Pungwe Safari camp was definitely the highlight of our stay in South Africa. This was everything we could dream of for a safari. A tent with the luxury of a hotel room, wild animals right outside the camp, great food and above all - fantastic hosts... We truly fell like staying with friends we had known for a long time. If you want to experience the bush without the (number) feeling of the Kruger park - Pungwe Safari Camp is the place to stay. Many thanks to Michel, Isaac, Rob, Wonderboy and all of the staff members who made this an unforgettable experience.
I did a photographic safari with Ernest from Eagle Eye Safaris and he booked us in to Pungwe for 3 nights. It was a charming tented camp, friendly staff, great food and a kettle always boiling on the campfire for hot drinks. Michel, the Manager, was very friendly and a good host, helping everyone to feel comfortable, regardless of their home language. The food was incredible, considering the small kitchen it was produced in. Hyaenas came walking through the camp, even nibbled on something outside my room one night. The game drives were also impressive. Got to see a wild dog family without lots of other vehicles. These are benefits of private nature reserves.
I spent 4 nights and 5 days. the experience was just incredible. if I could give it 6 stars, I would. the rangers are so knowledgeable and went above and beyond to let us see the big five and the big 7 which we did. the food would be superb if it was prepared in the middle of Manhattan but it was prepared in the middle of no where so it was even more amazing. the rooms/tents were so comfortable! taking a shower was sooooo cool as the water is heated by a wood fire right outside the room. and we had flush toilet!!!! the other big plus for me was that there was no fence so the animals could come close by and they did! we heard lions, hyenas, and elephants were regular visitors.
My wife and I enjoyed a 2 night stay in late June which for us perfectly rounded off what was an extended stay at various lodges in the greater Kruger area. Finding affordable, authentic bush camps in prime game viewing areas is I my experience akin to searching for hen’s teeth. In this respect discovering both Pungwe and the wider Manyeleti reserve proved to be very fruitful indeed as both in my opinion can be considered hidden gems.
As I researched the history of the reserve itself I found that it has had a colourful past and due to the unsavoury politics of the time was for many years somewhat neglected or even shunned as a safari destination. It has certainly never been afforded the level of marketing or exposure to the international tourist trade as its more illustrious and well known neighbours. This is despite the fact the Manyeleti reserve enjoys an enviable geographical position between and unfenced to the KNP, northern Sabi Sands and southern Timbavati.
Another major advantage to visitors is the relative low density of game lodges currently operating in the reserve. This often means that you rarely see another game vehicle when out on drive which in turn means that longer can be spent at sightings in comparison to areas or reserves where there is a high lodge/vehicle ratio. Furthermore the internal squabbles of landowners does not seem to have surfaced as yet or if so not to the extent of sections in the neighbouring Sabi Sands. This means currently each lodge regardless of price point can traverse the whole reserve rather than be confined to a specific traverse within a larger area. To have the degree of land access to explore at Pungwe’s nightly room rate is serious value for money in game viewing terms.
The landscape in the Manyeleti is also noticeably more open and plains driven in places than other areas. It might be a stretch but to me there were vistas in the Manyeleti that we passed through that were more East Africa Savannah than South African bushveld. We enjoyed the topography of the reserve very much. Over our 4 game drives we saw 4 of the big five (no buffalo) but with Lions on every drive and Leopard on 3 out of 4 drives including one particular sighting which proved to be an extremely close shave for a very fortunate Impala
Pungwe itself is my type of bush experience. The camp is rustic yet luxurious. How can this be as surely this is a contradiction in terms? Well not necessarily because for me luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Is the camp materialistically luxurious? Perhaps not yet it certainly is perfectly comfortable for all but those with the most fragile of sensibilities. Spoiler alert… Pungwe is not for you if you are bound by butler service, spas, massages, splash pools and an unhealthy predilection to be ‘online’ at all times.
However in terms what I deem to be the important safari prerequisites then Pungwe is first class. It has modern glamping tents, comfortable beds and a warm shower. The price is in relative terms affordable yet the camp is very exclusive. (4 tents/ 8 guests max) The food is seriously delicious and plentiful, the service on the whole is friendly and attentive and most importantly the game viewing experience will certainly not disappoint.
Not to end on a sour note but it should be noted that there was at times a laissez-faire attitude adopted by our guide not in keeping with the rest of the staff; particularly so when Michel the boss was not around. Both mornings our guide slept in and so the expected camp wake up calls never came and thus we were quite late in departing on the morning drives. Similarly we were instructed that it was bedtime on our last night despite us all being still engaged and sat around the communal area after dinner with our nightcaps. Maybe he was having a bad couple of days but it is the only time we encountered these type of situations at any camp we have stayed at.
I have put these discrepancies to the back of my mind as the overriding feeling from our time at Pungwe was satisfaction and a hope that Pungwe change very little else about the camp so we can find it just where we left it on our next visit which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.
Pungwe Safari Camp was the highlight of our trip to Africa! I can't begin to tell you how much we loved this place. We arrived late, which did not seem to bother the staff. They quickly prepared a snack and we were off on safari within an hour of our arrival.
Our safari guide, Issac, was amazing! He would see the animals long before any of us. He always asked for our input, as several times there were many different sightings to choose from. He would take us off the road and very near to the animals. Within 24 hours of arrival we had viewed more animals than we ever imagined. His knowledge of the area and the animals is extensive. He led us on a bush walk and provided so much information about plants, animals, and the history of the area.
Back at camp, our chef, Robert, treated us royally with his delightfully flavored meals and fresh made bread. He always arrived with a smile on his face and was willing to adjust meals based on an allergy in our group. This was the first stop of several on our trip to Africa and we mentioned that we missed Robert's cooking throughout the rest of the trip.
The accommodations are beautiful. When I considered a camp, I had no idea it could be so well done. The beds are very comfortable. The rooms are large with ensuite full bath. We had hot water every evening (fire-heated) and a fan if we needed it. We were provided solar lanterns to take to our tent every evening and when there were animals in the camp, the staff escorted us safely to our room. Charging stations are available back at the main lodge area.
Our host, Michel, graciously joined us each afternoon and evening ensuring we were enjoying our time and providing background and insight into the history of Pungwe. His stories captivated us as he has a long history of managing safari camps.
We loved the small, intimate feel of this camp. There are only four tents making a maximum of 8 visitors in the camp at any given time. There are no fences, so the animals roam freely through the camp. Manyeleti is a private reserve so we never had to fight crowds when there was an animal sighting.
One night, we took a quick drive when the guides realized there was a leopard nearby. They quickly located the leopard despite the challenging brush and lack of light. The next day, a bull elephant wandered right into camp in the middle of the day. That same evening, a whole group of elephants passed through the camp as we were finishing dinner. The next morning, a hyena cautiously followed my adult son to breakfast. All of this happened under the watchful eye of our host and guides, who were very careful with our safety.
All of this is accomplished with careful consideration to the footprint we are leaving on this planet. If you're looking for an authentic safari experience...look no further.