The rooms and main areas at Vumbura Plains all overlook the floodplains of the Okavango...
Vumbura Plains: Our full report
North of Botswana's Moremi National Park is a series of large floodplains dotted with small palm islands and interspersed with large forested areas. Here, the 94km2 (60,000-hectare) Vumbura Reserve – known for wonderfully varied and high densities of game – is shared between Vumbura Plains and its smaller sister camp, Little Vumbura. Vumbura Plains is effectively two adjacent camps run semi-independently: North Camp and South Camp. Imagine a luxury hotel of contemporary, minimalist design, deep in the Delta, and you’re nearly there.
Each of Vumbura Plains’ camps has seven cavernous suites, spaced well apart and raised up on decks. These suites really are luxurious, even by Botswana's standards, each with its own very private plunge pool and deck, and lots of safari-chic touches. (Read more about the individual suites here…)
High wooden walkways link the suites at Vumbura Plains with the central areas . Whilst North and South camps are not identical, these sprawling areas are similar in style and provide the same facilities. In each, the deck seems to flow into sunken lounges with their blend of muted earth-coloured and green cushions. The purposeful use of shapes lends a stylish, almost organic feel.
A library area offers a selection of natural history books, and a computer for guests to view their photographs and burn them to CD. However, note that when we visited in May 2011, there was no internet access.
Guests are encouraged to help themselves from the bar – although there will usually be a member of staff on hand to help. Fancy a latte? Craving a cappuccino? No problem! When we visited in May 2011, we indulged in both, courtesy of a rather elaborate coffee machine.
A large portion of the deck is dedicated to the dining area – part of it under cover and part under the stars – adorned with wooden carvings and interesting African sculptures. There is a quirky ‘loo with a view’ (and it’s a rather good view too) which is reached by a short boardwalk from the main lodge.
Vumbura Plains offers a wide choice of activities including day and night 4WD game drives, mokoro trips and sometimes short walks – although because of the density of big game, walks are always at the discretion of the guides and managers. When water levels allow, there's a deep-water channel nearby for motorboat trips.
On our numerous visits to the Vumbura Reserve, stratching back to around 1990, we’ve consistently noted how varied the game is here, including the predators – and how it has gone from strength to strength. Lion are relatively common, and the open areas suit cheetah and wild dog, which sometimes den in the vicinity. Leopard and spotted hyena are also seen frequently. When we stayed at Vumbura Plains in May 2011, we visited a den where the hyenas had recently had pups – which incidentally are much cuter than their adult counterparts.
There are plenty of elephants and buffalo around, although in smaller herds than those at Duba Plains. During our sundowner stop, we were very fortunate as a large breeding herd of elephants ambled past just as the sun was setting. We’ve also seen zebra, wildebeest and a particularly large range of antelope here, including red lechwe, impala and tsessebe, kudu and sable. The birds are equally varied, ranging from pink pelicans to mopane specialists such as red-billed hornbills.
Our viewVumbura Plains is not a typical bush lodge by any stretch of the imagination. Dubbed a premier camp by its owners, it is unlikely to appeal to someone who enjoys a more traditional safari camp. However, it should appeal to someone who ‘wants it all’: a very good game experience with exceptionally high standards of service, attention to individual needs (and delivering on them), excellent food and luxurious surroundings.
All of this comes at a supplement over the cost of most other Okavango camps – around £270–406 extra per person sharing per night, depending on the season. While it isn’t cheap, we think that this is a camp that delivers.
Ideal length of stay: 3 nights
Directions: Access to Vumbura Plains is usually by light aircraft. Access to Vumbura Plains is sometimes by fixed-wing light aircraft, although as we discovered on our visit in May 2011, helicopter transfers are now more the norm.
Owner: Wilderness Safaris.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Although the general format of meals at Vumbura Plains is similar to most camps in the Okavango, the lodge aims to be more adaptable than most to the needs of individual travellers. One of the ways they do this is by offering travellers the option of individual table settings rather than communal dining; another is by being more flexible on mealtimes.
