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“Elephants everywhere.”
Review of Umlani Bushcamp

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Umlani Bushcamp
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed February 26, 2013

I loved this place. I spent four nights at Umlani on the second week of February.

I had concerns about the electricity thing because I have a close relationship with air conditioning and wireless internet, but in the end, I didn’t miss either one.

Upon arrival I met Thembi who went over the rules and procedures to avoid harm and injury. They also take down any dietary allergies, preferences or restrictions at this time.

They wake you up at 05:00 for coffee and pancakes at the bar and you are usually on the way by 05:45. There’s another coffee break toward the end of the game drive at about 08:30. Hot breakfast was usually around 09:00 and after this you are free to relax (i.e. nap a lot). Light lunch is served at 13:30 when they also take drink orders for sun-downer cocktails. After lunch there was more time to laze about until 15:45 when it was time to start gathering for the afternoon game drive. The drive ended with cocktails/refreshments as the sun set and then back to camp for dinner by around 19:30-20:00.

The Good Stuff (and there’s plenty): The game drives were amazing. I love elephants and both Ginger and Elvis delivered time and time again. At one point we were parked just a few meters away from some thirty elephants playing on a river bed. You know that awesome video on YouTube of the baby elephant hauling butt to his mom after being rescued from a well by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants? This was better. Hands down.

I am still amazed at the trackers’ uncanny ability to spot birds and game so far away it’s all a haze. When I played that game, I only spotted sticks and rocks.

The food was delicious, including impala for dinner on the second night. Afterward I swear all the impala they knew and they looked at me with distrust in their antelope hearts but it was very tasty so the guilt of eating Bambi’s third cousin was exceptionally short lived.

There is Peaceful Sleep insect repellent in every room and further spray bottles in all the common areas. That stuff really works. I had a grand total of one mosquito bite the whole time I was there, early in the morning before I had a chance to reapply the repellent. Normally, I am mosquito filet mignon.

They offer the option of sleeping in a lovely tree-house which is decked out with mattresses and mosquito nets as well as radios to contact the camp, but I did not explore this option. I did use the tree house during the day and I had a great time. There was plenty of game drinking and relaxing by the lake next to the tree house and the breeze alone was worth staying there indefinitely.

The Bad: Bugs. It’s summer, so there were bugs. As a welcoming gesture, something crawled up my leg in the darkness. Eeeeee. There were further winged creatures in my room and even though nothing ever breached the mosquito netting, it took a concerted effort to ignore them and go about my business. I did zap a nasty looking wasp that was making a nest next to my bed. The orange-scented bug spray was complimentary, and I’m glad to report it works as advertised.

Smokers: I don’t smoke, and I dislike the smell of cigarette smoke. Unfortunately when we gathered for pre-dinner drinks, due to the chair arrangement along the front of the dining area, if the smokers didn’t choose to self-segregate it was hard to get away from the smell.

Battery charging issues: I brought two chargers for my two camera batteries so I could always have a back-up but it took three tries to get back a recharged battery. On the second morning, I wound up with two drained batteries during the morning game drive and it wasn’t fun. I would love to see battery charging options in the room so this can be avoided.

Despite these, I had an amazing time, I felt welcome at every turn, and I have awesome pictures to relive the moment roughly non-stop until next time. I loved Umlani. Each game drive was unique and interesting in its own right, and Thembi was the best hostess on earth.

I would love to stay here again in the winter-time.

Room Tip: The hangers are perfect to hang up your shoes overnight and avoid anything crawling in them whilst y...
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  • Stayed: February 2013, traveled solo
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5  Thank MolotovMimi
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded March 5, 2013

Thank you for your detailed review on tripadvisor your review gives the reader good insights into a day in the life at Umlani .I am glad to hear you had an amazing time despite the battery charging situation you experienced. Thank you for that feed back..... I am working on the issue to have a better battery charging plan in place to prevent the situation you experienced. All my best Marco

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292 - 298 of 460 reviews

Reviewed February 11, 2013

Umlani is very basic - an Ecco Bushcamp rather than a Lodge.

A great welcome from the hard working and informative manager, David. We were the only guests on night one of four - so sadly no buzz at all. But interesting tales of bush life from David, which we enjoyed. Good bloke. Possibly under-rated by his staff. He holds the place together against the odds.

Delicious food and service and they had taken on board that I didn't eat meat but that my partner does.

An enjoyable 'private' drive on the following morning with the excellent guide, the oddly named 'Ginger' who is a black African!

