It’s a common perception that the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is an unreasonably expensive safari destination. Umkumbe Safari Lodge begs to differ.
Nestled on the banks of the seasonal and wildlife-rich Sand River, Umkumbe Safari Lodge offers guests a reasonably-priced yet luxurious retreat in one of the world’s most premier game viewing reserves, Sabi Sand. The fact that it’s managed and run by its owners means Umkumbe creates a seamless and bespoke experience for guests looking to ‘rewild’.
We’re often so swept up in our breathless schedules that, even when we go on holiday, we forget to look away from the screens that plague our pockets, dreading the next email or phone call, or constantly burning to scroll through our social media feeds. At Umkumbe, although there is optional WiFi at certain times of the day, one is encouraged to look up and enjoy what is in front of you. And, with the abundance and diversity of game right on your doorstep here, it’s hard not to.
Elephants are regularly seen splashing about in the waters of the Sand River which meanders past the lodge’s sprawling deck, while buffalo, wildebeest and an array of other antelope graze on its banks. One could survey this scene from the coolness of the sparkling pool, or from the comfort of the sun loungers surrounding it. Most suites also have river views, while a few look out on to a plains area with a waterhole that also attracts thirsty game.
The lodge sleeps 20 guests. Families generally opt for the Superior Suites as they are larger, and can accommodate children on sleeper couches. The Superior Suites also have outdoor showers, which are an absolute treat on those balmy bush evenings, and little verandahs perfect for reading while keeping an eye on the goings-on at the river, or for sighting birds. Some of the rooms are inter-leading, perfect for bigger families.
A day at Umkumbe is what you choose to make of it. Game drives first thing in the morning generally serve up any and sometimes all of the big five – this is considered leopard heaven, so you’d be unlucky not to see at least one during your stay.
After a delicious breakfast in the lounge or on the deck, you’re welcome to join one of the experienced guides on a bush walk, which tend to be highly educational and rewarding, particularly regarding the smaller things of the bush that an untrained eye will never pick up. Or you could spend your day lazing around the pool, playing some snooker in the lounge, or identifying the multitude of bird species that flit about the lodge.
In the evening, a second game drive is on the cards with sundowners at a carefully selected scenic spot with ample opportunities for epic sunset photography. After sundowners, guests get to enjoy some night driving, where guides literally shine some light on rare nocturnal critters that you won’t see during the day, such as serval, genet, African wild cat, owls and nightjars.
Hungry, guests return to a quintessential bush dinner in the traditional boma, with a roaring fire around which to swap tales of all the sightings enjoyed during the day, or alternatively in the indoor dining area. Umkumbe is rustic, yet real, and guests want for nothing.
Electricity, air-conditioning, comfortably appointed accommodation, and superb service ensure that you’re never without your creature comforts, but the no-frills and even-less-fuss vibe, plus the extreme proximity to raw nature mean you get the full and absolute South African bush experience. Most importantly, your electronics and social media cravings are instantly forgotten in this edenic setting, and instead it becomes about enjoying one another in a wild, wild place.