On our last visit in May 2011, as on previous stays, we were offered an excellent variety and very good quality. We thought that some of the dishes were particularly imaginative – and tasty!
A light breakfast is laid out before departing on the morning activity, comprising a selection of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, muffins and croissants – and even a cooked option for those who want it.
Brunch is usually available from around 11.00am, after the morning’s activities, although some guests prefer to eat a little later. Served as a buffet, it will generally include soup, various salads, cold meats, fresh bread and dishes such as quiche. We were offered a vegetable quiche; apple and sesame salad with a satay dressing; oriental pineapple salad; freshly sliced fruit; sliced aubergine (eggplant) with a pesto and pepper topping; as well as a good selection freshly baked bread, biscuits, cheese and cold meats.
Afternoon tea, served, just before heading out on the afternoon activity, is usually a treat! In addition to freshly baked cakes or tarts and savoury snacks, there is often also the option of a freshly made smoothie. We particularly enjoyed the lemon tart on our last visit.
More often than not, dinner is a departure from the traditional communal buffet setting at many camps in Botswana, and will usually be a plated service with two options for per course. We started with a choice of pea soup with ginger and carrot or chicken spring rolls wrapped in beef. We had a delicious main course of bream with roasted vegetables, although it was difficult to choose between that and the rack of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes. Initially we chose not to have dessert, a choice of banana fritters or cheesecake, but the chef then offered us another alternative of homemade mango ice cream – which was light and really delicious.
The exception to this will be the traditional nights which are held once a week – usually on a Monday evening. First, the guides will talk about their traditions and culture and the staff may even choose to sing. There follows a traditional dinner which is served as a buffet. This is usually a very festive evening when guests dine together, sitting around a large table swapping stories, but individual tables can be arranged for those who prefer to dine separately.
The camp can cater to vegetarians and any other special dietary requirements, if a good amount of notice is given.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits cost extra and, although the cellar is well-stocked, may need to be requested in advance.
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 12 years are welcome at Vumbura Plains. The camp may accept those aged 6–12, but private activities must be booked and these will be at an extra cost. Children younger than six may be accepted by special arrangement, and then only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use. Note that minimum age requirements mean that children are allowed on boat trips from the age of six years, but sleep-outs, mekoros and walking only from the age of 13 years.
Special activities & services: There are no special activities or services.
Equipment: No special equipment is provided for children, but there are two family-style two-bedroom units at Vumbura Plains North Camp.
Generally recommended for children: The more individual approach of Vumbura Plains is conducive to flexibility and thus to the needs of families with children. The suites have space for children to play and for the family to relax together. There are no specific facilities or activities for children, however, so it’s probably best suited to families with more mature children who are interested in the natural world.
Notes: Vumbura Plains is unfenced, and dangerous wildlife, including leopard and elephants, are known to move regularly through camp. The walkways and suites are all raised off the ground, with basic handrails only. The pools are unfenced and the camp is in close promixity to open water for much of the year. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: Power is primarily provided by generators – in fact three generators when we visited in May 2011 – which means that there is essentially 24-hour power. There are plug points in the suites for charging equipment and it is possible to use hairdryers.
TV & radio: There is no television or radio.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Vumbura Plains’ managers are first-aid trained, and a first-aid kit is kept on site. There is a nurse in Maun who is on call and can be contacted by radio 24 hours a day. In the event of an emergency, guests can be flown out to the nearest doctor in Maun.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Air horns are provided in the rooms to sound the alarm in case of emergency. Guests are escorted to and from their suites after dark.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are kept in all of the rooms and in the main area.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included and, wherever possible, will be returned to guests on the same day.
Money: All rooms are equipped with small electronic safes. There are no money exchange facilities.
Accepted payment on location: Air horns are provided in the rooms to sound the alarm in case of emergency. Guests are escorted to and from their suites after dark.