What a place to celebrate my birthday!
Greeted by a Masai Warrior playing a flute on arrival, reiterated by the resident hippo pod lounging in the Mara River as we were allocated our luxurious tents and a Masai village procession and song with my cake at dinner!
Nothing disappointed at this upmarket sanctuary!
My tent, number 12, was right at the end of a line of tents stretching along the Mara river. A perfect refuge and hide, for birding. At night the rapids soothed me to sleep. Even from my shower, I could survey the wildlife on the Mara and what joy, to have a selection of books about the history and people of Kenya right there on my desk, ready for my perusal.
Each night, staff would leave a local Masai etymological story on one of the many local animals on my bed. One of two luxurious mosquito netted queen beds in my amazing and huge tent.
But for me, along with the delectable food, a highlight was the sustainable ecological principals that are central to Olonana's operations and raison d'etre.
Olonana runs on a methane plant, that provides gas to run its lights, hot water and kitchens.
The source of the methane is from the Masai villages cattle, cow dung which they deliver, in exchange for fresh, clean water and briquettes, a bi-product of the methane plant.
The mix is 4 parts cow dung to one part water, producing heat and gas. It then goes through a system that includes the removal of the dung, the adding of molasses and waste paper, pouring this slurry into briquette moulds which are dried in the sun and distributed back to the Masai for cooking, sparing trees for firewood.
The water continues through a filtration system of four reed ponds. The final pond releases cleaner water back into the river than what came from it in the first place!
I was lucky enough to tour the eco aspects of Olonana Sanctuary with Josphat Omondi, the local Masai Philanthropy Officer, including the extensive, thriving kitchen gardens and staff kitchens and recreation facilities. His botanical knowledge was exceptional, including his knowledge of botanical names.
Part of Olonana's sustainable resort program is an extensive re-afforestation endeavour, to support plant species necessary to sustain the ecological balance, ensuring a plentiful food supply for future populations of hungry elephants, giraffe, rhinos and the Masai themselves. I had the privillige of planting a tree as part of that process.
Another highlight of my stay, was a solo guest walk up the side of the rift valley, with my ever patient and extraordinarily knowledgable Masai mentor and guide, Richard Ole Kamoiye. Richard, son of the local Chief, shared his knowledge of local edible and indigenous plants with me all the way up the side to the very top of the rift valley.The views were unsurpassed and my encounter with the herds of Masai goats, sheep and finally whistling with a big herd of cattle, close enough to touch them, was an experience that made my initial struggle with the high altitude walk more than worth the effort.
And yes, Masai eat from these plants, with fruits to prevent thirst, combat malaria and other infections and generally provide nutrients beyond the mythical diet restricted to blood and milk. These plants are their green grocer!
Then there were the game drives in quintessentially rift valley country, dotted with Acacias and euphorbia candleabra trees. Sightings of the hill where the funeral scene from 'Out of Africa' was shot, whilst a little further long the river was its bend, used in the hair washing scene. Magic, romantic stuff.
As for the game viewings; Hippos yawned, wrestled and nurtured their young within metres of the dining areas. A blue vervet monkey obliged with a 20 minute natural behaviour photo shoot session, including stealing my tissues from my pack and returning them, when realising they were not good to eat!
On our game drives we saw: lions, cheetahs, a black rhino, very rare, vast herds of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, Grants and Thompson's gazelles, water buck, impala, giraffes in herds, a family of Hyenas tending and feeding their pups, pairs of jackals hunting, dik-diks and a vast number of amazing birds, large and small.
Our driver guides were knowledgible and careful. Vehicles were comfortable, luxurious and extremely safe.
If that's not enough, Olonana serves gourmet food of the highest quality, on an a la cart basis. Choices are not extensive, but the quality and freshness, coupled with fabulous presentation, meant any hope of losing a few kilos were well and truly dashed.Fresh produce and eggs are raised on site. Big John the chef, even ensured home made gluten free bread was available at every meal upon request.
Fellow travellers that found time to indulge in a massage, claimed it was the best they had ever had. Incredible views over the river soothed as much as the massage itself.
If you have time to visit only one place in Kenya, make it Sanctuary Olonana. Little wonder it has won so many awards from Eco Tourism Kenya.
If this is the future of minimal impact tourism, of Safari experiences that give back in so many ways, may Olonana lead the world to a truly brighter future.
An extraordinary "retreat". An exquisite treat and sanctuary for all of the senses.
Full credit to their extraordinary team of inspirational staff, for making my stay so individual, pleasurable and truly memorable!
- 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/Masai Mara National Reserve