This year, after the exciting milestone of getting married to my partner Jessy, we embarked on a round-the-world honeymoon. Our first aspirational experience on the trip began with a four-night stay at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge.
Situated in Kenya’s famed Masai Mara National Reserve, the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge is a luxurious all-inclusive oasis surrounded by wildlife, the Talek River, and the vast savannah plains.
This property, which opened in April 2023, brings forth a dynamic new stride for JW Marriott and the Marriott portfolio, as it’s the first African safari experience that can be booked with points through a major hotel loyalty program.
Until now, the luxury experience of a safari wasn’t accessible on points, so this development is a major advantage for those wishing to enjoy it with excellent value for their points.
In This Post
- Deluxe Suite
- Game Drives
- Other Facilities
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Booking
The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge sets standard rates for base-level accommodation at a premium price of $1,750+ (USD) per night.
In contrast, redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points costs about 120,000 points per night, which can be coupled with the advantage of the Fifth Night Free benefit.
It’s not uncommon to find discounted rates of 75,000 Bonvoy points per night, although you’ll have to keep a keen eye on availability to get this rate.
Remarkably, all rates include not only breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks – including alcohol, though excluding premium spirits – as well as up to two game drives per day. This presents an extraordinary value proposition, especially when booking with points!
For any cash bookings at JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, you’ll be happy to know that it participates in Marriott Luminous, a preferred partner program.
By booking your stay through an authorized travel advisor, you’ll receive a number of other perks and benefits at no extra cost, which come in addition to those you may enjoy with Marriott Bonvoy status.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Location
The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge is elegantly perched in the southwestern region of Kenya, nestled within the expanse of the Great Rift Valley area in Narok County.
The lodge, which is situated along the Talek River, is a serene sanctuary amidst the reserve. Our visit during the dry season saw the river as more of a modest stream; however, it transforms into a thriving waterway in the wet season.
There are several options for making your way to the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, including road travel or flying to the nearest airstrip before completing the journey to the lodge.
For those choosing the scenic route, a drive from Nairobi is a journey of around five to six hours, and comes at a cost of $400 (USD).
Alternatively, there are numerous airstrips within the reserve, with Mara-Keekorok in the Masai Mara National Reserve being the closest to the lodge.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Arrival
For our journey, we chose AirKenya Express from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. This came at an approximate cost of $160 (USD) per person per direction.
We opted for a one-way journey, since we’d proceed to Tanzania following our stay, instead of heading back to Nairobi.
Depending on the time of year, AirKenya Express offers flights in the morning and afternoon. We chose a morning departure, both to maximize our time spent at the lodge, and to enjoy the morning views from the plane.
AirKenya Express offers an all-economy cabin with a 2-2 configuration.
At the front of the cabin, two seats face backwards, which could be a fun choice if you’re travelling as a group of four.
Otherwise, you’ll be comfortable enough for the roughly 40-minute flight from Nairobi. There aren’t any noteworthy aspects of the seat, aside from the views you’ll enjoy for the entirety of the flight.
As the plane touched down at Keekorok Airstrip, a sense of anticipation filled the air, knowing that just an hour away, luxury and untouched nature awaited us.
Prior to your arrival, the team at the lodge coordinates your flight details, to ensure a smooth transition from air to land. Upon arrival, a dedicated driver awaits, ready to transport you to the lodge.
Keep in mind that there’s a park fee of $70 (USD) per person per night, which is payable at the booth at Keekorok Airstrip.
Immediately upon arrival, we were welcomed with a variety of snacks, tea, and coffee. Soon after, a JW Marriott-branded Land Cruiser whisked us away, turning the journey itself into a spectacle.
The safari experience began the moment we started cruising along the dirt paths. Our driver, who also doubled as our safari guide, enriched the journey with insights into the ecosystems and impromptu stops for us to observe the wildlife.
Upon arriving at the resort, you’ll encounter a bridge suspended over the Talek River. Crossing this bridge leads you directly into the heart of the property.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Check-in
The warmth and hospitality offered at the lodge continues with the check-in experience, which was led by the lovely Thelma for our stay.
We were greeted with a Masai welcoming ceremony, during which we were offered delicious non-alcoholic drinks.
We were then ushered into the beautifully decorated welcome tent, where we were provided with warm towels.
