My husband and I did A LOT of research for our south africa trip and safari, so we had it pin-pointed to exactly what we were looking for (in this order):
1. Chances of seeing the Big Five and ability to drive off road to get closer to animals
* this lead us to wanting to choose a top reserve as opposed to the limited road driving of Kruger Park, falling upon Sabi Sands as the highest rated...so we went for it
2. Value: we wanted to be in the most expensive game reserve, so we were concerned about not going over our budget for our trip and did lots of research on lodges
3. Comfort of the lodge: we didn't need a Ritz Carleton, but we are not backpackers anymore...or never really were so we do need comfortable sleeping space, safe, beautiful setting and air conditioner for the husband and a pool situation for me
After knowing what we were looking for and all of our choices of lodges in front of us in the Sabi Sands game reserve, we reviewed all reviews in books, online and talking to friends. We booked Umkumbe and it was the best choice we could have dreamed of. According to what we were looking for, here is what we found:
1. Big Five: Yes, we saw them all. And then some. Our guides tracked Leopards...and found one...then found lions eating a Waterbuck...hyenas holding a carcass...group of 40 elephants, giraffs, zebras...our stories go on. Our game drive guide, Jason whom was with us for all drives plus we would have 1 more for evening drives to be the front light spotter, was OUTSTANDING. We travel quite a bit for a younger couple and spend a lot of time outdoors, so feel we know more than the average joe in regards to animal life, plants, etc...but man did we have so many questions for Jason that he knew ALL of the answers to and gave us in depth knowledge throughout the drives. I feel I could write a book and become a game drive guide myself after spending time with him and the other guides (in theory...). They were all so pationate, you could tell this was what they gave their lives too and completely loved the land, animals and plants. I feel I saw the world on this 3 night stay.
2. Value: This isn't exactly cheap in terms of lodging, but in terms of what it offers it is such a remarkable deal. The food was extrememly well done (and I am picky), healthy, lots of options and way too much food but very fresh. If you stay somewhere outside of the reserve and want to just 'book 1 drive' you are wasting your time and money. By the time you stay somewhere else, book a drive, drive to the reserve...blah blah, it is a waste - we so many people do this and wish they would have just stayed at Umkumbe - they were curious how we found out about such a perfect place (when people booked a drive, they stayed for dinner and we got to spend time with them) because a travel agent had booked them at a hotel an hour drives away. They didn't save money like they thought they would.
3. Lodge: I don't know how anyone reviewing Umkumbe can not give this place full 5 stars, it is gorgeous, absolute oasis. We were put in the newest lodge and it was remarkable, outside shower...huge...in the morning the sun coming up was right there across the entire wall of windows. The lodge itself was picture perfect, calming and the exact thing you want on vacation and in between drives. All of the employees are so happy, helpful and fun to be around. Nothing was ever too much and they were always just a joy to be around.
To summarize, I do not review very often but felt overly compelled to give Umkumbe the credit it deserves and since I use reviews so often. This is the glorious African Safari we always dreamed of and Umkumbe blew our mind away. I wish we would have had more time there to soak it all in. We will forever have these memories and hope to get back someday with family and friends.