Then other guests started to arrive including three fun Aussies.

But so did the rain. Not torrential but steady and it rained and rained and rained for two and a half days. The South African summer in the Kruger is their wet season also.

This was the problem: and why it is hard for me to be totally objective about Umlani's charms.

The bamboo huts (sorry, rondavels) didn't hold the rain out and all our clothes and belongings became very damp. And stayed damp. And, being a bushcamp, no electricity to dry anything.

And the 'weatherproof' ponchos provided on the game drives didn't keep any of us dry for more than fifteen minutes at best. Yuk. And no roof or awning on the 4x4 unlike others we spotted in the Greater Kruger. So very damp nay wet animal spotters.

On the other side of the coin, the wet weather attracted creepy crawlies into our hut and also into the dining room which had scores of moths flying and flapping in our faces at night. For me, iIt took the edge off the good food. Even the hardy David was swatting moths from his face and food.

I was bitten by a velvet ant which was sleeping in my shoe in the room, no doubt to keep dry. Sounds cuddly but it packs a hell of a bite and really hurt for 48-hours. One night was sleepless: severe swelling and pain in my toe as well as listening to the noisy frogs which were here, there and everywhere outside. We also had a potentially very nasty black scorpion in our rondavel which David captured and removed. Well done, David! Pheeeew.

In the brochure it says that Umlani is safe. I'm not so certain.

At this point I sadly realised that the Umlani experience wasn't really for me at all.

If it had been very hot (like the previous week at another camp - which I enjoyed) there was no fan (or of course air-con) in the rooms; if it was wet nothing to dry your clothes or spirits.

But a few plusses: young Megan, on work experience, was a wonderful helper for David - she'll go far in the industry. And the food was excellent; all the staff friendly and keen to please; and lots of animals to view.

I'll hold my hands-up and say it was a bad choice for me as the place is as advertised:
"A bush experience" Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Room Tip: check for snakes, scorpions, biting ants and other unwanted visitors in your room. seriously.
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  • Stayed: January 2013, traveled as a couple
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5  Thank sirlenscap
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded February 20, 2013

I am sorry to hear that Umlani was not for you , very wet weather and its by products can be challenging to deal with at the best of times. All the best Marco

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Reviewed January 12, 2013

Stayed here for 3 nights after Christmas and it was just perfect.
David was a perfect host and our team on the drives - guide Elvis and tracker Derek - were patient and knowledgeable. We saw masses of game and were fortunate to see leopards almost each time we went out.
The accommodation is comfortable and the food excellent.
I cannot rate this too highly - and cannot wait to go back!

  • Stayed: December 2012
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1  Thank UKtravellersolo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded January 14, 2013

Thank you for your " Brilliant "review , glad to hear your game viewing was good and we too hope to have you return one day. Marco

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Reviewed January 9, 2013

I stayed at Umlani for 3 nights with my father over New Year.

Management and Staff: The lodge is very well run by the GM David, who has created a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere in the camp. Whilst always helpful and attentive, the vibe was never too stuffy and formal. Fijorn also helped look after us very well, and was good fun to be around. The local staff and rangers were fantastic. Hugely knowledgeable and dynamic. We had Elvis as our driver and Derek as our tracker. They were incredibly good fun and charismatic, and made each game drive different and exciting. David clearly loves Umlani, having been a guest many times before becoming the GM, and this clearly shows in his relationship with the local staff. They enjoy their jobs and do them very well. I ran an eco lodge in Northern Mozambique for 2 years - and I found all the staff dynamic at the lodge (expat and local) very impressive.

Wildlife Encounters: World class. The camp is open to the Kruger and Umlani itself seemed to be the best positioned lodge within the Timbavati reserve in terms of proximity to game. We saw all the big 5, and cheetah, honey badger... and the rest. This is possible in quite a few places, but the difference at Umlani was the animal behaviour during the encounters that we had with the game - we saw game really living in their natural and wild environment - lions hunting buffalos, two male rhinos fighting over territory, a herd of 30+ elephant chasing a pack of 30+ wild dogs away from a watering hole. I've done safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Moz, SA, and other reserves in Greater Kruger, and Umlani beat them all hands down. You see all the game, and you see them behaving in the most spectacular fashion. Each drive was different. It was great.

Food: Great food - don't expect 4 course complicated fine dining, but well cooked, local, fresh, tasty etc. A full breakfast, lunch and supper are provided... unlike some other camps that cut corners with only a brunch.

