(First word of advice: after reading my review, I would advise you read the other 'poor', 'terrible' reviews that have been posted here.)
To provide some context for this review, my husband and I had traveled 36 hours from New York City to get to Botswana for our much anticipated honeymoon, and had been incredibly excited about this trip from the moment we booked (through a company called Classic Escapes based in South Africa). We were visiting Vumbura as the second safari camp of the trip, having stayed at Sandibe for our first stop. We fell in love with Africa and the experience of being on safari when we visited South Africa back in 2017 and stayed at two luxury safari camps there, one of which was Tswalu in the Kalahari and was absolutely incredible in every single way. (Second word of advice: read their reviews. They did not receive a single 'poor' or 'terrible' review from anyone.) As one night at Vumbura is even more expensive than Tswalu we were expecting an equivalent 5-star experience. Instead, we got the complete opposite. Given this was our honeymoon and we paid tens of thousands of dollars for our trip, which started in Botswana and ended in the Seychelles we were expecting an extremely high standard at every point along the way.
When we first arrived at Vumbura Plains we were thrilled when we were first taken to our room. At first glance the room was spacious, nicely decorated and looked like it was well designed. Which is kind of what you expect when paying $2900 per night. The rooms are made of wood, have mesh panels instead of windows and a thatched roof. Unfortunately, about 2 hours after we checked in we started to realize things were not as they seemed on first impression. On closer inspection we realized the room was actually filthy and did not appear to have had a through cleaning in a very long time, if ever. There were cobwebs everywhere, and dirt had collected in all the crevices between the floorboards and the wooden slats in the walls, and we soon noticed the room was teeming with unidentifiable huge bugs crawling and flying all over the room. On our first night, after dinner, we went back to our room and were getting ready for bed when we noticed a scorpion running along the floor. My husband tried to spray it with the bug killing spray that was in the room however there was hardly anything left due to having to dispose of the multiple other unwanted creatures all over the room earlier in the evening. He picked up an umbrella that was in the room to try and hit the scorpion which had run under the wardrobe area and ANOTHER scorpion fell out of the umbrella. At this point we were both upset and genuinely just terrified what else we were going to find. We were about to call one of the staff members only to realize there is no phone provided in the room, nor had we been given any number to reach any staff member by via text or whatsapp from our own phones. We saw there was an emergency foghorn so decided that was our only way of getting any kind of assistance. We picked up the foghorn, which was in a rubber sleeve holder. Then, as if we were experiencing a real life nightmare yet ANOTHER scorpion fell out of the foghorn sleeve and started running across the floor. At this point I just burst into tears. I felt so trapped, so unsafe and so uncomfortable and all I wanted to do was get on a flight out of there. All that was going through my mind was I can't believe we have 3 more nights to spend at this place. After about ten minutes a member of staff arrived at the room. We explained what had happened and we were met with a nonchalant, unbothered attitude from the property manager. So after finding 3 SCORPIONS in less than an hour, no apology, no offer to be moved to another room, just an incoherent mumble and a quick walk around the room with a feather duster to appear like they were checking for any additional scorpions. To be completely frank, the staff at Vumbura (although a number of them are very sweet, nice people) are just not up to the standard of what you would expect at a 5 star property. I think a large part of that is because they are not trained properly and is really reflective of the poor management at Wilderness Safaris. The staff are well meaning people but to be frank I think the real issue is that Wilderness Safaris is just not up to the task of running upmarket camps. There is a major quality control issue. My husband and I travel all over the world multiple times a year and have stayed at some of the best hotels in the world, and other more modest places too that cost a fraction of what Vumbura charges and we have NEVER experienced anything like what we experienced there. Our 3 nights at Vumbura were the worst, most stressful 3 nights we have ever spent anywhere, while simultaneously being some of the most expensive. We barely slept the entire time we were there.
Of course some bugs are to be expected when you are in the African wilderness, however when you are paying almost $3000 per night for room instead of a tent, you expect that room to be built properly so as to not allow for countless bugs, spiders, scorpions etc. to get in. Unfortunately these rooms are extremely poorly built and there are huge cracks and crevices all over.
