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“Absolutely outstanding!!!!”
Review of Sanctuary Olonana

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Sanctuary Olonana
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed September 13, 2012

This was our family's first trip to Kenya & we had high expectations for Sanctuary Olonana, all of which were exceeded! We did receive discouragement from some trip advisor participants in the forum against Olonana for our kids due to small pool & Intrepids extensive kids activities, but we opted to stick with Olonana for its small size & tented accommodations. We were so very pleased!

Where to begin?! There are so many that see to such numerous details, I'm sure we'll leave something out, so apologies in advance!

WHEN? We went the first weekend in September & the migration was still in force. Reading in the guest comments, it looked like it began later than they expected & our last full day there, we saw the Golden Triangle almost empty of wildebeast & zebras...we were taken to the Tanzania border where you could see all of them there & many still in Kenya running to Tanzania. We had seen this same location 2 days before & it was empty of wildlife. According to Duncan, our guide, the Mara is empty of zebras & wildebeast outside of the migration time. He said August is the best month to see the migration...although it can range from July to October & they typically leave in October. This year, mid-August was the peak of the water crossing predator action. We didn't get to see a crossing, although we tried, but we did see the indecisive nature of the wildebeast deciding whether or not to cross & that was just as amusing, in our opinion! If you're not set on seeing the migration, or you need lower pricing, the off season will still let you view the several lion prides in the area, the elephants, giraffe, rhino & other non-migrants...it will still be a delightful trip!

LOCATION: Maasai Mara Golden Triangle. Kichwa Tembo Airstrip is the nearest landing (1H20M from Nairobi)...about a 30 minute drive from the camp. We heard of people driving in, which takes 5 hours, 2 hours of which is incredibly bumpy! The road going up the escarpment to the camp from the airstrip is very bumpy! But bumpy roads are part of safari! The view from up high down on the way is lovely & the tree-covered Olonana Sanctuary on the River quite delightful. The camp is about 20 minutes (the bumpy 20 minute road mentioned above) outside of the Oloololo Gate of the Maasai Mara Reserve. The whole location by the river is covered in trees & they have an on-site arborist who attends to them & will give you a tour...you can even plant a tree yourself & revisit it in the future to see how it grows! Up here, there are hippos in the water, a nearby leopard family, plenty of baboons & 4-legged prey creatures and the local Maasai will tell you plenty of lions, though we didn't see any! As soon as you enter this park gate you're in the territory of the Out of Africa Pride of lions, which when we visited had over 20 lions in it...quite large!

ACCOMODATIONS/TENTS: OK, these are totally luxury tents! Yes, it is a canvas tent, but it is under a roof structure that covers the tent & patio & all of the flooring is hard wood. The bathroom is stone flooring & walls & very nicely laid out. The space was huge (they were giving us two tents for all 4 of us, but we opted for staying in just 1 tent, where the bedroom space was much larger than a typical US two-bed hotel room) & had lovely furnishings & decor with plenty of storage space for your things & suitcase. Joseph, our Steward, was wonderfully attentive & kept the room looking so very nice with the make-up & turn down & attending to any little needs we might have. He was incredibly attentive...when we arrived & he showed us the two tents, and we decided for just one, our son commented to us that we would have more water (they put water bottles in the tents) if we used both tents. We put our stuff in the tent, went to lunch, and when we returned, we had lots of extra water bottles! The attention to detail & trying to understand/know the customer was obvious throughout our stay & Joseph was absolutely outstanding! The toiletry products are those used in their spa, there were plenty of cotton towels & sheets were soft...there was plenty of covering on the beds to stay warm at night (it gets cold!) & hot water bottles are provided if you want them. We stayed in Tent #2 that has all of its net windows facing the river & the patio facing the river as well. Tent #1 was our other option & the patio faces the river, but the tent faces the patio, so you look through the patio to face the river..the patio with furnishings is like a den...so very nice & cozy! Just beware of the local monkeys that might come for a close visit! And of course, you'll never sleep late because the hippos won't allow that! I never knew they were so noisy! Unlimited laundry is included. Joseph would pick our things up in the morning & bring them back with our turndown at night. It is handwashed & smelled nice. One rainy day, they had trouble drying & things were slightly damp. I'm sure Joseph would've hung them up for us if we hadn't been in the room when he delivered them...we were glad to do the hanging. They do ask that you not put ladies personal garments in the laundry, though (due to male staff & hand washing)

