modleski

Questions about Porini camps

35 posts in this topic

We are starting to plan our next trip though it will probably be in 2019. We've been to South Africa and Botswana, and think we'd like to go to Kenya. I have been looking at reviews of Porini camps and trip reports of stays at Porini Mara and Lion, and they look great (aside from recent controversy over a guide and a phone and one taking a video). Moreover, the price is affordable for us. What I can't understand is why ATR, which many safaritalk members love, give it such a low rating. Also, when I talked to a representative at a well-respected African travel agency about Porini, he wrote, "Porini camps are really rather basic and I’d suggest that while their prices are marginally cheaper, you’d probably be better off looking at companies like Asilia /Kicheche. Porini is almost the “next step up” from a back-packing, overland trip." He also told me that I should take the excellent reviews on Trip Advisor with a grain of salt! We don't want luxury though we do want comfort, and above all we want great guides and sightings. So I would love your thoughts.

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I have no comment on Porini as I have never been ........ All I know is, they are one of the pioneers to invest in the Conservancy model in the Mara.

 

Asilia are phenomenal ....... Kicheche has a very high rate of return guests visiting their camps (according to a private guide I met in Tanzania in June) ....... I love the Great Plains camps in Kenya.  Something for you to consider.

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It's 7 years ago now (don't the years just fly by!) since we stayed at Porini Amboseli & Porini Lion in the Mara but I don't recognise the Porini camps are really rather basic statement. unless your rep was talking about their bush camps which I understand are much simpler - though we've not stopped in any.  As regards their "main camps, OK there aren't gold plated taps on the sunken bath (actually there isn't a bath at all) but there were flush loos, plenty of hot water in the very efficient bucket showers, the tents were spacious, beds were very comfortable (complete with hot-water bottle!) and the food was fine - in short, everything you need without going overboard on the luxuries.  Our guides were great, including at Amboseli, coming round during our after-lunch rest time to see if we wanted to go & see a couple of cheetah that had just been spotted & we saw lots (have a look at my older archived photographs).  Unless standards have dropped dramatically I'd be more than happy to stop there again.

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Wow-I was the one who started the "controversial" post, and I think that the Porini Camps being a step above backpacking or over landing is ridiculous.  I've been to fancier camps, and I've been to more basic camps, and Porini is a step down from say Robin Pope, but I actually felt more at home with the accommodations at the Porini Camps.  They have a less formal feeling, yes.  I like that, as I don't feel as comfortable in places with claw foot tubs and such.  I also preferred the food at the Porini Camps for the same reason.  If you look at the Porini website, their portrayal is quite accurate. 

 

For whatever reason, even Expert Africa tends to downplay the Porini camps.  I think it depends entirely on what you want and expect from your safari experience.  I like everything about the Porini camps (one bad experience aside).  Sometimes there are small lapses with regard to hosting and guiding.  I accept that because I personally prefer having local Massai running and guiding the camps.  They are having to learn an entirely new culture and are attempting to adapt their thinking to our western ways.  By staying at these camps, I feel like I am helping the people in a small way.  For me, the occasional glitch in service is far preferable to having a westerner brought it to host at a camp in the bush.  That feels sort of "fake" to me. 

 

All that said, I would go back to either Robin Pope OR Porini, or any other camp I've been to,  in a heartbeat.  I loved the Porini Adventure Camps too!  (even more basic/rustic)  My advice is to ask yourself what sort of experience you really prefer, and go with that. 

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Does percentage commission come into play with tour organisers at all, thus leading to preferred camps etc.?

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@modleski you will no doubt have read the trip reports from members that have visited Porini camps and the comment above from @Pamshelton3932. It seems to be that these are mainly very positive.

 

I am a little surprised about the response you have had from some agents which do not seem to match the experience of members.  Perhaps my comment above has a role to play, as I understand that commissions from camps to agents DO, in fact, vary.

 

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19 hours ago, modleski said:

We are starting to plan our next trip though it will probably be in 2019. We've been to South Africa and Botswana, and think we'd like to go to Kenya. I have been looking at reviews of Porini camps and trip reports of stays at Porini Mara and Lion, and they look great (aside from recent controversy over a guide and a phone and one taking a video). Moreover, the price is affordable for us. What I can't understand is why ATR, which many safaritalk members love, give it such a low rating. Also, when I talked to a representative at a well-respected African travel agency about Porini, he wrote, "Porini camps are really rather basic and I’d suggest that while their prices are marginally cheaper, you’d probably be better off looking at companies like Asilia /Kicheche. Porini is almost the “next step up” from a back-packing, overland trip." He also told me that I should take the excellent reviews on Trip Advisor with a grain of salt! We don't want luxury though we do want comfort, and above all we want great guides and sightings. So I would love your thoughts.

 

@modleski

Regarding your comment about ATR giving these camps 'such a low rating'.

Ive just checked on their website and they give a rating of 7.0 and 7.5 respectively. 

 

Thats not low , not high, but it's a decent rating. There are a huge number of camps in the Mara area to compare, and their text description of these camps seems to me to place them as OK but not special.

 

If you are referring to the 'downsides' section , then the way ATR describe camps is to list all 'upsides' that might appeal to guests and all 'downsides' that might deter guests, in their opinion,for all camps they have visited. 

This seems to give a very balanced appraisal of all camps, and even for camps they rate as 9.5 there will still be a list of 'downsides'.

 

in my opinion, based on the prices at these camps they are unlikely to match the overall quality of a safari stay at some of the others costing 50 % more but still within the Mid-range of camp prices  ( I consider mid-range camp rates to be in the range £300 to £800pp per day) .

 There are of course plenty of exceptions and some very good camps at well under £ 300 pp.

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It's only that I noticed that ATR give quite a few camps which are priced about the same as Porini Lion a higher rating (Offbeat Mara, for example), so I was going by that when I said that ATR had rated it low.

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6 hours ago, modleski said:

It's only that I noticed that ATR give quite a few camps which are priced about the same as Porini Lion a higher rating (Offbeat Mara, for example), so I was going by that when I said that ATR had rated it low.

 

@modleski  My opinion of many camps is different to ATR. It is (perhaps) one person's view of their experience at that camp.  I've never been to a Porini camp and don't have an opinion about their camps but I do have an opinion about some of their guides (unfortunately I don't know which ones) and it is less than favourable.

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@modleski I have stayed at Porini Lion and felt that the descriptions I had read beforehand were generally fair. The accommodation was comfortable and perfectly adequate especially given the fact that the focus for me was on the safari experience rather than luxury. The food was fine without being special (although I think at times some critics of camp food are less than sympathetic to the logistical issues involved in supplies and preparation).

I found all of the staff in camp to be friendly and helpful. As others have commented I think it is important that they are almost all from the local Maasai. I found the guiding excellent and although I note that there have been one or two complaints I note that the owner appears to have been taken seriously. I also think that in any service industry there will inevitably be the occasional mistake or interaction that doesn't go well.

I'm not sure what was meant by the warning to take the Tripadvisor reviews witha grain of salt - I think that is neccessary for all of Tripadvisor.

In te end there are a lot of trip reports from the Mara here which will hopefully give an idea of the whole experience. I would also guess that individuals are happy to answer specific questions.

Happy planning :)

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we considered porini for our first safari but the fact that they did not do laundry was a no starter for me. we ultimately went with kicheche camps (laikipia and mara) and have nothing but raves for the guides, vehicles, level of service, accommodations and food, which was exceptional!

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I think @wilddogs comment about commissions paid to different TO's is very true.  Many people on TA have reported that ATR are pretty forceful with their recommendations and bookings, so for that reason alone, I personally, would not use them.  I'm sure there are also people who are quite satisfied.

