Mara Toto Camp
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Masai Mara, Kenya
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MARA TOTO CAMP -
MAASAI MARA NATIONAL PARK, MASAI MARA, KENYA
‘Toto’ means baby in Swahili, and was often used as a term of endearment in reference to young safari staff in the days of early exploration. But today, in our context, it is simply meant out of respect to its sister camp, Mara Plains, which has developed a phenomenal reputation. We are certain Mara Toto will follow suit. Just a few kilometers downstream from Mara Plains, Mara Toto resides in a small bend in the Ntiakitiak River, where thick forest meets savannah, and we’ve made a home.
A perfect blend of comfort, adventure and intimacy make this a gem in the otherwise confounding matrix of camps in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Mara Toto positions itself squarely in the heart of magnificent predator country, and the camp’s traversing rights of both Mara North Conservancy and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve give guests the flexibility to explore far and wide in search of arguably the finest wildlife sightings on earth. This site was handpicked by the Jouberts and the current Mara Plains managers, Richard and Lorna. The four of them traversed tireless hours in search of the ‘perfect spot’ for this magical camp, and ended up for a sundowner on this very spot. They looked around and realized ‘this is the place’. And so Mara Toto was born.
The camp itself consists of five custom-designed tents of light-colored flowing canvas open on the horizontal side with canopied ceilings. Set at ground level, and shaded by the riverine forest, this camp is designed for those who want the particulars of a Great Plains property but are willing to forgo some of the fancier amenities. Still, you will not want for much. En-suite facilities including flush loos, bucket showers and tapped hot/cold water ensure utter comfort. 24-hour electricity, fine dining and exceptional hospitality round out what can hardly be called sparse. Each of the tents is decorated with a nod to the style of early exploration and discovery – an eclectic yet coordinated assembly of what early travelers may have carried - items such as brass chandeliers, old Indian chests, local natural materials - hand-picked by us at markets throughout Africa. The whole aura is refreshing - of romance and exploration.
Mara Toto is, despite its romantic appeal, a place for the ardent safari-goer. One does not beget the other and in fact we believe they both make for a spectacular camp. Spend your days out – all day – exploring the 70,000 acre private Mara North Conservancy, shared with just an handful of other small boutique camps, or go in deep into the famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve to catch the river crossings or a foray around Paradise Plains in search of Notch & sons.
You’ll not have to look far for wildlife – the glade of trees surrounding the camp is prime leopard territory, and the camp is a superior location to witness the great wildebeest and zebra migration from your tent. To capture the action and memories professional Canon camera equipment will be available for guest rental, and new open-sided vehicles custom designed by Dereck & Beverly Joubert (National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, acclaimed filmmakers and Great Plains Conservation co-founders) allow the very best equipment for photographic opportunities.
Mara Toto, in maintaining the caliber expected of a Great Plains property, offers among the widest range of activities anywhere in the greater Maasai Mara – extensive game drives, balloon safaris (at extra cost), local village visits (authentic) and unrivalled access to superior wildlife habitat as well as visits to local schools and Great Plains community projects in the surrounding area.
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Mara Toto opened in January 2013 just downstream from its sister camp, Mara Plains. Lying just inside the north-central border of the Masai Mara Game Reserve, it is an oasis surrounded by wildlife-rich savannahs and dense riverine forest. The camp is subtly placed, intended to be invisible to any passersby. Drawing on the safari of yesteryear, Mara Toto incorporates contemporary functionality with authentic décor. The expansive main tent, consisting of draped light-colored canvas, is romantic and inviting, but also highly functional as a place to gather, offer photo workshops and dine. The adjacent library doubles as a place to learn, or a place to rest and relax. The spaces are adorned with handpicked pieces from African markets, adding to the rich environs. A main dining table graced with candelabras and chandeliers hosts breakfast and dinners on drizzly nights. It is a warm, yet refreshing space. Just outside the tent, mere steps away, is our fire pit – place of many stories and lore.
