My Luxury Kenya Wildlife Safari Experience at Olarro
Kenya Wildlife Safari
After years of wishful thinking, my boyfriend and I finally decided it was time to visit Africa! Going on a wildlife safari in Kenya, seeing the boundless landscape, the animals running wild, and learning about the Masai people, was a childhood’s dream come true - the expectation where high, but the reality was even better. It was truly a life changing experience.
For our safari adventure in Kenya, we chose to experience it at Olarro Conservancy - a breathtaking private reserve with 20,000 acres of land nested in the Masai Mara region. There are two lodges in the conservancy: Olarro Lodge and Olarro Plains. The all-inclusive luxury sister lodges offer private encounters with Kenya's wildlife, an array of activities, and relaxing amenities to help you wind down after a long day packed with adventures. We stayed four nights in Olarro and split our stay, two nights in Olarro Lodge and two in Olarro Plains - a suggestion the hotel made as there was a special offer. But no matter which lodge you decide to stay at, you are guaranteed the experience of a lifetime.
Nested high on a hill, Olarro Lodge boasts lush hillsides and breathtaking views. It features 8 private lodges and one mega-suite for the ultimate luxury and private abode. In the lodge, you will also find a cascading pool amid the oasis-like surrounding and a spa.
Jaw-dropping views amid beautiful decor, Olarro Plains offer its guest luxury comfort where no detail goes unnoticed. The breathtaking lodge faces the waterhole where you can enjoy animal watching by the infinity pool. Our time here was as incredible as the time spent at Olarro Lodge and picking where to stay will come down to personal preference.
Our adventure began in Nairobi, where we landed and stayed overnight. The next morning, we hopped on a bush plane and made it to Masai Mara. After arriving half an hour early at Mara Siana Airstrip, luckily our personal guide - and tracker for the duration of our stay - was already waiting for us. We were very grateful for the attentiveness as the airstrip is only a gravel road with no cover in the middle of a vast field. The excitement started pumping and we were ready for adventures!
Note: Bush plane arrival time, as we learned, is only a rough estimate.
The ride to the lodge was in itself an amazing experience. We started seeing the animals roaming around as well as the local villages and Maasai people herding their cows and goats. An hour later of jaw-dropping views and what locals call "African Massage" the sight of Olarro Lodge started to emerge from the lush scenery. We spotted the entire staff of the lodge lined up and waiting to welcome us. We were greeted and then guided to the lodge’s lounge room. The check-in process consisted of a brief introduction of the hotel, amenities, and our schedule. As we wanted flexibility on our trip, we planned our itinerary one day at a time - but also wasted no time as we scheduled our first game later in the afternoon.
It’s hard to describe the excitement we felt on our very first game drive. Seeing the giraffes roaming freely, the gazelle stotting around, and the zebras in herds gave me all the butterflies. Our guide - which we have no words to describe how amazing he is - answered patiently our million questions about animals, Maasai, and everything we could think of. He was also incredibly in-sync with us, as soon as we lifted our camera or binocular, he would stop; and as soon as both went down, he would restart the car - no words needed! Photographers’ dream driver. Not to mention, his a great tracker and his love for animal is genuine, so our game drives were always filled with excitement, fun facts, and great stories.
Things to do in Olarro, Kenya
Most safari lodges will offer an array of activities to keep you busy during your stay - as most of them are located in secluded areas. As part of Olarro’s all-inclusive package, most of the activities are included except for the hot air balloon, Masai Mara National Reserve day trip, and the village/school visit.
As the Conservancy is part of Olarro, safari here feels much more personal and private. There aren't other tour companies so while you admire nature, there aren't ten more cars around intruding in your experience. Olarro offers two game drives a day: one in the early morning at 6:00 am and one at 4:00 pm, although they are very flexible. Mornings were our favorite time to go on game drives - when animals are the most active, and big cats are ready to hunt. But also watching the sunrise over the waterhole where all the animals gathered for a morning refreshment was simply breathtaking - à la Lion King where all the animals made their way to the cliff.
Not a dull day passed at the Olarro Conservancy. On our first morning drive, our guide spotted our first lion sighting! His belly was full and blood over his paws, he had just finished breakfast. As we kept driving, we noticed a couple of hyenas glancing around. Our guide quickly noticed something was up behind nearby bushes as they kept walking in and out. We drove by and lo and behold, the remaining of the lion's breakfast! As the hyenas feasted on the wildebeest carcass, the vultures started to descent in bigger numbers until they overpowered them and took over of what was left. Of course, not before the opportunistic jackal took a chunk while the hyaenas were distracted and ran away. You come to learn that in nature, nothing goes to waste. It was a gory scene, but an amazing thing to witness.
On another of our game drives, we were informed that a big herd - of about 50 elephants - have made their way into the conservancy - Olarro is not a fenced reserve so animals can migrate in and out of the area. We followed their trail of wreckage they left behind and quickly found them. The elephants seemed to be in a rush which our guide indicated that they were probably scared by something or someone outside the reserve. The sight of 50 elephants stopping past you is something I will never forget.
ATV or Quad bikes
Quad bikes are a fantastic way to experience nature up close. The smaller size of the four-wheel gives you a different perspective - giraffes suddenly look bigger and zebras run by much closer. I had the most fun riding the quad bike and roaming the landscape accompanied by our guide. We didn't go as fast as I wanted, but alas safety first!
After one of our afternoon drives, we were surprised with a magical bush dining experience. Campfire, bar, and table were set up under nothing else but the night sky full of stars. Although listed as one of the activities, the manager likes to take the liberty of surprising you with a bush dining experience - keeping under wraps the location, date, and details.
