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A Kenyan homecoming and Masai Mara marvels: inside Sanctuary Olonana camp's new Geoffrey Kent Suite

John O'Ceallaigh
One of the two ensuite bathrooms at Sanctuary Olonana's Geoffrey Kent Suite - Copyright Mark Williams. All rights reserved.
One of the two ensuite bathrooms at Sanctuary Olonana's Geoffrey Kent Suite - Copyright Mark Williams. All rights reserved.

When Kenyan Geoffrey Kent launched the first luxury tented photographic safaris in his home country, all the way back in 1962, it’s unlikely he foresaw how that first foray into experiential travel would serve as a foundation for the decades-long success of his tour-operator company Abercrombie & Kent - or provide inspiration to the many rival camps and safari outfits that sprouted it its wake.

With the Sanctuary Retreats line of upmarket safari camps nowadays a part of the expansive A&K portfolio, the recent renovation of the Sanctuary Olonana camp in Kenya provided an opportunity: here was a chance to reference their founder’s origins, and his enduring legacy in the country.

Sanctuary Olonana Geoffrey Kent Suite deck - Credit: Mark Williams
The view from the suite's deck Credit: Mark Williams

That tribute has taken shape as Sanctuary Olonana’s Geoffrey Kent Suite, which has opened this week. An exclusive-use lodge set apart from the 14 other largely uniform suites that make up the Mara River-facing camp, it is far and away Olonana’s most extravagant accommodation option - and the guests who stay there can expect to enjoy the kinds of privileges now routinely enjoyed by the abode’s namesake.

An unfussy, modern two-bedroom suite, the property is bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows that face towards the river below (hippos can occasionally be seen bumbling about here) and features a wraparound deck that incorporates a small infinity pool. Interiors are finished with locally quarried stone and Kenyan wood, while the two ensuites’ tubs face the open air so bathers can take in the sun or watch the stars from the water.

Sanctuary Olonana Geoffrey Kent Suite bedroom - Credit: Mark Williams
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide an unobstructed view of the landscape beyond Credit: Mark Williams

Everything, in fact, is positioned to allow the suite’s guests to feel as if they have the conveniences of Olonana to themselves. Their accommodation is accessed by a private road and features a private lounge and dining area, with a chef on standby to prepare residents’ meals and snacks as required. A fully stocked bar with premium drinks will also be at their disposal.

Sanctuary Olonana Geoffrey Kent Suite lounge - Credit: Mark Williams
Interiors are modern and unfussy Credit: Mark Williams

The services of the private chef may not be used with complete enthusiasm. I visited Sanctuary Olonana in November, after the renovation of the camp’s 14 other suites had concluded but before The Geoffrey Kent Suite was fully constructed, and found meals to be consistently disappointing - even if the sense of occasion provided by some themed dinners, such as a night’s dining in the bush, was fun.

But guests will undoubtedly enjoy their private safari drives, with a guide and separate vehicle reserved for their exclusive use. Their guide can arrange visits to the village of a nearby Maasai community that is supported by Sanctuary Olonana, and the suite is about 20 minutes’ drive from the main entrance to the Masai Mara reserve (and a similar distance from the closest air strip, from where flights to Nairobi take about 45 minutes).

Sanctuary Olonana Geoffrey Kent Suite pool - Credit: Mark Williams
The suite's infinity pool Credit: Mark Williams

We were wowed by wildlife sightings even before we entered the Masai Mara proper, and our subsequent hours-long drives were incredibly eventful, with countless impressive sightings. I particularly remember the half hour or so we rested by a mud bank, as families of elephants gathered to wash, rest and play but perhaps the greatest endorsement for this safari destination over so many others came from a National Geographic cameraman we met while out and about while one day. He told he and his crew were filming there because “it’s where all the animals are.”

Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386 500) offers a three-night all-inclusive stay at Sanctuary Olonana's Geoffrey Kent Suite from £9,500pp, including Club World flights to Nairobi with British Airways and transfers.
For more on Sanctuary Olonana's Geoffrey Kent Suite visit sanctuaryretreats.com.

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