Thelma introduced us to the lodge and took us around on a brief tour before showing us to our villa, which is perched alongside the river.
The central main lodge area anchors the setting, with individual villas extending in both directions along the river, all overlooking its flow. With just 20 villas in all, the atmosphere is notably intimate.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Deluxe Suite
We stayed in a Deluxe Suite, which is the base-level room type at the lodge. These suites are spacious, and come complete with an open terrace and sweeping views of the river.
A Masai spear is positioned at the entrance of each villa, which guests can place in a central slot to signal “Do Not Disturb”.
All villas are designed as tented lodges, which blend indoor and outdoor elements, and feature walls constructed of both tent fabric and glass doors and windows.
A spacious terrace immediately welcomes you with a scenic river view. Inside, the suite is striking, with its gorgeous design that features the extensive use of wood and natural materials, all in calming neutral tones that reflect the nearby scenery.
The suite’s coziness is enhanced by large woven fixtures, and ample natural light.
The suite features a generous bed, which is draped in a delicate white canopy.
When we arrived, the crisp sheets on the bed were embellished with a heart-shaped arrangement of red and white rose petals, spelling “Happy Honeymoon” – a thoughtful touch that elevated the romantic ambiance of the space.
A wooden bench is thoughtfully placed at the foot of the bed.
A seating area further expands the space, outfitted with soft grey sofas and plush ottomans, all arranged around a coffee table. I adored the throw pillows and blankets, which add a layer of dimension to the space.
Upon our arrival, we noticed two black water bottles proactively set on the table, each personalized with our names.
Along the side of the room is a wooden desk, which is accompanied by a chair with a soft brown cushion. It’s a great spot for reflection or penning down thoughts, against the backdrop of swaying trees and the clear blue sky.
In the corner of the room is an expansive and well-stocked minibar, all of which is complimentary. It’s stocked with a bottle of wine, assorted spirits, and beer, as well as non-alcoholic beverages such as coffee, soft drinks, and water.
Nearby, we were delighted to find a bottle of sparkling wine on ice to welcome us in style.
Two expansive wardrobes, complete with plush robes and slippers, occupy the back of the room.
The space effortlessly flows into a stunning bathroom, which boasts a dual vanity crafted from elegant light wood that’s adorned with marble countertops.
The shower includes a rainfall showerhead and handheld feature. A second door opens to the exterior of the tent for a novel outdoor shower experience.
On the back deck, directly outside the bathroom, there’s a whirlpool and two chairs. While the whirlpool proved less inviting during the heat of the day, it became a delightful spot to soak and relax as dusk and nighttime unfolded.
Remarkably, you can observe wildlife while soaking in the outdoor whirlpool, or even while taking a shower.
Interestingly, there aren’t any TVs in the suite, which might be considered a thoughtful touch, as it encourages you to engage more fully with your surroundings without any digital distractions.
There’s one significant downside to the suite: as a tented structure, it doesn’t feature air conditioning – indeed, air conditioning is mostly absent from the entire property.
This can become a significant inconvenience during the daytime hours, as the temperatures of the savannah soar.
The ceiling fans in the suite only provide limited relief from the midday heat. While the property does provide some remote air conditioning units, their efficacy is questionable.
Therefore, due to the heat, it can be challenging to comfortably bridge the gap between your morning and afternoon game drives. An attempt at an afternoon nap one day left us sweaty, disgruntled, and uncomfortable.
Perhaps the most viable option for leisure during these interim periods is to frequent the pool, which is maintained at a refreshingly cool temperature.
Another potential workaround might involve opting for full-day game drives rather than returning to the lodge. Regardless, it’s something to be aware of when considering a booking here at the JW Marriott Masai Mara.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Game Drives
The primary activity at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge is to embark on game drives. The Mara encompasses approximately 580 square miles, and hosts over 100 mammal species, notably including the “Big Five”: lions, leopards, elephants, African buffaloes, and rhinos.
The initial portion of the reserve’s name pays homage to the region’s ancestral residents, while “Mara” translates to “spotted” in the Masai language (Maa).
Morning, afternoon, or full-day game drives can be arranged with your guide, tailored to your preferences.
In our experience, we opted for a morning game drive on our arrival day, followed by an afternoon drive that same day. The subsequent day mirrored the first, followed by a full-day game drive the day after.
Finally, we enjoyed just a morning game drive on the last day, spending the remainder of the time relaxing on the property.
Morning game drives usually set out around 6:30am, and return by 10am for breakfast. However, you can arrange for a picnic breakfast instead to extend your outing.
There’s also typically a small spread of coffee and pastries to enjoy at the lodge before heading out on your morning game drive, which we definitely appreciated during our early awakenings.
Afternoon excursions typically leave around 4pm, and come back around 7pm, just in time for dinner.
Full-day game drives might commence at 8am following breakfast, and include a picnic lunch. These drives generally conclude around 5pm; however, all schedules are flexible and can be customized with your guide.
The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge employs custom-built Land Rovers, with either four or six seats. These are notably impressive vehicles, with an open-air design that affords direct views of the passing wildlife.
The Land Rovers contrast with the more conventional safari vehicles that you’ll see around the Mara, which feature glass panes and a retractable roof that you’re supposed to peek through.
While the drawback of this design is that it exposes you to more dust while driving, I found that this was only a minor inconvenience.
Each vehicle is equipped with a selection of amenities to enhance your comfort while navigating the park. Complimentary sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and binoculars are provided, alongside a fridge filled with complimentary drinks. Furthermore, universal power outlets and USB-A ports are available for use.
Our guide, Boru, was exceptional. We were fortunate to have him exclusively assigned to us throughout our stay – a rarity considering that game drives are usually shared with other guests in the same vehicle, while private use of a vehicle incurs an additional fee.
Boru was not only knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but also a wonderful conversationalist. He went above and beyond to maximize our safari experience, such as swiftly navigating to areas where rhinos were spotted upon receiving the news via his walkie-talkie.
If your travels take you to the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, I wholeheartedly recommend requesting Boru as your guide – just make sure to tell him I say hi!
This was our first safari experience, and the awe was palpable as we were thoroughly captivated by the spectacle. Observing all the wild animals in their natural habitat was amazing and magical.
We were fortunate to witness all of the “Big Five” in a variety of settings: lionesses in peaceful slumber, a mating pair of lions, a hunting leopard, wandering families of elephants – including adorable babies – and a modest family trio of rhinos, albeit hidden by some bushes, which limited our ability to photograph them.
Given that there are only about 40 rhinos in the entire Serengeti/Masai Mara ecosystem, we still considered ourselves extremely lucky.
Our adventures also introduced us to numerous other animals, such as cheetahs, hippos, crocodiles, zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, hyenas, warthogs, ostriches, and more.
A standout element of the JW Marriott Masai Mara is its partnership with Canon, which enables guests to borrow telescopic lenses at no additional charge.
This allowed me to capture some truly epic photo and video shots of the animals, a perk that most other safari lodges might charge extra for.
While we stayed relatively close to the lodge for the morning and afternoon game drives, our full-day drive took us across the Mara River, approximately 1.5 hours in each direction, to witness the Great Migration. Here, we were greeted by a massive herd of migrating zebras and wildebeest.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Dining
All rates at the property are inclusive of all meals, which also offers flexibility in your dining experiences. You may enjoy breakfast and lunch on the property, or opt for them to be packaged as a picnic during a game drive.
On-site dining can take place in the main lodge, or be delightfully served within the comfort of your villa.
Sarabi Restaurant offers both indoor and al-fresco dining experiences that intertwine ingredients grown in the JW Garden and the local culinary heritage.
For a unique dining experience, you can explore the reserve with the lodge’s guides and savour a freshly prepared “Bush Breakfast” or dinner, amidst the stunning landscapes.
Adjacent to Sarabi in the main lodge, the Fig Tree Lounge provides panoramic views of the nearby plains from its indoor and outdoor bars, and serves a variety of refreshing cocktails and mocktails, infused with seasonal ingredients sourced from the lodge’s garden.
During our stay, we predominantly dined in the main dining area. Our server, Eunice, was not only a delight but also a highlight of our visit.
At the lodge, breakfast is served at Sarabi. You can order items from the à la carte menu as you wish.
The breakfast offerings were standard yet satisfying, featuring a selection of eggs, proteins, and healthy options. I took a particular liking to the omelette.
A variety of pastries, yogurts, and juices are also served on the side to round out your meal.
One of the unique experiences the resort curates for each guest is a bush breakfast, at least once during the stay.
This goes quite above and beyond, as many safari lodges typically charge extra for such an experience. We indulged in the bush breakfast on our final morning just before departure.
Experiencing breakfast served amidst the savannah was very special, and it was impressive how the hotel managed to establish a full kitchen setup out in the bush. Moreover, the service staff, including Eunice, ventured out to join us!
On the other hand, the picnic breakfast was somewhat less elaborate; orders are placed the night before, offering a choice from typical items like eggs your style, bacon, sausage, fruits, and so forth.
Lunch featured a rotating menu, typically beginning with a soup or appetizer, followed by a main course, and concluding with dessert.
- 1 of 2
- 2 of 2
Gazpacho was a frequent soup choice, offering a refreshing respite in the midst of a hot day.
The flavourful salads are served in elevated pedestal-style bowls with portions that leaned toward the petite side; Jessy would often request a double portion to secure a more substantial salad.
Lunch was arguably the least impressive meal of the day. Some items, like the fish, were satisfactory on certain days, while others, such as the pizza, fell a bit short.
- 1 of 3
- 2 of 3
- 3 of 3
An alternative dining option allowed for lunch to be served poolside, which we opted for and enjoyed one day.
For our full-day game drive, we chose a picnic lunch, delighting in a simpler selection of various salads, sandwiches, and desserts while awaiting the potential sighting of lions mating.
Dinner at the resort offered a varied experience, rotating through different themed menus each night, although the chef remained flexible to preparing any desired dish.
The dinner service began with an Asian night, featuring an à la carte menu, which was followed by a steak or seafood à la carte menu on the second night.
- 1 of 4
- 2 of 4
- 3 of 4
- 4 of 4
While the Asian night did not particularly impress us, the steak on the second night was a delightful experience for my palate.
- 1 of 3
- 2 of 3
- 3 of 3
The third night introduced an Indian theme with family-style dishes meant for sharing, while the fourth night celebrated Kenyan cuisine, during which we dined as a large group, including my friend Tommy from Travel Like Tommy and other new friends we made at the resort.
- 1 of 6
- 2 of 6
- 3 of 6
- 4 of 6
- 5 of 6
- 6 of 6
I found myself contemplating reordering the delectable steak from the second night, but was also intrigued to explore the entirety of the culinary array offered by the resort.
Overall, we found that the food at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge was generally pleasing, but with certain dishes being hit-or-miss, there’s definitely room for the resort to further elevate its culinary quality.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Bar
Beverages are included throughout your stay, offering a diverse selection to choose from on the drink list.
Positioned in the communal area, the bar provides a pleasant spot to savor a drink after the exhilaration of a game drive, just before transitioning to dinner. The bar staff, Joseph and Barrett, delivered exemplary service.
Moreover, the freedom to enjoy a drink is not confined to the bar – you’re welcome to indulge anywhere on the property.
Additionally, your room’s minibar is complimentary, further enhancing the all-inclusive experience.
As a welcome gesture, the hotel presented us with a bottle of South African sparkling wine, which we delightedly paired with our dinner one evening. It’s worth noting, however, that Champagne is not included in the inclusive offerings.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Activities
While game drives are included in your adventure, you also have the option to choose from on a few distinct paid activities. A particularly unique choice is a visit to a Masai village, available for $40 (USD) per person.
The Masai people, known for their singular tribal lifestyle, dwell in hand-crafted mud huts and shepherd their animals, moving nomadically across the terrain.
They invite visitors to witness their distinctive song and dance routines, during which the men traditionally jump as high as possible in a competition to win spouses.
Visitors are also treated to a demonstration of their specialized fire-making methods, which involve vigorously rubbing two different types of wood together.
A young Masai villager acted as our tour guide, walking us through the village and even inside their unembellished living quarters, providing a fascinating and enlightening peek into an utterly different way of life.
Tours from safari guests like yourself offer an essential source of income for the Masai, enabling them to grant younger generations access to education and pave the way for a better future.
Naturally, a variety of trinkets and knick-knacks are available for purchase to support the Masai villagers. Alternatively, a donation is always appreciated during your visit to the village – even a modest contribution from you can make a significant difference for them.
Additional activities are also available, such as hot air balloon rides, priced at $450 (USD) per person.
One of the complimentary activities that the resort endeavors to arrange once per stay is “sundowners.” This entails a drive out into the bush to savor cocktails and witness the sunset, providing not only a fantastic time and brilliant photo opportunity but also a pleasant chance to converse with other guests.
