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Smartours Review

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Smartours Review

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.

Hotels:

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.

Hluhluwe

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.

Swaziland

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.

Kruger Park

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.

Johannesburg

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.

Vic Falls

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.

Misc.

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!

Tempe, Arizona
Destination Expert
for South Africa, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
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1. Re: Smartours Review

Thanks for the thoughtful posting! As you know, many people ask about the Smartours trip. You didn't comment on how you felt about the extensive time spent on the road - which is a necessary part of the plan to keep costs reasonable. Was it about what you expected? And, if this was your first time in Africa, could you add a little feedback about meals? Quality and quantity? Affordability for the places where you ate at your own expense? Thanks..

New York City, New...
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2. Re: Smartours Review

I'm looking at Smartours for a trip next month - my only problem is that their itinerary is limited and it won't allow us to see everything that we want. I would like to spend an extra week in the area, which they don't allow for.

Are there any other similiar tour providers that offer such affordable packages - I'm looking for more like a 21 day excursion.

The Smartours option is only missing a few stops that I really want to include. It's just too tight. If the flights weren't included, I could have even tried to add a few days before and after their package.

Tempe, Arizona
Destination Expert
for South Africa, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
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8,360 posts
55 reviews
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3. Re: Smartours Review

What is it that you want to do - that they don't include?

I should add that there is one tour called "A World in One Country" that is operated by Thompson's - thompsonsafrica.com/escorted-tours/…

It's sold by numerous operators, but Thompson's runs it. Maybe it could form part of your trip and you could add on what's missing.

United States
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4. Re: Smartours Review

The time on the road was actually less than I expected. I enjoy seeing the country side when I travel, so it was no problem for me. This was my first time in South Africa, I thought the food choices were surprisingly similar to the food choices in the U.S.. We did go to the Boma in Vic Falls and tried all of the different game and mopani worms. I thought the Warthog was delicious!

Smartkid, I believe Smartours can give you extra time and/or price you for land only. Their was one couple on our tour that were spending an extra week in S.A. to be with family. FYI, that couple and one other had both previously been on this exact tour and took it again so they could bring another family member with them. You also might look at Gate1 travel, they are another good company with similar prices.

New York City, New...
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5. Re: Smartours Review

This is the itinerary that I'm looking to get through over the course of 4 weeks:

I've marked an X next to anything that is not covered in SmarTours. Are there any recommended tour providers that could put something together for this?

Cape Town

Table Mountain

Cape Peninsula

Cape Winelands

Oudthshoorn X

Knysna X

Port Elizabeth X

Drakensburg X

St. Lucia - Durban X (I'm willing to skip this)

Zululand/Hluhluwe Game Reserve

Swaziland

Kruger Park

Blyde River Canyon

Pretoria/Mpumalanga/Pilgrims Rest

Soweto/ Lion Park Tour

Johannesburg

Zambezi River

Victoria Falls

Chobe National Park

Hazyview, South...
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17 reviews
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6. Re: Smartours Review

Other than the last bit, Vic Falls, it sound like a typical selfdrive itinerary thousands of people do every year!

Klaus

-Owner Abangane-

Hazyview

Edited: 10:57 am, February 14, 2012
Hazyview, South...
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7. Re: Smartours Review

Smartkid, looking at your other post "South Africa - Tanzania - Kenya - 1 month" you seem to have changed your mind quite a bit?!?!

Klaus

-Owner Abangane-

Hazyview

New York City, New...
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8. Re: Smartours Review

Abagane,

Yes - I changed my mind alot!

Firstly, I was trying to cover too much ground by covering both South Africa and Eastern Africa in the same trip.

Secondly, I have been advised that this is not the best time of year to be visiting Kenya and Tanzania. I'll plan a seperate trip to see Kenya-Zanzibar-Tanzania some other time.

Third, I realized that there was alot more in South Africa to see that I realized. Originally, I was only going to stop in Cape Town and Jo'burg.

I was originally considering the self-drive. I'm normally the type that plans my own itineraries without resorting to vacation packages. However, the group I am with has a moderate budget and we're also very late in the process given that we want to depart in late March. It's just easier to get a package than to plan out the individual components. Theres just too many things that can go wrong. Do you think a self trip is achievable? We could always just book a tour for the last leg.

London, United...
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for South Africa
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9. Re: Smartours Review

@Abangane - I am always amazed people would rather sit in a coach than self-drive. I have seen people swept back into coaches after barely a breather in Franschhoek and many of them were saying to each other how much they would love to spend some more time there...

If I am self-driving and want to spend an extra few hours at a stop-off location then I have the freedom to.

When I was a student I worked as a waiter in a 13th century west country pub. Every day between lunch and supper shifts a coach load would descend on us for a 1 hour long break-neck speed lunch stop - everyone having pre-ordered. Then they would go to Bradford upon Avon for 30min, Bath for an hour and a half, before driving straight back to London via Windsor.

I would have been gutted if I only got to see Bath for an hour and a half if I had never been!

Edited: 2:39 pm, February 14, 2012
Hazyview, South...
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10. Re: Smartours Review

LOL Graham, my feelings!!!

Smartkid, you are going in March, so there is no problem for short planning/booking as (other than 21.03) there are no public holidays. I would even go as far as saying, book your first night on arrival and your last night before departure and see where the wind, the road and your mood takes you.

If you feel more comfi having planned, your intenerary is pretty fine. Just book the accommodation according to your likes and budget.

Have a look at

www.safarinow.com

www.travelbook.co.za (with real time availability check

and for Kruger Park

www.sanparks.co.za

Planning a selfdrive is as easy as.....hmmmmm..... boiling potatoes?!?!?!?!

Klaus

-Owner Abangane-

Hazyview