1. It's luxurious, but it doesn't feel phony. It was a preconceived notion that luxurious safari camps took you completely out of the wilderness that had us full of false expectations. And we're happy to report that we were very, very wrong. Mara Plains was definitely luxurious, providing comfortable accommodations, delicious food, and high-quality service and guest attention.
Yet when you walk in, the first things you notice are the Hemingway-esque safari decor, the opened-aired sitting areas, the rivers and savannas right there and the rooms that are actually huge tents. Shine was to be found, but it was kept rustic in the form of muted-silver chalice cups and smoking-lounge leather. The inside-outside rain showers and copper tubs seem small in the gigantic rooms. It's not camping or basic adventure travel, however we were impressed with how the spirit of the safari was incorporated amongst the nice amenities.
2. It's run like a bed and breakfast... by a young couple. When we first arrived and were greeted by two people in their mid-20s named Sean and Amy, it took us a few minutes to realize that they were the ones running the place. Almost all safari camps are run in a similar fashion to a bed and breakfast, one person or one couple serving as your host. No offense to anyone else, but it was refreshing to see a young couple like Sean and Amy running the show.
After spending a few days, it was clear that being young was a definite advantage to the job. Up before the sun rose and asleep not until the last guest had gone to bed, Sean and Amy took care of every guest need and every basic operation of the camp - the only thing they didn't do was physically cook the meals. They even ate dinner with us, sharing stories and creating an atmosphere that made it seem like you were at their house for dinner. Considering they live on-site, you essentially are, and that might be the biggest surprise of a stay at a safari camp - how homey it truly feels.
3. The food was down to earth and healthy. Don't take this the wrong way - it's a good thing. Often times, luxury equates to small morsels of over-hyped food, and after a day in the sun and out in the savanna, the last thing you want is to come home to is a meal that misses the mark. All of the dinners we had at Mara Plains were appropriately portioned (small appetizer, main course with sides, dessert) and, more importantly, down to earth, meaning that when you ordered chicken with rice and veggies, that is exactly what you got - a hearty, well-cooked meal. While dinners were pre-arranged sit downs, breakfasts and lunches were served via buffets.
[Photos: Will McGough]
[Disclosure: Will visited the Mara Plains Camp as a guest of the hotel and all views and opinions are his own.]