While other safari lodges might charge extra for this, the JW arranges it free of charge, ensuring your stay is peppered with delightful and unforgettable moments.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Other Facilities
The common areas of the main lodge are very nicely decorated, characterized by high ceilings crowned with wooden beams, and walls adorned with intricate woven and macramé tapestries.
Outside, a massive namesake tree towering in the centre of the lounge’s outdoor patio area provides much-needed shade during the day.
As dusk settles, the seating area around the patio fire pit becomes quite cozy. I was fond of the evening bonfires, which I found to be a perfect setting to converse with fellow guests.
The spa, pool, and fitness centre are conveniently located on one side of the property, merely a few steps from the lobby,
Known as “The Watering Hole”, the infinity pool serves as a delightful refuge to while away the time during the hot daytime hours, standing out as arguably the only spot on the property to spend time comfortably in the heat.
Although the pool maintains a quite chilly temperature, which requires a bit of acclimation, it becomes pleasantly refreshing once fully submerged.
The design of the space captivated me; at its heart lies the infinity pool, encircled by a selection of comfortable loungers and chairs, with some positioned under the shade.
Adjacent to the pool, the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge’s spa is nestled within three tents, with two treatment rooms overlooking the bush.
Additionally, there are a few common areas, a sauna, a steam room, and a cold plunge pool – although the swimming pool itself is already refreshingly cool!
The fitness centre boasts modern equipment, featuring an electronic workout interface and custom-made weights crafted from leather and sand.
It embraces an indoor-outdoor design, exposed to the natural elements and heat during the day, while enveloped by tented walls at night. With that in mind, the indoor-outdoor workout conditions may not be deemed ideal for everyone.
Lastly, there’s the JW Garden, a spot where plants are grown for cooking, and special dinners are planned for the future including live cooking, cocktail mixing sessions, and chef talks.
JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge – Service
In short, I have nothing but the highest praise to give about the service at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge.
It’s evident that every team member takes immense pride in their work, and that employment with the JW Marriott brand – the first international hospitality brand to debut in the region – is a distinguished honour for everyone at the lodge.
Engaging conversations with Thelma and Kennedy from the front desk were always a pleasure. Eunice, always donning a smile, was remarkable, recalling our preferences and preemptively inquiring if we desired items we’d asked for on prior days.
The housekeeping team was proficient, unnoticeably managing our room with morning cleanings and evening turndown services during our absence.
Impressively, the resort staff seemed to always be in tune with our location and needs. A particular instance of this was when we were leisurely spending time by the pool on our final day, and without having had lunch yet, Eunice thoughtfully came over to ask if we’d like something to snack on or drink.
A noteworthy service from the resort includes complimentary laundry, accommodating five pieces per individual daily. Indeed, this was a much-appreciated amenity given the dust from the game drives.
However, it’s our guide, Boru, who deserves the utmost praise, as he’s an immaculate professional who enjoys a chat, shares his knowledge generously, and played a key role in helping us maximize our first safari experience. Our farewells to Boru and Eunice at the end were undoubtedly the hardest!
While gratuities aren’t necessary, they’re always appreciated, and can be added to your folio upon check-out and designated to specific staff members or distributed amongst all personnel.
Our stay at the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, the first major safari property in Africa which can be booked using points, delivered a spectacular experience.
The resort provided a wealth of inclusions, such as comprehensive game drives, stellar vehicles, outstanding service, a bush breakfast, sundowners, and the use of Canon telescopic cameras, with each element contributing to an unforgettable adventure.
However, it’s important to also highlight areas for improvement, such as the absence of air conditioning and the inconsistent food quality. I hope to see these elements elevated to match the overall high standards as the resort progresses through its inaugural year.
For those, like us, who dream of a unique adventure among the animals of the African savannah, I’d highly recommend the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge for an outstanding safari experience – especially if you can book it on points at an exceptional value.
Review: JW Marriott Mauritius Resort
Review: JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu
Review: JW Marriott Grosvenor House London
Review: JW Marriott Gold Coast
Review: JW Marriott Nara
Review: JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus
Review: JW Marriott Essex House New York
Review: JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square
Review: JW Marriott Anaheim
Review: JW Marriott Maldives