Smartours South Africa Review
Smartours delivered as always! We went on the South Africa with Vic falls extension departing Jan 17. Weather at this time was warm, but not terribly hot. We encountered a few rain showers, but nothing that affected the trip. Some of the evenings were a little chilly and the early morning game drives definitely needed a light jacket.
We had about 40 in our group, but everything was so well organized that it didn't seem that big. Our tour guide Ron Macgregor did an excellent job, he knew everyone by name by the third day. He was the most knowledgeable tour guide we've ever had! If you get him be prepared for a history lesson!
Shopping: There is quite a bit of souvenir shopping at V&A Waterfront, but a little on the pricey side. Most of us were more interested in buying from street vendors, but there were not as many as we expected. You will see some at Simons Town where you have lunch, they have pretty good prices (after bargaining of course). Once you leave Cape Town, there will be no shopping for quite a while, in fact many of us were getting quite concerned. There is no shopping in Hluhluwe, or Zululand. If you want a souvenir from Swaziland, the best place to buy one is from a street vendor at the border, the market you go to is priced much higher . You will stop for lunch on the bus day in Kruger park, they have gift shops that are not too bad. There are also a few vendors going out of the Kruger Gate hotel and turning to the left. The best shopping in the SA portion of the trip is on Day 11, Pilgrims Rest and Bourke’s pot holes. The guide will tell you to wait until Johannesburg and he will take you to a shop with the best prices, while these prices are better than the waterfront prices, they are not as good as you can get from the vendors. There are also vendors to the left and right as you exit the Johannesburg hotel. We found better deals from the shops on the right. In Vic falls you go to the craft market. If you can get past the initial barrage of vendors and the initial sticker shock of the prices they give you, you can bargain them down to good prices. I am sure there is more shopping in Vic Falls, but we did not return to town on our own to find out. Chobe/Botswana, there is one very sad little gift shop at the hotel where we had lunch. Absolutely nothing worth buying, very sad. We did notice that if you left the hotel and turned right, about 1/2 mile down the road there were some vendors, however due to some earlier delays our lunch was cut short so we didn't have time to check them out.
Optional Tours: Of the optional tours offered, we took the township tour in Cape Town, it was very interesting and worth taking. The wine tour, also worth taking. We are not wine drinkers, but enjoyed the countryside very much. There is an optional game drive at Hluhluwe for around $40. We did not take it. We felt we saw a good amount of what Hluhluwe had to offer with the included game drives. (Giraffe, Warthog, Cape Buffalo, White Rhino, Zebra and Elephants) Another option we did not take is going by jeep through Kruger Park to the hotel rather than by the bus. (about $80) We saw lots of animals. The bus would stop for pictures and back up as needed so that everyone could get pictures. Most that opted for the jeep ride, after the included game drives, said they weren't sure the extra was worth it. On our included game drives, we saw the big 5. There were 5 jeeps, of the 5, 2 saw the leopard. Everyone saw lions, 1 saw wild dogs. Not sure if they always use the same jeep drivers or not, but if you see a driver who is smaller than the rest and wears glasses, jump out of his jeep as fast as you can. He ignores the radio (where all the other drivers tell of sightings) and you will not see many animals. We did not take the Pretoria excursion, some said it was worth the price others didn't think it was. In Vic falls everyone took the Chobe excursion. We were lucky enough to see a lion stalking a giraffe. Nothing came of it but it was interesting. Other than that we did not see anything different. A lot more hippos and a few more elephants. Was it worth it? For the game itself, no. For seeing another country, yes. Most reviews I have read said Chobe was the best part. For me, it was good, but no better than Kruger. Maybe we were just lucky to see so many animals at the previous parks. I was very bored with the river portion, (it was no better than the included sunset cruise in Vic falls) it would have been better with 2 jeep drives. We also opted for the Lion Walk. It was a great experience, very glad we did it. It was a little pricey at around $100, but a once in a lifetime thing for me. Some people did the elephant back safari for about the same price and enjoyed that also. There were a few people that did a helicopter tour over the falls. Vic falls throws out so much water you can't believe it. They actually give you raincoats to go view it and believe me they are needed! That being said, the people who went on the helicopter viewing were not giving it rave reviews. Maybe because of the mist? Not sure, but something to think about.
Cape Town hotel was ok. On the way from the airport to the hotel our guide pointed out the shuttle bus stop we could take to get to V&A waterfront. We used this shuttle a lot, as we went to the waterfront each day for dinner. The waterfront also has places to exchange money that are open until about 8pm. Even though the hotel wasn’t in the most convenient place, the shuttle made it ok.
I liked this hotel, but it’s location was both good and bad. Good because it is located close to the game reserve. Bad because the town is just a trash pit. There is a KFC and Wimpy’s close by, along with a few grocery stores, we did venture out but didn’t stay long. Better to just stay in the hotel.
This hotel was my least favorite. It’s really just a stop on the way to Kruger. Although there is a casino that some people enjoyed.
I was so looking forward to this hotel. It was much bigger than I expected and nice. But a bit of a disappointment. The week before we were here, Kruger park experienced a typhoon. (In fact the Smartour departure that was a week prior to ours were here when it happened. Their game drives were cancelled, very sad for them) Possibly because of the typhoon, there were no animals at the river. Oh well.
Again, the hotel was ok. No complaints. But for me, just a hotel. There is a dying shopping mall attached to it, vendors to the left and right, and a few restaurants nearby.
My favorite of all the hotels. Loved watching the animals at the watering hole! Mostly storks, warthogs and impala. But one night there were some elephants. They feed the vultures on a daily basis, very interesting to watch if you get the chance.
We did not take malaria pills. We also saw maybe 5 mosquitoes the whole trip. We did deet up in the evenings and mornings. Some people who were taking malarone got so sick they stopped taking them. According to one of the locals, malaria season is Oct/Nov. Not what the CDC says, Neither one of us got bit by a mosquito as far as we could tell. I will repost on this if we get malaria ;-)
Luggage-when we got our E-tickets it showed we were allowed 2 pieces of luggage on every flight.
The people in Zimbabwe are very poor. We donated a bunch of clothes when we left. They will also try to bargain for your shoes, socks etc.
Many people looked at their plug adapters at home and one of them said Africa. None of them worked. South Africa has a very unique plug. You need a type M adapter. (about $5 on Amazon)
We had a great time! Smartours is great!