My husband and I had the extreme misfortune of staying at Epacha for 3 nights in August 2011.
Before booking any accommodation, we always read both the 5 / 4 star reviews as well as the 2 / 1 star reviews on Tripadvisor, and make our decisions accordingly. As it was my husband’s 50th birthday, we wanted to stay in luxury resorts where we would be made to feel special and would be able to celebrate this milestone in style. We choose Epacha on the the southern side of Etosha and Onguma Plains – The Fort on the eastern side.
Our first stay was at Epacha, supposedly rated as number 1 in terms of luxury, and certainly number 1 on price. What a nightmare! After nearly a 5-hour drive from Windhoek, we arrived at 13h10, and were hungry, hot and tired. As we parked the car, we were immediately greeted with 2 ice-cold face cloths, which were greatly appreciated. That, I’m afraid, is where the pleasant experience ended.
We are highly experienced travelers, having visited all 7 continents, and could not understand how we could have made such a mistake with Epacha, especially as we had read the reviews on Tripadvisor, and Epacha is rated as number 1. So, upon our return, we checked the Tripadvisor reviews again. We simply could not associate with ANY of the experiences of the reviews which rated it as excellent, but could fully understand those who rated the place from average to terrible. So, we looked at the excellent reviews more carefully and noticed a pattern. We’d heard that the owner of Epacha, who runs Leading Lodges of Africa, is a Belgian – and guess what we discovered – most of these excellent reviews are from Belgians!! Makes you think doesn’t it?? So, we read them again, but this time, we also read other reviews that these “so-called” guests had written – and guess what we found? They had only reviewed other Leading Lodges of Africa resorts (Zebra Kalahari Lodge and Spa, Villa Verdi Guesthouse (Windhoek), Le Mirage Desert Lodge & Spa, Divava Okavango Lodge & Spa (Botswana), Kilima Camp (Kenya), Tawi Lodge (Kenya) and had also rated them all excellent!! So, this is how they get their number 1 rating!!
Here is our experience…
Reception was staffed by a young girl who looks fresh out of school and a slightly older woman who takes care of her baby AT ALL TIMES – AT RECEPTION – HOW UNPROFESSIONAL! We had booked a room with a double bed, as indicated on our booking voucher. We checked that that was what we were getting, and were told that our room didn’t have a double bed, as there weren’t any available – our first “NO”. After showing them our confirmed double-bed booking, the story changed – we were then miraculously given a room with a double bed. So, if you complain, it becomes available.
Per our voucher, 3 activities were included in our price: 1. Epacha drive. 2. Etosha drive. 3. Guided walk. We asked whether we should indicate what we’d like to do when. We were then told that the Epacha drive for that day was fully booked, and that the guided walk was not available, as they only had one ranger, who was doing the drives. Our second “NO”! As we were not advised during the booking process that availability of guaranteed activities would be an issue, we suggested that they make a plan. The brilliant suggestion by the young receptionist was that we should take the 6h00 – 15h00 Etosha drive, then the 15h30 – 18h00 Epacha drive all on the same day! You’ve got to be kidding!! But, in our wide experience of game lodge activities in South Africa, availability of activities IS NEVER AN ISSUE!!! Eventually a plan was made for us to go on the fully-booked 15h30 Epacha game drive on day 1. The fully-booked Epacha drive consisted of just my husband and me!! So, yet again, if you complain, it miraculously becomes available.
Epacha has 18 rooms, thereby catering for some 36 guests. It transpires that, as a game lodge, they have NO GAME VIEWING VEHICLE OF THEIR OWN – they hire ONE + a ranger as and when needed. Emphasis on the word “ONE”, which takes 9 people – for 36 guests!! A luxury game lodge, really?
We then asked when lunch was being served. We were advised that it was until 14h00, so, as it was 13h20 by now, we decided to go straight to lunch, which, we were told, was being served in the bar (there was no evidence of lunch ever having been available). When we asked the barman what was available, we were told: “A sandwich with cheese, as you are too late for lunch.” Our third “NO” in 15 minutes!! By now, we’d had enough “NO’s”, so we asked to speak to the General Manager, Claus Otto, who advised us that, in fact, a cooked lunch consisting of a starter, main course and dessert was available, but again, only after we complained. We passed on the starter, and had a venison steak with I&J frozen mixed vegetables + chopped green apple and unripe green pear ONLY as the fruit salad. You’ve got to be kidding me! A luxury lodge, really?
Getting to the rooms is a huge mission – it’s a long, steep climb up a winding, cobbled path, made more difficult by the dry heat (yes, even in August, where the day-time temperatures were around 30°C). We asked the young girl at reception whether walking was the only option, to which she replied in the affirmative. When we returned and reread the Tripadvisor reviews, we were amazed to read about the existence of a “golf-cart”. Never during the 3 days that we were there, did we see one parked anywhere, or in use, for that matter.
Dinner was served in a dining room with most of its lights blown (see photo), and commenced with an amuse bouche. As we both enjoy good food, it sounded quite exciting. Wait for it - a small heap of tinned tuna! You’ve got to be kidding! The soup that followed was watery and flavourless, and clearly out of a tin. Main course consisted of venison with the same Bisto gravy as at lunch + the same I&J frozen mixed vegetables. If you didn’t want venison, the alternative was hake!! The cheapest fish available!! Dessert consisted of a tiny square of flavourless cake (it tasted like a few grains of sugar had been dropped in bread dough) with tinned custard. Service was generally very slow to non-existent and the staff surly. A luxury lodge, really?
After dinner, we wanted a bath. Not so easy! The bath plug leaked constantly, which meant that we had to keep topping up. What a waste of water, especially, as there are signs in the bathroom telling you that water is a scarce resource. So, into the leaking bathtub I hop – but wait, no soap or shampoo available – at a luxury lodge, really? All that was available were liquid soap dispensers affixed to the wall by the basin and in the shower, with no chance of being moved (we tried). Ok, so now to dry myself – the white bath sheets were grey, threadbare and hard, so much so, that my husband thought that they’d left their floor cloths in our bathroom! In addition, these old towels had been cut into pieces, hand stitched and recycled as face cloths (see photo) – gross! And, the best part – only one bath gown! A luxury lodge, really?
When I tried to blow dry my hair, I discovered that while there was a hairdryer available, it had a 2-pin plug, but the wall socket has 3 pins. A luxury lodge, really?
We decided to try to phone reception to ask if they could bring us an adapter (remember the steep climb, well, we really didn’t feel like doing it again after we’d bathed). But wait – there’s a telephone socket, but no telephone! So, now we were really stranded! A luxury lodge, really?
So, off to bed we went in our luxury lodge. The sheets were grey and torn…no, actually, they were shredded. And no turn-down service. A luxury lodge, really?
On the morning of day 2, we went to breakfast at 5h30 so that we could be on time for our game drive at 6h00. So, we thought we’d mention the issues with our room to the receptionist. But wait, no receptionist at the hour when all guests on game drives are having breakfast. A luxury lodge, really? So, we mentioned the leaking bath, torn sheets, no plug for hairdryer, floor cloths as towels and no soap / shampoo to the security guard.
The “chef” who prepares breakfast was clearly trained at a 2-star “pension” in Europe. The same pieces of green apple and inedible green pear from yesterday’s lunch were served again, for breakfast! Except, this time, they were completely brown!! And, I’m afraid to say, ditto for the other 2 breakfasts. A luxury lodge, really?
Off we went on our game drive, with a family of 4 Italians. The drive from Epacha to Etosha was on an old and dirty vehicle (the hired vehicle I referred to earlier), and took 1¼ hours. Travelling at 80kms on hour on the back of an open vehicle is bitterly cold and uncomfortable, with nothing see and do, except pray that it would end. They were kind enough to provide us with blankets – but wait – old, dirty, scratchy army issue blankets. A luxury lodge, really?
Remember, breakfast was at 5h30? All 6 of us, were, apparently, on a fully-inclusive package, which supposedly included all meals. As the drive returns at 15h00, a packed lunch was included. Wait for it, this is the best! By 11h00, one of the children in the party of 4 was understandably hungry, so the lunch boxes were handed out. They consisted of (see photo): 1. Orange – ok. 2. Hard, inedible pear! 3. Dry, stale sandwich. 4. Now for the best – an oily, cold, inedible schnitzel in an oily brown paper bag (see photo). That was all we were given!!!!! This was supposed to sustain us from 5h30 to 18h30, when supper is served. You’ve got to be joking! A luxury lodge, really?
So, the 6 of us went to Okaukuejo camp in Etosha run by the Namibian government, and paid for our own lunch (but, we were supposed to be on a fully-inclusive package) – N$120 a head for 3 courses and truly delicious. Thank you, Okaukuejo!! No refund was offered by the hotel.
When we returned, the 6 of us spoke to the General Manager about our lunch and no tea break – the reason given – he was short staffed, and couldn’t prepare a bush lunch! But, if it’s true, it shouldn’t be the guests’ problem! Why can’t he make an arrangement with Okaukuejo for them to provide the lunches, if he is truly short-staffed? As we were going on another Etosha drive the next day, we asked him whether we could please have something to eat at tea-time at least, and could he please provide us with some decent food for lunch. Begging for food at a luxury lodge, really?
We then asked him about the other issues. In short, these were the answers given by the General Manager. 1. No 2-pin plug – they don’t provide adapters, because guests steal them! Eventually, we were given one, which we made a point of returning when we checked out. 2. Bath - does not leak. We took the General Manager to our room to prove it to him – you could HEAR it leak and SEE it leak. But, it was never fixed! 3. Soap / shampoo – use the liquid soap attached to the walls by the basin / shower – that’s what they provide. But how? Soap and shampoo were eventually provided, but only after complaining – are you starting to get the picture? 4. Old, grey, threadbare bath sheets; old, grey, torn linen and shortage of bath gowns – he’s been there for 18 months and knows about these problems – he doesn’t need us to tell him. So, what’s he doing about it? Clearly, nothing! The sheets were replaced, but this time with old grey and torn ones (at least they weren’t shredded)! The large bath sheets were simply removed – clearly decent ones are not available, even if you complain. A second gown was provided. A luxury lodge, really?
For dinner on night 2, the amuse bouche consisted of a couple of slices of cucumber and half a slice of tomato – no dressing, nothing!! Soup – tinned again. Mains – you’ve guessed it! Venison + Bisto gravy + I&J frozen mixed vegetables. Alternative: the same cheap hake. We asked whether we could have something other than the same frozen, tasteless vegetables for a third time in a row, and after initially being told there was nothing else, coleslaw arrived – with cabbage ONLY – another cheap vegetable. And, I’m afraid to say, ditto for dinner on night 3!! No, bush / boma dinner, no variety, nothing! A luxury lodge, really?
On the second Etosha drive, we did stop for a mid-morning break – only coffee, no tea, and Tennis biscuits – the cheapest biscuits available (see photo). What were you thinking!! A luxury lodge, really? We did get the supposedly standard bush lunch – thank you, that was great, but why did we have to complain, yet again, to get it? It is amazing how his “staff problems” vanished overnight. A luxury lodge, really?
We couldn’t wait to leave – it was a real pity that we had fully paid in advance.
By this stage, we were thinking of cancelling the rest of our stay in Namibia – is this what Namibians call luxury? And for these high prices – N$4 080 per person on full board (with only 3 activities for a 3-night stay)? You’ve got to be kidding me! Epacha would struggle to keep 2 stars. Simply put, it is poorly maintained and managed, run by incompetent and untrained staff and does not live up to its claim of being a luxury lodge, per its website.