DINING: There are 3 meals served a day here. BREAKFAST: was typically on the patio overlooking the river & when they have a larger number of people there is a buffet & egg/pancake/french toast order station where they cook to order. When there were a smaller number of people, all of breakfast was done as table service with drinks, fruit plate, then you order your eggs/bacon/sausage & they bring out toast/pancakes/pastries. I'm sure they would gladly do anything that you would like if they have it in stock! But we found their breakfast truly outstanding & one of the best on our trip. (the only one better was at the Fairview in Nairobi...but that was probably just because we loved their poached eggs florentine that was so tasty!) LUNCH: We usually ate this on the patio at Olonana (all day drives they pack you a picnic which was cold chicken legs, quiche, sausages, pasta or risotto, bread, dessert, and apples...and of course they always have a cooler full of drinks for your drive, too!) you typically get a set starter, then you choose your main & sometimes there is a dessert choice...typically one prepared dessert & then fruit as an option as well. The mains always had a vegeterian option. We found the food absolutely wonderful...our kids could always find something to eat in it (which says a lot!) & the Rosemary roasted chicken we had was absolutely the best chicken I've ever had...and we eat lots of chicken around the world! (we only ate lunch there twice, so I could have not recalled the details well or confused them with dinner...my apologies!) Dinner was a similar menu format to lunch, but there usually was an option on the starter & there was also soup, which was pureed with no chunks & our kids loved it! This meal was by candlelight (sundown is at 6:30 in Kenya) & low lighting indoors. When the crowd is smaller, they seat you by the fireplace & in the study...very cozy! The foods are sourced from their own organic garden, which they are glad to give you a tour of while you are there if you want! All drinks are included, except I think premium alcoholic beverages.

KIDS: So the main discouragement from others on Olonana for our family was the absence of kids activities & the smaller pool. Let me just say, they love having kids & definitely cater to them...even offering specific kid-friendly foods (which we didn't accept as we want our kids to be able to eat what is there!) They have bow & arrow shooting for them, you can visit the nearby Maasai village, and the pool is the perfect size for the size of the camp. During the migration, the weather is cold & our kids wouldn't stay in the pool for more than 15 minutes anyway...but the pool was completely adequate for the number of people that might be using it there. And honestly, in that location, you're going to go on all-day game drives, so that leaves very little pool time anyway, even if weather does permit! We were very pleased with the way our children were catered to at Olonana. I think most people think of this location as an adult-retreat, but it is truly family friendly & our visit dispelled this myth.

GAME DRIVE: Duncan was our driver & seemed to share our love of the lions. We liked watching them do anything..walk around, play, nap...and of course the hunt we saw with Duncan on our first evening where all the lioness & their cubs from the Out of Africa Pride were out hunting a water buffalo. They were unsuccessful, but it was the most memorable event of our week! Duncan was very knowledgable about the animals & birds & was very good with our kids, too. He brought great picnics & always brought extra snacks thinking of the kids. He tried the water crossing for us all 3 of our days there & showed us some really neat aspects to the Mara that made it special for us. He was often the first to spot animals while we were out & was in good communication with others regarding spottings & crossing status. He also knew all the good picnic spots & was a great driver on the muddy, bumpy, marshy terrain...we were never fearful of getting stuck! He was also very accomodating for our numerous bathroom needs! (aaah, travelling with kids!) We thank Duncan for our wonderful & memorable trip to see the Great Migration in the Mara! (fyi: there was raingear & blankets in the truck as well as a fully stocked cooler of drinks!)

GIFT SHOP:
The gift shop is appropriately sized for the camp & has a nice selection. T-shirts are all Olonana shirts & the addition of some other pictures (animals, Big 5, etc) on shirts would be the only change I would make...but that's because I had kids with me! You can find sunscreen here, sweatshirts if you didn't pack one, and a variety of souvenirs. Prices were a bit higher here than at Samburu Game Lodge (where things were so inexpensive you felt the prices should've been higher!) & some items slightly higher than at Utamaduni...but on average prices were decent, priced in USD where they will accept & give change in USD (you can also use your credit card). Outside the shop, the local Maasai have a lovely selection of their beaded handcrafts & they will also take you to their local market where I'm sure you will find even more objects. The local people typically bargain for their wares.

This was a most memorable trip...if you can afford it, we highly recommend it! The zoo will absolutely never ever be the same again & we all want to go back! But alas, someone has to work for it & there are other places to go & things to see!

