News & Reviews Africa Botswana Review: Little Mombo, Botswana

Mombo Camp

Little Mombo, Botswana
Room type: Tented Room
Duration: 15th > 17th February, 2018
Booked with: Dorsia Travel

Even though this concludes our Botswana Adventure, I have chosen to write about it first.  This is because after Kings Pool, Vumbura Plains and even Abu, I was starting to form an opinion of what Wilderness Safaris offered.  And spoilers, it wasn’t the best.  Yet then we came to Little Mombo, undoubtedly their flagship property.  Having been shut down last year and completely rebuilt from scratch, it opened in January, so I felt a review was just what the animal doctor ordered.

Getting there

As with all safaris, how long it takes to get there is completely dependent upon how many other selfish individuals happen to be traveling on the same day as you.  In this case a grand total of zero, so we departed Abu Camp on a helicopter, which quite frankly was stupendous.  Helicopter tours are amazing, and can be taken as an activity in themselves.  Their awesomeness is also charged appropriately, so start making up fake illnesses that means you cannot fly via a plane so Wilderness must get to da choppa.  You can only manage vertical takeoffs; you’re afraid of heights above 10,000ft; you have a gluten allergy, and planes contain gluten.

During our 15 minute flight, we managed to see a whole range of wildlife, including a herd of over 50 elephants passing through the river.  A helicopter safari is like safariing on crack, and that’s something we should all get behind.

If you’re helicoptering from Abu it’s about 15 minutes, if you’re flying in from Maun it’s about 25 minutes, and if you’re on a Falcon 9 then I think you’re reading the wrong blog.

Nice, but not a launch pad.

Arrival

As was muscle memory by now, we were collected by whom would be our guide for the duration of our stay from the helipad (the airstrip was being rebuilt, so the helicopter was the only option).  It being not even a 5 minute drive from the camp was not going to receive any grumbles from me, I had spent quite enough time sat in vehicles by now after 7 days of safari.  My buttocks were stronger than a honey badger.

There was no singing from staff, like in Abu, nor a large number of people like in Kings Pool, but there was the camp manager, Will, a guy who seemed like he was built in a lab designed by scientists of hospitality.  The initiation was perfect, and he had clearly done his research by knowing all our preferences from the other camps.

Setting

Whilst I do not want to downplay the epic experiences with elephants at Abu, the superb rooms at Vumbura Plains and the service at Kings Pools, Mombo actually felt like the only premier camp.  Premier management; premier welcome; premier rooms; premier facilities and premier interaction at every step.  Each other camp had many pros, but also too many cons; Mombo had only pros.

I should not be surprised by how great everything was, but after 6 days of other Wilderness camps it lowers the expectations.  It’s like they got a right kick up the arse from Singita and responded – not surprising as management are ex Singita Ebony/Boulders.  It is known that Singita offers true luxury; Wilderness offers incredible experiences.  Now Wilderness can offer both luxury and an amazing experience.

The stories from all the staff at Mombo help you understand why it is such an incredible property, with apparent endless supply of viewings without even walking off camp.  Just metres from our deck we had zebras, monkeys, buffalo, warthogs, and of course, the African equivalent of breeding-like-rabbits, impala.  Animals live in the camp, and National Geographic even occasionally force Scar from the Lion King to repent and narrate documentaries of previous leopard tenants or lions.

Stay List

I’m not going to start complaining that all the food and drink I wanted was not present, as I’m not a monster.  They clearly did the best they could.  Yet it was rather perplexing to see that there was still no toothbrush – being out in the bush for so long must have taken a toll on their standards of hygiene.

Showering in the bush

Rooms

Being 6 weeks old, it was not surprising to find the rooms in perfect condition.  What was striking was to find everything so close to perfect, with the exception of any comms still not installed.  Wilderness have this internal battle over what they should do with wifi, as the old boys club think it shouldn’t be allowed, whereas anyone who hasn’t hit the age where they’ve had to take viagra at least once knows being completely cut-off is a 21st century bubonic plague.  Abu already has wifi and Mombo will soon be joining the list – just restricted to rooms only.  As judge and jury, I’m happy to give my endorsement behind this idea.  The old folk don’t get annoyed seeing us whippersnappers starring at our phones over dinner, whilst we don’t get annoyed at the wrinkly brigade installing marshal law on us and forcing us into 20th century poverty.

