Our Rating
7.7
Overall

Umlani Bushcamp

South Africa, Greater Kruger, Timbavati

from R 2898 pp/night sharing

Save
23%
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Our Rating
7.7
Overall

Umlani Bushcamp

South Africa, Greater Kruger, Timbavati

from R 2898 pp/night sharing

Save
23%
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Our Verdict

Charmingly authentic and back to basics bush lodge – think no electricity - Umlani delivers hugely on atmosphere and offers a memorable wildlife experience.

Our Ratings

7.7
Overall
6.5
Luxury
8.0
Setting
8.0
Game Viewing
8.0
Romance

Our Ratings

7.7
Overall
6.5
Luxury
8.0
Setting
8.0
Game Viewing
8.0
Romance

What's Hot

  • With flickering lanterns providing an atmospheric backdrop (there’s no electricity at Umlani) guests are consistently blown away by the wonderfully authentic ambience of this charmingly simple lodge! You’ll feel yourself transported back a hundred years to the old days of heading off on safari
  • The unfenced Timbavati reserve can provide some incredible sightings – from massive herds of buffalo over a thousand strong, to large prides of lion often competing over territory and big breeding herds of elephant – and Umlani’s expert rangers have the knowledge and bush craft to put you at the centre of the action
  • There’s a genuine warmth to the hospitality on offer from the staff which makes a deep impression. Umlani’s responsible tourism practices – from management and employment, to ecological practices and sustainability – are among the most progressive we’ve seen. Here, your holiday makes a difference to people’s lives whilst you’re having the experience of a lifetime
  • Relax in a hammock around the swimming pool with a cold drink courtesy of the friendly bar staff whilst you watch the animals coming in to slake their own thirst at the waterhole on the other side of the riverbed
  • In keeping with the rest of the lodge, meals at Umlani are simple and unpretentious but unfailingly delicious (which we far prefer to some lodges’ failed attempts at providing ultra-sophisticated dining in the bush)

What's Not

  • Accommodation could be just too simple and basic for many folk - if you can’t go a day without your hairdryer and the thought of no air-conditioning has you coming up in welts, Umlani definitely isn’t the place for you!
  • Whilst it’s extremely simple, Umlani’s huge popularity and well-earned reputation over many years means that prices are quite similar to more luxurious lodges
Umlani Bushcamp

Umlani BushcampUmlani strips things back to old-style basics – it’s certainly not an approach that is going to appeal to all of today’s increasingly pampered travellers, but for those who “get it” Umlani’s simplicity creates an inimitable atmosphere and experience which is rewarded with rave reviews!

Lodge Profile

Charmingly authentic and back to basics bush lodge – think no electricity - Umlani delivers hugely on atmosphere and offers a memorable wildlife experience.

Quick Overview

Location
Timbavati
Drive Time
6 - 7 hours drive from Johannesburg
Malaria
Yes - low risk area
Setting
Overlooking a riverbed and waterhole
Rooms
8 suites (2 double huts; 1 triple hut; 3 family huts; 2 eco huts)
Aircon
No
Pool
Yes
Spa
No
Camp Fenced
No
Tracker
Yes - tracker and ranger
Off Road
Child Policy

BACK TO (CHARMING) BASICS

Umlani Bushcamp delivers in spades something that in recent years has become a truly rare beast – the authentic, back to basics bush camp. Indeed, whilst many game lodges try to catch your attention by promising a “true” and “authentic” bush living experience, often this “authenticity” appears in the form of features perhaps better suited to city hotels: think things like air-conditioning and luxury fittings, plunge pools, high-speed wireless internet and haute cuisine style fine dining. The reality is that in many instances, all the bells and whistles offered by increasingly luxurious game lodges actually seems to blunt the connection of guests with their bush surroundings. Umlani Bushcamp avoids this by stripping things back to old-style basics – it’s certainly not an approach that is going to appeal to all of today’s increasingly pampered travellers, but for those who “get it” Umlani’s simplicity creates an inimitable atmosphere and experience which is rewarded with rave reviews!

TWO DIFFERENT ROOM STYLES

Accommodation at Umlani is as old-school as it comes 8 huts altogether with 2 basic room styles on offer. Firstly, there are the original reed-walled thatched huts which also feature open window spaces with roll down blinds to keep you cosy at night – these come in the form of 2 Double Hut rooms , a Triple as well as 3 larger Family Huts which are more spacious inside and feature 2 single beds in addition to the double bed for parents. Then there are the 2 new Eco Huts which substitute the reed walls for earthy mud and brick walls which work wonders to better regulate the temperature inside the rooms, meaning they’re never too hot or too cold. These are slightly more expensive as befits their more substantial (and stylish) nature and having chatted to Umlani’s affable owner Marco, it appears the idea is to gradually replace all of the older reed-walled huts with the new Eco Hut design.

SUSTAINABILITY IS THE KEY

Whichever room type you stay in, the name of the game here is ecological sustainability: the electricity-free Umlani is as off the grid as they come, and is lit and powered by solar panels (a generator serves as emergency back-up) with atmospheric lighting provided by candles, solar- and oil lanterns (to our mind there’s little to beat flickering lamp light for romance!) En-suite bathrooms separated by a low wall lead to lovely open-air bush showers that are a firm favourite with guests. But “simple and sustainable” does not mean you have to give up comfort or quality: clean and crisp white linen, mosquito netting, insect repellent, soft towels and cool potable tap water make your stay one of pleasure rather than monk-like frugality.

BOOK THE TREE HOUSE

And if this isn’t deep enough into a bygone era of simple living, you can also arrange to stay in the special Tree House out in the bush a couple of kilometres away from the lodge. This private getaway amidst the foliage high above the savannah provides a stunning view of a nearby dam, where you can watch animals wandering down to drink. Umlani’s smiling and friendly staff will also throw in blankets, pillows, and a cooler box brimming with refreshing drinks for your private sundowner and sleepover. Sitting in the stillness and silence of the bush, you quickly realise how habituated we’ve all become to incessant background noise in the cities. We can’t recommend this night out in this spectacular hideaway enough. The bush itself is far from silent what with the songs of the birds, the chirping of crickets, cackling hyenas and perhaps the roar of far-off lions – but it’s an immeasurably more pleasant background noise than the sound of traffic and ringing alarms!

A TRULY WILD SAFARI

Umlani’s game viewing is similarly authentic as it takes place in the immense Timbavati reserve which is itself an unfenced neighbour (and therefore part of) the huge Kruger National Park. With animals free to move as they wish, game viewing might not be as consistently reliable as the smaller fenced reserves where the game is contained and is therefore always there to be seen; on the flipside however, this also results in spectacles that the fenced reserves simply are not able to deliver – things like massive herds of buffalo over a thousand strong, large prides of lion often competing over territory and big breeding herds of elephant to name just a few.

EXPERT BUSHCRAFT

Umlani’s ethos of eco-responsibility is readily apparent in the way rangers and guides are sourced from the local community in an effort to bring wealth and opportunity to the people who live here; when they show you around the grasslands, tracking down hunting lions or wild dogs or bickering packs of hyena tussling over a carcass, you become keenly aware of the deep love they have for this place and their exceptional knowledge. Better still are the bush walks with these rangers. Not only are these on-foot excursions an incredible insight into the flora and fauna of the Timbavati, but a unique opportunity to learn about life out here: to find out what plants serve important medicinal functions, and how bush craft is a key tool for survival and life out here. Being on a safari like this is one thing, but knowing that it is truly making a difference in people’s lives adds a special magic to your stay. This passion and commitment pervades Umlani with a genuine emphasis on ecologically sustainable practice and its focus on community upliftment (the lodge is long time member of the Fair Trade Tourism responsible tourism organisation)

WONDERFULLY FRIENDLY STAFF

Back at camp, the overwhelming impression is of a genuine warmth and true hospitality from all the staff members. Why not relax in a poolside hammock or on the main deck looking out over the active waterhole between game drives. Meals in the traditional boma, surrounded by a swathe of atmospheric lanterns whilst swapping tales around a roaring wood fire under the stars, are in keeping with the rest of the lodge - an unpretentious but tasty delight.

THE ANTIDOTE TO OVERBLOWN LODGES

We’ll admit, we really enjoy our high-end lodges. But when we come across places like Umlani, we are cannot help but be blown away by the authenticity and warmth of the whole experience. Their way of operating is good for the land and good for the people. Their service is warm and genuine. And most of all, their atmosphere is rustic and truly authentic. So many lodges promise to give you ‘the’ safari experience. By in our experience, Umlani is the one of the few that delivers authenticity in true style.

Pricing

pp/night sharing