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!)
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!
- 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