I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of a design, more than the design itself.  With Little Mombo, just a few areas highlighted to me that they had thought things through as a guest and wanted to offer a luxury experience.

  • USB sockets next to bed, plug sockets behind the bed on the desk
  • Motion sensors to turn lights on at night by the bathroom, so you do not need to wake your partner up
  • Plug sockets on the outside sofa.  When doing photo editing on my MacBook Pro, the battery life is gone in less than an hour, so in any other property it forces me inside – not at Mombo.
  • A Butler compartment by your door.  You can slide it open so they do not disturb you and leave your food for you without entering; the only issue is, with no radio/phone, it’s currently pointless

Yes, you read that last sentence correct.  There is currently no telephone or radio, so until then, you’re left just hoping that rustling in the bush was just the local peeping Tom (no relation) and nothing more sinister.

It was the whole package of the room that I loved; the indoor lounge; the outdoor cabana; the feel of all the materials; the private plunge pool (ok, it only went to 27C, so I’m being overly kind); the outdoor eating area; the new, fluffy towels; an actual lock on the doors and bathroom.  Whilst we saw more animals by our room than at any other camp, the view would still not be my favourite, as it was just looking out onto grasslands.

Facilities

It is worth understanding the differences between Mombo and Little Mombo.  Mombo is the main camp with 8 rooms; Little Mombo was built as an extension with 3 rooms.  They are separated by a walkway that is long enough to give you time to think about the number of ways you can be eaten, but short enough that at least your screams will be heard by at least one of the rooms and your death will not go in vain, but become a viral YouTube video.  The main benefit to Little Mombo is the dedicated staff, camp manager and ability for buy outs, so the entire area is yours and yours alone.  Guests at either property can go between them without fear of persecution, although us Little Mombers may have an inferiority complex, so don’t be surprised if we spit in your drink.  Given the option, I would go with Little Mombo as the facilities are very similar, it’s just on a smaller scale and with more personalised service.

In between both camps, on neutral ground, you have a shared area containing a swimming pool, gym and spa.

  • Little Mombo
    • Dining area
    • Beautiful dining area with library
    • Indoor bar
  • Mombo
    • Pizza oven
    • Indoor dining area
    • Indoor bar
    • TV in main area to show off your photos
    • Gift shop

Little Mombo dining area

Little Mombo lounge and bar

Spa / Gym

As with Abu, there is a gym.  As with every hotel ever made, I did not try it.  This was the only Wilderness property that had a dedicated spa – every other did a treatment in your room – and just as with Singita, the prices were so low I thought DFS was running them; a 60 minute massage being around £40.  If only North Island charged similar.  They even have a shower area by the spa, so there’s no need to go back to your room afterwards.  Lucie had an hour long massage that they made an 1 hour and 15 minute massage, and she ranks it as awesome times infinity plus one.

Main pool

Activities

Available for sale: Canon 5D Mark IV, taken on African safari, unused.  That is what I was expecting after 3 drives at the infamous Mombo and finding nothing with paws or claws anywhere.  It was only during the last 15 minutes of the final drive that a leopard turned up.

Having originally booked Mombo in 2015 and then making the stupendous mistake to go to Aman-i-Khas instead, I was aware of the reputation this property had.  So it surprised me at the restrictions they had in place due to being in a national park.  You cannot do off-roading all the time; you cannot do night drives; you must be back in camp by 7pm, and you cannot see a predator without seeing a billion impalas first – and I assure you, they do count.

Mombo is the most expensive Wilderness camp, and possibly the most expensive safari camps full-stop.  With prices hitting nearly $3000 per person per night during peak, I was surprised to see that Mombo came with these restrictions that none of their other camps do.  This is all the result of the sheer abundance of animals.  Just not as long as you’re me.  During peak the animals are stuck Chief’s Island (where Mombo rests), due to the flooding around them, so there is enough death going around to keep even a Russian spy agency happy.

Yet we were slumming it during off-peak, where we were just chasing dirt around in circles.  It was by far the worst viewing we had of all the trip.  In their defence, we had already seen every non-carnivorous bastard that nature had to offer by this stage, so seeing another elephant had lost most of its appeal.  But no one will be going to Mombo to see elephants anyway; they are blood-thirsty brutes like myself, desperate for that abandoned impala to meet the justice of pointy teeth.

