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Africa on Foot and Umkumbe Safari Experience


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First I want to thank everyone here for all your trip planning advice and which gear to rent as well as the wealth of knowledge on this site! I'm not sure our trip would have been nearly as amazing without your help!

Sun Destinations

We booked our safaris and our transportation from/to each safari through Sun Destinations. Nadine, who handled our booking was great to work with and she always responded to my emails and questions promptly. Everything on our trip went smoothly and we were extremely pleased with their services.

Africa on Foot http://www.africaonfoot.com/

This was our first safari and trip to South Africa and Africa on Foot was exactly what we were looking for and more than we expected. We flew into Heodspruit Airport and were greeted by Rein. We got our luggage and drove to camp seeing giraffes and baboons along the way. When we arrived at the camp we were greeted by Christina and Matt and went over the rules of the camp, itinerary and signed the indemnity paperwork. Since the camp has no fences they stressed the importance of always being aware of your surroundings because wildlife walk through the camp; we woke up on our last morning to a herd of probably over 100 Cape Buffalo just outside our chalet!

The chalet was very comfortable and we loved the fact that there were just screens on the windows; almost every night we heard animals and several nights we listened to lions roaring. That was very special! We were in a chalet with an outdoor shower and sink, which we enjoyed, especially when the buffaloes showed up, it gave us a perfect and protected viewing spot. The camp is a "green" camp so there was limited electricity and we were asked to charge our devices in a central location which was located in the dining area.

Our guides Matt and Rein worked really well as a team, and each day they would trade off either tracking or guiding. Whether we were walking or driving they were extremely knowledgeable about the bush and we learned a lot! We absolutely loved the 3 hour walks every morning. Since not many camps offer this option, this was definitely a draw for us and one of the reasons we booked our safari here. Learning about the little things in the bush was very interesting and we always felt safe; one walk we enjoyed watching giraffes and our final walk we successfully tracked the buffalo that had come into the camp.

The camp sleeps 10 and is very intimate and it felt like a very personal experience. We had a lovely welcoming letter in our chalet and our last day we had a personal postcard thanking us for our stay with our itinerary for our transfer. Our guides ate with us for every meal and Christina always greeted us when we returned from a game drive as well as joining us before and after dinner. We stayed 4 nights/3 days, which was just perfect and gave us plenty of opportunity to see lots of wildlife. Matt and Rein were always accommodating and we felt like they were truly interested in providing us with the best safari experience. The food was very good and each meal everyone sat around one large dining table. One evening we returned to camp after our game drive to find a beautiful dining table set out under the stars, which we enjoyed tremendously.

When we arrived we went on our first game drive and saw the Ross Pride finishing the carcass of an elephant; there were 2 cubs that were so cute! What an amazing way to start our safari!! A few weeks ago an elephant hurt its foot and was in pain and suffering, the herd had left it behind so the Klaserie ranger decided to put it down. They said normally the lions would have taken it down but for some reason they kept missing each other. Each game drive we saw something big and the guides always seemed to want to make sure we were seeing what we were interested in. We saw 4 of the Big 5, missing the leopard. We had several elephant experiences, one very memorable experience where the bull was no more than 10 ft from us and staring right at us. Exhilarating and terrifying at the same time!

The camp is definitely not for everyone, the rustic chalets may not appeal to a lot of people as well as the long game walks, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time there and highly recommend Africa on Foot.


Umkumbe Safari Lodge http://www.umkumbe.co.za/

We arrived at Umkumbe after a very hard drive from Africa on Foot. It was about a 2.5 hour drive and the roads were terrible, lots of rough, dirt roads. We were greeted by Jason, one of the guides at Umkumbe and were taken to our room and given a tour of the property. Umkumbe had a very different feel than Africa on Foot, instead of a chalet we had a "hotel" room, which was very nice, and the camp felt a little bit more upscale, with a gym as well as a nice lounge with a pool table. Our room had paper thin walls with the adjoining room so we could hear our neighbors very clearly. The camp had a less intimate feel, there were separate tables for meals and guests seemed less inclined to get to know each other, but you can't beat the location which is absolutely stunning, with a pool and deck overlooking the Sabi Sands River.

The evening before we arrived there were thunderstorms (we had a great lightening storm during our last game drive at Africa on Foot) and the weather turned overcast overcast and gray, so our first game drive that afternoon at Umkumbe we didn't see a lot. The next morning Jason offered to take a few of us on a bush walk instead of the drive. I don't think that is something they normally do so we decided to take advantage of it. As the weather started to improve later in the day more animals seemed to come out. We stayed at Umkumbe for 3 nights/2 days, so we ended up having 5 game drives (we missed the morning drive on our last day because we needed to leave for the airport). We ended up seeing cape buffalo, rhinos and giraffes, as well as many other small animals. One male rhino had adopted a young male rhino whose mother had been killed by poachers. And on our final afternoon/evening game drive we finally saw two leopards!

A couple of things we noticed during our stay at Umkumbe:

  • Umkumbe didn't seem as organized as Africa on Foot…we never even signed an indemnity form. I think this can be attributed to there being no "manager" keeping things organized, it just seemed to be the guides handling everything.
  • The guide and tracker had an odd relationship, there were several times the tracker wanted to go one way and she overruled him. I'm not sure how the relationship of the guide/tracker is supposed to work but it seemed a little odd.
  • The game drive in the afternoon starts at 4pm and we typically didn't get back until 8pm so we felt the night portion of the drives was too long (at least 1.5-2 hours in the dark). While there were definitely animals we saw at night that we wouldn't have seen during the day, we enjoyed the day drives much more, so that will be something we look for in the future. We were amazed at the tiny creatures the trackers found at night, including a chameleon in a tree.
  • The website states they sleep a maximum of 14, but one night there were 18 people on the game drive. We definitely prefer the smaller camps and I know they can get quite large.
  • The morning game drives there was no tracker and they let guests sit in the tracker seat. I think this would be a safety issue and I would have preferred the tracker to join us to help locate wildlife. It kind of felt like a "theme park ride" at that point.

I don't want to let these few things paint a negative experience because we really did have a great experience at Umkumbe. These things didn't take away from our stay, just observations we made and things that we will be more cognizant of in the future.


One of the things we enjoyed most at both camps was that at any sighting there were never more than 2-3 vehicles and everyone seemed to respect each others views and experience. Overall we had the most AMAZING safari experience, it really was life changing. We are already talking about planning our next trip hopefully to Botswana and Victoria Falls!

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Sounds like a very enjoyable trip.

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Hey Jennifer,


Good to hear you liked your stay at Umkumbe & AOF!

I think I can clarify a thing or two about the stuff you noticed at Umkumbe;


- The use of the tracker seat. The owner of the lodge is also owner of the land (this is not that often the case). Plus he doesn't share traverse with the bigshots around him (like Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala and Singita - the latter drive on Dudley plot, north of Umkumbe). This means he gets to do what he want with the tracker seat. So sometimes he lets guests sit in it. This looks dangerous, but it isn't, as he will keep a good distance from dangerous animals, and as he will instruct people how to behave when encountering animals. His own sons have been sitting in that seat from the age of 2. Giving the tracker seat to his customers just means he can give them "that little extra" in their safari experience. He told me that he had some people ove who saved up their whole lives to come to Africa and see, for instance, elephant. An encounter of their animal in that seat often results in tears of joy. Idem with physically handicapped youngsters (strapped in, obviously). Of course, everyone is free to say "no" and deny the invitation to go and sit there. If you don't feel at ease, then just don't do it.


