- Maasai Mara/Narok
Maji Moto Cultural Camp
The occasional glimpse of bright red clothing flashing through the bush, made it ever more real that we were in Maasai land. Hairs standing up on end, a strange sense of nostalgia took over, for something I had only seen in books and online, but for as long as I can remember it was a sight I had longed to behold with my own eyes. We finally had arrived at Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp where we would be spending the next 4 days living alongside an authentic Maasai tribe, being immersed in their way of life, learning about their culture and beliefs along with completing our first ever safari in the Maasai Mara.
Getting there & away
Prior to arriving at the camp we had opted to take the 3 hour bus from Nairobi to the town of Narok, rather than by private transfer which Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp had offered us from our accommodation in Nairobi. This gave us a great insight into local Kenyan transport and allowed us to mix with the locals, sharing sweets with the children on the bus, keeping Carmen entertained. The bus arrived in Narok, and waiting to collect us as promised, was the camp owner’s partner, Susan. The huge smile on her face, accompanied by her excitement for what was in store for us over the coming days ahead, matched perfectly in reality with her enthusiasm clearly felt through the emails she and I had exchanged over the previous months in the planning stages of our trip.
On arrival at the camp the magic unfolded: the Maasai staff stood proud and strong, waiting to greet us with a hand shake for James and a gentle touch on the head for Carmen and myself. Already we were in awe of their attire, wearing their shukas (shawls) and colourful beaded jewellery. They then performed for us a traditional welcome dance and song, which harmonies, deep reverberations and high pitched shrieks echoed around the camp, perfectly setting the tone for our stay. There was no doubt about it, the next four days were going to be incredible, we instantly knew that!
The Camp – Accommodation
We were shown around the camp by Mirri, one of the Maasai women, who gave us some time to unpack and settle into our manyatta (mud cottage), which was based on the original Maasai accommodation, with the added comfort of having 3 raised wooden beds (with mosquito nets), topped with soft mattresses for us all to sleep on. Within 20 metres from our room were the female and male hut toilets and shower rooms, with refreshing showers, fed by lovely warm water from their local hot spring, a real luxury bearing in mind there was no electricity at the camp. Thirty minutes prior to wishing to take a shower, the staff would go to the spring with water canisters and collect the hot water for us to use, allowing around 15 minutes for the water to cool down to a temperature suitable to shower with, the whole thing worked like clockwork. The dining room was an intimate wooden hut with 12 seats set around an L shaped dining table, allowing the small number of guests there to interact over meals and share travel tales and life stories.
Eating & Drinking
Prior to staying at the camp we were a little concerned about the food options that were to be available to us, as travelling with a toddler can be testing at meal times if the food is spicy or not to Carmen’s taste. We prudently packed a few child friendly pouches of Ella’s Kitchen dishes, but didn’t resort to these as the food served to us was nothing short of a delight. Dishes were simple in the sense that the ingredients they used to cook with were mostly vegetables, rice and local produce, however all foods were delicious and so child friendly. Carmen went to bed each night with a full tummy and we all awoke the following morning eager to tuck into pancakes with honey, eggs cooked to taste, omelettes and a huge selection of fresh tropical fruits.
On offer throughout the day was the obviously needed mineral water, but also piping hot canisters of spiced chai and hot chocolate. At 5 o clock daily we all gathered for biscuits and popcorn which was a lovely touch, especially for little madam, who filled her cheeks to the max!
Activities On Offer
As well as sitting back and relaxing around the camp getting to know the Maasai staff and vice verse, there were so many interesting activities to do, expanding our knowledge of the Maasai way of life and their intriguing culture:
The Bush Camp
Besides the option to stay in the main camp, sleeping in the Manyattas (mud huts), guests can also have the exciting chance to sleep in an authentic bush camp, situated an hour’s walk from Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp’s base. Due to the walk to get there being quite lengthy for a toddler to undertake, across the Lolita plains, not to mention that we felt like wild bush camping may be too adventurous with such a young child, we had in fact ruled out this option all together, until… Salaton and his wife Susan arranged the nicest surprise for us. They kindly drove the three of us out to meet the other guests at the bush camp, giving us the incredible opportunity of experiencing the initial part of the night, prior to all camp guests bedding down to sleep on their leafy mattresses. We instead were driven back to our cosy manyatta by the team at around 9.30pm, just in time to get little lady in bed for a good night’s sleep.
The bush camp we participated in was a night like no other, literally one of the most fascinating experiences we have ever had in all of our 13 years of travelling, a night all three of us remember with fondness and elation.
It started by being taught to light a fire with the natural method of stick rubbing, and even Carmen gave this her best shot, being encouraged by Salaton who was a natural with her, having the patience of a saint and providing tons of praise. Camp members then had the option of witnessing the slaughter of a goat for dinner, which is a big honour on behalf of the guests in Maasai culture. I (Mrs Vine) personally opted to make myself scarce (being a vegetarian) and decided to take Carmen with me, despite a small portion of me wanting her to see and understand where the meat she eats comes from. I did however follow my gut instinct as I believed she was too young to appreciate what was happening and would ultimately be disturbed seeing the goat slaughtered, possibly ruining her night. Mr Vine did inform me it was nice to know the goat had lived a healthy life roaming the plains with it’s shepherd and the warriors used literally every part of the animal with no wastage, even it’s bones were cooked into a broth. Within 20 minutes of being slaughtered the goat was cooking on the fire in prep for dinner.
The night continued to evolve, with a rich cultural performance of Maasai chants and songs around the camp fire, which we all were encouraged to get involved in. Facing alternately in the four compass directions, the warriors showed homage and respect to their ancestors, before moving around the camp fire in a circular motion, chanting over a chorus of deep guttural growls and piercing shrieks “Ooooooh- oyeeh.” I can clearly remember peering down at Carmen as we moved around the camp fire, seeing the deep red glow from the flames casting shadows across her tiny face, her bright eyes transfixed on the warriors, fully in awe of their strong energy and presence. No one can take that moment away from us, that powerful memory will live on.
Our one day safari was organised through Maji Moto Cultural Camp, who provided a knowledgable Maasai driver, who picked us up at the crack of dawn at 5am in a classic safari jeep. It took around a 1 hr 30 minute drive to get to the entrance gates of the Maasai Mara, the bumpy roads rocked Carmen to sleep in minutes accompanied by the large amount of blankets the camp had allowed us to take with us, turning the back row of seats into the comfiest bed for her.
We definitely recommend paying the extra to have a private safari tour if you are travelling with young children. This will eliminate any chances of unpredictable toddler melt downs impacting on other serious wildlife enthusiasts who would be sharing a vehicle with you (having paid for a once in a life time opportunity.) Likewise, it will also allow your child to have more freedom moving around the vehicle, as any toddler enjoys a good fidget and you can also pull up for rest stops and toilet breaks whenever needed.
When explaining to friends and family our safari within the actual Maasai Mara lasted seven hours, their reactions made us chuckle:
“How could you spend that long in a car with a two year old?” “You must be mad!” “Surely it would have been better to wait until Carmen was older?” In all honesty it felt like the shortest 7 hours we’ve ever had with her! Far more exciting than her pretend bear hunts at home, hunting for the ‘big 5’ had her shaking with excitement (quite literally), and to actually find elephants, giraffe, lions, zebra, cheetahs and much more, her stifled shrieks and huge grin was proof she loved every minute.
Don’t be fooled – we weren’t stuck in the car with a toddler for 7 hours in the park, oh no! Our guide pulled up on several occasions, a few times to get the travel potty out for Carmen to use and to stretch her legs, and twice to stop under a lone acacia tree for breakfast and another for lunch. These were the most incredible picnic spots we’ve ever had, tucking into our food with a herd of wildebeest stampeding right past us. Fair enough, we were a little on guard initially with possible predators lurking around, but our Maasai guide repeatedly reassured us all was well, which he knew based on his training to become a safari guide. So we relaxed and tucked into the abundant platter of fresh fruit, sandwiches, crisps and yogurt, made and packed by Maji Moto Cultural Camp, whilst gazing at the great migration. Another spectacle ticked off our bucket list, it was phenomenal to say the least.
Set a short walk from our camp no more than 50m away was the ‘Widow’s Village,’ where a community of Maasai women live, who have sadly been widowed. We learnt that these woman had outlived their husbands, which is a common occurrence in Maasai marriage, and often one Maasai man can have several wives, which means many woman are affected when their husband passes away. These women are never permitted to remarry again, so all of the intensive work that the Maasai husband would traditionally do, is then passed onto his wife/wives to continue in order to survive. Salaton who created this village has subsequently given these women a strong support network being united with one another, and with the opportunity to make and sell their beautifully beaded Maasai jewellery, to all visitors staying at the camp, they have a regular way of earning money.
We had heard numerous stories prior to staying at Maji Moto Cultural camp, that there are many fake camps and villages set up, impersonating the authentic ones, with the main aim of making money off tourists through replicating the Maasai way of life. In these situations an enormous amount of pressure is put on visitors to donate money to the camp and buy jewellery at an largely inflated price, making the focus primarily on making money out of tourists rather than a desire to enlighten and welcome them into a rich culture.
Rest assured Maji Motto Maasai Cultural Camp is the real deal, a living, breathing authentic Maasai community, who put no pressure on us at all in anyway, to buy a single item from their collections, and instead allowed us to look hassle free at all the wonderful jewellery these talented women have made, and buy any items if we opted to.
Enkiteng Lepa Primary School
Although not having the chance to visit this nearby school as the children had broken up for the school holiday, we learnt many things about this wonderful place, and can only hope when we return in the future, we can arrange our trip at a point that coincides with the school’s term time.
Enkiteng Lepa Primary School established by Salaton himself, acts as a place of sanctuary for vulnerable Maasai children, granting them a free education, provided on a scholarship basis. The school is a rich melting pot, successfully merging main stream Kenyan education with Maasai traditions and tribal beliefs. This type of formal education is a rarity in Maasai culture, and we can only applaud Salaton for providing these children with such an enriching opportunity whilst maintaining their traditional cultural values.
Carmen stood glued to Susan’s side, being too young at two and a half to join in this activity, but watching from a safe distance in suspense, as her mum and dad were prepped for ‘warrior training.’ The tribe excitedly set us up with a wooden shield each, a handful of flexible green sticks, and separated us both into opposite teams. The objective was to throw the sticks at our opponents as hard as we could, wielding them as fast as possible with no mercy! Straight away the warriors began laughing, maybe they knew what to expect from two feeble westerners, pathetically jumping around, screaming at the top of their lungs, in fear of getting hit! We were shamed by the Maasai warriors, who’s training in this sport made them the ultimate throwing machines.
This type of training although played in the form of a game, is actually designed to train the Maasai Warriors in combat, which learnt skills are used to defend against other tribes, and wild animals. It was a refreshing experience, a little hair raising, but so entertaining!
A HUGE Thanks!
The memories of staying at Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp evoke a passion for discovering the great unknown and closing the gap between bucket list dreams and phenomenal realities. We are immensely grateful for being welcomed so generously into Maji Moto Cultural Camp and we will never forget the life changing experience we’ve had. If you are considering visiting Kenya, we say YES, go for it! We greatly urge you to book a stay in this incredible community, hand on heart, travel experiences don’t get any better!
Severin Sea Lodge
A cold refreshing towel, glass of fresh passion fruit juice and a cohort of staff with beaming smiles; Sever Sea Lodge, Mombasa, sure read our minds for what we needed on arrival after a morning of tiring travel to reach them.
What we loved about this hotel was its sophistication and elegance, without the compromisation of necessary facilities needed to make it a family friendly resort. For example, Severn Sea Lodge offers a tranquil pool surrounded by sun loungers, perfect for adults who are in need of relaxing. There is also a second pool with an exciting water shoot and waterfall fountain, which went down really well with all the kids on site, including Carmen. The hotel is located on Mombasa beach, offering a wonderful sea breeze accompanied by plenty of outdoor grass space and seats to wind down on.
Meal times were kept interesting and enjoyable with a variety of options, ranging from set 3 course meals on some nights, to extensive buffet style options on others. Breakfast offered the same huge buffet variety, which is just what you need to keep the whole family satisfied. We never take for granted children’s high chairs as some accommodations we have come into contact with in the past don’t provide them, which proves rather difficult when you have a squirming toddler on your lap who you are trying to feed spaghetti to. We were chuffed Sever Sea Lodge provided our little one with a child chair and even went to the trouble of rustling up her very own plate of good old fashioned ‘mash potato and baked beans’ on the night of their set 3 course meal, once we mentioned to them non of the optional dishes were suitable for her.
One aspect we would warn about, though no fault of the hotel’s may we add, is the presence of animals on the grounds. Make sure if you are eating outside around the pools you pay close attention to the crows, who literally steel your food as soon as your back is turned. The same applies for having snacks on the balcony, as cheeky monkeys will be after your goods, and will even come into the room given half the chance if your balcony door is left open (personally happening to us).
The bar area is a lively place to spend the evenings, often hosting traditional Kenyan performances, including music and dancing. It is a good distance from most of the bedrooms, so sound isn’t a problem overall for the majority of rooms, but for a few closer ones, the entertainment may be heard slightly until 10.30 when it is then switched off.
We had a fantastic stay at Severin Sea Lodge, thank you for having us!
Blue Marlin Beach Hotel
Blue Marlin’s main attraction is it’s location, holding a place on the beautiful Diani beach front, which powdery white sand and turquoise water will fulfil any beach lovers dream. We stayed here for 4 nights and enjoyed relaxing on their sun loungers, under swaying palms, sipping on fresh fruit juices.
Blue Marlin offers 20 rooms ranging from standard garden view, to superior sea view & penthouse suites, which we would possibly recommend paying the extra for if budget allows. We were based in their garden view room, still only 20m from the beach, however the rooms aircon wasn’t adjustable , meaning it had to constantly stay on 24 degrees. Due to this making little difference we decided to leave it off. We did become accustomed to the humid nights, but other guests may find the room temperature uncomfortable due to their being no fans available, even upon request. You will be pleased to know however, that the superior rooms come with fully adjustable aircon units.
The male owner and his son did a great job of making us feel welcome at their hotel, both being very hospitable and accommodating with an especially warm manner with our daughter Carmen. They made sure we enjoyed our stay throughout, giving us tips on the area, and extra assistance with speeding up our wifi which was much appreciated. This cheerful outgoing customer service was replicated by all of the hotel staff who worked in the kitchen, restaurant and reception, and they made a lovely fuss of Carmen and always served us with a huge smile on their face throughout stay.
Food at Blue Marlin was always of a high standard, and we particularly loved dining there on the evenings, eating over a candle lit table, listening to the sounds of the wave lapping the shore. The Swahili fish in particular was so tasty, make sure you order it when you visit. In the mornings, the breakfast option was a huge spread and us Vines fell in love with the delicious pancakes on offer, piling our plates high.
We would highly recommend this spot for anybody visiting Diani beach.
Distant Relatives Ecolodge & Backpackers
Distant Relatives Eco Lodge located in Kilifi was rated in 2017 as Kenya’s best hostel, and due to them openly being very positive on their website about hosting all ages of guests including children, we were eager to try them out for ourselves.
Rooms range from shared dorms and private rooms with shared toilets, to banda’s with private bathrooms. The later option was the choice we opted for to enable us to have some privacy and ease with using our own personal bathroom with Carmen. Our banda was impressive in size, with a very high ceiling, holding a double bed and a bunk bed, all with their own mosquito net. There were no glass windows in our room, but instead horizontal metal bars, designed to let in the breeze, whilst keeping out pesky monkeys. This gave the room a very open feel, which obviously may make some guests feel a little vulnerable with insects etc being able to get in easily, however, if it is the ‘back to nature’ feel you are after, this is definitely the room for you, especially when you can hear crickets chirping in the night and birds singing in the morning.
The same vibe was continued in our banda’s private outdoor bathroom, a huge space following on from the bedroom, encompassed by high thick woven wood to give optimal privacy. It was so surreal and refreshing to take a shower under huge trees lit up by the moon light. Showers were cold water, which if we are honest was testing with a toddler when the sun went down, however it wasn’t too much of a problem to shower during the day due to the weather being humid and the water being quite tepid. The outdoor toilet was a very Eco friendly compost toilet, meaning there was no option to flush it, but instead after each use, you were asked to tip wood chippings into the toilet opening, which over time would turn the waste into rich fertiliser to be used on the land. Although being very different to the western flush, it was a key part of the process for being an Eco Lodge. Our only recommendation if you have a strong sense of smell is to bring a peg, and if travelling with small children, don’t leave them unaccompanied as it would be a traumatic place to loose a little one!
Staff at Distant Relatives are very relaxed and give you plenty of space to wind down, yet are also at hand to give you help if you ask for it. Their social dining room was a lovely space to hang out, with a bar area serving cocktails and fresh juices, plenty of tables to eat and an area which served us as a play area with Carmen, filled with hoops, building blocks, stilts and soft floor cushions. The outdoor space was enjoyable with a pool, sun loungers and a volleyball sand pit surrounded by vibrant funky art. Also offered was a communal kitchen for guests to use, which came in handy when preparing snacks for Carmen.
Their local beach, around a 5 minute walk from the accommodation was a small stretch of sand on the edge of Kilifi creek, surrounded by mangroves. Although there was a fair bit of sea weed washed up on the shore and the sand wasn’t as squeaky clean as we had hoped for (possibly all due to season) we were pleased with how calm the water was with no waves, making it ideal for Carmen to swim in. We were impressed to find out that Distant Relatives Eco Lodge do make the effort on occasions to rally support from the locals in the area and blitz the local beach, picking up as much rubbish as they can find, which is a valuable activity to do.
Four Points by Sheraton [Hurlingham]
Four Points, Hurlingham, have established a very stylish, comfortable and modern hotel near the centre of Nairobi, within easy access to the main tourist attractions. Arriving there late at night after they organised an airport transfer for us, Carmen was so excited to see their beautifully lit entrance and reception, she ran head first into their spotlessly clean glass entrance door. Straight away the staff responded extremely carefully and with a lot of care, providing first aid treatment and a follow up call to see how she was doing. Rest assured she was fine and was soon tucking in to a delicious dinner at 11pm served as room service, which option lasted until midnight. The room was spacious, beds comfortable and bathroom had a brilliant power shower and accompanying toiletries with hair dryer also.
The remainder of our time in the hotel was very enjoyable, Carmen especially loved spending time in their well maintained heated roof top swimming pool, and us adults loved relaxing on the sun loungers with great views across the city.
The hotel offers a variety of eating areas and we particularly enjoyed eating on the rooftop terrace, with a menu offering a wide variety of cuisines. Throughout our stay here, the food has been top notch, compliments to the chef! We can’t praise the staff enough for their hospitality and assistance offered to book our onward transport from Nairobi. It felt especially genuine and warming when staff recommended we book taxis via Uber instead of going through the hotel, due to the price being much cheaper, which really showed they had our best interest at heart.