Walking the Talk: Sustainability at Kenya’s Angama Mara Safari Lodge

By Crooked Trails Co-founder Chris Mackay

Crooked Trails is a member of the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA), an international group of tour operators, accommodations, and organizations. One of the things Crooked Trails values about the ATTA is its commitment to looking at issues in the travel industry and figuring out ways they can change things for the better.

This happened recently when the ATTA took a hard look at the use of disposable plastic water bottles by travelers. Crooked Trails is at the forefront of this issue. From our very first programs back in 1998, we have asked all our travelers to be prepared to clean their own water. Our desire to bring this commitment to the rest of the travel industry lead us to found the Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) in 2013. Since then we have reached out to hundreds of organizations and thousands of travelers to spread the word about the negative effects of using disposable plastic water bottles and how easy it is to avoid them. It has been heartening to receive letters like this one, from Wanda At Nomadic Expeditions, when they first joined the TAP Campaign:

“Dear Chris;
I am a big environmental supporter, have been vegan for close to 5 years, but am ashamed to say that I never made the connection or perhaps never took the time to learn why buying bottled water has such a negative impact on our environment or even our health.  I always recycle everything I possibly can, so I thought that was enough.  You really opened my eyes and I will not buy bottled water again.  From now on, I will make sure to invest in the products you suggested.

You were a huge help and most of all an inspiration!  Thank you for making a positive difference and impact!!!

Thank you very kindly, Wanda”

ATTA’s hard look into the issue earlier this year included conducting a survey of its members. An unusually high number of organizations responded: 507 in all. The survey results highlighted that 92% of respondents were extremely concerned with the environmental impacts of single-use plastic water bottles and yet 60% stated they did use them despite knowing the impacts and at an estimated cost of over $33,000 per year. Most of those surveyed responded that they were trying to avoid bottles in several ways: advising clients to bring bottles, providing water on trips from large containers and educating their clients on the impacts of single-use plastics.

So what is the big hurdle when it comes to ridding travel of plastic water bottles? Many of the operators are under the impression that the clients require them.

Angama Mara Kenya travelerI would like to make a suggestion here. Operators and lodges need to make a stand and dictate what happens, not the other way around. It works; I just saw it in action myself at Angama Mara, a 5-star safari lodge in Kenya. I met Angama founder Nicky Fitzgerald at a talk in Seattle on the creation of Angama, a stunning lodge perched on the escarpment of the Rift Valley overlooking the famous Maasai Mara. After her talk, I spoke with Nicky about TAP, and she invited me to Angama to see all they were doing to offer their clients a plastic-free safari adventure.

Before I left for Kenya, I took some time to look over their website, but nothing could have prepared me for the perfection that is Angama. The location itself is worth the visit with unparalleled views stretching over the Mara plains alive with zebra, impalas, gazelles, giraffe, lions and more. My personal favorite had to be the warthogs, whose bold stance, strong body and upright tail never ceased to make me smile.

As we were introduced to the resort by the wonderful staff, I could see that no detail had been left untouched when it came to ridding Angama of disposable plastics and trash. In each room were several glass bottles of water which were refilled daily. The toiletry bottles were made of a strong beautiful metal which was always kept full by the staff. Snacks of nuts and cookies were available in glass jars and placed next to reusable containers of coffee and tea so that there were no individual packets. Even sugar was in ceramic containers with spoons for stirring. The milk for tea was in refillable metal topped glass containers in the fridge. I loved that I could make a fresh cup of coffee in my room without producing the pile of trash usually created when making the morning cup of joe in other places.

Each room had its own safari bag, which we were encouraged to fill with whatever we might need on our game drives. Freshly cleaned glass bottles of water were available in the Land Rover. For our safari lunch, driver and guide Daniel set up chairs and a table covered by a red-checkered tablecloth. Upon that he set large metal lunch boxes full of refillable containers of the most delicious salads and savory items. The sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper and tied together with a colorful string. Napkins were cloth and silverware was real. There was not a scrap of garbage at the end of our lunch, save for the finished beer cans which would be recycled. As I sat looking over the zebras grazing in the distance, I reflected on the care Angama took to ensure they met their own stringent environmental guidelines. I knew their commitment to the environment took time and likely cost on their part, but the message they sent was loud and clear: we care, and we will help you care as well, making it as seamless as possible while maintaining our high standards of luxury and professionalism.

I have often heard that many high-end clients would not want to use reusable containers, but Angama with its 5-star rating serves the most discerning and wealthy travelers, and it appears they appreciate the efforts Angama is making towards a better future for the environment of Kenya.

When I spoke to staffer Tyler Davis about removing disposables, he told me they decided not to explain it to clients, but instead, to simply make the bold move to eliminate disposable products and stand by their commitment. It’s worked well. Tyler added, that if a client demands plastic bottles, they can have them, but very few ever do.

Angama has shown clearly and definitively, that accommodations can lead the way for plastic-free travel by providing their clients with a clear, safe, polished alternative and to stand by it with pride. Accommodations can and should act as the educator helping usher travelers along a more sustainable travel road.

Crooked Trails and the TAP crew congratulate Angama on being an industry leader in disposable free travel and encourages other accommodations and operators to follow suit and be the change they want to see in the world.

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