The Real Thing, A Safari at Offbeat Mara, Kenya

What are you looking for in a safari? I’m looking for The Real Thing! A safari, staying at Offbeat Mara; a real tented camp on an outstandingly beautiful, private conservancy bordering The Masai Mara Reserve, where kids … and adults can be kids. This ticks my boxes!

What do you mean by the ‘Real Thing’ you ask? and what boxes? Do let me explain:

  1. The Place – The Masai Mara reserve in the most incredible wildlife spectacle in the world, which sadly means at some times of the year it’s hotter than Oxford Circus/5th Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. Offbeat Mara is situated within the 74,000 acre Mara North Conservancy which borders the Masai Mara reserve; the scenery, the animals and the culture is all the same; the area is full of wildlife yet open to a few member camps only and has a strict policy on game viewing etiquette… loads of game, no lodges on every corner, no bustling within cars to see animals.  For these reasons you get a properly exclusive wildlife experience that is otherwise becoming impossible to find … for those looking to experience the migration in the heart of the reserve; crack on, you can dip in and out of the circus to your hearts desire.
  2. The Camp – a small, traditional safari camp, with only seven tented rooms, Offbeat Mara is a simple, cosy, private homely feel (in the good way that the English use, not the American version!) in the bush. Each tent is en suite with flush loos and traditional hot safari showers, privately scattered within the beautiful riverine forest encouraging privacy and offering a gorgeous view. The heart of the camp is a simple main ‘mess’ tent, on wooden decking, which has a sitting room , dining room and bar/library area.
  3. The People – well, in my opinion this is exactly what the Masai Mara is all about. The wildlife is here, there and everywhere, the scenery is mind boggling, it’s a great guide that make The Mara a trip of a lifetime or not … and Offbeat have good guides, of yes they do! Kind, caring, thoughtful, amusing and dam they know their stuff!
  4. The Experience – your 1st game drive in Africa makes tears come to your eyes, wild animals living in their natural habitat, happily roaming around the Savannah, the incredible views that await you around every corner, the beautiful Maasai people living at one with nature, striding across the African plains …. you don’t want 3 days of only game drives though, nope you don’t. By then the kids are screaming for their IPads and if you see another lion, you’re going to scream (us humans are weird) …. what you wanna do is:
    1. Walk, get out on that African soil with your own feet, see nature, real nature with your own eyes. Learn about the little stuff, the bugs and beetles, the grasses and what poo belongs to who .. why not?
    2. A surprise bush dinner party, under the stars.
    3. A sundowner. Not a lot beats a Kenyan sundowner; set up under a lone acacia tree, overlooking miles and miles of Bloody Africa with a G&T in hand.
    4. Go and see how the Maasai people live. It’s bright, cheerful, interesting … and quite shocking … it will stop you complaining about how your new Farrow & Ball paint which doesn’t quite match the Racing Car green on your chaise longues .. for a while.
    5. Hell, why not hop on a hot air balloon for the morning … this is how to see the Mara, the peace, quiet of floating above the best wildlife spactacle on earth.

My little family are so very lucky. We stayed at Offbeat Mara, with 3 other families, all with small kids, for a long weekend. I simply cannot express what an incredible time we had. We stayed in an amazing little double tent, a family tent; the camp is indestructible so you’re not on the edge, terrified that your mini-terrorist is about to break the family crystal; the food was absolutely delicious, the G&T’s better; there was always something amazing to do, something amazing for the kids and adults .. walks, sundowners, picnics, nature walks, game drives … we literally couldnt fit in everything; the Offbeat team are out of this world with the adults, and kids .. and the best part is once the kids go to bed, a friendly Maasai guard sits on your tent verandah watching over sleeping beauty … whilst you can have a scream with your friends not far away.

