Karen Blixen Camp – Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Superbly situated on the banks of the Mara River in Mara North Conservancy, KBC offers great game viewing over the Mara Ecosystem

 Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

You arrive at Karen Blixen Camp from above. The first rains have turned the land green and we slither down the muddy tracks to the river, where the Camp sits just below the rift valley escarpment.

Straight away we fall in love with the location right on the river bank, and a resident pod of twenty hippo honk loudly just metres away. Our tent nearby also looks straight onto the river and we relax before the buffet lunch in the shade of our deck, watching impala coming down to drink, as the first distant rumbles of thunder echo across the plains.

Mara North Conservancy

Mara North Conservancy

“Three days ago it was completely dry,” our Maasai guide, Jackson, explains. “The cattle have been suffering here – more than 2,000 have died”. We couldn’t fail to notice the epidemic of Tawny and Steppe Eagles feeding on the carcasses of the fallen, as we drove in. Already the Mara is bathed in the green of fresh new grass, bringing life to land once again.

KBC is located in one of the Conservancies that surround the Maasai Mara National Reserve – meaning the land is shared between the Maasai and their villages and cattle, and the wild animals we come to see. Areas are set aside for grazing and for wildlife and although the system is not perfect, it’s nevertheless a model for how a balance can be struck between the need for conservation, and the livelihood of the land’s owners – the Maasai.

View over the river, Karen Blixen Camp

View over the river, Karen Blixen Camp

Jackson grew up in a neighbouring village and has seen the transformation of the land since the Conservancies, and we chat about this and Maasai culture as we pass herds of cattle at the start of our game drive. The cows take a bit of getting used to when you’re geared up for a wilderness experience and we’re curious to see how the game shapes up once we enter the wildlife zone.

We’re not disappointed. From the start, there are zebra, wildebeest, topi, impala and gazelle everywhere you look, and views across the endless plains to distant escarpments are everything you imagine the Maasai Mara to be. Throw in the ominous sky, the shafts of sunlight splitting storm clouds, the unearthly vividness of all the colours and we were so overawed that we hardly noticed the leopard crouching under a bush.

Cheetah brothers, Mara North Conservancy

Cheetah brothers, Mara North Conservancy

Not far away, the famous Cheli pride of lions were spread out, paws in the air – we counted no less than 21 of them, the largest pride we’ve ever seen, and with even more out of sight.

Next, we came across two beautiful cheetah brothers resting under a tree, before they stood up, stretched, and walked off into the savannah, vanishing into the distant horizon. We watched, spellbound.

Finally we returned to the leopard, a fine male, as the sky darkened and the first drops of rain began to fall – watching him prowl around the tree where his dead gazelle lay, the most beautiful cat you’ll ever see.  We forgot about the cows.

Karen Blixen Camp

Karen Blixen Camp

With 22 tents, KBC is the largest in Mara North, making it excellent for families and groups, although it lacks the intimate atmosphere of some of the smaller camps. Hospitality staff and guides are excellent and the camp is efficiently managed.

Those that prefer a ‘true’ wilderness experience will opt for a lodge within the Reserve itself, while the Conservancies offer equally impressive game viewing, with a chance to interact with, and learn from, the Maasai herders that share the land. In Mara North, Karen Blixen Camp won’t disappoint.

Good for: families, superb wildlife viewing

Not so good for: more intimate safaris, wilderness experience

Our Verdict: Solid choice for Maasai Mara safaris, with superb location on the Mara river