This was our first time in Africa and first ever safari so we didn't really know what to expect. The reviews here looked good, and the website certainly is impressive - but what would the reality be?
We needn't have worried. From the moment we were met at the airstrip by Japhet and John the guides, and Joseph the Masai spotter, who took our bags from us and offered us a glass of chilled Chardonnay (much appreciated!), the tone was set. This may be a 'camp' but the camping is unlike any under-canvas experience I've ever had. The 'tents' are really luxury lodges, with stone-built bathroom, shower and toilet sections, and very cool spacious bedrooms. UK standard electrical sockets and 24/7 power and hot water mean this is really a 5 star hotel experience set in it's own private wildlife conservancy. The views are fantastic - 180 degrees of Kenyan bushland with Elephant, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Zebra and 15 types of Antelope roaming just a few yards away.
We 'met' our first Giraffe on the drive back to Bushtops from the airstrip - almost close enough to touch and magnificent to behold. On the subsequent game drives we saw all of the 'big 5' (except Leopard, so we'll have to go back!) and an amazing variety of bird and animal life. We also saw the Wildebeste migration. A sea of moving, grunting, animals, surprisingly noisy when you land your balloon amongst them!
Talking about the game drives - Mara Bushtops, like some other safari companies, use Toyota Land Cruisers as their vehicles. However UNLIKE other companies, they modify them themselves to a design they created and the result is simply the best possible safari experience for the guest. The cars are VERY comfortable with well sprung padded seats (which is important when you are out for hours driving 'off road'), and with open sides that give a full view all around and makes taking photographs very easy. Other vehicles we saw forced their occupants to squeeze their cameras through windows or stand up and shoot out of the roof. Whoever designed the Mara vehicles knew absolutely what they were doing. They also come with well stocked cold boxes offering a choice of chilled wines or beers as well as an excellent buffet lunch, to be taken under the shade of a Leopard Tree (hopefully unoccupied!)
Back to the 'Camp' itself and Bushtops offers an excellent and interesting dining experience, with a superb menu that can be taken indoors in the atmospheric restaurant, or out on the 'verandah' while watching the wildlife come down to the nearby salt lick. It only takes a few days of this for you to become used to watching Elephant and Zebra while eating your lunch.
The pool is small, rather than olympic sized, but perfect for a cool dip after a hot afternoon's drive, and with only 12 'tents' it was never busy (in fact when we used it we had it to ourselves).
At this point I should mention the staff. In addition to the guys who met us off the plane we were looked after by Edward - our 'butler' - a Masai lad from the local village who's english was impeccable and whose local knowledge fascinating. Ferdinand was our day to day guide and James (also Masai) our spotter and the two of them taught us more about Kenyan wildlife and the Mara region than I would have thought possible. I also learned the Swahili way to say 'two beers please, my friend will pay' - the most essential phrase in any language.
All the restaurant and camp staff were great and very friendly - but in particular Samuel a recently qualified young sommelier was a delight. He could do stand up comedy if he ever fancies a change of career, and be warned - his Rum-Pot once tried is irresistible.
Other good points? The complimentary daily laundry service (turnaround in less than 24 hours,) is a real boon – you only need half as many clothes when you can have them washed every day. All soft drinks are included in the full board price and best of all, for charging purposes, the local 'Tusker' beer is classed as a soft drink!
Criticisms? well none really. The menu could perhaps be a bit more varied - we were there for 6 nights and so had to go back and have some dishes a second time (such hardship!). The wardrobes in the bedrooms would be better if the sliding doors were removed - to save the two of you having to fight over who has access. (Ok we didn't fight much - I just left my stuff out on a shelf). Oh and the Africa dawn could have been put back an hour to give us that bit more time in bed before the early drives (which leave at 6.30) or the Balloon ride (which leaves at 4.30!) but I guess not even the Mara management team, good as they are, could alter the sunrise.
Other reviews have commented that being outside the Mara reserve itself is a disadvantage - I disagree. For a start it is a VERY short drive to the reserve - 15minutes at most and you see wildlife from the moment you let out. More importantly being in its own conservancy Mara Bushtops can offer night game drives and local guided walks (accompanied by a Masai spotter, a guide and an armed ranger - something just not possible in the reserve itself. We actually saw more of the animals in the Bushtops conservancy than in the mara itself (apart from the million or so Wildebeest) , possibly because there are NO other tourist safaris in this private reserve with its own water hole and salt-lick. At night Masai guards accompany you to and from your tent because on occasions the wildlife have come very close indeed! In fact one afternoon we watched a small herd of elephant eating the bushes less than twenty feet from our verandah.
For us our introduction to Africa and safari trips set the bar very high indeed. I'm not sure anywhere else will be able to match Mara Bushtops as a safari destination, except perhaps Serengeti Bushtops! We'll let you know next year.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The words "exclusive" and "luxurious" are often exaggerations: at Mara Bushtops they fit like a glove. Watching from your own 100 square metre private deck as an abundance of wildlife congregates around the adjacent salt lick is, literally, unforgettable. Having your butler draw your hot tub after a spectacular game drive is heaven while our award-winning safari spa takes Wild Luxury to new heights. Together, these experiences create an oasis of five-star luxury, blending peace with adventure. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Mara Bushtops Hotel Maasai Mara National Reserve
- Mara Bushtops Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve