When a friend of mine introduced me to the owner of Spirit Of The Masai Mara, the first thing that caught my attention was the uniqueness of name. I was super excited to be the first person to share the first few pictures of this exquisite location to my followers. I had a conversation with Nadja the owner of the lodge and she gave me a brief background of the lodge and I just loved everything about it.
What struck me even more is that both owners are actually not from Kenya but fell in love with the country, moved in and brought to life “Spirit Of The Masai Mara”
I sat down with Nadja and got the entire scoop I needed to know about her journey and the opening of her stunning lodge to her views of Kenya as a touristic destination and how she and her partner Justin made Kenya their home.
Tell me more about the place, where it’s located, size, facilities, and special features
Spirit of the Masai Mara is located in the Siana Conservancy, just a 10 minute drive from one of the main gates of the Masai Mara National Reserve, Sekenani Gate. The 10 solidly built luxury air-conditioned suites provide a contemporary and spacious environment, uniquely blending traditional materials and modern design. Each suite comprises of a large lounge with a private bar, a spacious bedroom, beautiful bathroom with a tub and shower. The vistas from the private verandas into the conservancy and Masai Mara National Reserve allow stunning game viewing opportunities.
Our main building features a large lounge area, restaurant area and bar area. The upper deck of the main building has an observation platform with a celestial telescope so guests can view the surrounding wildlife during the day and the stunning night sky of the Masai Mara at night.
In addition, we have an infinity pool and sundeck just outside the main building where clients can relax and unwind. A couple of metres away from the main lodge, we have a waterhole which is frequented by elephants, baboons, impala and zebra during the day. We have also installed live night vision cameras next to the waterhole which transmit the images directly to a TV in the bar area.
Siana Conservancy is a private 35000 acres conservancy, funded by the WWF. The lodge itself is located in the Langanishu Hills, offering a stunning view into the conservancy and the bordering Masai Mara National Reserve. As we are now a fully formed conservancy, wildlife is settling back quickly into the area. In front of the lodge we can see large herds of elephants almost every day, big herds of impala, zebra, buffalo. The sandstone outcrops behind the lodge house baboons, leopards and a pack of African wild dogs. Our wetland habitat next to the lodge provides the ideal environment for impala, hartebeest, eland, waterbuck and lions.
Spirit of the Masai Mara is closely working together with the Masai Community as well as other tourism partners to protect our surrounding area. The community is very keen on protecting this special part of the Greater Mara ecosystem due to its varied habitat and abundant wildlife. It is vital to involve all stakeholders to make the Siana Conservancy a success and it is in everybody’s interest to work on a fair balance of the community who have lived in harmony with their environment for the last 5000 years and the wildlife.
What activities can guest enjoy while staying and is there anything special about your game drives ?
We offer our clients day and night game drives in the Siana Conservancy and the Masai Mara National Reserve in our luxury 4×4 Landrover Safari vehicles. All game drives are tailor-made to the requests of the clients and depending on what they would like to see while staying with us. We offer full days in the national reserve so guests can see as much of the Masai Mara as possible. When on a full day game drive we provide clients with picnic breakfasts and lunches which will be set up at their convenience. All game drives are accompanied by our silver guides from the local community that have a vast knowledge about the flora and fauna of the Masai Mara. We also cater to special interests such as bird viewing safaris, big cat safaris and photographic safaris. In addition, we offer nature walks in the Siana Conservancy with our head guide and armed rangers, as well as sundowners on the surrounding hills. Extra activities such as balloon safaris and village visits can be organised prior to the arrival of the guests.
We wanted to create an intimate boutique lodge that gives every client a personal touch and instantly makes them feel at home. The lodge can also be booked by larger groups or a family if they want exclusivity and privacy.
Tell me about yourself as the owners
Justin is British, grew up in London and always had a passion for travel and adventure. When he was 16, he came on a school trip to Kenya and fell in love with the continent, so he tried to find a way to work and travel in Africa. He started working as an overland driver after he finished his university studies in the UK, working his way from London to Cape Town on 7 months trips. He ran a backpackers camp in Nairobi for a while before he went on to work in Juba, South Sudan, owning his own truck company and working as a security advisor for an American NGO. Justin has been living in Africa since 10 years.