My advice would be if you are considering a Botswana safari I would strongly advise if you are a seasoned traveler to avoid Wilderness and Vumbura in particular. They are great marketers but if you have stayed at other upmarket safari camps, this will not be the standard you are expecting for the price point you will pay. They do not have trackers in any of their camps, just guides. If you have ever been on a safari where there is a tracker in addition to your guide, you know the valuable role they play. The food was mediocre and there is no air conditioning provided. We were there in November when average temperatures were between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the lack of air conditioning was pretty unbearable. In contrast, we had just stayed at Sandibe where all the rooms had air conditioners.
Lastly, I would mention that we relayed nearly all of this feedback to the Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris Botswana (via our travel agent) who pretty appallingly stated he had ''mulled this complaint over and felt these guests do not deserve a refund of any sort" and then goes on to make excuses for the insect / scorpion problem, the poorly built room, the lack of hygiene and cleanliness, the air conditioning, the lack of working WiFi, and the standard of customer service that the on-site staff provided. As I said earlier, this reinforces my point about the quality of the management at Wildnerness. Perhaps with a management overhaul things would be better. Most successful companies with a shred of savvy about good customer service if they received feedback like this would do everything in their power to rectify the situation and offer some sort of concession as an apology for the experience we had. Not Wilderness.
For anyone considering going on safari here, I would highly recommend you put your hard earned money to use at one of the many other amazing camps in the Okavango Delta that are not run by Wilderness safaris. I wish I had read the reviews in the 'poor', 'terrible' sections. If I had we would not have chosen to go here. My husband and I are passionate about traveling and love nothing more than exploring the farthest flung and most remote corners of the planet. Whenever we go anywhere, we pick hotels / camps / lodges that we think will provide the best 'home away from home' experience for us while we are there. Sadly, Vumbura Plains was not that.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the positive aspects, which were the wildlife sightings, the beautiful scenery of the Okavango, our guide Nas and a member of staff called 'See' who provided us with an amazing tribal dance performance.
The Okavango Delta is an incredible place and we will definitely return, just not to a Wilderness camp unfortunately.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Response from Wilderness_Safaris, Public Relations Manager at Wilderness Safaris Vumbura Plains Camp
Responded 27 Jan 2020
Dear LP_NYC_87, Thank you for taking the time to send us this review, we appreciate all your comments and concerns and hope that the rest of your honeymoon was enjoyable. As you mention in your review you have been in contact with our customer care team and management who have additionally addressed all your complaints via your agent. We will however, offer a summary of these communications to address all your issues mentioned above. With regards to our tented rooms, most luxury camps in Botswana are tented for the sake of the environment, reinforced that way by government policy. As the Okavango Delta is a World Heritage Site, Botswana aims to keep the area as pristine as is possible, thus minimizing human impacts. We have to remove and decommission and rehabilitate to a natural state when departing. This is very different to those lodges you would have previously visited in the neighbouring country, South Africa. We are sorry that your expectations were not met and you were uncomfortable with the insects around at this time of year. Our team reassures us they tried their best to ensure your tent was bug reduced as much as was possible. We have appealed to the teams to be more empathetic than they currently were in this case and we will definitely do our best to ensure guests feel even more that we do care about sensitivities such as this. On the cleanliness front, without rain but a lot of wind there is always some dust about in the rooms. They are thoroughly cleaned twice a day and spot serviced in the evening at turn down. Our roofs are thatch and therefore, some insects do make it their home in the dry winters. This can include the odd uroplectes scorpion (the little yellow one) and when summer arrives they get out and move on – a few can sometimes drop down from under the thatch, though the occurrence is rare. The cleanliness of the room is otherwise good. While we always do try to ensure an absolutely sealed room, insects can get in through minute cracks in a floor or via the thatch (as explained) or when the door is opened and closed. Some insects we prefer not to kill or remove, such as the flat spiders – as they eat a good number of mosquitos and are harmless to humans. Unfortunately, moving rooms would not have improved the matter. We are proud to employ about 95% of our staff from deep rural communities in Botswana and have trained them to the levels where we deliver great service. Local teams are a company priority as a result conservation and community efforts and we are very proud to offer an authentic Batswana experience. Again please accept our apologies for not meeting your expectations during your stay with us but hope you will enjoy your further explorations through the Delta and Southern Africa. Bush regards Wilderness Safaris
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC