I have not been to other safaris, so I cannot properly compare this to other safari experiences, but I found Ilkeliani to be thoughtfully conceived and well executed. There are a number of cultural and environmental hazards foreign tourists encounter when traveling to a place like the Mara, but Ilkeliani does everything it can to ensure visitors have an enjoyable, even luxurious, stay while leaving the lightest possible footprint on the environment and assisting the fragile local economy.
First, the basics: The camp is very comfortable. The tents have foundations and furniture, but are real tents. There have hot water and flush toilets, but it's a more rustic experience than staying in a lodge. The individual tents are a fair distance from the communal areas (dining tent, lounge tent, etc), so one has the sense of being alone with the chirping frogs and things that go bump in the night.
The food was quite good, especially considering that everything must be flown into the camp from Nairobi. They clearly work a lot of the same ingredients into several dishes out of necessity, so one should not expect a broad selection of options at every meal, but we were not disappointed. They were even quite accommodating: I emailed several days in advance to request vegetarian meals, and the vegetarian meals provided were very enjoyable.
For tree-huggers: We saw cheetahs, a rhino, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes—the works—but throughout our game driver seemed very responsible, even chastising other drivers who crept too close to the game. (Though we still got very, very close.)
The camp's electricity and hot water come from solar cells, and the waste appears to be well handled. I've read that poorly maintained "eco-camps" will attract marabou storks, which like to feed on the food waste, but there were no signs of any such garbage-feeders.
For people-huggers: There is something distasteful about descending into a foreign place and gawking at its natives, but the camp goes out of its way to foster real interaction with the local Maasai and to support the local community. Maasai from the nearby village are invited to perform dances and sell their wares at the camp, and visitors are encouraged to go to pay the village a visit. Be warned: the village tour does apply pressure on visitors to purchase souvenirs, but we walked away empty-handed without too much hassle.
The village tour is also an elegant solution to a problem I've read about in other Maasai areas, where the locals' income derives largely from asking or demanding payment for photographs taken of them. This actually seems fair, if you ask me (they are part of the attraction and should be compensated, plus the safari economy has disrupted their traditional way of life, making a cash income very important, etc.), but tourists often take umbrage, and unhappiness ensues. With the village tour, visitors are asked for a donation in advance (something like $25 per person), with money going directly to the community, and then visitors are welcome to take as many photos as they like.
Ilkeliani also hires Maasai as staff, and they are friendly and welcome questions about their culture, so it is a real opportunity to learn and interact.
Again, I have not been on other safaris, but this experience was tremendous, and highly recommended.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Nestled in a riverine forest in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, the area is a favourite for elephants coming to drink from the Talek River. Ilkeliani camp consists of only 17 tents, each commanding views of the plains and the wildlife action throughout the day. The tented rooms are raised up slightly on earth mounds, overlooking the river and the plains. These mounds are covered in vegetation, and feel quite natural, and each one has been sited under its own cluster of shady indigenous trees and you do feel like you are out in the wilderness. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Ilkeliani Camp Hotel Maasai Mara National Reserve
- Ilkeliani Camp Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve