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Inside Masai Mara's 400k per night safari camp

 The main lounge at JW Marriot, Masai Mara. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

What would you do with Sh400,000? It all depends on what you fancy. You could buy a plot of land, wait for it to appreciate, and flip it over for a profit. And if you already own such property, the amount can give you a head start in construction. 

But suppose you fancy the good things in life? The amount can guarantee you a number of nights in some Western capitals or the Middle East with change to spare.

At the JW Marriot Masai Mara, the most exclusive holiday camp in the county-managed Masai Mara National Reserve in Narok County, this amount is only good for one night.

Yes, the $2,900 (prices are quoted in dollars here) is what a guest will spend for an all-inclusive package between the 2pm check-in and the 10 am check-out at the facility, the first luxury safari camp within the JW Marriot brand portfolio. Take a plus one and multiply the daily rate accordingly!

The lodge has been in operation for the last one month and has already attracted both local and international guests whose privacy is guaranteed the moment they walk across the wooden suspension bridge across the Talek River.

For such guests, their interests go beyond watching the trampling hooves of two million wildebeests during the annual migration, or the occasional "kill" by any of the big cats.

The opulence hits you right after crossing the bridge from the reserve to the guest holding area. To the right is what functions as a ‘photo studio’ and where the resident photographer plies his trade including offering tips to professional and budding photographers. This is the only room within the camp that has a television set.

 Wine selection at JW Marriot Masai Mara. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

The main lounge is one of the most tastefully decorated parts of the camp with animal print pillows, African traditional artifacts and portraits depicting the local community. At a small corner of the lounge is a bar where some of the exclusive whiskeys on rocks and expensive wines are served.

Here, the work of Kristina Zanic, the globally-acclaimed interior designer comes to life. Zanic’s work focuses on luxury hotel designs and is the brains behind some of the most luxurious presidential suites in key hotels around the world.

Her work includes the award-winning interiors for Ritz Carlton’s Al Hamra and Al Wadi resorts – two luxury retreats in the UAE’s desert environment and inspired by Bedouin living. 

At Masai Mara, Zanic’s creative juices reimagined the spaces, infusing nature into these spaces through the use of sustainable materials with more emphasis on what could be sourced locally.

 A room at JW Marriot Masai Mara. [Peter Muiruri]

But how did the camp come to be?

The privately-owned land was fallow and a haunt of the ferocious beasts of Masai Mara.

“Once in a while, the scouting team would come across some decrepit structures from a previous investment gone wrong,” says Barnabas Wamoto, group general manager overseeing both the Mara property and Nairobi’s Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel.  

“We walked through and felt this was the place. In any case, the presence of animals meant game viewing will be easy. There was something right about the place.”

The team engaged the family that owned the 40 acres on which the camp stands, brought in an architect and commenced the physical works. That was in 2019, the same year that Covid-19 pandemic struck. It was a leap of faith.

"A luxurious concept when hotels were closed and nobody was flying here seemed daunting. We had faith that things will get better," says Wamoto.

Initially, Lazizi, the company behind the two hospitality outlets, wanted to manage the Mara property. However, the directors had experienced Marriot’s hospitality principles through their global travels and felt the global chain would be in a better position to manage the property.

The team also felt that though there are other high-end camps in the within Mara, all of them are inside the conservancies but none within the national reserve itself, a key opportunity to raise the profile of the world-famous animal sanctuary.

To Wamoto, having such a brand here would not only market the reserve but also share the benefits with the local community.

 Bush breakfast at JW Marriot Masai Mara. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

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