Your Next Safari Lodge Could Be a Marriott—We Took a Closer Look

In early 2023, the world’s largest hotel chain will open its first safari lodge under the luxury JW Marriott brand in Kenya’s renowned Masai Mara National Reserve.

Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve is located in the southwest of Kenya.

Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is located in the southwest of Kenya.

Photo by Siete Vidas/Shutterstock

Marriott Bonvoy members will soon have an exciting new way to spend their hard-earned points: on a luxury safari in Kenya’s famous Masai Mara National Reserve.

Opening in early 2023, JW Marriott’s first safari lodge will be set on the fringes of the reserve, near the Talek River, where hippos sunbathe and wildebeest famously migrate en masse every August. The camp will contain 20 modern tents made with natural materials, as well as a dining area, gym, extensive spa, and two-acre organic garden. Two tents are connected and ideal for larger groups or families, and one is designed with physical accessibility in mind, using Marriott’s standards globally. In addition, all common areas are wheelchair accessible.

“The design was basically along the principles of JW Marriott of being mindful, of thinking about the whole experience of the guest, and of taking in the beauty of the savanna,” said Barnabas Wamoto, general manager, JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, in an interview. “We incorporate the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and you can see Masai touches in terms of fabrics and decor.”

Wamoto emphasized how ecofriendly the property will strive to be. “When we started building the camp, we made sure not to destroy any vegetation,” he said. “We built around any existing trees, and actually planted more trees.” The camp will contain minimal single-use plastics and instead will be bottling purified water on site. Power will largely be provided by solar panels, biodigesters will process waste, and the organic garden will provide much of the produce for the kitchen.

The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge opens in Kenya in 2023

The forthcoming JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge opens in Kenya in early 2023.

Courtesy of JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge

The property is aiming to have 70 percent of its staff come from the area’s Masai community. The staff accommodations include a recreation area, dining room (with all meals on site), football pitches, and a health clinic.

Guests can arrive by road from Nairobi (a five- to six-hour drive on a relatively smooth road) or fly into an airstrip about 25 minutes away and enjoy a game drive en route to the lodge—and try to glimpse some of the “big five”: lions, leopards, African elephants, rhinos, and Cape buffalo. Marriott’s open-air safari vehicles, Toyota Land Cruisers modified for performance over rough terrain, will be driven by experienced guides, with binoculars for guests and fridges with ingredients for a sundowner in the bush.

Beyond game drives, guests can opt for bird-watching, nature walks, balloon safaris, and visits to Masai villages. And Wamoto hopes that, in addition to enjoying the external beauty of the reserve, guests will also travel inward and enjoy the property’s wellness experiences at the full-fledged spa; it includes two spa tents, a whirlpool, and a range of treatments.

“We would like to bring in a spa retreat concept and being ‘one with nature’ for guests while on safari,” said Wamoto, “whereby guests can enjoy the thrill of the safari and end with an experience of being mindful and fulfilled.”

The Marriott Masai Mara Lodge will be part of the Marriott Bonvoy program, but the category is not available yet. Rates will range from $1,500 to $2,500 per person per night, all inclusive.

Sarika Bansal is the editorial director of AFAR Magazine and editor of the book Tread Brightly: Notes on Ethical Travel.
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