- The night game drive that lasts a bit longer. The plot of Umkumbe is a rather narrow but very long stretch, from Sabi River, over the old railway line, all the way to the fence. They've got a fantastic sundowner spot that's still a far end from the fence but beyond the railway line nonetheless. Here, rhino often pop out of the bush at sunset, to use a big mud wallow. Umkumbe lodge uses that spot a lot, as it allows close encounters with rhino. I don't think there's any lodge in the world that can give a closer rhino-experience. Note Umkumbe = rhino in Shangaan. Of course, when you stay there for a sundowner, it also means you got quite a lot of driving to do to get back to the lodge. So that's a small downside perhaps. Well it wouldn't be for me, because the more I am out in the bush, the happier I am. :P


- The number of people at the lodge. Umkumbe has 5 rooms, but some are family rooms. So maximum is indeed 14. If there's more than 10 people at the lodge, they drive out in two vehicles, putting the kids and their parents in the 2nd vehicle. But this doesn't happen a lot. Apart from that, the owner also has a deal with some other company nearby; they bring in tourists as well. These have a drive on Umkumbe land, and a dinner in the evening, but then they go away again. The maximum of vehicles we ever saw driving there was three. Typically, as with all lodges all around, all vehicles then take a different route, and share sightings via radio. The maximum vehicles at a sighting that we had was two.


I don't know about the girl guide. Well, I have met her two weeks ago, but only exchanged a few sentences. I was at Sabi Sabi, doing my FGASA level 1 assessment & exam, and we were having sundowers on the border of their plot, when all of a sudden they came past us. So I called out to Jason and we exchanged brief hello's. I shook the girl guide's hand as well. She seemed a fun person. She said she was new, that's all I remember. I assume that she gets to tell Jason where to go as she's still trying to learn the roads on the Umkumbe plot.





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Hello Jennifer - thanks for the excellent report and the level of useful info about the camps and how they operate. I can imagine that you must have been thrilled to see giraffe and baboon on your drive to the fist camp (that "wow, I really am in Africa"! feeling). Also, lions on your first drive, rhinos and a leopard - sounds like a successful trip!

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Jochen: Thanks so much for your response! Since these was our very first safaris, it is definitely a learning experience and we enjoyed every bit of it!


We figured the tracker seat wasn't that dangerous, you just never know how guests (especially kids) will react when they are in close proximity to wildlife, but obviously that is their choice. I just would have preferred a tracker there to help locate wildlife (we had fewer sightings at Umkumbe than AoF).


On 3 different game drives we used different sundowner spots. There that was one that was outstanding that had the classic Africa sunset spot. Just something that we learned that we prefer more time spent in the day and less at night. Our drives left at 4, so we had an 1.5 during the day stopping at 5:30 for sundowers and then almost 2 hours at night.


Every day we were there they took out 2 vehicles and our second night there there were 18 people staying at the lodge (there were 2 large families, so maybe they squeezed them in). The last night we were there they had the extra vehicle from the other company, but we only saw them before we went out and then at dinner.


Jason wasn't her tracker, Solomon was. Jason was always in camp and only took us out on the bush walk. She was very friendly and we enjoyed her guiding, her exchanges with her tracker were just off.

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Hello Jennifer - thanks for the excellent report and the level of useful info about the camps and how they operate. I can imagine that you must have been thrilled to see giraffe and baboon on your drive to the fist camp (that "wow, I really am in Africa"! feeling). Also, lions on your first drive, rhinos and a leopard - sounds like a successful trip!


I was completely awestruck and in a daze driving in! It was definitely a successful trip :)

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Every day we were there they took out 2 vehicles and our second night there there were 18 people staying at the lodge (there were 2 large families, so maybe they squeezed them in).


Whoa. That must have been a top day for them in terms of occupancy. I know that the used to run bible camps, but they stopped doing that. So maybe he installed those kids in the former "dorm room".



FYI When I met them 2 weeks ago Jason was behind the wheel, and she was in the tracker seat.

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Best thing to hear is that you're planning to return already - that is always a good sign. So glad it lived up to your expectations.


Thanks for the warts-and-all report and another recommendation for Africa on Foot - it seems they are offering people a very satisfying experience.


Please post more photos later if you have the time and inclination.

