Umlani Bushcamp

Umlani Bushcamp – Timbavati Game Reserve

The Greater Kruger National Park area is massive, spanning over 50 million acres of unfenced terrain teeming with wildlife. With over twenty private reserves to chose from plus the national park itself, planning a trip to the Kruger area can become an overwhelming task. Not to mention  each one of these reserves has several options for lodges and camps. For our trip, we selected Timbavati Game Reserve, located on Kruger’s western border and a one hour drive from the Hoedspruit airport.  Choosing the reserve was only the first step. We then had to decide between the eight lodges within the reserve, and ultimately ended up choosing Umlani Bushcamp. There were several reasons for deciding on Umlani. For one, Umlani offered an authentic safari experience with reed huts and an unfenced camp, while also maintaining the all-inclusive experience. Since the camp is truly a camp rather than a lodge, the price is much more reasonable than some other options, and since safaris have a tendency to get very expensive, price is a huge factor. Combine that with the rave reviews we read on TripAdvisor and the fact that their Instagram account was full of leopard photos and we were sold.

The Hut

After arriving at the Hoedspruit airport, we were greeted by our driver who drove us one hour to Umlani. Although the safari had not yet begun, we saw plenty of animals grazing just off the side of the road. Upon arrival at Umlani we were given the quick tour around the camp before being escorted to our hut. The hut was rustic, but immaculately well-kept, creating the perfect balance of comfort and the true bushcamp experience. The walls are made of bamboo, so you’re well enclosed from the outside while still feeling like there’s very little separating your living quarters from the wild. The open-air shower is attached to the hut and enclosed on the sides by bamboo walls but open on the top. For this reason, the staff advise against leaving food in the huts, because the monkeys could easily sneak in via the shower. While there is no electricity in the huts, you are provided with two solar lanterns, and there is a charging station in the gift shop if you need to charge your phone, camera, etc. Umlani also offers a “eco-hut” option, which is built to enhance thermal storage. The eco hut is slightly more luxurious but still has the outdoor showers to give it the same “close-to-nature” feel.

umlani bushcamp
Our hut

umlani bushcamp

The Camp

The camp is unfenced, with the exception of wires that run along the permitter that prevent the taller animals like elephants and giraffes from entering, but beyond that, there’s nothing stopping other animals from wandering into the premises. We saw plenty of monkeys and a warthog in the camp during the day and heard footsteps outside of our hut during the evening. This was all part of the Umlani experience and we loved it. Obviously you need to use common sense around wild animals, but the staff make sure that there is always someone escorting you to your room after the evening game drives when it’s dark. There is a small pool on site which is perfect for the hot afternoons between game drives, as well as a two dining areas, a gift shop, and a traditional South African boma (enclosed fire pit area). The camp is extremely peaceful during the day and is the perfect way to unplug and relax in a beautiful wild setting.

umlani bushcamp
Pool

Typical Day

Each day begins with a 5:00 AM wakeup call…not a phone call, because there’s not electricity. Someone comes to your door and tells you its time to get up. Normally waking up this early is no fun, but knowing you’re about to drive around the bush in search of wild animals makes it like getting up on Christmas morning as a kid. The morning gets started with coffee and tea around the fire in the boma before piling into the Land Cruisers for the morning game drive. The morning drive lasts for about 3.5 hours, and includes a coffee break along the way. Obviously, the game drives are the main event of any stay at Umlani and they did not disappoint. We saw all 5 of the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino) and many of these sightings were in incredibly close proximity. We were within a few yards of lions and elephants, directly under a tree where a leopard was eating a fresh kill, and within inches of a very curious young hyena. The drivers and trackers are extremely skilled and knowledgeable when it comes to the wildlife that inhabits Timbavati, so they ensure that you not only see all of the animals you’re hoping to encounter, but also learn something in the process.
 Following the morning game drive you return to camp where breakfast is waiting for you. After breakfast, you have some downtime to relax in camp or in your hut, or you could go on a guided bush-walk before lunch. Lunch is served at 1:30 and high tea is served at 4:00 before the evening game drive which lasts about 3-3.5 hours. The evening game drive includes a sundowner, where you stop for drinks and snacks in an area that the guides determine to be lion-free. Upon returning from the evening drive, everyone has drinks around the boma before dinner where everyone shares stories about their evening sightings.

Read our full post on our game drives in Timbavati 

umlani bushcamp
The best sighting of the night

The Treehouse

Perhaps the most memorable experience we had at Umlani was our afternoon in the treehouse. Guests have the option to book the treehouse, located about 1.5 miles outside of camp, for an afternoon or for an overnight.

Read our full post on our treehouse experience here.

 

umlani bushcamp
Buffalo herd at the treehouse
umlani bushcamp
Umlani was the authentic safari experience we were hoping for. The game viewing was incredible, the camp was rustic and serene, and the treehouse was a unique experience that we couldn’t find anywhere else. We would go back again in a heartbeat.

 

 

Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary stay at Umlani in exchange for our honest review. The opinions contained herein are in no way influenced by Umlani or its affiliates. 

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Umlani Tree House | Trails Unblazed

  2. Hi Laura and Chris,

    Brilliant guys, brilliant.

    This is one of my dream vacays.

    Loved the image of the leopard chowing down.

    They could have woke me at 3 AM after 14 seconds of sleep and I too would be up like a kid on Christmas day.

    I also dig how you are in an unfenced area, largely, right there with nature. Authentic experience and also adds that bit of charge to the journey, knowing that you are in the wild versus being on the outside looking in.

    Thanks for sharing guys.

    Ryan

  3. Marylou Carr

    Laura and Chris

    Your trip looks exciting and romantic.

    Dave and I went our honeymoon to Kenya … lovely memories.

    I am off to SA to visit a friend next week, Joburg and Capetown all on my own.

    A different kind of paradise.

    Marylou

  4. Pingback: Game Drives: Timbavati Game Reserve | Trails Unblazed

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