Umkumbe is the best value Sabi Sand Lodge with an excellent location on the banks of the seasonal Sand river. There is a spectacular rim-flow swimming pool overlooking the surrounding plains. The rooms share this view and you are likely to see elephants, hippos, buffalo and antelope grazing in the river bed from your private deck. Guests have witnessed lions and wild dog hunting, as well as leopards stalking their prey from the Lodge. Birding enthusiasts will be thrilled with the variety of species that can be seen from the deck area.
Umkumbe enjoys access to a central piece of Sabi Sand - South Africa's premier Reserve and arguably one of the best in the whole continent. Unfenced with the main Kruger National Park, this is a real hotspot for Big Five sightings. Owner-managed and run, Umkumbe is friendly and personal, possibly a little more rustic in approach than some of its more expensive neighbours and ideal if you like your luxury (four star plus) to be gently stated.
The central building hosts the indoor dining area and a fully-stocked honesty bar; outside is the traditional boma where you will be served delicious and hearty South African meals. An indoor lounge has comfortable couches to relax on, as well as a snooker table. The outdoor sitting area has views of the Sand River and a help yourself tea/coffee station. There are tables and chairs in shade away from the main building.
Umkumbe offers just ten chalets/rooms sleeping a maximum of 24 guests. Most overlook the Sand River; two of the Superior chalets instead have views over the open plains. All have private stone verandahs with table and camping chairs outside. All are air-conditioned and en-suite. Superior chalets - there are four - have private outdoor showers, are larger (double the size) and can accommodate a third guest on a sleeper couch. The six smaller standard rooms have baths but not showers. They are cheaper. All rooms have twin or King size double beds and mosquito nets. Bedding is comfortable without being ostentatious.
The lodge is unfenced, however it is safe for children as there is trip wire which aims to keep elephants and larger animals at bay. Please note that if you are self-driving you should enter the Sabi Sand by Shaws Gate (and not anywhere else - we won't even name it!) in order to have a smooth drive along well-maintained tracks.
Note that Umkumbe game drives do not traverse in to neighbouring properties. We recommend two nights here to cover the area.
Umkumbe is an undiscovered masterpiece. The staff, the lodge, the food and the intrinsic beauty of the place are reason enough to visit on their own, but the game-viewing experiences you will have here are absolutely unforgettable. Even lounging by the pool or sitting on your verandah you will see herds of elephant and antelope, or if you are very lucky, a leopard strolling along the river bank. This is how safari should be done. Book now before everyone finds out about it!
I had always thought that safaris in Sabi Sands were rather out of my reach, something for those with lots of money and lots of time on their hands. But I’d always dreamed of being able to do it for myself. Umkumbe was where that dream came true. And it was wonderful!
A fairly small property tucked in between Sabi Sabi’s lodges and the Mala Mala reserve, it boasts an absolutely mind-blowing variety of game and birdlife, often right on the banks of the Sand river that runs through camp. Driving into the unassuming entrance, you could be fooled into thinking you were at a pretty farmstead rather than a safari camp, but the sight of the huge bull elephant just the other side of the main lounge area (thankfully he was on the other side of an electric fence wire) and the cheery greetings from the staff who came out to meet us told a very different story.
As we arrived a bit later than planned, our luggage was whisked away to our room while we were asked what we’d like to drink for sundowners and packed swiftly into the Land Rover to be taken out for evening game drive. Our guide Cameron introduced himself and his tracker, then told us to hang on tight as he’d just got information about a pack of wild dogs that were crossing the other side of the property, so didn’t want us to miss them. His excitement almost matched mine as he described what he’d seen in the area and hoped to show us over the next few days.
So my first game drive in Sabi Sand was amazing and exhilarating. Although the pesky wild dogs had crossed over to the next property when we got to them, which was a little frustrating, we were still all high from the chase and so the feeling soon passed as the next mission began… Hearing some lions calling in the distance, we sped off again to find one of the local prides setting off on the hunt. Stopping along the way for incredible sightings of hyena, raptors, elephants and some fascinating plated lizards, we eventually caught up to the ‘Spartan’ pride of young lions who allowed us to stay with them as they casually wandered about our vehicle while seemingly making up their minds where to head off to for the evening.
We arrived back in the lantern-lit camp to a truly delicious supper, sitting at intimate tables for two around the fire in the boma. On further exploration we realised just how beautiful Umkumbe's camp and setting really was, and were even more impressed when we retired to our room for the night. Expecting something rustic but stylish, I was blown away by the bedroom. Decorated in lush fabrics and noted by the animals in the artwork in each chalet, (we stayed in zebra), the sliding glass doors open onto a huge bedroom with a king-sized bed encased in what can only be described as a four-poster net canopy. On top of this there were two sofa beds in the room as well as a lovely dressing table and gorgeous en-suite bathroom complete with twin sinks, a bathtub and an outdoor shower area crafted from driftwood and local rock.
After an incredibly comfortable night’s sleep we were woken up in time to watch a mischievous vervet monkey stealing flapjacks from the lounge before heading out on another brilliant drive. Sleepy rhinos, fighting kudu, majestic giraffe, impressive buffalo and awe-inspiring elephants were next on the list of sightings, as well as some amazing insights into the small but perfectly formed wildlife we spotted too. However, my true loves, the spotty cats that Sabi Sands is famous for, eluded us for the next couple of days. The more I wished to see them, the more they hid it seemed.
At the end of our final morning drive at Umkumbe, with the lovely Liezel taking over the guiding reins from Cameron, the very sad prospect of leaving was looming above us. We were about to head back for breakfast after a failed last-ditch attempt to find a leopard that had been spotted with a kill close to camp, but on turning a corner in the road, everyone suddenly held their breath as a different but even more stunningly beautiful sight came strolling nonchalantly towards us.
One of Sabi Sand's leopards had decided to grace us with her presence, and that she really did. For the next hour we travelled right next to her as she foraged and roamed, seemingly unbothered by and totally relaxed around us. Words can’t describe the experience. I think I might even have had tears rolling down my face. I could have happily stayed forever, but we had to return eventually. Leaving wasn’t so sad after all though, as driving from Umkumbe to the Sabi Sand gate we not only found the leopard sleeping under the maroela tree where she’d stashed her kill, but also spent a fantastic few minutes with a cheetah who chose to cross the road in front of us! The spotty cat gods were definitely smiling on us that day...
I will never forget my time in Umkumbe, and I can’t wait to go back!
Sarah D travelled to Umkumbe with K2C, taking time off from work in quite a famous Zoo (right)
We thank her for permission to use some of her photos on this page. Separately, her parents have been there with us too and also loved it!