Stayed here with my daughter for 3 nights during the first week of December 2012. A safari employee picked us up in a clean van at Hoedspruit Airport and the roughly 2-hour drive to the lodge essentially became our first safari. The driver was happy to stop along the way to view the many animals en route. He also dropped us at a small Park Concession where we bought some bug spray and a wonderful laminated park map with an animal/bird identification sheet which came in very handy. Prices here were dirt cheap; it was a great place to stock-up.
At the lodge, all meals and multiple English teas are included. Some beverages are extra but the price is nominal. Your paid stay also includes two safari drives per day, one in the early morning, another in the evening which ends after dark, so that some night viewing occurs every evening. This is worth it. We saw a hyena, a bush baby and some chameleons that would not have been possible to view during the day. And of course, we also got the Big 5 in abundance as well as about every other desired animal or bird over the course of the three days. Each safari is different, covering a slightly different route. In our case, the drives seemed to get better and better. A strolling lion one day turned into a pride of 17 the next, followed by lions on the hunt the final afternoon. Sightings are helped by the fact that Imbali is affiliated with two other nearby lodges, Hamilton's and Hoho, and the drivers from all three communicate with each other on sightings.
Our safari driver the entire visit was Nicholas, who's been at this profession for 10-years, loves his work, and has all the enthusiasm and skill you could ask for. My daughter mentioned that loves birds. He made sure she saw around 20-30 different species. Leopards had been very rare in recent weeks, but on our final drive, he got us one---and it was only his expert sighting ability that did the trick. This was our first visit to Africa, but both my daughter and I agreed that these safaris with Nicholas couldn't have been better. Like the lodge, they are initimate, in a small open truck with raised, comfortable seats, and usually only had six passengers total. The trucks were clean and had a good, solid suspension, a plus when people are shifting around the interior during a sighting and you're trying to steady your camera on the truck's padded side rail.
One more point: since Imbali is located inside Kruger proper, the drivers are free to explore a wider area of the park, versus lodges on the nearby game preserves whose drivers may stick more to the preserve. Imbali's drivers can only go off-road on Imbali's designated grounds (in Kruger, all vehicles must remain on designated dirt roads and paths). But we felt the wide reach of the drives was an asset. For example, had we been on a reserve, we would likely not have pursued a pride of 17 lions that was resting out on the "tarred road" 6 or 7 miles from the lodge. It was a rare sighting which lasted a good 45 minutes, as the lions went for a walk down the highway and into the bush. Of course, you never know what you're going to find with any drive, but for us, we were very happy to be inside the Park boundaries.
The lodge food is abundant and generally excellent, as is the service. They give you a morning tea and munchies prior to the early safari (which departs at 5:30am), another tea in the bush (with dried mango and local meats and nuts), a full breakfast, an optional lunch, another tea prior to the evening drive, yet ANOTHER tea with meats near the end of that drive, followed by a full, four-course dinner upon your return. To say they feed you at this place hardly addresses the description. We usually skipped lunch, we were so full. For dinner, the chef whips-up appetizers, a sorbet, main courses (several to choose from each night) and deserts that would look right on the table of any decent center city restaurant. Some local tastes are available like springbock.
Being a small lodge (only about a dozen rooms, I believe), you get to know the staff: Noelle, Winston, Moses and Silence, to name a few. They are all excellent at service and were mainly happy to have a conversation. One weird thing was that when they asked you if you wanted a beverage and you only asked for water, they seemed dissappointed, as if they were sorry they couldn't do more for you. This included the free beverage on the safari drive. But, whatever; they ultimately gave you what you wanted.
The rooms consist of individual cottages arranged in a row along a usually dry river bed to either side of the main lodge building. You get an enormous king+ bed with mosquito netting, a beautiful bathroom with tub and shower that open boldly to the river (hidden from other guests, though), and a deck with chase lounges and a private hot tub. The main lodge has an outdoor eating area, a small pool and chairs in which to lounge and bird watch, and a cushy indoor lounge as well, with a great safari lodge look. The staff does not overwhelm you, but there's always someone around to bring you a beverage or answer a question. Honestly, you spend a lot of the afternoon in your room napping, since the wake-up call is 5am for your early safari, and dinner at the conclusion of the night safari doesn't wrap-up until about 9pm.
You might be a little underwhelmed when you first drive into the lodge because from the front, it doesn't look terribly rich, although the tall grass roofs certainly fit the mood of the African bush. But once within the open-air lobby among the staff and gobbling-up the great food, you know you're in a classy, service-oriented place. There is no wifi, but if you need to check email, there's a computer inside the staff office that they'll gladly let you use. An attendent even brought me a glass of sparkling water while I was back there among the desks and paperwork one day.
One final note: at Imbali, you are truly in the middle of the bush. It's the animal's world, not yours, and while there is fencing, many beasts do find their way onto the grounds. A steenbach (small deer) was right outside out door one morning. And after dark, you get a mandatory escort to your room. This came in handy. At dinner one night, the manager informed us that there was an elephant right outside our room. Three staffers tip-toed us to the back porch away from the potentially dangerous animal and in the back door. It was quite thrilling for us! But if you're not into being THAT close to the wildlife, then a larger, more gated lodge might be a better choice.
- Also Known As:
- Imbali Safari Hotel Kruger National Park
- Imbali Safari Hotel
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