Angela Beitz goes on an old-school style safari to Cottars Camp in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.
Famous for lion spotting and its warriors, the Maasai Mara is one of the most popular spots for safari in Africa and boasts the largest wildlife reserve on the continent.
Touching down at the private airstrip for Cottars – a luxury colonial-style camp – we are greeted by our guide Ken (the epitome of a traditional safari guide, dressed head to toe in khaki) and six Maasai Mara warriors.
Cottars is an unusual camp. Beautifully furnished with an early 20th century feel complete with genuine zebra-skin rugs, four poster beds and high-canopied tents, it is overwhelming in terms of style.
The service is amazing and we are made to feel like part of the Cottars family.
Calvin Cottar, the grandson of one of the great pioneers of hunting and subsequently photographic safaris, is an excellent guide and an interesting host. If you visit Cottars while Calvin is at the camp he can regale you with tales of former times, as well as offer a fountain of knowledge regarding conservation and preservation. Cottars is the oldest safari company in Kenya – now in its fourth generation of ownership. Charles Cottar, who started the company, survived elephant, buffalo and three leopard attacks, finally succumbing in 1939, aged 66, to a deadly rhino charge. Present day Cottars tours are still authentic, but not nearly as full on, so there’s no need to worry.
The best times to see animals are dawn and dusk, so we set off at 6am for the game drive. We head out with Ken and our Maasai Mara warrior Mako and are surprised to see 12 lions in the first 30 minutes.
There are two males in the pride, four lionesses and six playful cubs. We also spot wildebeest, buffalo, topi and groups of zebras standing out with their black and white stripes through the trees. The zebras put enough distance between themselves and their predators to make pursuit futile and we spot a few among the giraffes – apparently as their long-necked friends can spot a predator quicker.
Cottars has its own 6,000-acre private conservancy and is situated one kilometre from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, where our game drives take place. It also sits adjacent to the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania and is the perfect spot to see the annual migration in September.
The landscape is breathtaking and on the morning of our tour it has been raining and two rainbows arches through the sky. We pull up for breakfast (no lions, we check) and tuck into a feast of cooked food, cereal, toast, fruit and delicious Kenyan coffee. It is a very special and tranquil experience, and we sit chatting and enjoying the outdoors at its best, with no one else around.
There are two important ways in which Cottars distinguishes itself. Firstly, it is one of the few camps where the guides eat each meal with the guests. You get to know your guide very well and begin to feel like part of an extended family.
Cottars is also one of the few camps that is equipped for safari walks. We set out with Ken and our trusty guard (who is armed with a rifle) and it is exhilarating; hearing a herd of elephants breaking down trees very close by. Rooms at Cottars start at Dhs2,000 per night. www.cottars.com.
The Great Migration
The annual ‘Great Migration’ of wildebeest and zebra is a spectacular sight, making it the most popular time to visit the Maasai Mara. It starts in July and finishes at the end of October, making now an ideal time to book.
More luxury camps to try Governors’ Camp The complex of luxury tents (each with en-suite bathroom) is located on the banks of the Mara River. www.governorscamp.com.
Saruni Camp Located within the Mara North private conservation area, the camp boasts thousands of rare books in its library. www.sarunicamp.com.