I am half German, half Lebanese and grew up in Germany and Yemen. I always knew that I wouldn’t want to stay in Germany and would love to work somewhere abroad (the plans on the where’s, whens and what’s weren’t finalised at that time). After I finished university I started working with a German development agency. I moved to Juba, South Sudan, just before the country became independent in 2011 and worked there until 2013.
Justin and I met in Juba in 2012. By that time he had already made the plan to move to Kenya to build a lodge. After a lovely safari in the Masai Mara I was hooked on the idea of living in the bush as well. When he asked me if I would like to move to Kenya with him after my contract was finished, I didn’t hesitate at all. We started breaking ground in October 2013 and have both divided our time between the Mara and Nairobi. Justin was in charge of the whole construction process while I took care of the interior design and the administrative processes. In addition, we had great support from Justin’s parents who owned a construction company in the UK and gave us valuable advice. They have been in Kenya every two to three months to help us on site…a real family business.
What made you come to Kenya to open a lodge in the Masai Mara ?
While working in Kenya as a young overland driver, Justin became very good friends with a Masai chief from the local community. He was even made a warrior and his father an elder by the Masai. The Masai then offered Justin the lease of 20 acres of land on the Langanishu Hills and it was quickly decided that this place is too spectacular and has to be shared with others.
What are your views of Kenya’s tourism industry ?
Kenya is a great tourism destination but is unfortunately struggling so much. It is such a diverse country and you can enjoy a variety of activities while being here – scuba diving and deep sea fishing on the coast, hiking and mountain climbing on Mt. Kenya, safaris (whether on foot, on a horse or camel back or in a car) in the various national parks – just to name a few. The national parks in Kenya are easily accessible, they give you the opportunity to explore and discover a wonderful flora and fauna. Due to the connections via air or road you can cover a wide area and different locations in a matter of days. And the Kenyans are very welcoming and will always show guests what the famous African hospitality is all about.
Do you find it challenging opening the lodge at a time when the tourism industry is suffering ?
It is always challenging to open a new lodge and make it a success, especially now that the tourism industry is suffering. We do have a unique product on the market, though, and that is paying off. We have plenty of reservation requests and bookings for the next months ahead and are very happy that more and more people are taking note of Spirit of the Masai Mara.
What inspired the design of your lodge ?
Before we started the construction, we asked friends and family who had been on safari what they were missing and how they would like their accommodation to be. Most of them came back with the same answer: “We would like to stay in a solidly built room”. We wanted to create a spacious, airy and contemporary ambience in the lodge – a modern safari accommodation that invites you to relax and unwind and enjoy the wonderful surroundings. We wanted guests to enjoy the stunning view of the African wildlife from the comfort of their rooms without compromising on their safety. Each suite with its curved design resembles the huts in the Masai villages, the reddish colour of the suites was chosen because of the red earth that we have in the Masai Mara and all the buildings are blending into their environment. We have taken traditional materials that are being used to build houses in Kenya for centuries and combined them with a modern design.
What makes it special ?
The air-conditioning, the very spacious size of the rooms (guests have a lounge, a separate bedroom, a bathroom and a separate toilet – all in all ca. 50 m2 of luxurious comfort), the modern interior, the floor-to-ceiling glass that gives you the feeling of being in the middle of the bush whilst offering the security.
There are many reasons why Kenya is attractive for expats and the returning diaspora: firstly, it is the economic and financial hub of East Africa. Every big aid organisation, NGO, company, etc. has a regional office here. Kenya is easily accessible from most of the major cities in Africa, Europe and Asia. It is constantly pushing its development forward and great innovative ideas (think MPesa) are born here.
What also attracts many expats is the diversity of the country, offering many different activities for the weekends or holidays. Kenya is the leading country in East Africa in terms of healthcare and education and in most areas offers expats the standard of living they are used to from their home country.
Finally, tell me #WhyYouLoveKenya ?
Kenya became home. It offers us the unique opportunity to fulfil our dream of living and working in one of the most vibrant, exciting and beautiful countries on earth. Kenya also offers us new adventures every day, new things to discover and new problems to solve. Most important though: we have been welcomed with open arms and accepted by the local Masai community and without their blessing and their support we would not have been able to create Spirit of the Masai Mara.
For reservations and more details contact: +254700451413 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until my next post…