Night drives are great to see nocturnal animals that only ventures out after hours or to spot predators in action roaming the field stalking an unsuspected prey. But not many places offer night drives so we couldn't pass on the opportunity to experience it at Olarro. After an early dinner at 7 pm, we headed out with an extra guide to help maneuver the spotlight. Although few animals were still active, we saw the antelopes gathered around sleeping together in the open field. We also saw a few bushbabies, spring hares, hyenas, and lions - already taking their siesta after a successful hunt.
As much fun as the "African massage" might be, there's nothing like a little relaxation at the spa. With a wide selection of massages and treatments, the spa is the perfect place to wind down after days of travels and game drives. Although there's only one masseuse - no couple massage, which I don't mind - you will get the attention your aching muscle deserves.
Local village visit
For a fee - we paid $20 per person - you get to visit a local Maasai village and learn about their traditions and way of life. But with an increase in tourism, many "villages" are created to solely cater to tourists - and although I don't place judgment on those who are trying to make an honest living, I wanted to visit an authentic village where my contribution went straight to the family and not a business. But I was assured the village we were going to visit was a real family living in the area. They performed a welcome dance for us followed by a house tour - traditionally built and designed by Maasai women - as well as a rundown of their daily activities. While two Maasai men were showing us their impressive skills on how to start a fire with just two sticks and elephant dung, the kids were playful and running around. The Maasai women were watchful while caring for the smaller children.
Visit the Olarro Conservancy Headquarters
Life in the Conservancy abounds thanks to the highly trained rangers. Not only do they help protect animals from poachers, but also monitor and treat injured animals. During one of our games, our guide spotted an injured giraffe - an arrow had pierced the giraffe's neck. He quickly contacted the rangers, and within minutes they arrived and treated the giraffe - just in time as the arrow was poisoned. Besides the preservation of wildlife, The Olarro Conservancy also contributes to the local communities by providing potable water, education, and work as the majority of the employees are recruited from local villages. Visiting the headquarter is a great opportunity for people staying at the lodge to learn more about Olarro Conservancy's work. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, but the park ranger offered us to tag along on one of their patrols - which I would totally have if it wasn't because of our scheduled ATV tour.
Day Trip to Masai Mara National Reserve
Even though the lodge is not inside the Masai Mara National Reserve, you can still visit on a day trip. You may get lucky and spot a Black Rhino - a highly endangered animal you will only find in very few places. If you book your stay at the lodge during high season for a minimum of 4 nights, they offer a complimentary excursion to the Masai Mara National Reserve (excluding park fees.) We decided to skip this as we were already enjoying Olarro’s bountiful wildlife.
Hot air Balloon
If you can’t get enough of Kenya’s breath-taking savannah, go on a hot air balloon ride! Make sure to book it when making the hotel reservations as it’s with a third party company and there’s no guaranteed spot.
Dining in Olarro
Olarro makes everything an unforgettable experience, including dining. Every meal, we were surprised with a different setup or location - candlelit dinner overlooking the landscape? Bush dining? Yes and yes, please! On every meal, the menu varied but always included a selection of international dishes and one traditional Kenyan dish. I, of course, picked the traditional dish on every meal. The food was delicious, felt home-cooked, and fresh as most of the ingredients - except for the protein - are from their own garden.
My Olarro Experience
We absolutely loved our stay at Olarro. The intimate setting really made us feel at home and among friends. The game drives were incredible and every day was exciting and eventful. We were sad to leave and say goodbye, but hopefully is not a goodbye but a see you later.
How to get to Olarro, Masai Mara?
Nairobi Wilson - Mara Siana Airstrip
Method of Transportation: Bush Plane
Depending on where you are flying from, chances are you are arriving in Nairobi at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Then transfer airport to Wilson Airport - located a few miles away from JKIA - and take the bush plane to Masai Mara. If you are departing on the same day, make sure you have enough time to transfer. If you land later in the afternoon, you may want to stay overnight in Nairobi - then take a Safarilink bush plane in the early morning to Mara Siana Airstrip.
Safarilink is located in a different section of Wilson airport - when you drive past the security gate, you will see a sign that points you to Safarilink departures only.
Tip: For safety reasons, many people suggested flying during the day when the sun is out.
Where to stay in Nairobi, Kenya?
There’s a wide range of hotels in the city center of Nairobi, from luxury to budget, and international hotels like the Fairmont, Intercontinental, Radisson Blu and many more. From the airport to the city center is only a 20 minute-drive - when there’s no traffic, but plan for a 30-45 min drive or more if you are leaving during rush hour. If you want to stay as close as possible to the airport, you can check out the Crown Plaza Nairobi Airport. If exploring the Kenyan capital is on your itinerary and would like to treat yourself, check out the Tribe Hotel, Sankara Nairobi, or the Villa Rosa Kempinski
Find your Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya
When is the best time to go to Kenya on a Safari ?
The best time to go on a Safari in Kenya is during the dry season from late June to October. It is the best time to observe wildlife as the animals tend to be more active moving around in search of water. And with only a handful of waterholes, it’s easier to know where to go. Additionally, during the dry season grass tend to be short making it easier to spot animals. During the rainy season, grass and bush grow lush where animals go to hide.
We visited Kenya in March which is technically the rainy season. But lucky for us - not so lucky for the animals - there was a drought, and it didn't rain a single day we were there.
Stay tuned for my upcoming post on all the tips and things you need know before booking your Safari trip!