Hotel Of The Week: Mara Toto Camp, Kenya

The younger, pared down sister of Mara Plains, Mara Toto is a small, stylish little camp a few kilometers downstream from its elder sibling. The emphasis here is on atmosphere: think cozy nights around the shaded campfire, healthy lunches at a communal table and discreet style that blends in with the natural surroundings. In fact, the entire camp is designed to disappear without a trace. Everything, from the restaurant to the beds, can be dismantled and removed without harming the environment.

For anyone who listened to pop music in the 1980s, the hit song ‘Africa’, by the band Toto might come to mind. Toto means ‘baby’ in Swahili; a name well-suited to this fresh but beautiful spot. Mara Toto might be one of the newest camps in this part of the Maasai Mara, but it knows a thing or two about comfort: the five canopied tents are gorgeous, decked out with beds as comfortable as clouds, glossy books about the plains and fluffy bathrobes.

We checked into one of the tents that line the riverbank, and although our dreams were broken by the baritone song of hippos (and, one night, the sound of an angry buffalo on the other side of the bank), we slept soundly beneath the canvas. We showered in the large bathroom, fed by a heated barrel of water that hangs in the trees (Maasai staff will heat the shower for you once or twice a day, at a pre-arranged time). There are also flush toilets, and 24-hour electricity, to allow for charging cameras and phones. DLR cameras with wide-angle lenses are available to borrow, and the kind staff will create a DVD of your photos before departure.

We’re not sure what we liked most about Mara Toto. It might have been the long lunch under the shade of acacia trees, fueled by fine white wine and the promise of a nap in the hammock soon after. It might have been the beautiful breakfast one morning on the banks of the river, served on a wooden table and eaten barefoot, with eggs and artisanal bread and homemade jams. It might have been the chats around the campfire with other guests; this is a social place that attracts quiet families and groups of friends. It might have been the warm welcome from the wonderful staff and camp manager. But of course, this is the Maasai Mara, and the highlight of any trip here involves the wilderness beyond the camp.

The safari drives here really won us over; the guides are not only knowledgeable but fascinating, witty and keen to share as much (or as little) information as we wanted to hear. Driving across the plains, a sundowner in hand, as lion cubs caught the last of the afternoon sun, it was hard not to be won over by Mara Toto. This is a magical little place that you won’t forget in a hurry.

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