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I think re: Trip Advisor reviews I've learned to take them with a grain of salt with respect to guiding, food, tent quality unless the reviewer indicates that this is not their first safari.  Not to offend the first-timers, but if you have nothing to compare it to, of course your guide who showed you your first lion pride or kill or chase, or whatever, is going to be excellent.  Now that I have four under my belt, I feel differently about some of the guiding experiences I've had now that I have others to compare them to.  One tremendous guide can really make the previous "best guide ever" look a bit weaker, and vice versa.  What I count on TA reviews for are things like schedule (full day, out before breakfast, meals in the bush) and other activities and logistics like getting to airstrip, late checkout, laundry, etc.

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Thanks everyone; your comments have been enormously helpful. Re the advice given me by the agent: of course, Trip Advisor needs to be taken with a grain of salt always. There are ways of reading it, as @amybatt notes that can be very helpful. For Africa, I look closely at quality of guiding and the kinds of wildlife encountered. So very many reviews of the camps go on and on (and on) about the hospitality, the luxuriousness of the accommodations, the food, etc., with barely a mention of the guiding and (at most) a general remark like "We saw so much on the game drives." Those I discount. That said, there are those (such as at Porini Lion) who give a lot of detail about the activities and the kinds of game seen on the drives and who also mention how many safaris they've been on, and how the camp rates compared to others. A lot of people on this thread have mentioned the Kicheche camps here, so I will give them serious consideration. Many thanks for the recommendation. I'd really love to be able to afford the Serian camps--maybe going in June would make it possible. But it would be a stretch, I know.

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Pamshelton3932 said:

I think @wilddogs comment about commissions paid to different TO's is very true.  Many people on TA have reported that ATR are pretty forceful with their recommendations and bookings, so for that reason alone, I personally, would not use them.  I'm sure there are also people who are quite satisfied.

 

I ' m not sure why some feel that ATR are foreceful with their recommendations and bookings - possibly some of the less senior/newer consultants there  feel the need to prove themselves by placing guests in camps which provide more commission for ATR, but more likely  they are trying to ensure that first timers, or people who don't really know what locations/ camps they might want to stay at, are placed in what they feel are the best options within their budget, but also the best choices given the type of experience that would suit them. When I first first contacted ATR they  were interested to know everything about our previous safari experience and what we expect and want from our next safari.

 

However you can choose which consultant at ATR you want to deal with. In the 'about'section of the ATR website the sub-section' meet the team' each consultants background and experience is described in detail. The first seven on the list are all listed as senior consultants and from the descriptions of their background it is clear why.  Each of the consultants direct phone numbers are listed.

 

We used ATR to organise our last three safaris, and each time we had decided the locations we wanted to stayat, the order of the safari, how we wanted to do the transfers and which camp  ( first and second choice) we wanted to stay in at each before we spoke to ATR. 

 

For the first one we booked we contacted Xxxx ( as he was one of their most experienced staff and was especially knowledgeable about Tanzania and we wanted to go to Southern and western Tanzania.) In the initial two hour very in depth discussion I never felt the slightest hint that we should chose any other camps, and he provided, within a few hours,  a fully detailed itinerary with our first choice of camps for 3 of the 4 locations and our second choice for one of them because the other was not available on one of the days we wanted. 

 

The next time it was Zambia ( which unfortunately we had to cancel) which we arranged with a different consultant at ATR. Again there was no pressure whatsoever to chose differently. However as the cost of what we wanted was quite a lot over our budget , slight variations of itinerary were also provided. Once again after the initial conversation the full detailed price itemised itinerary was provided within a few hours- in fact four variations of it - two within budget, with suggested different camps at two locations, one on budget , and one above budget ( the specific camps/ duration we first requested).

 

Finally our NorthernTanzania trip next month - we contacted the same consultant as for the Zambia one and she provided exactly what we wanted within hours of the first conversation.