So, off we drove to Onguma Plains – The Fort, in utter trepidation, as this Lodge was cheaper at N$3 450 per person (and 6(!!!) activities for a 3-night stay). Wow, what a difference!!!! This place is truly 5 star, and in complete keeping with what we are used to from the 5-star game lodges in South Africa. Thank you to Stefan and Bronwyn for a memorable stay!!
We arrived at 13h45, and again asked about the availability of lunch. Lunch is until 14h00, we were cheerfully told by Newman: “Why don’t you go and enjoy lunch, and then we’ll check you in?” Really, how considerate and professional to weary travelers and the complete opposite of what we’d experienced at Epacha. Lunch was proudly PRESENTED to us by Chef Immanuel. What a scrumptious 3-course lunch, artfully plated! Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
The Onguma Plains – The Fort website clearly mentions that twin-beds only are available, but we thought we’d ask about the possibility of a double bed anyway. “Not a problem!” was the reply, “we’ll make a plan”. And so, a plan was made. Now, that’s going the extra mile and that’s a luxury lodge!
We asked about activities and were advised that we had options. Options, fancy that! Now, that’s a luxury lodge! We could choose EACH DAY between: 1. Etosha morning drive till 11h00. 2. Etosha afternoon drive (14h00 – 17h30 + sundowners back at Onguma). 3. Onguma sundowner drive. 4. Onguma night drive. Could we be hearing correctly? 4 options daily, really? But, ala Epacha, were they available, especially as Onguma is cheaper?? “Indeed!” was the reply, “you can decide what you’d like to do”. Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
The game drives were on their own vehicles, beautifully cleaned before each drive. Blankets were indeed provided for the morning drives, but these were soft and clean. As going the extra mile goes to the very core of their existence, hot water bottles were even provided. Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
The early morning game drive, once again, left at 6h00, with breakfast was served from 5h30. This time, the spread included smoked salmon, camembert, blue cheese, stewed berries, lychees, dried fruit, multi-fruit fruit salad (but, isn’t that what a fruit salad is supposed to be?), croissants, muffins, freshly baked bread, to name but a few options over and above the standard ones (see photo). Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
At around 9h30, we stopped for tea, coffee, delicious, juicy sandwiches on freshly-baked bread, croissants and muffins. And this was only for a drive that lasted until 11h00! A delicious three-course lunch is provided back at the lodge, with an opportunity to rest, before the possible afternoon activities. Afternoon tea is readily available, with, for example a cheesecake. Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
Every single meal was passionately presented by Chef Immanuel, was varied, prepared with fresh ingredients, imaginative, a feast for the eyes and of course the taste buds! Clearly, Chef takes pride in his creations. We asked Chef Immanuel for his chocolate pudding recipe, which he gladly shared with us, and even took us through the method, with glee and enthusiasm. Now, that’s a luxury lodge!
Towels were white, soft and fluffy. Bath sheets and bath towels were provided. The bedding was crisp, white and fresh. A functioning hair dryer! But, isn’t that what you’d expect from ANY accommodation? And, of course, 2 bath gowns were provided. There was a telephone in the room. Reception was staffed at all times when guests were around, including the early breakfasts. Obvious? Well, clearly for Epacha, it’s not!
In many ways, after reading Tripadvisor again upon our return, it was comforting to read that we experienced every problem already mentioned on Tripadvisor. As seasoned travelers, you come to understand that a problem or 2 might arise, but never so many, continuous, deep-rooted problems at a supposedly luxury lodge! Our only consolation was that as SADC citizens, we were given a discounted rate, but even that, was too high a price to pay for this place!
So, please help me understand, how an equally remote Lodge, like Onguma Plains – The Fort, can provide 6 guaranteed activities instead of 3 “only-if-you-complain” activities; 3 scrumptious, sumptuous, freshly-prepared and varied meals every day; friendly, helpful, professional and efficient staff; good quality towels, blankets and bedding, etc, etc, FOR A LOWER PRICE! Cleary, Epacha only focuses on scalping and conning tourists!
So, in summary, it’s not a scam, it’s a con! Buyer, beware!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.