The five custom-designed tents open on the horizontal for an indoor/outdoor living space, at ground level. High ceilings, careful design and tasteful décor create a place that, while humble, befits royalty. The private verandah, dressing area and en-suite facilities provide ample space to unpack, unwind and soak in the magic of this special spot on the river’s edge.
You might think that riding in a vehicle all day doesn’t work up an appetite, but wrong you are. The combination of fresh air, constant discovery and searching for wildlife leaves you famished. Our chefs craft their own recipes, using fresh local ingredients and immense creativity. The result is a daily menu that delights all types of diners and palates. Expect to be wowed, and certainly never to go hungry. Complimentary refreshments and snacks are served on all our drives and include tea and coffee on the morning drive and the traditional "sundowner" cocktail in the late afternoon. Special meals and dietary requirements can be catered for on request. (However, please note, due to the remoteness of the location, we do your requests in advance).
Laundry is done on a daily basis by your tent steward and is complimentary.
En-suite with flush toilet, campaign styled and romantic bucket showers and double basins. In keeping with the colonial, campaign theme of the camp, guests call for hot water showers for their authentic period styled bucket showers. Hot water is plumbed to the vanities on request. A thermos of hot water is available at all times.
The camp operates on a 240V electricity system powered by a generator that operates a few hours a day, when guests are generally not in camp. The generator charges a set of batteries, which in turn pass through an inverter system capable of converting battery power to 240V power. This conversion supplies power 24 hours a day to the entire camp. A set of universal plug points is available in each tent. It is recommended to bring a spare set of batteries so one set can be charged while the other is out on safari. In the case charging is required while on drives cars are equipped with 240V inverters and plug points.
The area around Mara Toto does receive a weak cell phone signal. Cell phones can only be used in the privacy of the guest tents and certainly not in the public areas or on game drives. Please respect this house rule for the benefit of all.
Mara Toto’s two specially designed Land Cruisers are regionally-renowned. Totally open-sided (a rarity in the Mara), the 300-degree view provides ideal circumstances for photography. Under the guidance of top guides, each vehicle comes fully-equipped with a stocked fridge and photography tools. The camp is locally famous for its leopard residents wandering the riverbanks. And is positioned to take best advantage of two migrations – the famous annual Serengeti migration and the green season migration from Loita Plains, an additional 50,000 wildebeest and over 100,000 zebras vying for grazing rights. Mara Toto is a place for the ardent safari-goer. Full days, with picnic breakfast (and often lunch, too), traverse some of Africa’s richest game country, renowned for extraordinary predator density and frequent hunts. Access to both the Reserve and Mara North Conservancy give guests options of more privacy.
Hot-air ballooning over the Mara is available at additional cost, and is a truly stunning way to experience the landscape and an unforgettable sunrise. If culture is of interest, then visits to Maasai bomas as well as local school and community projects (supported by Mara Toto) are possible, and a wonderful insight into the region’s colorful people.
Community Support Projects - Conservancy Development
The Olare Orok & Mara North Conservancies are initiatives that address both community upliftment and wildlife conservation on Masai-owned land on Masai Mara Game Reserve’s northern border. This intriguing new conservation and land use initiative is just three years old and is set to become the blueprint for a sustainable greater Masai Mara ecosystem.
Until recently, Olare Orok’s 30,000 acres and Mara North’s 80,000 acres of prime rolling grasslands and riverine forest were filled with rural homesteads and large herds of cattle and goats. The ecosystem was being overgrazed, risking the sustenance of both wildlife and cattle, and to the detriment of both. Sustainability was at risk for both the people and the wildlife.
After lengthy consultation with the Masai, it was agreed that a new community conservation vision was needed – one which addresses sustainability. Together, all stakeholders developed the Olare Orok & Mara North Conservancies, a win-win for both the Masai landowners and the wildlife of the Masai Mara ecosystem. A lease agreement was developed to address the fickleness of the tourism industry, the culture of the Masai and the impacts of agriculture and wildlife. It was agreed that the Masai landowners would receive a steady monthly income throughout the year, regardless of how few guests have visited the area in exchange for halting grazing on the conservancy. This guaranteed income minimizes the economic risk incurred by the Masai, while also supplementing the income lost from agriculture. It is paid by the camps within each Conservancy.
Mara Plains (& Great Plains) commits US$150,000 per annum directly to the neighboring Masai communities to maintain and support both Conservancies and its wildlife – the highest paid by any camp in the region and the only camp to contribute to both.
This is conservation in action, a commitment to striving to ensure the livelihoods of both people and wildlife.
Experience and Wildlife
In similar spirit to Mara Plains, we rise just before the sun, assessing the night’s activities, comparing notes on what we’ve heard, and heading out at first light in search of signs of nighttime activity. This area is renowned for its wildlife densities, not the least of which are Africa’s most sought after predators. Each day we make a new plan – sometimes packing breakfast or lunch ‘on the go’ in order to cover some distance deep into the Reserve or Conservancy. Other times, it’s a more traditional morning game drive, returning to camp for lunch and siesta before setting off again. The beauty of Mara Toto is, due to its small size and care for uniqueness, that we never impose a set schedule on our guests. It is YOUR safari and we are here to make it happen as you envision. Our expert guides, in our fleet of custom-designed 4x4s, lead you to sightings and places that leave you in awe. Of course, it helps that we are in one of the greatest wildlife regions in the world, abounding with birdlife and a multitude of species. After a day full of exploring and learning, it’s a welcome return to Toto, where fine dining awaits, a warm campfire and plenty of camaraderie.
We do regular full-day adventures to the Masai Mara Game Reserve as well. These are particularly popular during the wildebeest migration season. For full day expeditions, lavish picnic boxes with cold drinks are provided.
Mara Toto has the privilege of traversing two extensive wildlife areas.
Mara North Conservancy: 70,000 acres.
Masai Mara Game Reserve: 375,000 acres.
Like Mara Plains Camp, at Mara Toto, we believe in keeping the experience intimate and personal, so there are no set camp schedule or meal times. Plans are tailored around the whims of the day, and as the wildlife dictates. After all, we are located in one of the most wildlife-rich regions of the world.
Guests of Mara Toto do have the opportunity to visit a local Maasai village (or "Enkang" in Maa) to learn more about the traditions and culture of the surrounding community.
Hot air balloon safaris are available, and must be booked in advance (at extra cost). This is a very early morning activity, giving stunning views of the sunrise, the landscape and a sense of the sheer size of the Masai Mara region.
Our Toyota Land Cruisers have been specially designed by photographers, namely Dereck & Beverly Joubert. We are among the only, if not the only camp in the Mara to have completely open vehicles. The thoughtful engineering provides all-round visibility with a canvas roof, and comfortable seats. These rugged, 4X4 vehicles provide access to all of the region’s diverse ecosystems, and do so with ease.
Rental camera equipment is available on a first-come/first-serve basis and consists of a Canon 50D body and 28-135mm and 100-400mm lenses. Images are downloaded each day. This allows for instant feedback, improvement and learning on-site. Upon departure, the images are burned to a DVD as a souvenir.
Mara Toto Camp will opened in January 2013, on a cool and secluded forested bend of the Ntiakitiak River in Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. With just five guest tents, Mara Toto is an intimate and romantic camp. Each tent, library and dining tent will have a style echoing that of Africa’s early explorers with Campaign-style furniture and classic safari ambience. Guests of Mara Toto have access to the exclusive 70,000 acre Mara North Conservancy and of course 375,000 acres of game-rich lands of the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
The camp is designed to cater to independent travelers on custom itineraries but also for small groups seeking a private camp. Our specialist guide tent caters to those accompanied by a guide or trip leader.
Seasons: Mara Plains Camp is open year-round.
Travel: From Nairobi's Wilson Airport, daily morning and afternoon scheduled flights to nearby Ol Kiombo airstrip take about 45 minutes. Transfer from the airstrip to camp is approximately 20 minutes.
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