Practicalities:
Offbeat Mara – Will forever remind me of a natural, happy, homely time, spent with family, and friends. A simple tented camp, with everything you should want.
Mara North Conservancy, The Maasai Mara – as I mentioned above, this is literally the best place to stay when visiting the Masai Mara, especially over the annual wildebeest migration, it gets you away from the crowds, but in the action.
For those travelling to Kenya with kids – Do it, stay at Offbeat Mara. It’s simple, comfortable and offers them a ‘real’ safari experience, but with all the comforts you need.
For those who live in East Africa – get a couple of families together and GO!!! You’ll have a scream.
Weather – warm days and a little bit chilly nights.
What to Pack? – A good camera and binoculars. Layers … jeans and a warm jumper / jacket for the evening and early mornings and shorts and a t-shirt for the day. High SPF sun cream, hats.
Price – From USD460 per person per night which includes it all; all your meals, all your drinks (apart from champers), your game drives, walks, bush meals, amazing guiding etc. etc. BUT they have a tonne of amazing special offers for honeymooners, families, groups, early bird bookings etc. you can get this price down by 25%!! Contact Lilian to make the most of these!
My advise – People go on holiday for very many different reasons, if you are looking to experience safari how it always was, but with all the luxuries you need, Offbeat Mara will suit you perfectly.

A Proper Kenyan Safari, with Old Friends, and their families

Need a little pick-me-up? An adventure? A change of pace? Raucous laughter? Easy, rally together your oldest friends and COME … come on a proper Kenyan safari, with old friends, and their families. 

I have just been lucky enough to go on a Proper Kenyan Safari, with my Old University Housemates … and their families. Did we LAUGH? That’s an understatement. Did the 7 kids love it? Oh yes!

In 1997, three cocky youths left some ‘sort-of’ an university in Cardiff, Wales to tackle the world as it was; 21 years later, one in Australia, one in the UK and one in Kenya; we, for some reason, decided the time was right for a New Year safari … together … with our families (age 3 to 13). Apart from a couple of weddings, we had not been together for all this time, why, and how, on earth would it work?

We started our adventure at Muthaiga Country Club for a celebratory evening ;o) in Nairobi, before heading north on a rather  … hmmmm, how would you say it … adventurous journey …. in our 4×4’s to El Karama Lodge, Laikipia.

A gorgeously rustic little family-owned, family-run six-bedroom eco-lodge on a 4,800 hectare private wildlife ranch just north of Mt. Kenya, the characterful El Karama is steeped in family history and truly supports the community and the environment, thoroughly. Our time at El Karama was incredible, indeed it is an incredible place to stay. Richard said he felt like he was ‘on safari at a ski-chalet’ , I rather like that explanation .. super-fun-filled days with food and drinks produced at all the most important times.  We spent our time on game drives seeing an incredible amount of wildlife (hippos wallowing, lion on a kill, a tiny baby giraffe, a family of hyena, jackals on the hunt,  the rare Gerenuk, the endangered Grevy’s zebra … the list continues), line fishing for the young boys, putting the world to right by the swimming pool, swimming in the gorgeous swimming pool, visiting the dairy and the humongous organic fruit and veggie garden, enjoying Tusker-time (and kids picnic supper) under an acacia tree overlooking miles and miles of Laikipia …. and of course snuggled up by the roaring fire at night telling the same old stories, hell we hadn’t heard them for 20 years, a lot of catching up was to be done!

Onwards & upwards, it was time to explore elsewhere, on with another character-building journey and this time it was on to one of the Great Rift Valley lakes, Lake Baringo. Yes, we made the decision to stay at Island Camp on Lake Baringo for our New Years Eve celebrations … and what a change of pace that was. A lovely little tented lodge on an island in the middle of this incredibly peaceful lake (no jet skiis, no power boats …. just hippos and crocodiles!!). Time here was spent by the pool, on the boat looking at the hippos, crocodiles, the incredible bird life and the interesting culture around the lake; Hmmmmm …. and quite strangely deciding to waterski, wake board, biscuit and donut in amongst it all … the kids were in heaven, the adults thought they were kids again …. and 2018 was introduced, in style.