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thanks for your good trip report


Umkumbe have told me that regard the booking process when people would have been notified of such issues as covering imdenmity . the owner at Punge bush Camp who was a lawyer before training as a guide says that the forms are not really valid, if someone gets seriuously injured, legal action is still possible and that is why lodges and camps are insured.


perhaps umkumbe is more elaborate than africa on foot because it is surrounded by high level luxurt and anything less would be considered by comparism to be inadaquet. the gym was put in for the staff to exercise, as given the area they cannot go out running , guests are also welcome to use it.


when I have been there the people in the next room were quiet.


the walks at africa on foot are very good, and I am impressed that they recommend and semi insist on neutral coloured clothing ,unlike some very expensive operators robin pope and norman carr in zambia, who have clients wearing white shirts in their publicity photos.


good to see that you are already thinking about returning to Africa, although Botswana is a bit challenging as regards affordability.


is wild Africa in your blood yet?

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Wild Africa is definitely in my blood:)


I agree, indemnity forms are not really worth the paper they are printed on, it was just interesting to note since I saw other guests had signed a form.


Each safari camp has a different "feel" from rustic to luxurious, I was just noting the difference between the camps. It wasn't meant to be a negative if that is how it was interpreted. My husband took advantage of using the gym, so it is a really nice amenity!


Good to know that Botswana is more expensive, we will start saving!

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if you take out a very few cheaper places Sabi Sands and Timbavati could easily have one of the highest concentration of 5 star beds of any regional area in the world excluding places which have resort towns.


I find this over the top and not the sort of thing I want .


I understand your comments of the dining arrangements, I prefer one table, one of the few drawbacks of Lewa Safari camp is that single guests each get their own table which could fit 2 laid out for them.


you missed the final morning activity where where you going to , it is possible to get mixed air fares using nelspruit and hoedspruit going in one, and exiting the other .


people can advise here, on lower cost options , you can ask sun safaris if you like but botswana is generally a high cost destination. Sun safaris have recently opened a camp in the Kalahari desert and a houseboat on the okavango, see Brett Thompson's interview. for Botswana you may well be looking at costs above say africa on foot etc

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We too are not into the 5 star camps. I knew there were are few luxury resorts in Sabi Sands, but had no idea there were so many. I remember looking at Sabi Sabi and thinking, woah, that's way out of our price range!


How isolating for a single traveler. One of the things that I think I probably would appreciate as a single traveler would be able to dine and meet new people, not be stuck at a single table by myself. There were times when we got to dine with other guests at Umkumbe and then times when we were by ourselves, which was quite fine with us, but we did like the family style dining at AoF.


We missed the final game drive because we are "worriers" LOL. My husbands last name is Murphy and he is intimately familiar with "Murphy's Law" so if there's a possibility of something happening it probably will, so we try to anticipate problems and we wanted to make sure we didn't miss our flight to Jo'burg. We flew into Hoedspruit and left via Nelspruit. There was another gentleman at the camp who was on our flight and did go on the game drive. He got to the airport about 5-10 minutes before we started boarding, which would have freaked us out. He told us they saw 3 leopards on the game drive, which I was bummed we missed, but I'm glad we were able to spot 2 the night before. One of the things I learned is to to check transfer times before finalized flights, etc., I think we could have booked a later flight.


I guess I should start planning for Botswana now so that we can figure out what we can afford. I will definitely check out his interview and those places, thanks!

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1 at Lewa camp I felt like a shag on a crag at my single table Their food is restraunt sytle complete with a professionally printed menu in a photo frame.


2 your husband would have had something to reakl to be concerned with my missed nairobi to Johannesburg flight, I booked the wrong day with all the noise in the travel agent from a promotional DVD I miised checing my dates, and ended up spending sleeping at Nairobi international departures. I was there around from 9pm just before the inquiry desk packed up and gave me details of the next flight and said you will have to speak to the manager ,perhaps you can travel. well I could , slleping at the airport has nothing to recommend it. I could travel the next day and pay a date change fee of USD 96.


3 Just looking at Botswana most of it is high level luxury. the two places I mentioned are not ,the Kalahari is a place people go for scenery as much as the wildlife who are not there in great numbers.


If you want to get an idea of cost(1) you could ask Sun safaris for more details of theses places as their prices (2) start a thread here under trip planning called something like Botswana lower cost options.


there are people here who go there regulary and would know what is around green season, camping trips with various degree of amenities and tented camps/lodges a fair number of which are only accessible by light planes.

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