Overall: great stuff, great value for money, will definitely be back. Huge praise to all the staff - you guys make Umlani stand out from the rest. All the best, H

  • Stayed: December 2012, traveled with family
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2  Thank FHJM
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded January 14, 2013

Thanks a million for your awesome review it was a real pleasure to read. All the best to you..... Marco

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Reviewed January 6, 2013

We stayed for three days at the beginning of the new year. The schedule is well thought out for serious but low-pressure learning about the animals and the bush. When we were not on a bush drive we were treated with warmth and comfort. By the second day, the passion of the staff for the animals and the park was infectious. Umlani means rest and at the end of the third day I didn't want to leave-- every need was taken care of, especially the need to reflect over an elegant lunch or dinner. I was glad to be away from the email and internet. I recommend that folks book a few hours in the tree house; from there we watched giraffes take a drink and a Impala avoid the crocodile. Ginger and David stood out for their respectful and attentive responsiveness to our need to rest and to be engaged with the goals fo the Park and the camp. I would go back, its a great deal. TeresaG

Room Tip: all rooms seem the same
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  • Stayed: January 2013, traveled as a couple
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Thank teresa g
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded January 7, 2013

I am am pleased to hear you wanted not to leave and would also return for another visit ,hopefully you do , thank you very much for the review. David and Ginger appreciate your Feedback . Marco

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Reviewed December 30, 2012

This was my second visit to Umlani and I was worried that I could never replicate the wonderful experience I had the first time. I needn't have worried, the second time was just as magical. The Camps Eco friendly and fair trade policies are admirable. You will be surprised how little you need electricity (except for charging camera batteries which the host will gladly facilitate overnight in the office). The staff, rangers and trackers are really friendly. Elvis, my ranger and Derek my tracker for the duration of my stay 'pulled out all the stops' to ensure that I had the ultimate safari experience. Seeing over 200 water buffalo and groups of rare wild dogs was fantastic as well as an abundance of birdlife, all of which Elvis could identify immediately. David, the manager went to great lengths to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves and I'm grateful of his suggestion to visit the treehouse - sit back, relax and let the wildlife come to you! I'll certainly be back .....

  • Stayed: December 2012, traveled solo
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Thank Siobhan O
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded January 7, 2013

I am pleased that you found Umlani " Truly Magical " second time round . Elvis,Derek and David appreciate the mention ,thank you. Hopefully there will be a third visit . Marco

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Reviewed December 29, 2012

We stayed for three days, in July 2012, as a family of five - from Grandfather down to a child of 10. From the exceptional warm welcome, to the food, the guides and overall hospitality there is really nothing to fault. We all had a marvellous experience and have taken away great memories which I'm sure will stay with us for life. The staff were excellent and were part of the camp - not just there to serve as we saw in other reserves later on. This overall involvement gives the camp a great spirit and makes it so unique. From the point of view of the safari experience we were fortunate to have seen all the "big 5" and plenty of other animals and birds. Our guides were extremely knowledgable and their passion was transmitted to all so that even the kids became involved. We cannot recommend Umlani highly enough.

  • Stayed: July 2012, traveled with family
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2  Thank Valerieandrew1997
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Schiess, Owner at Umlani Bushcamp, responded to this reviewResponded January 6, 2013

Thank you for the reviewing of Umlani Bushcamp and recommending us to other travelers we (the team ) appreciate it very much and hope to see you or one of your group again some day.

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Additional Information about Umlani Bushcamp

Address: Kruger National Park 1380, South Africa
Phone Number:
Location: South Africa > Kruger National Park > Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Restaurant Shuttle Bus service Swimming Pool Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #3 of 17 Specialty Lodging in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
Price Range: $502 - $716 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:3 star — Umlani Bushcamp 3*
Number of rooms: 10
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Umlani Bushcamp, a rustic yet exclusive lodge, accommodates guests in cozy en-suite reed and thatch rondavels. Early morning and evening game drives are in open four wheel drive vehicles accompanied by experienced rangers and trackers offers exceptional game viewing opportunitys. Umlani makes the whole event personalized and specializes in escorted walks into this unspoiled wilderness. Umlani, meaning Place of Rest, was established in 1990 by Marco and Marie-Louise Schiess, in the central section of the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which is part of the greater Kruger National Park. Umlani is the perfect nature lovers choice. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Umlani Bushcamp Hotel Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
Umlani Bushcamp South Africa/Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

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