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Ann’s Umlani Safari with Lion Cubs in Camp

Exploring the Difference between a Private Reserve & National Park for your Kruger Safari in South Africa



Published on

06 Aug 2019

Updated on

17 Nov 2020

Lion Cubs

Ann & Peter booked a wildlife safari to South Africa in September 2018 with Far & Wild. After much planning and anticipation, in July 2019 together with their son Josiah they visited the Kruger region for both a guided Private Reserve safari and later a self-drive safari in the National Park itself. They ended with relaxation in the stunning landscape of the Panorama Route at Rissington Inn. A brilliant combination of safari and relaxation for a South Africa family holiday.

This review from Ann highlights the difference between staying in a Private Reserve/Concession versus the competitively priced Rest Camps within Kruger National Park itself. Ann explains how and why she thinks the value of your safari will be much higher if you choose to stay in a private reserve like Umlani Bush Camp.

The camp manager is wonderful...

Our safari began with 3 nights at Umlani Bush Camp.

It’s right in the bush, with brilliant nature guides and friendly staff - the manager is called Mikhaila and she is very personable, and great at making suggestions of how we could spend our days. This is one of the main reasons for our positive experience, and on most days she joined us for meals. The food was lovely, with hearty portions. There was no choice for lunch or dinner, you ate whatever was on offer but it was very tasty. We enjoyed South African meats, lasagne and beef stroganoff. Breakfast offered porridge or grits, toast or cereal and a selection of cooked food. Wine and other drinks available at all times and we could help ourselves from the bar if we wished. The rooms were great too, and so tidy every day! In the mornings we would have a tea or coffee before heading out on a guided safari. Afterwards we’d return to camp to find our rooms wonderfully clean and welcoming with the option of an outdoor shower too.

Lion In Camp
Tracking Lion in our Camp
Nyala In Camp
Nyala in Camp
Umlani Swimming Pool
Swimming Pool at Umlani

We found lion cubs right in front of our hut...

The pool was more decorative than inviting since it was so cold and full of algae, but a highlight we will never forget is seeing lions in Umlani Bush Camp at the swimming pool! We’d just set out on a sunrise safari when our guide received word via the radio that there were lions in camp. We returned to camp to find just the cubs right by our hut and also at the swimming pool. Lionesses typically leave them somewhere safe (like a camp) and then go on a hunt. The cubs do move but don't go far. It was incredible.

My other highlight was sitting at the bar in camp and watching the watering hole – the elephants felt so much closer than any photos can do justice.
Umlani Treehouse By Ann
Umlani Treehouse

We had the option of staying for a night in the Umlani Treehouse, photographed above, but we chose to stay for all three nights in our cottage in camp because the weather was a little unpredictable and I felt our standard hut would be more comfortable.

We then hired a car for the self-drive element of our safari...

Our time at Umlani camp came to an end and we then hired a car for the self-drive element of our safari, where we were staying at Lower Sabie SANParks Rest Camp for a few nights inside the National Park. The difference in experience was stark – it was definitely more like camping. The location was incredible, there’s no denying that, but it felt more like a motorway service station with a pricey café and all run on a tight budget. The safaris we did from the Rest Camp also differed because you can’t go off-road, and since there are so many other vehicles driving along, it felt like less of a wild experience.

The location was incredible, there’s no denying that, but it felt more like a motorway service station with a pricey café and all run on a tight budget.
Umlani Bar Overlooking Waterhole
The bar view of the Waterhole at Umlani
Hippo Tortoises At Umlani
Turtles resting on the backs of Hippos
Lion In Camp Umlani
Lion Cubs playing in Camp

For more inspiration, take a look at our 26 favourite safari holidays or our top family safari holidays.

Ann concluded that they were so glad to have had both safari experiences, but felt that the value was far better at Umlani than in the National Park, in terms of time, infrastructure and safari experience. If you want to travel all around Kruger (or other parks) then I'd go for a motorhome and use rest camps like Lower Sabie but would self cater buying food from supermarkets outside the parks.

If you'd like to book a South Africa holiday, speak to our friendly experts on 01768 603 715 or fill in our enquiry form.

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