Wildlife lovers, luxury travelers, honeymooners, anniversaries, conservationists and photographers
Day and night game drives, Maasai cultural experiences and hot air balloon rides
Set in a private concession bursting with wildlife adjacent to the national park, Mara Plains Camp is our favorite way to experience the iconic wilderness of the Maasai Mara. A brainchild of famed conservationists Derek and Beverly Joubert, the camp oozes their signature expedition-chic style. Think Hemingway vibes meets the vibrant cultures of East Africa. For those seeking the best of the best experiences in Africa, Mara Plains should be top of your list.
In a destination as world-famous as the Maasai Mara, it’s not surprising that there can be crowds. Sightings are rarely a solitary affair with numerous other vehicles flocking to the action. While the Mara is magnificent enough to make it worth the potential crowds, wouldn’t it be nicer to just have it all to yourself? This is where the magic of the northern conservancies come into play, delivering big on both experience and seclusion. These privately managed conservancies offer all the benefits of being in the Maasai Mara without any of the crowds. With only a few camps each, you will share these massive spaces with just a few other vehicles. Sightings will be private, vistas unmarred and the wildlife unperturbed.
These conservancies sit directly north of the official Maasai Mara National Reserve and are entirely unfenced so wildlife can move freely between them. Unaware of human boundaries, the wildlife knows only one difference – they are far less likely be disturbed in these northern reaches of the ecosystem. The result is a huge abundance drawn to the region, making for absolutely fabulous game viewing year-round.
Mara Plains Camp sits in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, the most prolific of them all in our opinion. The predator densities are off the charts, the plains games numbering in the thousands and the birdlife marvelous. Countless luggas (small rivers eroded into the land) crisscross the savannah, creating ribbons of fertility that attract plenty of animals. It is an astounding 100,000 acres of pristine savannah, forest and rivers. When paired with the 375,000 acres of the national reserve, you have access to nearly half a million acres of some of the world’s most coveted wildlife habitat. That is exploration unlimited.
One of the biggest reasons Mara Plains should be on your bucketlist is the guiding. The camp is the home base for some of Kenya’s top guides, with only gold-level guides hired to work there. In a country saturated by tourism and therefore guides, having access to a world-class one is invaluable for enhancing and facilitating your experience to the best it can be.
Since you’re outside the national reserve, you have more flexibility in how you can explore the area. Alongside daytime game drives, you can also venture out on nighttime drives. These are absolutely fascinating because you can see the full spectrum of biodiversity the land has to offer. Nighttime is also when most predators prefer to hunt, so you might get to see some of this normally unseen action if you’re lucky.
You also have the flexibility to venture out for half or full days game drives instead of the traditional split of morning and late afternoon. You’ll depart in the morning with a picnic lunch and spend the whole day out exploring, enjoying your midday meal somewhere picturesque with a great view of the wildlife. You can really tap into your inner explorer this way and cover more ground than you would normally be able to.
One of the best ways to do this is with, what we call, lightning strike visits down into the national reserve to see the iconic Great Migration, especially the thrilling river crossings. You can make targeted drives down to where the wildebeest action is, witness it in all its glory, then return to the uncrowded tranquility of your private conservancy after.
The crossings are well worth a full day of your trip. You can immerse into the total chaos and drama of nature’s greatest spectacle playing out against the amphitheater of the Mara River. The anticipation, the thundering of a hundred thousand hooves, the absolutely massive crocodiles lying in wait in the murky waters and the predators waiting on the other side…it’s an experience not to be missed.
Whenever possible, we also recommend our travelers take full advantage of the hot air balloon rides on offer at the camp. Few places on Earth are more worthy of a hot air balloon ride than the Maasai Mara. You take off right at sunrise as the first blush of golden light is illuminating the land. As you drift quietly skyward, the savannah unfurls itself below you, revealing its magnificence like a map beckoning you in. From this lofty perspective you can truly appreciate the grandeur of this ecosystem. Watch as wildebeest and zebras graze in the early morning mist, as elephants and giraffes forage on the treetops and as sleepy lions settle into the long grass for a day of lounging. Pure magic.
Inspired Heritage, Picture Perfect
Mara Plains is a place where the camp itself is a destination. The camp has been so carefully and lovingly thought out, and it’s felt in every moment of your stay. It is part of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio created by Derek and Beverly Joubert, legendary conservationists, photographers and National Geographic Explorers that have dedicated their lives to protecting Africa’s most magnificent wild spaces through visual storytelling and high-end, low-impact ecotourism. (You’ve likely seen their work featured in numerous documentaries, magazines and television shows.) The Jouberts have managed to turn their passion into a respected eco-conscious lifestyle brand centered protecting African wilderness, including a line of clothing believe it or not. This signature style is seen throughout the design of Mara Plains.
From the moment you arrive at camp, it draws you into its intrigue. You cross a bridge spanning the Ntiakitiak River to reach the camp nestled into a grove of lush forest. Upon entering the camp, you are greeted by a panoramic vista of savannah, dotted by a lone acacia tree – a classic Mara scene if there ever was one. Throughout the camp, the Jouberts wanted to incorporate their origins as photographers. Views are carefully thought out and framed to mimic how a photographer crafts an image. The windows and doors are perfectly proportioned to match a 35mm camera frame. The attention to detail is outstanding! Every suite even comes with its own high-end camera set-up for you to test out while there. Where else are you going to find that?! You can have your very own Joubert moment.
These personal photographic touches are laid against a design that celebrates the many cultural influences etched upon the land of East Africa. Red accents honor the famous Maasai and Samburu warrior tribes; oversized wooden doors echo the Swahili coastal culture of Lamu; vintage leather, hammered copper and brass bring the Hemingway vibes in spades. You can feel the stories of the region’s rich heritage woven throughout every space, every detail.
The suites are so fabulous that they’ll make you want to leave everything behind and move there for a life in the bush with the elephants and giraffes. When they were first being designed, the Jouberts challenged the builders to create a tent 270 square feet in size – the largest they had ever done. The result is spectacular. They are spacious and open, with floor to ceiling windows that effortlessly bring in the immense beauty of the Mara right into your tent.
The natural beauty is contrasted against luxurious touches that create a sense of understated opulence that has become the signature of the Jouberts’ entire portfolio. Soak in your hammered copper bathtub while watching birds flit through the canopy outside your tent. Sip wine on the large deck as a fire crackles in your personal outdoor fireplace. Indulge in an afternoon massage between game drives. This is life in the bush at its best.
It’s no surprise that the dining and service are just as impeccably thought out as the design of the camp is. Attention to detail is the name of the game here and the staff deliver in spades. From the supremed citrus served at brunch to the perfectly paired wines with every meal, the experience rivals the best across Africa and beyond.
As with many of our favorite camps, the only downside to Mara Plains is finding a tent! In order to secure a spot during your desired time, it’s best to plan at least a year in advance, if not earlier. Trust us, it’s well worth the wait and extra lead time!
Our Finest Kenya & Seychelles itinerary pairs Mara Plains with Sirikoi, another camp featured in our Top 20 Favorites, and time on two different idyllic beaches in the Seychelles. A visit to this secluded archipelago is the perfect way to wrap up a thrilling safari packed with wildlife and adventure. Sip cocktails on the beach, snorkel in turquoise seas and revel in the barefoot ease of island life.
For the ultimate wildlife adventure that Africa can offer, check out our Grand East Africa itinerary. Alongside Mara Plains, this trip visits the stunning camps of Serengeti Lamai and Sirikoi for all your classic safari wildlife. Your grand finale is a stay at Bisate for the best gorilla trekking experience Africa has to offer. This rainforest-chic lodge is another one featured in our Top 20 Favorites and will surely become one of yours too.