Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Botswanan filmmakers and owners of Great Plains Conservation, The Safari Awards 2013 best accommodation group in Africa and winner of three additional travel awards for excellence, have designed and built Mara Toto (“baby” in Swahali) a few miles downstream from its famous sister camp, Mara Plains. Mara Toto is built on a small bend in the Ntiakitiak River where the forest meets savannah inside the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The camp is designed to offer the best of two worlds — the intense action of the Maasai Mara ecosystem and the quiet, stylish retreat of a private haven.
“We set up and designed Mara Toto to be a migration camp, rather than a fixed, or even a mobile camp, but frankly the wildlife experience is just so good in the months most people are not used to — October to June — that we have decided to offer it as a year–round camp. I’ve never seen such abundance and this is supposed to be the off season,” explains CEO Dereck Joubert. It is positioned to take advantage of two migrations, the famous annual Serengeti migration and the green season migration from Loita Plains, when an additional 250,000 wildbeest and over 100,000 zebras are vying for grazing rights.
For Mara Toto, the Jouberts have tailor–made five safari–chic tents for ten guests, with imported light–colored flowing loam state canvas that evokes the early explorer styles tents and that open on the horizontal side with canopied ceilings. The spacious canvas tents, with en–suite bathrooms and verandahs, are decorated with brass fittings, vintage Indian chests, colorful rugs and natural local materials collected by the Jouberts from their travels around Africa. The camp is set in one of the few deeply shaded riverine forest in the Mara ecosystem and as a result is hidden and totally isolated from others. “It feels like you are the only people in Africa when you stay at Mara Toto,” says one recent guest. This is, despite its romantic appeal, a place for the ardent safari–goer. The glade around the camp is locally famous for its leopard residents wandering the riverbanks and hippos lazing in the river.
Experienced Kenyan guides take guests out on morning or full day game drives to view the migration. In addition to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, guests can traverse the 70,000–acre Mara North Conservancy. Optional early morning hot air balloon rides provide breathtaking views of the Maasai Mara landscape. Guests may visit a local school or community project supported by Mara Toto or see a Maasai homestead to learn about the local culture.
To capture the action, professional Canon cameras are available for guest use and 4×4 Land Cruiser open–sided vehicles were customized for photographic expeditions by the Jouberts, who as National Geographic Explorers–in–Residence have some experience in working out the best design for capturing images of these extrodinary migrations .
The Mara Toto environmental amenities emphasize the old travel notion of “leave nothing but footprints” although this time, in style and with all the creature comforts one needs on an authentic African safari. The camp runs on 100% solar power, collects up to 5,000 liters of rainwater for reuse, and uses sustainably sourced wood.