Hooked on travel in my twenties, against advice from family and friends, I gave up a promising corporate career to join an events agency. Was I mad? I’d been bitten by the travel bug and needed to soak up the world. To my excitement, my first events assignment (over 20 years ago) was to accompany a huge and daunting incentive event to Kenya. Believed to be the largest incentive group movement at the time, we chartered every single light aircraft available and secured all the luxury tented camps in the Maasai Mara. This was to be my first experience of the African continent.
I arrived in Nairobi several days in advance of the group to prepare for their arrival. After a brief stay at the newly opened Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club, I escorted my assigned group to the oldest and most respected of the camps at the time, Governors Camp. Nothing prepared us for the jaw-dropping scenes as we bounced about in a vintage DC3 heading to the camps private airstrip.
Two nights and three days of heavenly bliss. African stars, spectacular wildlife experiences, G&T stops on game drives, the most real and authentic adventure experience … in style! People were emotionally connected to this unique and memorable experience and, to this day, African incentives remain one of the most exciting travel rewards one can bestow on high achievers.
I replicated the programme some ten or so years later, again to Governors to phenomenal feedback. Sadly, Kenya has bounced on and off destination shortlists due to its political unrest, event planners have been mostly delivering the safari fix within South Africa.
However, the more resilient luxury ‘leisure’ travel market continues to thrive in Kenya. With the Foreign Office declaring the safari regions safe including the Mara, I was delighted to be invited by the African pioneering DMC Green Route Africa and All about Flights to discover a ‘new kid’ on the block – the beautiful Angama Mara.
As a travel professional with fairly extensive experience of East and South African luxury lodges, I wondered if I would find this relatively new luxury ‘camp’ to live up to its marketing website and promise. Kenya has traded for many years as the home of safari with authentic camps delivering a traditional classic experience – with little reason to change or enhance the format.
What a discovery! Angama Mara delivers exquisite detail, glorious comfort, impeccable service … all set in the most jaw-dropping setting on an elevated position overlooking the floor of the Great Rift Valley and the spellbinding Maasai Mara. This heavenly spot does involve a steep, bumpy 10-minute descent and ascent to/from the game drives which added a sense of excitement and anticipation to each drive – both for the game drive ahead or returning to the luxury of our safari home. With no sense of boundaries to the Mara, you feel you’re in it … and above it!
Sadly, as an old events pro, I rarely get ‘super’ excited on arrival or endure great sadness in leaving. But this place knocked me for six. Angama Mara has reminded me why I first entered into the events industry – to discover the finest travel experiences and looking for the ‘wow’ factor. Why so special? Kenyan warmth in abundance from housekeeping to front of office, stunningly designed luxury tents/suites combining classic and contemporary touches effortlessly. The most amazing views from the enormous terrace make it hard to leave the tent.
Angama Mara has been developed on the site where some of the finest scenes in the classic ‘Out of Africa’ were filmed. Thus, providing the most authentic theming possibilities for the ultimate African experience.
Food and wines were outstanding. We loved a BBQ in the bush near to the lodge, with stunning dinners on the main terrace and in the dining room. The quality of the rangers were to the highest standard – with John and Wilson finding the best game viewings in our few days around the Mara.
I’ve enjoyed a few walking safaris in my time, but the resident Maasai guide Neke was the best, captivating us with Maasai culture and remedies from the natural environment. Local Maasai women set up in public areas and crafted beautiful gifts.
A ‘bucket list’ experience for most travel dreamers is a hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara. Rising at 3.30 am was not a challenge for the treat which laid ahead. We excitedly travelled bleary-eyed to the neighbouring Governors Camp (a revisit!) which is one of the main operators in the Mara. Enjoying a coffee whilst watching these amazing crafts inflate is a spectacle enough – but nothing prepares you for the journey ahead. We glided for 45 minutes in heavenly bliss as we experienced the most beautiful of sunrises whilst marvelling at the waking wildlife beneath us. We skimmed trees and the Mara river with amazing clarity on life below. A bumpy landing was compensated with a welcome glass of Champagne and a super cooked breakfast. Despite my second balloon flight in the Mara, I remained as excited as my fellow passengers as if it was my first! A trip highlight.
Undoubtedly its success is due to its people. Whilst the lodge is beautifully designed and thought out in every detail, it’s the people who make it the special place it is. Created by Steve & Nicky Fitzgerald, their history and high reputation with their former roles with CC Africa/&Beyond luxury lodges (such as Phinda, Londolozi etc) across Africa shines through in their creation of Angama Mara. Sadly, Steve recently passed away but we were delighted to meet and enjoy the company of his lovely wife Nicky and daughter Kate, who are brilliantly managing this stunning lodge and doing his memory proud. Their achievements in supporting the local community were shining through via all the locals we met as we explored the local village and schools. I’ve never experienced a place to have such a positive impact on the locals with genuine love for the Fitzgerald family.
The highlight of the trip should be the wildlife which is incomparable in the Mara but this experience is almost topped by the lodge which you won’t want to leave. I heard some guests fake feeling poorly on the game drives in order to get back to enjoy the lodge!!
They have brilliantly designed two camps, North & South, with 30 rooms in total, each camp hosting 15 luxury tents / suites each. Both camps are mirrored so no one will feel cheated if you take exclusive use. Or for a small group of 15 rooms, you could take one camp, and still feel private and exclusive. Whilst larger than the average luxury camp, it still retains an intimate and relaxed experience feeling you are in a smaller property.
It delivers the Kenyan classic safari experience with impeccable style and contemporary twists. The ‘old school’ safari aficionados should love it as well as seasoned travellers looking for the quality of a luxury lodge typically found in South Africa.
The ultimate lodge in a breathtaking setting. Highly recommended
Our trip was topped and tailed with Nairobi. With a late arrival, we experienced the legendary Fairmont Norfolk for a quick refreshment before some sleep and our early charter flight to the Mara. On our departure, we loved Hemingways Nairobi. A relatively small but grand looking hotel in beautiful grounds with suite accommodation, it provides a stylish last night gala option or a comfortable base for day rooms before an international flight home.
To truly embrace the ‘Out of Africa’ theme, close to Hemingways is the real ‘farm in Africa’ – the Karen Blixen estate is now a state-owned museum in beautiful grounds. A possibility for some sightseeing or drinks reception (with the support of an expert DMC such as Green Route to orchestrate!). We adored a brief visit to the Giraffe Centre, adjoining the legendary Giraffe Manor – a chance to get up close, take a selfie and interact with these beautiful creatures.
From the UK, British Airways and Kenya Airways operate direct non-stop flights. BA arrives late evening, therefore requires a Nairobi stopover on arrival; Kenya Airways is an overnight flight from the UK, thus allowing you to connect directly to the safari charter flights from the Wilson Airport. BA operate a late flight back to the UK – allowing ample time to soak up the lodge, enjoy some comfort in Nairobi and a final farewell dinner before slumbering onto the flight home. Note that Nairobi is not the finest airport – so do consider budgeting for some lounge passes if your group is flying economy!
Asante sana Kenya …. we’ll be back!