Bends in the Mara River

Mara River

The view from the deck of our tent.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • The Club has all the amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel and staff as attentive as I have experienced anywhere in the world. 
  • It’s the private deck that makes the Club stand out – or rather enables you to sit out and experience the magic of the river.

I was reading myself to sleep, when three times the lion roared. Loud. Defiant. Challenging. My wife, Lut, and I were in a tent of the Fairmont Mara Safari Club on the bank of the Mara River, and I had been thinking of the challenge our son, Jan, would be facing in the morning, as he pitted himself against the 50 kilometres of the UltraMARAthon to be run over three of the Mara’s conservancies. 

For me, the challenge of doing the 500 steps between our tent and the dining room was challenge enough. But, having seen Jan’s chilly start only 30 minutes beyond dawn, Lut and I would be returning for a sumptuous breakfast at the Fairmont Club. So, to the whooping calls of a hyena, I smiled, warmed my feet on the hot water bottle, and snuggled down to sleep. 

The Club has a magnificent position, where the Mara River bends and bends back on itself. At breakfast that first morning, we had a table on a wide terrace beside the river. The early morning clouds were already burning off, but we were shaded from the sun by a spreading fig tree.

There were a couple of hippos enjoying the cool water of the river below us. A grey-headed kingfisher was eyeing the ripples and, somewhere in the distance, an emerald-spotted wood dove was calling. 

Inside, the Club has all the amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel – comfortable lounges, a dining room with a variety of well-presented dishes, a well-stocked bar – and staff as attentive as I have experienced anywhere in the world. 

You can swim in the garden pool; you can have a massage in your tent. There was a TV discretely placed in a small lounge. So on Sunday evening I was able to sneak there on my own and watch the F1 in Saudi Arabia – the craziest of all this year’s unrelenting contests between Hamilton and Verstappen. 

Viewing deck on the river bank

Some years ago, I wrote an article expressing my disappointment at what Fairmont had done to the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi. The interior décor was splendid, but the Delamere Terrace was no longer open to the street. Like the Stanley Hotel’s Thorn Tree pavement café, the Norfolk’s Terrace used to be a favourite meeting place for people of the city as well as for tourists. But then the Westgate bombing happened. It was no longer possible for the big hotels to have such an easy interface with the city. 

However, Fairmont has found a way with its Mara Safari Club to have a better interface with its surrounding wildlife than any other largish lodge or camp has in the Mara or in any of Kenya’s game reserves or conservancies.

The key feature is the viewing deck on the river bank that every one of the tents has. The tents are fairly standard for luxury safari camps. They have electricity for the lights; they have hot water for the basins and showers.

But it is the private deck that makes them stand out – or, rather enables you to sit out and experience the magic of the river, with its hippo and crocodile residents and its amazing variety of birds. As one guest wrote in, ‘I have never been so connected to nature.’ 

The Club is in the Ol Choro Conservancy of the Masai Mara. We drove across it and the two other north-eastern conservancies a few times. All the plains games are there – herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles. There are elephants and giraffes; there are lions and leopards. There are no herds of minibuses. 

Oh, yes, Jan did finish all the 50 kilometres. To paraphrase Sam Mussabini, the athletics coach in the film, Chariots of Fire: ‘It wasn’t the prettiest run I have ever seen, but it was certainly the bravest.’ 

John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]