 

Our choices of locations and camps for all three of these safaris were based mainly on the information in Trip Reports, Trip planning and responses to questions I asked on here ( Safaritalk is THE best source of information for choosing your safari camps and locations) , but also looking at what the ATR said on their website, and to a far lesser degree some consideration of Trip Advisor reviews.

 

Everyone obviously has their own opinions and experiences with Travel Operators.

 ATR are independently reviewed by those who booked their safari with them on Feefo.com and the they are currently rated 100% 5 star by all the reviews in last year to date.

Our experience of them has been excellent....... so far ...... 

 

 

Edited by Julian
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I agree with the comments from @Julian about ATR. I haven't booked through them but on one occasion did approach them for a possible trip and was very impressed with the careful and detailed response. I certainly did not feel at all pressured into any particular camp or company.

And their website is also an excellent resource.

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Posted (edited)

First of all. When you hear an Agent saying that Tripadvisor should be taken with a "grain of salt" you know that THIS IS what you should do with this agent... :)

As far as I know Porini camps gives lesser percent to agents than many other camps. Simply because they don´t need them. So of course they talking bullshit and want to send you somewhere else. Where they do more money. 
This is also why Porini can lower the price a bit I think.
Porini support the private concessions around Mara instead of giving greedy agents alot of money. A reason as good as anything to choose Porini. 

 

Tripadvisor is by far the best source out there together with Safaritalk. Better than any agent in the world. Here, you got real reviews from real people. 
 

 

Porini camps is WAY OVER backpacking standard and believe me, I have backpacked alot :) 

This is once again a false statement from your agent.

They have everything you can expect out in the bush. But what is more important than the camp is the overall value of the money you pay. If you consider camps, food, guiding, price, wildlife, private concessions, hospitality, nightdrives (real ones after dinner) etc etc. 
And I can´t see anything who beats Porini when it comes to this. You get ALOT for a fair amount of money. 

I also find Porini camps very relaxed with different kind of people.

 

If you want luxury lodge and don´t care about the money then choose something else. If you want great value and wants to benefit the private concessions, choose Porini.

Kicheche also have good reputation and support the private concessions which is good! 

By the way, I have never understood why so many choose safari depending on lodge instead of wildlife and guiding? Very weird to me... 

But then I remember this Indian gentlemen I met this summer in Khwai , Okavango. 
In a car next to me he told his guide: "Why are we looking at these dogs? I have millions of them at home..." When we were watching a Wild dog den. They leaved after one second... 

So I guess people are different :) 


 

Edited by Antee
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Oh dear....We all travel differently, where we like to go, how to travel, and how much to spend.  The most important thing in booking a trip to Africa is to have someone who understands what you want,  and will take care of you in getting you in and out of the best camps for you. I occasionally read TA to see what is going on in certain camps.  But, I am also in the "Grain of Salt" camp.  What did it was the time I read someone's report on Duba Plains.  When they were there, the buffalo had gone across the channel. They wanted to know why their travel agent would book them there when the buffalo would not be there.  ST is really the best site to visit for our safari reviews.

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I have stayed at Porini camps, both the basic adventure camps and the luxury tented camps. I loved both equally as they did offer different bush experiences. Both levels were fabulous, guides were excellent, food was tasty and enjoyable and the wildlife (the #1 point of being on a safari) outstanding. While the adventure camps are certainly basic as you sleep in regular tents, you still have your own camp bathroom with a shower and loo, and by regular camping standards this is pretty lush. The luxury tented camps were, by my standards, quite luxurious, with fully kitted and furnished tents with proper beds with wonderful mattresses and linens and bathrooms, and excellent food and guiding and fantastic settings. Note: I have no interest in going to the kinds of camps that have private infinity pools and outdoor claw foot tubs, for while I can see the attraction, it somewhat defeats the point of being in the bush, at least for me. I suppose by that standard then even the luxury Porini camps are "basic" but that's only relative in the sense a million is not as much as a billion. 

