Looking back, it amazes me to think about how drastically different each of my safari experiences were during my time in Africa. We went on three safaris – one in South Africa, one in Tanzania and one in Kenya – and each one was unlike any of the others.
Madikwe (SA) had been dry, arid and scorchingly hot, with more lions and elephants than you could poke a stick at. Selous (Tanzania) had been cooler, more humid, unbelievably vast and home to many African wild dogs.
It left me wondering, what unique features would the famous Kenyan Maasai Mara have to offer?
As it turned out, the Mara was so much more incredible than I ever could have imagined.
We travelled to a Northern part of the Maasai with Governor’s Aviation thanks to Cottars 1920’s Camp. Established in 1919, Cottars is one of the oldest safari companies in East Africa, and over the years it has maintained a reputation for being one of the absolute best and most quintessential safari camps in existence.
In 1909, Charles Cottar travelled from the USA to Africa after being inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s accounts of game hunting in 1906. Charles wasted no time in establishing himself as a professional hunter and in 1915, he brought his family with him to Kenya to settle there for good.
The camp was established in 1919, and 20 years later at the age of 66, Charles Cottar died after a deadly rhino charge. However, prior to this, he had survived attacks by an elephant, a buffalo and three seperate leopards!
After many years of leading successful hunting safaris through remote parts of East Africa, Charles passed away, and his legacy was continued by his sons Mike and Bud – who eventually turned their attention away from hunting safaris, and started focusing on something completely new to Africa – a photographic safari.
With such a long and reputable history, I knew that our time at Cottars would be good, but I had no clue just how phenomenal it would get.
My first clue that things were to be amazing came from the second our plane landed on the runway. There was only one vehicle waiting, and it didn’t look anything like a standard game viewing vehicle.
No, it ended up being a fully functioning 1930s Rolls Royce, and it was there to pick us up in the most unbelievable fashion – talk about riding in style!
The drive to the camp is about 20 minutes, but it can take longer if you spot any wildlife, which of course, we did. We saw at least a dozen giraffes, but there were a couple in particular that let us get really quite close, much to my delight.
After we bid farewell to the mama and baby giraffes, we soon arrived at the camp. This next photograph is of the main ‘mess’ tent, although ‘mess’ would be the absolute last word that I’d use to describe it!
Two refreshing welcome drinks and one rundown of what our time at Cottars would involve later, we were shown to what would be our home for the next few nights.
If this isn’t the fanciest tent in Kenya, I don’t know what is!
An enormous four poster bed dominates the tent, whilst vintage cupboards, shelves, desks and couches make the space more than just a place to sleep. These tents aren’t designed to ‘look’ vintage, they actually are. Many of these pieces have been a part of the camp for several decades (and some much longer) and the overall effect is a luxurious kind of time warp.
From the second you step inside, these tents make you feel like you’ve stumbled back into some bygone era, in the best possible way. The mountains and plains of the Mara and the whimsical English inspired interiors of the tent combine to exude an effortlessly classic kind of luxury.
The tents don’t have air-conditioning, televisions or coffee machines, but they don’t need to. Instead of providing a flashy room with every amenity under the sun, the team at Cottars choose to provide the kind of intuitive and bespoke service that renders such amenities completely unnecessary.
From fresh pots of coffee and still-warm cookies in the early hours of morning to the delightful hot water bottles that we would find in our bed each night, the Cottars service is one that can and will do anything to make your stay perfect, all whilst feeling undeniably authentic.
Once we had settled into our new home (if only it was forever) and relaxed a little after our journey, it was time to devour a delicious lunch and head out on an afternoon game drive.
As one of the most famous and most popular regions in all of Africa, the Maasai Mara has developed a bit of a reputation for getting just a little too crowded. I had heard stories about masses of vehicles all surrounding the same animal, so much so that I had been warned that ten to fifteen cars surrounding one lion wasn’t unheard of.
However, Cottars is rather unique in that it doesn’t own the land that it resides on, instead, it manages it as per the request of the Olderkesi Maasai people who are the original inhabitants of this land. Essentially, Cottars finances the maintenance of the 6,000 acre Olderkesi wildlife conservancy, and in the process, employs numerous members of this Maasai community.
Each guest who stays at Cottars pays a conservancy fee for each nights stay, and this money goes towards sustainable development that benefits the Olderkesi community, such as medical facilities, clean and reliable water and schools.
Cottars is the only safari camp to reside on this massive conservancy, and is also just 1km from the actual limits of the Maasai Mara game reserve. Because there are so few camps in this region, it means that the region of the Mara that Cottars has access to is so far away from all other camps that you’ll pretty much have it to yourself!
It didn’t take long to spot our first creatures of the drive. We had seen wildebeest many times before, but never in such big herds! The sheer number of wildebeest and zebra that we saw was absolutely wondrous.
Our wonderful guide Enock was determined to find us some lions, but they were rather elusive! By the time the sun went down, I was fairly sure that we wouldn’t see any, but I didn’t mind, at that point the stunning sunset was the only thing I was focusing on!
Once the sun had disappeared completely, it was time to head back to the camp. However, this is of course when a cheeky pride of lions finally decided to make an appearance!
There were at least seven or eight cubs in this small pride and they were so curious! Once we started to drive away they immediately would run to follow us.
Our arrival and first day at Cottars had been the epitome of perfection, and I couldn’t wait to go to sleep so that the next magical day would come all that faster.
Getting to Nairobi: This international airport is one of the biggest hubs in Africa
Getting to Cottars 1920s Camp: From Wilson domestic airport, Governor’s Aviation fly to Cottars daily
Cottars 1920s Camp: One night a luxury safari tent starts at $956 USD per person including park and conservancy fees during the shoulder season
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: The price may be on the steep side, but for the unparalleled Maasai Mara solitude that this conservancy provides, you will get a world class safari experience