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Umkumbe or Toro Yaka?

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Hi all,

I'm planning to do four days in the Kruger area in September or October - 2 in Kruger NP, and 2 in either Umkumbe (in Sabi) or Toro Yaka (in Balule). I'd love advice on picking between them (and possibly a recommendation for a camp in the NP that's easy to get to.

My main concerns with each are that Toro Yaka might not have great game (due to its being in Balule), although its Tripadvisor reviews are really glowing. Umkumbe my main worry is that the available land to drive on is quite small. My priorities are seeing game, first and foremost. After that a sense of remoteness would be great - and I never say no to good food. I'm less picky about the quality of the rooms and amenities. Anyone have suggestions?

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    Have you been on safari before? I ask because I would have found it difficult to search for and identify animals on our own in Kruger before I'd been on professional game drives before. If not, consider the Kruger safaris from Wild Wings Safaris - they take you to the park, get you in park accommodations, take you on game drives, provide breakfast and dinner. All at a reasonable price and they can drop you off (and pick you up) at any lodge after Kruger that you wish. Once you add in all the stuff included, it's not much more expensive than going on your own - and I think you get better service with a Wild Wings ranger than a Kruger ranger. It's a good value.

    We have stayed at Satara, Lower Sabie and Skukuza, all in the southern half of the park, and two in the northern part. We preferred the southern half, though all are surprisingly nice and spotlessly clean. All rest camps with restaurants are accessible by tar roads, so easy to get to. I assume you don't want to cook, stay someplace that has a restaurant. Just know that the restaurants don't open before sunrise, so we eat breakfast on the road - a small cooler for milk with cereal and cold drinks (it's hot in October!) was necessary for us. We rent a vehicle that is higher off the ground so animal viewing is easier - have tried small SUV and Toyota Avanza van (cheaper, not as comfortable, but fine).

    Kruger is a national park, open to the public, just likes the ones in the U.S. It's remote, but not exclusive. We have seen many creatures while by ourselves - and usually avoid the craziness when we are not.

    It's so nice to have someone ask about the smaller camps. Umkumbe gets great reviews - seeing animals that cross through their little slice of heaven in Sabi Sand is a matter of luck. Same as anywhere, though. You can also look into Umkumbe's sister camps Africa on Foot, nThambo and nDzuti. nDzuti is high on my list for next time. Gomo Gomo is a great value with its waterhole in camp, Shindzela is rustic but has a very friendly atmosphere, which we liked a lot. A former fodors poster, pixelpower, did a great write up of many of the affordable, lesser known camps. I can't find it, but you might try to find it. It really helped us find the camps I otherwise would never know existed. I have not been to Balule, but wouldn't hesitate to go.

    Just know there are no guarantees with seeing wildlife. I would suggest increasing your private lodge stay to three nights (or four and skip Kruger NP) to increase your chances of seeing everything you want to see and to really experience the lodge. We have stayed in places that "aren't great" according to reviews and had great luck. We've also had the exact opposite experience. You just never know, and the weather can make a big difference day to day (wind is bad, generally).

    Have fun planning. In all honesty, you can't go wrong. The Kruger area is incredible and you're going to love it!

    "They say that elephants near forget. What they don't tell you is you will never forget your first elephant". - Bill Murray

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    I can only give advice on Umkumbe. I have personally stayed at Umkumbe recently in May of this year and I got to see all of the big 5 when I was there for 4 days. Which you stated is a main concern. Aside from the big 5 also saw hippos, hyenas, giraffes, zebras and lots more wildlife and went on nature walks.

    I got it as a recommendation from a travel agent and most of the guest I met there picked Umkumbe from good word of mouth from friends.
    The guides and staff were great. Food was good and they packed us a to go bag for breakfast when we left for the aiport at 8am. I really enjoyed my time there and it was my first time in SA on Safari.

    Have an amazing time on your trip and hope this helps!

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