At least our guide did his best to keep it entertaining, such as his attempts to convince us that some elephants could have 5 legs…

He was not a full-time Mombo guide, but a Wilderness specialist – someone who goes between all the Wilderness Lodges.  So maybe I’ll try and blame it on him not being an expert in the area for our poor viewings, especially as during dinner one evening an elderly couple mentioned how they saw 8 black and 3 white rhinos, lions, baby cubs and killings.

Abu has already done it and now Mombo is following: the vehicles are changing from a maximum of 6 seater to 4, meaning you are only ever sharing with one other couple.  Not a problem for us, as we were in a private vehicle – something I still recommend, but it’s good to know you won’t ever find yourself crowded out.

I know how you feel

Food

I really wanted to write pure positivity on this subject, as it started so good with an amazing lunch of pork with sweet rice.  I even went cautious and ordered it the next day to avoid the usual disappointment, but it came out cooked different with changed ingredients and tasting like the pig died of swine flu.

As with all Wilderness Camps, you have early breakfast at 5:30am, brunch/lunch from 11am, tea at 4pm and dinner from 8pm.  Lunch and breakfast remain the same every day, whereas dinner and tea can drastically change.  The main consistency is the cheese. Maybe it’s an African thing, but every time you order cheese out comes the BabyBell, which is something in England you give your children.  If you hate them.  And they’ve committed a war crime.

Mombo tried, but I feel there were too many hit and misses for this to be considered a success.  On our final night there was a 5 course tasting menu available, and it went down like a Gary Glitter lookalike contest held at a primary school.

Service

With only 3 staff, Little Mombo’s service is almost entirely dependent on whether you like the resort manager, Will.  Luckily we did, so it turned out great.  He would be there during all meals, and assist with anything you needed.  His attention to detail was superb and his desire to go above and beyond too; after mentioning we were heading to La Residence, he printed off a full list of places to visit to try.  The majority of senior staff across Mombo seemed to be South Africa, and that brought with them a, lets say, more experienced hand in customer service.

Sadly, the same issues existed with the guide forgetting things: here it was to get me any water.  Minor inconvenience during 30C heat, I suppose.  On our final night we ate outside in our room, and the waitress locked us out.  With no way of contacting anyone, we engaged in a daring rescue operation of cutting through the nets to get back in.  Thank god I watched Bear Grylls once, otherwise I’m certain we’d now be dead.

Departure

We came, we saw nothing, we conquered.  We were taken by our guide for the short journey to the helipad, where the same heli pilot from Abu flew us over to a nearby airstrip.  As another couple were coming with us and the helicopter could only carry 3 people, it then had to go back and collect them, so we were waiting at the airstrip for just over an hour.  I used that time to watch some BBC documentaries, so I could remember what a cat looked like.  To add insult to injury, we also saw no animals on this helicopter trip.  My Canon listing on eBay had to be bumped.

Something finally worth photographing

Worth Knowing

We had barely an hour of rain over our 6 days in Botswana prior to Mombo, yet that all changed here.  It was raining the first evening almost continuously, and became so cold that even I had to forego a t-shirt, and I’m English and will start wearing t-shirts when it heats up beyond 16C.  It was the worst weather of all lodges, with cold mornings to make it even more unpleasant.  Yet with rain comes bugs, and come night there were more bugs than animals – it was so bad that we couldn’t even chew our food without a bug making its way in there.

The Good

  • Excellent facilities, including spa, gym and main pool

The Bad

  • Animal viewings during off-peak
  • Food was hit and miss

The Luxurious

  • Superb room with great animal viewings
  • The true feeling of luxury
  • Personalised service

Conclusion

Having been completely rebuilt from scratch and reopening in January ’18, Mombo is undoubtedly the flagship safari property of Wilderness Safaris.  It is a brilliant camp – the best I’ve been to.  And yet, unless you’re just really into chillin’ in Botswana, you are coming here for the animals and I feel I may be the only person ever to visit Mombo and walk away without a single interesting viewing.  If anyone else experienced the same, I will be setting up a weekly support group to help us get through these tough times.  With the never-ending stories out there of Mombo, this remains the one and only camp I would really like to return to during the peak months of June > October.  I just hope it lives up to the hype.

Mombo pool

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 10th Mar '18

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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