My wife and I stayed here for 2 nights at the start of our 3-week honeymoon in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Victoria Falls. Thank goodness we did, because this was the only place where we saw the big cats - leopard, cheetah, and lion. And not only did we see them, but we saw them UP CLOSE, about 15-20 ft away. Although Garonga and other private game reserves now "share" their animals in a giant, fenced-in area (instead of each reserved having its own smaller, fenced-in plot of land), the area is still tiny when compared to the vast neighboring Kruger National Park. Thus, the likelihood of seeing anything is much higher at Garonga. [Except for elephants - those guys are everywhere at Kruger!]
CJ, our guide, was great. He's laid back and very calm. He's been doing this for a long time so he knows where the animals like and what signs to look for in order to find them. Case in point, we found a family of rhinos because CJ recognized the birds flying overhead that typically clean the rhinos' skin of bugs.
The food was very tasty, the lodging luxurious, and the staff friendly and accommodating.
A note about the Safari Camp v. Little Garonga. I was a bit confused about these separate camps when I was making the reservation, but there's really little difference. The Safari Camp was the "original" Garonga, and is a series of permanent and very luxurious tents located around a dried out riverbed. There's a central lodge where meals are served, with a pool and a bar. A two minute walk from the Safari Camp is the newer Little Garonga, which consists of its own smaller lodge (with its own pool and liquor cabinet) and surrounding permanent rooms. We stayed in the Chiltern & Buckingham Suite, which is definitely enough for two people. I think the only reason you would stay in the more expensive Hambleden is if traveling with children or if four adults wanted to share. One could argue that Little Garonga is a tad more private, but I don't think it makes a huge difference. Those who stay at the Safari Camp do their game drives in one group, and those who stay at Little Garonga do their game drives in another group.
I do have two pieces of constructive criticism for the management:
1. Make the wi-fi free: It seemed a little odd that after paying a fairly large amount of money to stay at a fantastic lodge where everything - including alcohol - is included, why charge a tiny per day fee for the internet?
2. Improve the directions: While many guests probably arrange their travel with a tour company, we elected to drive ourselves through most of our 3-week trip. We used a Garmin GPS from the States (loaded with a $99 Southern Africa upgrade from Garmin's website) in combination with maps from our rental agency and the print-out directions from the website to get from Johannesburg Airport to Garonga. We got there without too much trouble, but in the age of Googlemaps and GPS and digital photos, I think it would be fairly easy for a staff member to drive the route, taking digital photos along the way, and post it online. Seems like one day's work and it would decrease the anxiety level greatly.
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- Also Known As:
- Garonga Safari Camp Hotel Makalali Private Game Reserve
- Garonga Safari Camp South Africa/Makalali Private Game Reserve