Room Tip: Tent #2 was perfect with all windows & patios facing the river...but I imagine all of their tent...
See more room tips
  • Stayed: September 2012, traveled with family
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2  Thank LookingForFamilyFun
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SanctuaryRetreats_2, Quality Control Assistant at Sanctuary Olonana, responded to this reviewResponded September 20, 2012

Dear Mr. Barlow and family,

Thank you for your comprehensive review of our property, we are delighted that you and your family enjoyed your stay with us. We shared your kind remarks with Duncan and Joseph whom personally wanted to thank you for commending them in your review.

Thank you for staying with Sanctuary Retreats and we hope to see you in the not too distant future.

Warm regards

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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167 - 173 of 294 reviews

Reviewed August 21, 2012

My boyfriend and I recently visited the Sanctuary Olonana and were impressed on every level. The entire staff is welcoming without feeling overwhelming. The views are amazing (each tent is on the river and hippos grunt below you) and the accommodations were truly 5 star. Each tent has wood floors, hot showers, a large open bathroom, 4 poster beds and a deck that overlooks the river. The staff there are so hospitable- no request is too large for the staff there and no detail goes overlooked.

For example, I like to drink coffee on ice with a straw and after the waiters noticed that, they brought me a coffee to my room each morning on ice and with a straw exactly at the time I had scheduled a wake up call.

My boyfriend asked if we could go out earlier in the morning and have breakfast in the bush as we were on such a different time change we were waking up early and waiting to go on our safari and they happily agreed and told us that we could leave at 6 instead of 7:30 and they would pack us breakfast. After driving in the bush for a while we decided it was time for breakfast and so our driver, Nelson, pulled over in the middle of the bush and set up an amazing spread of eggs, sausage, juice, yogurt, fruit, croissants and hot coffee. We ate it on a table cloth-set-table with silverware and we were completely alone out there- truly one of the most peaceful mornings of my life. They set all of this up just because we asked to go out early- and there was never an extra charge for anything.

ALSO VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: All of the drives are "off road" and can be really bumpy. That being said, the vehicles at Olonana were the absolute best we saw on the drives each day as their vehicles are completely open and have no windows or doors and therefore no risk of getting sick. We passed other people packed into minivan types of cars with the windows rolled up and each time we remarked how happy we were to have our very own private vehicle with our own private driver, Nelson, for the entire 4 days.

Nelson, our driver and safari guide, was patient, intelligent, well spoken, kind and funny. He never made us feel rushed or stupid for wanting to take so many pictures or ask so many questions. It also never felt like he interfered in our intimate time together in the vehicle alone- meaning we never felt like we HAD to talk just for the sake of it.

All in all, I give this place a 10 out of 10. Highly recommend!

  • Stayed: July 2012, traveled as a couple
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4  Thank Serena4281
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 11, 2012

This was my second time staying at Sanctuary Olonana, and the second time was just as outstanding as the first. The entire staff made us feel welcome and enabled us to have a truly special safari. The staff welcomed us warmly upon our arrival, loved the welcome drinks. The meals were outstanding - kudos to the chef - Big John. Our room was maintained in tip top shape, and the early morning coffee and hot chocolate for our two children (12 and 10 years old) was much appreciated. The game drives were superb. Our guide enabled us to see every species we came to the Mara to view. We enjoyed the visit to the Masai village and the safari walk. My wife appreciated the massage along the river in the spa. King - the general manager - and his team run a fantastic lodge and we couldn't have been happier.

  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled with family
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2  Thank Sc0ttW_Atlanta
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 3, 2012

This review is long overdue following a vist with my family. On arrival we were warmly received by the our dedicated 'team', namely Maurice (manager), Abdul (head guide), Big John (chef), Duncan (waiter) and Lawrence (room attendant). These guys were fantastic and really made the trip special.

The furnished tent was pure luxury and great size with good bathrooms. Big John ensured meal time was a treat for the kids and the game drives with Abdul were incredible. We were blessed to have witnessed a crossing, truly spectacular.

No doubt we look forward to our next visit.

  • Stayed: September 2011, traveled with family
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2  Thank Mohammed30
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 1, 2012

Stayed at Olonan in April 2012 with the family, wife and 2 young kids. It was fantastic, everything from the staff to the room was amazing.

Our kids are 18 months and 3.5 years old so they are not the tidiest or quickest of eaters but the staff were wonderfully patient, especially creating menu items for kids which they enjoyed. hard to make them eat the smae fiood when i have cooked it at home! Food for adults was also very very good indeed.