Our final destination of this adventure was the Maasai Mara, of course. The best place in the world to see The BIG 5.  After the most adventurous journey of all (yup a little bit of getting stuck!) … we arrived at none other than the truly gorgeous House in the Wild. One of our group had a tear dropping down her cheek as we walked in, she said it was ‘just so incredible and beautiful and we are all so lucky to stay here’, well this was just the beginning; the people, the food, the experiences, it literally knocked our socks off! House in the Wild is a private home on the banks of the Mara river, tucked away on a 1000 acre private estate, Naretoi, on the edge of the Maasai Mara.  A little 6-room lodge with a casual and laid back atmosphere, away from the crowds, we settled into another four days of incredible safari entertainment with the best food I’ve ever experienced on safari. We danced with Maasai,  we swam in the pool, watched a pod of hippo in the river, saw squillions of incredible wildlife (lion, cheetah, rhino, elephant, hippo, crocs, buffalo, so many gazelles, antelopes, wildebeest etc.), had a ‘sundowner under an acacia tree’, played hilarious card games into the night ….. and we walked with the rhino, oh we did!!!!!! Did we see the Big 5 … of course we didn’t, we had far too many noisy children, but we saw four out of five and had the time of our lives.

What incredible men those two cocky youths have turned into; amusing, kind, generous, successful and adventurous. What truly exceptional wives they managed to find themselves (pheow) … and truly impressive children who, completely out of their comfort zones, couldn’t have been more fun, interested or better company, maybe Cardiff ‘not-quite-good-enough-to-be-a-university’ wasn’t so bad after all!!!

Cheers to friendship; cheers to 2018.
(To book a proper Kenyan safari, with old friends, and their families, contact The SAFARI Company )

Soames Hotel – A Charming Family Spot, at the gates to Kenya’s Rugged & Magnificent North

Truly, the place to travel in order to satisfy an entire family is Kenya’s north, Laikipia. Why? The lodges are beautiful and the array of activities are endless. Soames Hotel is 7km outside of Nanyuki town, the gates to this beautiful, diverse, rugged and magnificent north.

For Kenyans, Soames does not have to be a ‘stop-‘off’ on the way to Laikipia though, it is most definitely good enough, ideal in fact, to be a family mini-break in itself. For those travelling here from overseas, it is indeed a wonderful part of a Kenyan safari. Soames is about the little hotel itself, is not on a private conservancy or wildlife-strewn ranch, so it is important to plan your daily activities before you travel.

Soames Hotel and Jacks Bar is a newly constructed out-of-town boutique hotel, overlooking Mt Kenya. The sitting room, dining room and bar area is ‘ranch-house’ in shape and style with six separate cottages (with two bedrooms in each) as the 12 bedrooms.  The entire place is classic contemporary style with a clean cut modern look, simply and tastefully furnished … and yummy food!!  Honestly, the food is delicious; my breakfast of poached egg, smoked salmon & hollondaise sauce on a crusty brown bread is still heavily on my mind!

The Ultimate in Family-time & Relaxation … The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, Laikipia

At The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, the scenery is exceptional, nature is natural, the private villas allow for unspoiled family-time, memorable activities & serious relaxation.

Our adventure began in the farming town of Nanyuki. The drive to Ol Lentille from Nanyuki is indeed beautiful and un-challenging; achievable in under a couple of hours and when you arrive, the views are enough to bring tears to your eyes (seriously!). At the reception they have a very well-placed ‘slide’ for the kids, whilst you can just breathe & take in your incredible surroundings.

Firstly, I would love to share the story behind this unique place. Pioneering indeed, The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille is the only all-villa property i.e. it’s not a lodge where you have to eat with or even speak to other guests, you have your gorgeous villa all to yourself (happy husband)!!  Secondly, it is a community and conservation experience unlike anything else in Kenya. The team along-with (not bossing them around, along-side) the local communities, have created, conserved and protected over 40,000 acres of wilderness as well as supporting the local community, since the lodge opened 10 years ago they have raised over USD5 million!! A rare example of how private partnerships with a community can work. Having been in the Kenyan safari industry for 24 years, it’s not often that I admit someone has changed my way of thinking. John and Gill have.

I digress, back to our weekend of family-fun. We were allocated the Colonels House (the best of the houses in my opinion) as our home for two nights, a two-story house with a little plunge pool, a verandah, dining room, sitting room, two huge bedrooms both with massive baths … and did I mention the views? We were then introduced to our butlers Bonny and Rose … I confess, I immediately thought that this would be annoying having people hanging around, NOT A BIT OF IT, they are the most charming, helpful and unobtrusive pair of delightful people.

Staying here, in this environment, with these people was indeed a “holiday”, yes I have two toddlers and we rested … together! Imagine that? I felt uncomfortable with the downtime initially as I’m just not used to it but after sniffing out the board games, we sat playing games, plunging in the little plunge-pool, swimming in the swimming pool, playing boules, croquet, sunning, eating cake and telling stories whilst admiring the wonders of our surroundings, the wildlife footprints, the resident Rock Hyrax (no we still can’t take one home Billy), a weaver-bird weaving his nest, the Verreaux’s eagles ‘acquainting’ themselves with the Hyrax, a Leopard Tortoise came to visit us, the caterpillars rearing their beautiful hairy-selves with the rain, the camels on the opposite hill, we even fed the resident Kudu orphans … heaven on earth!!

Then the serious activities began.  May I add there are endless activities for those travelling with kids a little older than ours; walking safaris, Quad bikes, mountain biking, horse & camel riding and unlimited spa treatments. We booked ourselves into the more toddler-friendly game drive (beautiful with the charming and interesting Timothy), the most exceptional sundowner/kids supper I have ever been on where we were quite literally on top of the world with space for the kids to charge around and release any energy they may have remaining! Plus a Manyatta visit at the end …. hmmm, so this didn’t happen because the accident-prone three year old decided to slice her chin open which resulted in Mummy having to steri-strip a 2 inch chin opening .. so rest and relaxation ensued again, heaven.

With a philosophy of “Having fun, doing good”, it’s a perfect family holiday. we can’t wait to return to Ol Lentille!

Practicalities

The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille – Very special times. Having your own personal home, with no other guests, no wifi … where you get to spend valuable time together, as a family. …. whilst benefiting a community and conservation area. We loved it, but it is even more ideal for those with older kids (over 16) so the horses, camels, quad bikes etc. are utilised properly!
Laikipia, Kenya – This is the ultimate if you are looking to experience Laikipia at its finest. The rugged, unspoilt landscape whilst staying in a lodge of extreme beauty, this is up there.
For those travelling to Kenya with kids – For honeymooners or family who live a busy life, this is the perfect first stop on a Kenyan safari. If you are looking for privacy and the finer things, whilst being comfy, I highly recommend you spend some time here.
Weather – The weather was beautiful with cool nights and clear, warm days.  The hottest month is usually December, January. The wettest month is usually April.
What to Pack? – Shorts for the day with a shirt, a jumper and jacket, trousers and jumpers for the evening …. and swimming costumes for the brave and lots of suncream.
Price – In Laikipia, you pay for exclusivity … a 4 night all-inclusive stay starts at USD1,500 per person for 4 nights (yup, staying in stunning villas with private activities and unlimited spa treatments). For Kenyan residents, the rate is Kshs20,000 including everything!!! For rates or to book, please contact me.
Awards – Andrew Harper Readers’ Choice 6th best safari lodge in the world and number one in East Africa & Ecotourism Kenya Community Conservancy of the Year 2016
My advise – Stay here, with your kids. Not only is it amazingly beautiful, you are supporting a positive community project, a successful conservation project and you will spend proper valuable family-time….. a rarity in this day and age.