Where do I start? ☺ Let me begin by explaining what kind of holiday planner I am. Usually before going to a new place/country, I do immense research for several months on end. It is not a chore for me. I love it! I love going through TA reviews and other websites to get a feel of the place (as much as one can possibly know a place through internet) and then finalize on the hotel/resort I want to stay in after analyzing all the key factors that matter to me. In the case of Masai Mara, I nearly ended up with an eyesight problem doing research late into the night for a month straight. ☺
So finally I chose Cheetah Tented Camp. Why you ask? The only riverside camp to offer an exclusive vehicle per tent at no extra cost and of course it didn’t hurt that they had the best peak season prices which no other ‘good’ camp was even remotely close to. Not to mention all the ‘excellent’ reviews it had on TA. Well, one might say the decision then ought to be very easy, why did I bother with a whole month’s research? One downside to Cheetah tented camp is that it is not within the main reserve. It is in the Mara north conservancy. You will understand why this is a problem as you read along. Also, since a Spanish couple owns this camp and most guests seem to be Spanish, I was a bit worried that we might be neglected. But all our worries were baseless. We were treated quite warmly and almost everyone speaks decent English.
Warning: Fairly long review. ☺ Most reviews I see here are in Spanish so I thought a detailed English review will help everyone.
Jorge and Mariela (the kind hosts) organized our pickup from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport, transfers to local airstrip and our local flight to the Mara. We just had to give them dates and international flight times and they organized the rest. They were always good with replying to our mails and answering all our queries. Once we landed in Mara North Conservancy we were picked up by Simitei and Patita (Masai guides). Patita was our guide for the next 5 days. We did a small game drive on the way to the camp and stopped at the river to see a large hippo family and promptly fell in love with Masai Mara. The landscape is beyond belief. You have to see it to believe it.
We received a very warm welcome at the camp with cold towels and apple juice. We were upgraded from the river tent to the Mara suite, which is huge! We were only a couple with a 2 year old so the tent/suite felt absolutely huge to us but we liked the space. ☺ We had a beautiful river view with the resident hippo family in sight. Btw, the suite has a thatched roof, so if you are looking for the traditional tented lifestyle that Mara is so famous for, you should stick with the Mara river tent accommodation.
The grounds of the camp are pretty though by no means sensational. They sort of merge into the surrounding wilderness and we actually preferred that to manicured gardens. The whole place looks beautiful in the night with oil lamps placed all around the camp. There is a huge open common dining area (thatched roof) where guests have lunch/dinner and a separate garden area next to the river where we used to have breakfast. Everything looks very romantic.
Now for the food! This was the only disappointing area for me. I am a vegetarian and I have to admit the chef did his best to accommodate my diet but the food was bland most of the time and I never once had a satisfactory meal. But I have to give them points for trying. The chef used to consult with me on the menu everyday but the end result was usually disappointing. The packed lunches used to be the same all the time. Same sandwiches everyday! ☹ Still, the chefs helped me immensely by making some simple food for my daughter for which I am really grateful.
Post dinner, guests are escorted back to the tents by the tireless askaris. Power is available only from 6:30 to 11 in the night. You have to charge all your electronic equipment in that window. The tents have several points so you can charge everything at the same time. This is one major difference between Cheetah camp and other camps in Masai Mara. Most camps provide only public charging points and I am sure it will be very difficult to charge everything when so many people have to share. More ‘points’ to Cheetah! ☺ As is the norm in Masai Mara, you will find hot water bottles in your bed by the time you return to your tent and I always looked forward to a warm and snuggly sleep after a tiring day. Best sleep of my life. ☺ And hey, bring lots of warm clothes (layers preferably) if you are traveling in August. It is brrrrrrrr. ☺
As mentioned earlier, this is the only camp that provides a private game drive vehicle for each tent. This was a key criteria for me as most camps offer only shared vehicles and if you want a private vehicle you have to shell out 250-300 USD a day extra. Please note that Cheetah tented camp charges an overall per day all-inclusive cost somewhere close to that figure. See the difference value wise? ☺
The problem with shared game drives is that kids won’t be allowed for the game drives and I knew my daughter would love to see the animals. So having our own vehicle meant that we could take her along with us all the time and she had a blast! She still talks about the animals she has seen and can’t wait to go back.
Patita was a good guide for us and he helped keep my daughter entertained all the time while my husband and myself were busy clicking away thousands of photographs. We had a wonderful time on the game drives. Unfortunately for us, we missed spotting the rhino and the leopard. Our fault really! We used to spend too much time near every animal trying to get the best photos. Also, as I mentioned previously, Cheetah tented camp is in a conservancy. It takes roughly 30-40 minutes (w/o stopping) to reach the gates of the main reserve. This 30-40 minute drive is usually amidst manyatas and the only animals you end up seeing are sheep and goats. Seriously! Even a 4x4 vehicle makes traveling on those rough roads very tiring. Add that to the cool breezes in an open vehicle and I used to be half sleepy by the time we reached the main reserve. ☺ This is something you need to keep in mind before booking any camp not in the main reserve. Of course the advantage of such camps is that night safaris and walking safaris are permitted which are great.
Jorge also organized a balloon safari for us that we enjoyed immensely. I would recommend that to anyone who hasn’t been on a balloon safari before. Don’t expect to spot too many animals from above though. The breakfast in the bush after the safari is very memorable.
The camp offers an all-inclusive package which includes all meals, drinks (alcoholic too), and unlimited game drives including night safaris and walking safaris, unlimited laundry and anything else that may catch your fancy. Yes, the only true all-inclusive offer I encountered in all my travels. If they have it, it’s yours to use.
Now coming to the hospitality. This is where Jorge and Mariela win over their customers. I shall forever remember the fireside meals with a lot of stories and jokes being shared, the love and affection shown to my daughter who quickly became the darling of the camp. She never had as much popcorn in her entire life as she did during those five days. The few times we needed a babysitter (the balloon safari for example) Patita took care of her w/o expecting anything in return. Most camps charge an hourly babysitting fees. To cap it all, Jorge surprised us by getting a Masai warrior dress stitched for my daughter. We went on a Masai village visit and we got her dressed up in the outfit and we have several beautiful pictures to remember those wonderful times. Jorge also took us on a few walking safaris with a lot of askaris to protect us, and those walks were quite fun too. We also got some practice with bows and arrows. Don’t miss that. It’s a hoot. The Masai dance performance, as a farewell to us on the last night was very good. Most of the staff in Cheetah tented camp are Masai people and they performed the dance themselves. Just before we left the camp, all the staff sang many songs for us including the famous ‘hakuna matata’ with our names included in the lyrics. Very touching, making it even more difficult to say goodbye to these wonderful people and the beautiful land.
I could go on and on but before you lose your interest I should wrap it up. If you are reading this review, it means that you are considering cheetah tented camp. Don’t think anymore. Just go. You will not be disappointed. If not for the food, I would give this camp a heartfelt 5/5 review. But maybe if you are a non-vegetarian you won’t have a problem. I am tempted to give only a 4.5/5 (which is not possible on TA of course) but as I said again and again during the review the value for money is so great compared to similar camps in the Mara, I can’t help but give it a 5!
Jorge, Mariela: keep it up! I am waiting for the time when Cheetah will be ranked #1 on TA. You guys deserve it.
Oh, please give our love and regards to all the staff. Do not forget Luna, Trufa and all the other quadrupeds including the hippos in the river, which always kept us company in the night with their grunts! Miss you all and you shall forever be in our hearts! Alekhya, Niran & Rohini
- Also Known As:
- Cheetah Tented Camp Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve