerasp

I have only stayed at Olonana and it was one of my first gameviewing experiences and we loved it! It was a long time ago though, May 2000 and we had the manager as our ranger and he was so good as travelling with my mother and two young nieces, 8 and 10. It was a lovely position and I don't remember the fences, probably because they were not up then as we sounded as if we were surrounded by hippo at night!

Kind regards

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Aug 28th, 2012, 03:34 PM
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I stayed at both Cottars and Explorer around 4 years ago - if you look hard you will find my trip reports ! In my opinion, the main thing that Cottars offers is total exclusivity away from everyone else - the downside of course is less eyes to find animals ! GIven the price, I was a little disappointed (food in particular was average at best).

Explorer is very nice but in a busier part of the Mara. If you want something a little more authentic but in the same area, try Rekero where I stayed earlier this year. Certainly less corporate than Explorer with better guides (in my opinion) but tents more basic. Both Explorer and Rekero are good choices if you want to be in the reserve.

I stayed at Mara Plains in February this year - it was fantastic and a shame for you that it is closed. They have however just opened a smaller sister camp in Mara North conservancy. May be worth considering ?

Finally, from a pure game viewing perspective, I would be inclined to stay in Olare Orok as you can combine the exclusivity of the conservancy in addition to game drives in the reserve. It will be even more quiet when i was there given Mara Plains is shut. I have heard good reports from both Kicheche and Porini camps in the conservancy.

Hope this is not too confusing ! It really depends what you want and how long you are staying ...

philw is offline  
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Aug 29th, 2012, 12:05 PM
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Further to Richard's comment re Porini Camps (Lion and Mara) (also that from PhilW re Rekero), or those at Naibosho Valley... you may want to consider Ol Seki Camp... quite a luxe gem located in the same area.

While those properties at Naibosho might not be ideal for those visiting during the migration as they're quite a distance from river crossings, for a January/February visit... not the case. You'll find lots of resident game here, on Olare Orok (Porini Lion or Mara Plains).

And, there's also Olarro Camp northeast of the Reserve at Maji Moto conservancy; and the new Richard Branson camp Mahali Mzuri (no comments yet on this... just opened, though check Trip Advisor).

That's a pretty descent list of options to make inquiry.
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Aug 29th, 2012, 01:19 PM
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Are you sure that the new Branson Camp is already open ? I saw the site (lovely location) in February and they had not started even started to build it ...

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Aug 29th, 2012, 01:40 PM
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Thank you everyone for the recommendations. I'm a bit worried to be getting away too far from the MM proper. It seems that those concervancy areas are not as established. is the gameviewing 100% equal to MM? Reading up on these areas, it seems there's quiet a bit of cattle/local activity. Mara North Conservancy was only established in 2009. What was there before? I'd imagine villages, cattle-grazing and that it would take time for animals to adjust. am i wrong?
reorini - i read in some reports that their gamedrives are more limited and guides keep to a more-strict 2hr limit. is that incorrect? We are used to flexibility - sometimes take bfast with us and stay out till 10-11am, sometimes stay out all day, sometime comes back early, but never less than 3hr game drive (and that's without booking a private car, but with consensus of all the car guests)
Kicheche - agree great location, but is there enough of "camp" to stay if you skip a gamedrive? Some members of our party will not go on all gamedrives and it would be nice for them to be able to do something. I don't see any pictures of books to browse, lounging area to look at the waterhole or river or anything else other than to stay in the tent. If paying $500/pppn, i would hope it's not too much to expect. the website is not great at giving these details.
Maybe i'm still in sticker-shock as my previous experiences had me in Little Governor's in 2005 at around $250-ish pppn (and can't imagine paying $500ppp for it) or in Botswana at Little Vumbura, Chitabe, ets in 2007 for $500-ish pppn with a lux camp and excellent guides and gameviewing and even a pool.
or is everyone getting 50% off rack rate deals?
lerasp is offline  
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Aug 29th, 2012, 03:24 PM
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Phil - Last I heard, the Branson camp was to be open as July, but if not, I'd assume by January... just have to ask.

Often the game viewing is the same or better on the conservancies; game aren't restricted by fences and move where they wish. As everyone will tell you, from day-to-day there's no guarantee where you'll find game, whether the Reserve, Triangle or Conservancies.

There are actually few lodges/camps inside the Reserve, more in total on the conservancies, where there are less tourists and certainly vehicles. Bearing in mind also that Jan/Feb isn't July-Oct, when the throngs arrive for the migration.

Haven't stayed at the Kicheche Camps so will allow others to reply, but even at the smallest camps I've stayed there's always been comfy sofas/chairs, a library and guests can arrange for a bush walk or visit to nearby village.

Hadn't heard that about Porini Camps and though most camps advertise morning and afternoon game drives (some do 3x/daily), these small camps will work with clients to adjust schedules to suit... and as you mention 'a group' you will likely have own vehicle and work out 'a plan'... again, ask for specifics.

The MMNC was always there per se, but the arrangement with the Masai established to provide and assure the locals with with proper funds in conjunction with the camps on these lands. Will you, in some areas, find cattle? Yes, but what I've seen and this has been rare has usually been on the fringes and not many at that. The MMNC, I believe, is the largest conservancy here; Olare Orok and those in the Valley area smaller and can't recall seeing cattle to the point that I could say "I saw cattle." Even on the escarpment adjacent to Olonana are villages and yes, a cow or two or three or more. Masai/Cattle go together like hand/glove.

For any queries, the best replies will be from your tour operator/outfitter.
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Aug 29th, 2012, 04:59 PM
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I stayed at the Offbeat Mara Camp in the Mara North Conservancy in July. It's not near any of the other Mara North camps and we rarely saw any other vehicles. The gameviewing was superb! The Offbeat lion pride was in residence, the zebras had moved in by the hundreds and we saw 8 cheetahs in one day. Yes, when we drove into the conservancy from the Reserve (Musiara airstrip), we did see a couple of Maasai villages and herds. However, they weren't close to where we did our game drives. The cattle and the zebras were drinking at the same waterhole. The wildlife and Maasai have co-existed here for many years, so I don't see any problems with having the Maasai in residence. The camp was great... not fancy, but well-run and with great Maasai guides. It was like having the Mara all to ourselves... not easy in July! We did an all-day run down to the Mara River and saw a couple of small zebra crossings. After not seeing other vehicles for two days, the "traffic" was a bit of a shock. FYI... Offbeat also has a great camp in Meru; we enjoyed them both.
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Sep 1st, 2012, 11:59 PM
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We stayed at Porini Lion two years ago and there were absolutely no restrictions about game drives. We had our own vehicle with both a driver and a guide and were able to come and go as we pleased - one day we stayed out all day for two crossings; another we went on one very long game drive, then took a nap and went out again for sundowner drive. And on the final day we slept in, went on a school visit and walkng safari. Other guests in shared vehicles had the same flexibility.

We also stopped and took a look at the Kicheche and Mara Plains, as well as several camps outside of Olare Orek, and I would say OO has the most going for it. I agree with the poster above - It was a relief to leave the Mara and come back to blissful solitude every afternoon. The conservancy was TEEMING with game, not just migration-related. We saw two cheetah kills in two days, as well as sleeping lions, mating lions, many hippos, buffalo, huge herds of zebra and baby giraffes, all right next to our camp.

Kicheche was lovely - slightly more stylish than PL, but the tents at PL were larger and the atmosphere seemed more authentic because the Porini camps are totally run by the Masaii. I also preferred the PL location. There are loungy areas to hang out at both, but no activities other than board games or reading. Neither camp is as luxurious as MP, but the game viewing at both are superb.
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Sep 4th, 2012, 05:25 AM
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Mara Explorer would get my vote. We have been going there for 12 years, and have loved it. The current Camp Manager - Steve is very personable, an will bend over backwards to fulfill any request. The tents are a great sixe with decent decks, and as Sandi said bathtubs on the deck. The food is stunning, and service to match.

For me, the game drives are the gem. The vehicle are very comfortable, rarely do you have to share them. and the guides very knowledgable and wanting to share.
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Sep 6th, 2012, 02:36 PM
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thank you all! keep it coming! i think we are closing in on Kicheche Bush Camp, but still open to hear everyone's opinions!
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Sep 7th, 2012, 01:39 AM
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I've been to Kicheche Mara and Valley and both were great. I looked at Porini Lion and Offbeat as well, and they looked very similar in style but Kicheche won me with their lack of single supplements (except peak season). I'll be trying Kicheche Bush next time I think.

I found Kicheche very generous with their vehicles- at Mara I had a vehicle to myself (without asking or paying extra!)for my whole stay even though they could have put me in with another group. I think the managers smartly judged that I was a slightly more serious safari goer than the other guests in camp. It was much appreciated- plenty of other places would have used less vehicles to cut costs.
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