 

 

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I entirely agree with @Tallybalt's comments relating to Porini's main camps.  I have no experience of their adventure camps.  Luxury over and above that provided in the main camps is, to me, incompatible with and detracts from a proper safari experience, quite apart from costing more.  I was totally happy with the guides and trackers I experienced at Porini Mara and Porini Lion Camps in February 2016.

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As someone who uses Porini Camps on a regular basis I have only good things to say about them.

They offer an 'authentic' safari experience without busting the budget. 

 

I agree completely with what @douglaswise has said.

If the guides are excellent and the hospitality is excellent, extra luxury is redundant. 

Having said that, I have used Porini Camps for honeymoon couples who have found the 'luxury' to be perfectly sufficient.

 

As has already been mentioned, (by @madaboutcheetah ) Porini (and their parent company Gamewatchers) have been at the forefront of making the Mara conservancies work and should be applauded for that.

 

For those that are put off by the pushiness of some travel agents trying to steer clients to the camps that give them the best commissions, Gamewatchers have their own in-house safari operation which is excellent. 

 

 

 

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@Tallybalt @Soukous @douglaswise This is all incredibly helpful. Thank you, and everyone else upthread for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

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I am  a regular user of Porini camps  in Kenya and have been on more safaris in Africa than I can remember . After seeing this post I visited the ATR site and certainly do not recognise some of the things they say about Porini camps.  For  example, the review of Porini Mara refers to shortage of predators  -  I have never encountered this on any oo my visits - plenty of lion, leopard and cheetah - and since this conservancy is exclusive to Porini there is no overcrowding.

 

 I think  the camps are great  and comfortable - the guiding is excellent and uses local Masai  - some have been born on the land they are guiding on and all are well qualified. 

 

On speaking to other visitors at the camps many have booked directly with  Gamewatchers in Kenya  rather than go through overseas agents. I think the comments about commissions are relevant. Some locations have a great direct following and do  not  see the need to pay high commissions to  the agents and regrettably this seems to influence  who the agents support. 

 

TripAdvisor has  many reviews by many experienced people - look at these and judge for yourself.

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Posted (edited)

@modleski

 

When I booked my recent safari with Gamewatchers directly, my ATR contact asked why I hadn't gone with her to match the price.  Why would I give that commission to a third party when it all could go to the company that was one of the founders of locally-owned conservancies?  (Edit: she had not recommended the Porini camps at all.)

 

Extracting from my recent trip report:

 

Back in February, when I'd booked the trip, my rationale was...

 

"Porini appeals to me for several reasons: Jake Grieves-Cook developed the conservancy model which is protecting the wildlife; Gamewatchers offers a 5% donation to a SafariTalk fund that is managed by Gamewatchers for projects approved by the Game Warden ( http://safaritalk.net/topic/16211-gamewatchers-safaris-porini-camps-special-donation-to-safaritalk/ ); and the high praise from SafariTalkers about the camps. Not to mention, the June rates remain unchanged from those offered in January.

 

"Last weekend, I was reviewing the prices for the proposals received and saw that Porini was opening a brand-new camp in June. That was the straw that broke the camel's back; I may get to be one of the first people at Safari Talk to have a look at it!"

 

Still valid on all points and especially loved being in conservancies where there was greater freedom of movement.  Porini camps are an excellent value... allowing first-time (and repeat) visitors to experience safari for a reasonable price.

 

I would and will recommend Porini camps, even though I had a less-than-optimal experience with my final driver out of five. I still had spectacular viewings.  

Edited by AmyT
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As a TO/TA myself, let me just jump in and say that Porini does not give a smaller commission to travel agents. That's not the case at all. Their conservation vision and their access to some of the richest wildlife areas of the greater Mara & Amboseli ecosystems makes them a wonderful choice for many people. Their appeal is to hard-core wildlife lovers and to people who like a more 'earthy' safari - and not so much to people looking for a glamping experience, so you do need to make sure that you're a good fit.

To me, Ol Kinyei especially is like a private Botswana concession, and stunning to boot.

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