The tents are huge so we could spend the early afternoon playing inside out of the sun. Bed was very copmfortable and my 3.5 year old loved having a whole bed to herself!

Game drives were excellent, especially Anderson but my kids just loved playing in the pool. A joy to have a pool in the Mara.

A must stay property.

  • Stayed: April 2012, traveled with family
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1  Thank chui101
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 19, 2012

Arrived on a Safarilink flight to be met by Vincent for transfer to Olonana and already he's shown us some Elephants and gotten us upclose to a warthog thereafter we're met by Christine and here you are not bombarded with schedules and progammes but they want to know what you want and want to do, and we're already feeling at home- and spoilt for options. i've done cutomercare but you can't learn this stuff in a class this guys are just warm. Enter ole Henry and your meals are served with a smile and a healthy dose of humour- knows when to leave you by yourselves and when to indulge you in some african gossip about different cultures - again no class for this stuff .We even met big John the face behind all the lovely food we were having and he's big and with a big warm smile. On our gamedrive the next day saw the resident lion herd in some bulrushes with the cubs up a nearby tree, saw some antelopes in blue jeans(literally), then it was upclose with the African Elephant-you want to run you want to see, all at the same time-even 3D doesn't give you that.. We also did a safari walk up the mountain with Julius , who has done some serious homework on naming the plants i wish i was half as good, up the hill we saw some zebras and some curious but very beautiful giraffes, i even learnt that bad toilet manners are not confined to the male human species,giraffe ladies squart and let it go in one neat pile but their men do it walking. It was downhill through some maasai homesteads and back to our cosy tent-Naudo(9 in maasai) you only realise it is a tent when you're unzipping the door, comes complete with a verandah overlooking the mara river well placed in a thick closed canopy green jungle everything looks natural including the pathways.Back at the dining area our favorite spot was the open verandah overlooking the mara river and some thriving resident family of hippos, here you regulate the ammount of sun burn just by moving from one seat to the next from cool shade to the hot african sun, all the while watching the lazy hippos swim and yawn all day. A good smile is i'd say the default facial characteristic of everyone at Olonana you instantly fall in love with and feel just like one of the family.At olonana even the manager King(his actual name) is part of the people taking care of you, often joining you to chat and occassionally cleaning and moving tables with his team(sic)- not your usual big office serious man in a tie. We did 2 nights but i'd advise anyone going to olonana to plan for more as 2 nights are just not enough, my wife is sick with olonana nostalgia but you can probably tell that i'd also love to go back. Exploring Maasai mara is definitely worth a shot in ones lifetime and with Olonana you get a wholesome experience. THANK YOU KING AND TEAM FOR GIVING MY WIFE AND I AN EXPERIENCE TO SAVOUR for days to come and until we come back ! Susan & Rufus

  • Stayed: June 2012, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank Kiragu
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 19, 2012

as i am making plans to visit and based on what i saw on mass media and how visitors are sharing their experience i do look forward to visit and even recommend it to others.

  • Stayed: July 2012, traveled with family
    • Service
Thank steve a
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Sanctuary Olonana

Address: C14, Keekorok, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Location: Kenya > Rift Valley Province > Maasai Mara National Reserve
Amenities:
Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Restaurant Room Service Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #33 of 146 Specialty Lodging in Maasai Mara National Reserve
Price Range: $225 - $450 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:4 star — Sanctuary Olonana 4*
Number of rooms: 14
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Sanctuary Olonana, our award-winning tented camp situated on a private stretch of the Mara River, recently undergone a significant upgrade to the public areas of the lodge as well as a soft refurbishment to the tented rooms and pool area. The interior decor reflects a contemporary design using a combination of light earthy tones and the local Maasai women played an active part in the refurbishment using the same traditional technique used in their own houses to “mud” the interior walls in all of the main areas and curio shop. From the main viewing deck see and hear the family of noisy hippos who colonise the banks below the camp. Relax with a good book in the library, cool off in the pool or for an extra special treat, experience traditional African remedies and spa treatments in the mini-spa. Oversized Safari Tents – Built on the banks of the Mara River, the twelve canvas tents at Sanctuary Olonana are extremely comfortable and spacious. The ensuite tents all have two four-poster beds with floor to ceiling mosquito netting – making them perfect for families travelling with small children. Each of the private verandas overlook the river and offer the perfect spot where guests can relax and watch the resident hippos wallow in the water. There are also two honeymoon suites with each featuring outdoor showers. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Sanctuary Olonana Hotel Maasai Mara National Reserve
Sanctuary Olonana Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve

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