This was the second leg of our recent odyssey through Kenya and, having experienced the delight of the parched Samburu wilderness, we weren't sure whether this phase of the trip would be able to scale similar heights. We needn't have worried.
Of course, the setting helps a bit. Not long after taking off from the arid northern airstrip, you're reminded of the extraordinary diversity of this beautiful country and, but the time we landed at Ukunde airstrip in the Mara Northern Conservancy, we were surrounded by verdant lushness everywhere. The same approach applies as in Saruni Samburu - a gentle drive through something akin to the Garden of Eden, green fields and an abundance of wildlife everywhere you look that is in stark contrast to the harder conditions further North.
One of many things of which Saruni can be justly proud is the quality of their guides. Not only are they extremely sharp-eyed, they're very articulate, intelligent and engaging and it took no time at all for a good relationship to be established as we continued on, stopping for a welcome open-air lunch on the most enormous, empty plain I think I shall ever see.
Some might question whether the location of the lodge, at the northern corner of the Northern conservancy, is too far from the main Mara Reserve. And it is a distance, be under no illusions, the journey to the river to see the river crossing basically being an all day job there and back. This is not an issue. For one, the Northern Conservancy is a whole different landscape and is, if anything, blessed with more wildlife in more places than the vast, frequently empty plains further south. What you do get in the reserve is, of course, the river crossing itself and there the concentration of wildebeest is mind-boggling. If you're lucky enough to see them stream down the hill to the river in their thousands and then, hopefully, cross the river you will witness an unforgettable event. However, it was much closer to home that we saw the pride of 19 lions, the pair of cheetahs, the leopard dangling nonchalantly from a tree.
Animals are seen from an open-sided Land Rover, which is the only way to do this, judging by the miserable faces we saw peering out through the windows of the many minibuses we saw, patently not being driven by Masai with local knowledge and equally unable to traverse the many rutted roads where the wildlife is to be found, something our driver and vehicle could do with ease.
Interest in the local community is also strong and it was lovely to be taken one morning to the local market, alive with goats, cattle, colour and noise. I don't know if this is just a Saruni thing, but we were the only Europeans there and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
The accommodation is in the form of individual lodges, done out inside in a colonial style and very nicely done too. It is a good deal colder in the evening, so hot water bottles are thoughtfully provided and fires lit to heat the water in the morning. This all worked perfectly well.
The Saruni style is to eat communally, and this took place in the large main lodge area. The food was extremely good and the fire and sofas at one end of this area made for a really nice way to finish each evening. Service was consistently good throughout and everything was extremely well-kept. The in-room safes could do with being replaced with larger ones to cope with all the technology we all seem to cart around with us these days, but that's a minor issue.
The Saruni approach - relaxed, extremely comfortable, well-informed and constantly friendly - is engaging and a winning formula. It is not the apogee of luxury and silver service, but it shouldn't be and, thankfully, isn't. It's way better than that.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Saruni is a small, luxury lodge in Mara North Conservancy, the best wildlife area in the Masai mara ecosystem. We have one family villa and 5 cottages. Our masai guides are among the best in Kenya and to discover the amazing wildlife of the Mara with them is an unforgettable experience. In July 2012 Saruni Mara opened the doors of a brand new family villa and completed the refurbishment of its existing villa’s in to six beautifully designed, themed rooms.The stylish new villa has two en-suite bedrooms and a large lounge complete with dinning area and comfortable sofa’s sounding the welcoming fireplace. There is also an impressive large veranda overlooking the magnificent scenery of the Masai Mara. The remaining villas have been refurbished to incorporate themes that will engage with guests passions whether that is art, astronomy, photography, literature, natural history or simply romance. All furniture, carpets, lamps and bedding was either sourced locally in Nairobi or designed by Kenyan interior decorator Larissa Hoops and then made by local craftsmen.The Art room will inspire creative guests with an easel and paint as well as a desk with drawing materials.For star gazers, the Astronomy room has a vintage brass telescope, moon map and selection of interesting material on all things cosmic.Book worms and budding writers will enjoy staying in the Literature room with its vintage typewriter, leather reading chairs, desk with brass reading lamp, quill pen and leather blotter. There is also a selection of classic and African literature. For clients that prefer to view life through the lens, the Photography room has an old box browning camera, antique photographic equipment catalogue and stunning prints adorn the walls. The Family villa also doubles as the Natural History room and is decorated with a selection of antique and vintage prints. There is also relevant reading material such a books on mammals, reptiles, tree’s and birds.The Honeymoon room has been simply designed for a relaxing romantic break with comfy furniture and beautiful antiques.Saruni Mara is owned and run by Italian author Riccardo Orizio. This resort is the Masai Mara’s smallest permanent lodge and guests enjoy an exclusive experience with their own private vehicle and guide. Evenings can be spent relaxing in the common area enjoying fine cuisine influenced by Riccardo’s Italian family heritage. Guests can also enjoy bush breakfasts and dinners in breathtaking settings such as in the middle of an acacia forest. Saruni Mara is extremely active in local community and conservation projects and works very closely with the local Masai communities. The lodge is the proud recipient on the Silver rating by Ecotourism Kenya.Rooms at Saruni Mara start from US$390 a night. Prices are based on two people sharing on full board including all house drinks, park fees, game drives and airport transfers. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Saruni Mara Hotel Maasai Mara National Reserve
- Saruni Mara Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve