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Our score: 4.5/5.0

Cottars 1920s Camp

Kenya

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Claire Parsons Avatar for Claire Parsons

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  • Detailed Review +
  • Facts & Amenities +
Baring All
  • Try to fly into Cottar’s airstrip which is much closer to the camp than Keekorok and direct from Nairobi, rather than a flying bus service

  • For the best experience possible and if money is no issue, then book Calvin Cottar to guide you during your stay—the experience will be worth it

  • Don't be headed here if you can’t survive without a hairdryer or straighteners: you either go ‘au naturel’ or check-in at the Kempinski

  • A  great place to relax: outside of the game drives, you can enjoy the pool and read a good book

  • Travelling with a larger family or for a special occasion? Then take the Bush Villa with its stunning views, staff and guides

  • Important to let the camp know of any food issues—they need to be able to prepare if you have ‘out of the norm’ requirements

Arrival experience

Cottar’s can be reached by air from Nairobi in about 40 minutes and has a private airstrip, about a 10-minute drive from the camp. The closest scheduled airport is at Keekorok, a scenic 90 minutes away, through the Mara National Park, so the game viewing commences the moment you arrive. I landed at Keekorok and was met from the plane and transferred in no time to Cottar’s. I was asked if I had any special requests or requirements and whether I had any likes or dislikes, for food or anything else.

Upon arrival, a whole host of people were waiting to greet me with beaming faces. Like a wedding line, I was introduced to all and then taken by my guide to the main ‘mess’ tent, where I was given hibiscus tea and a warm, refreshing towel.

The mess tent is where everyone congregates for dining, drinking, reading and socialising. As you would expect, every bit of furniture is from the 1920s, if not in age, in style. There are vintage gramophones, photographs, safari-style chairs, bibelots and more, all under a white, billowing-fabric roof, with chandeliers and hurricane lamps aplenty. Many of the furnishings and objets have been in the Cottar family since 1919 when they began hosting safaris.

Briefly shown where the camp was situated on a map of the Mara (the very South-East of the park), I was then taken to my tent to freshen up before lunch.

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Rooms and suites

My home for my stay was ‘Sand’, one of the four Family Suites. It was about a three minute walk from the main mess tents and located up a slight incline, from where there are lovely views over the Mara plains and shrublands. There was a large, shaded outdoor deck with a daybed for an afternoon siesta, plus a couple of comfy rockers to while away some hours with a good book.

The tent had a zipped entrance with both a meshed door for lots of air circulation (and no local pests), and there were blackout doors for nighttime or when it’s cooler. The grassy area in front of the tent was large enough for little ones to burn off some energy, or to sit and watch the birds and monkeys that frequent the trees.

Inside, the suite had an adult area off to one side, with a 4-poster bed with mosquito netting, a dining table in the middle and off to the other side, an area with twin beds (again 4-poster with mosquito netting). This area can be screened off with a curtain. Each ‘room’ had its own bathroom. At night, they warm the beds with hot water bottles, a nice touch to induce a good night’s sleep.

Off behind the main tented area was a sitting room with an open fire (should you want to get cosy on colder nights), but this section has been built onto the tent, so has a proper structure to it and a chimney.  Designed on a traditional Maasai building, it seamlessly joins the tent affording extra space and great heating should the temperatures dip.

For couples, there are the spacious Luxury Safari Tents with large 4-poster beds and an ensuite bathroom, or the larger Honeymoon Tent is in a very private setting. If travelling en-mass or for more privacy, the Cottar’s Bush Villa is situated high above the camp, with a team of eight staff and two private vehicles with guides included. The views from the house are stunning and the interiors will make you feel instantly at home.

The technology throughout the camp worked, but isn’t too high-tech.  The tents do have WiFi, which extends throughout the camp, but this can be intermittent. There was electricity for some well-placed hurricane lamps but the lighting isn’t glaringly bright (or even close) so as to blend in with the surroundings.  There was only one power socket (UK-style plug) in each of the bathrooms, where I could power up my technology, the only place with power in the tent. Should you wish to use a hair-dryer, this can only be done at certain times when they run the generator, or you have to ask them to turn it on, but do be warned: no Brazilian blow-outs happening here. There were also power sockets in the game vehicles which come in very handy for charging your phone or camera whilst out on a long drive.  Note that here was no network service during my stay—at all—however, I made calls using WiFi and that generally worked well.  There was no air-conditioning or fans in the tents, but as I stated earlier, the tent was never hot and it was high 20s outside when I visited.

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The bathroom

The bathroom section was joined onto the back of the tent, a structure built in Maasai tribal style. There was good lighting over the sinks and vanity (considering where you are) and to one side, a toilet, slightly shielded but not in its own room and an open shower on the other side with a rainfall head. The power of the shower wasn’t great—no pumps in these showers—but they did the trick. Again, there were times when there is hot water, in the morning and the evening, otherwise you would need to ask them to turn on the boiler. Keeping their ecological footprint in check, many camps use recyclable fuels to power up and this limits them to certain hours of operation.

There was shampoo and conditioner in the shower, from the Africology brand, which I love, but in annoying pumps, plus soap and hand wash and lotion, also in refillable pumps.

As with most safaris, laundry was included which allows you to limit the amount of clothes that you need to bring, especially good as the luggage allowance on internal flights is very small (15kg including hand baggage). Laundry was usually taken in the morning and brought back at night but only bring items that are easily washable: dry cleaning in not on the menu.

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Dining

Meals were served on a long, communal dining table in the mess tent. I’m not a big fan of dining with strangers as it can often be an uncomfortable experience, but I have to say that this experience was a pleasure; both guests and senior staff of the camp ate lunch and dinner together and meals were varied both in cuisine and conversation.  Dining requirements were handled very well; I’m a pescan and this was catered for with a wide choice of fish, vegetables and vegetarian-style dishes. Conversations over meals varied from game drives, to conservation efforts, to Kenyan politics and more personal topics. I also dined once with some conservationists, one for lions and one for a type of Eagle, who were passing through the area checking on their projects.

The food was plentiful. Breakfast generally was served out on safari, lavish picnics with Maasai table cloths and director-style chairs, a chance to sit back and take in the stunning vistas of the Mara. Lunch was buffet-style back in the mess tent, with salads and vegetables from the camp gardens along with frittatas, bbq-style meats and cold cuts, followed by refreshing desserts of sorbet and fruits.  Dinner was three full courses with freshly baked cashew bread, soup, mains and dessert. There was a menu on the table, but food at dinner was generally down to the chef, although I’m sure if you were a bit more fussy, you could request different food if you gave enough notice.

The ambiance of the tent changed at each serving, from colonial exploration during the day, to softly lit, 1920s country club in the evenings, with hurricane lamps, candles and crystal chandeliers lighting the table, forming soft shadows throughout the surrounds.

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Other restaurant options

There was only one dining area, however, if you wanted to have a more romantic meal, you could have it served in your tent. There are no other dining options in the vicinity, being in the middle of the bush.

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Spa and wellness

Cottar’s has a spa tent which has two beds should you wish to have a couples treatment. The menu is limited, but provides anything that you would need in the bush, with invigorating and deep tissue massages, to relaxing ones to aid travel-weary bodies. Another experience would be one of the safari bath or shower experiences, set up in the savannah; something to try for a look back at how ‘it used to be done’.

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Pool and beach

The property has recently added a lovely swimming pool, set in a quiet section of the camp where the infinity-edge pool overlooks the savannah. Here, beautiful daybeds and sun loungers with their own sun canopies for shade are provided, perfect for relaxing with a tall drink under the Kenyan sky. Alongside is a relaxation tent where lunches are served. There is also a pool at the Cottar’s Bush Villa, again infinity-edged and overlooking incredible views from its position on the hills above the main camp.

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Kids/teens facilities

In general, safaris often exclude kids due to the perceived risk for their safety and the enjoyment of others (i.e. noisy youngsters). However, kids are very welcome here, from any age, and they have designed the family tents accordingly so they can start young on the path to conservation of our planet and animal protection. Family tents are situated on the other side of the camp to the couples and honeymoon tents and have a large garden outside for kids to blow off steam. Early dinners and children’s menus are provided and served in the tent. Very young children can be taken care of by nannies and babysitters and older kids have special activities organised for them, like the Maasai Warrior School programme which offers an insight into life as a Maasai.

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Staff and service

The service is excellent at Cottar’s, very personable, friendly and intimate without being overly done. The staff on the whole, are chatty and have a great sense of humour and make you feel welcome. The Maasai guides that I met were very knowledgable about their land and the wildlife. All are Silver Standard guides, but if you want to have a truly unforgettable experience, then pay extra and have Calvin Cottar guide you personally. Guiding since the age of 15 and gold level KPSGA certified, he has been voted, many times over, as the Best Guide in Africa.

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Guest profile

The camp is small, but during my stay, other guests were from England, Canada and the USA, plus a couple from Asia who arrived as I was leaving. Age varied, but most from their 30s to active 70s. Obviously, all animal lovers from our conversations, most were looking for an authentic, unique experience as opposed to the large, pristine lodge-style affairs that you find within the Mara Park.

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Departure experience

My flight was in the late morning from Keekorok which is the further airstrip from the hotel, so we left about three hours prior to takeoff so that we could search for some hippos along the way. I had breakfast before I left and then said my farewells to the team. Check-out is a casual affair, my bags were brought down and put in the vehicle and it felt like I was saying goodbye to friends.

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General information

  • icon-briefcase
    How to get there

    40 minute flight from Nairobi International Airport, and 10 minute drive

  • icon-bed
    Accommodation

    10 tents and 1 Private House with 5 rooms

Amenities

  • Wi-Fi

    Wi-Fi

  • Swimming pool

    Swimming pool

  • Spa

    Spa

  • Restaurant

    Restaurant

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