Sanctuary Olonana’s dining room is perched over the Mara River
Although I opted to plan most of our safari in Africa through AndBeyond, I wanted to ensure that we got a taste of a different experience too.
Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) is one of the world’s leading luxury travel brands. Their awards are numerous and the company has been planning trips for decades. A&K’s roots are in Africa and this is an extra special destination for them with many fabulous itineraries.
A&K offers escorted Family Holidays customized just for travel with kids, including an East Africa Wildlife Adventure. It wasn’t possible for me to do their complete itinerary, but I was able to fit in a stay at one of the lodges they use in their trips to Kenya, Sanctuary Olonana.
Sanctuary Olonana lounge
Sanctuary Olonana Family-Friendly Review
I love comparing and contrasting lodging. There’s the good and bad, but what’s more interesting is the good and good — meaning evaluating the differences between two wonderful accommodation options. Bateleur Camp and Sanctuary Olonana are both excellent lodges for families in Masai Mara but they are very different experiences.
Olonana is dramatically positioned above the Mara River. The location of the lodge is the highlight for me. Hippos are frequently present in the river below the lodge and there’s a parade of other wildlife coming down to the river to drink at all hours. Part of the fun is hearing the hippos … Do you know what they sound like?
Beware light sleepers, hippos are particularly active at night and will lull you to sleep (or be your alarm clock), but to be honest, this is part of what makes staying here great!
The main public areas are lodge-style with Africa-themed colors and decorations — it’s a very comfortable hotel-like living space versus the more exotic camp-style public areas of Bateleur Camp. Both lodges are fenced and feature tents as guest rooms. The tents at Olonana are more spacious for families and they have fantastic private decks overlooking the river. Bateleur tents are more intimate and luxurious (the tents, bathrooms, and furnishings are newer).
Olonana has a small swimming pool in a leafy part of the resort without a view. Given that Bateleur’s pool is also small — neither option is really optimal for kids, but at Bateleur guests are able to visit the larger pool and grass area at Kichwa Tembo (5-minute walk).
Crocodile hunting zebra (see croc in middle right part of photo)
Both lodges visit the same portion of Masai Mara National Reserve for game drives. The location of Olonana is 10-15 minutes further from the park entrance, but the additional driving distance is inconsequential when it comes down to being in the car for 3-4 hours at a time.
Our ranger and guide, Bonnie, at Olonana was quite knowledgeable and good about customizing his commentary for an 8-year-old. We had one of our best drives in Masai Mara with Bonnie — we witnessed a zebra crossing the river near hungry crocodiles. We watched a crocodile strike — exciting — but no dice, the zebras outmaneuvered him and lived another day.
The bottom line is that the specific guide you’ll be assigned at a lodge is luck and timing, but you must be confident that the lodge will make a good match for the age of your kids.
Maasai naming ceremony at Olonana bush dinner
Olonana is adjacent to a few Maasai villages and guests have an easy opportunity to interact with them. The lodge manager, Maurice, set up an afternoon excursion where our son participated in a bow and arrow shooting contest with the local Maasai children. Smile-producing for all as he had fun and we had parenting time off.
We had a tremendous evening at Olonana’s bush dinner where the Maasai community came in to sing, dance, and give Maasai names to guests in an entertaining ceremony. After much discussion, the community gave our son the name “Oloboru” or still growing warrior. He’ll remember this ceremony forever and so will we!
The food at Olonana is exceptional. Like Bateleur Camp, they have their own garden where they grow vegetables and herbs. There is a difference is the selection process. Olonana has a daily menu with a few different options to choose from (restaurant-style), while Bateleur Camp has a set daily menu. Both lodges are happy to make special meals for kids.
Like AndBeyond, Sanctuary Retreats is committed to conservation. One wonderful element of the Olonana experience is their tree planting program for staff and guests.
Before we left our son had an opportunity to name and plant a native tree that will be part of the upcoming forest.
How cool is that?! Thinking about how our little Oloboru can go back in 10-20 years to see this tree — part of a rich forest by that time — gives me goose bumps.
We received a special media rate at Sanctuary Olonana. They did not ask us to express a particular point of view.