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Smartours South Africa Tour

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We are thinking of a South Africa safari and tour with Smartours. Any experience with this tour or company? Best time of year to go? Pros? Cons?
Any info is greatly appreciated.

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    I looked at the two Smartours and Gate 1. The itineraries are fine, but the accommodations aren't. Advertised prices don't include taxes, so the price is actually higher, too. Not one night spent in the parks - dawn and dusk are the best times to see animals, and being outside the parks means you have to be outside the park gates when the wildlife is at its best. I'm not sure if I would go that way. I would keep looking for other options, or wait until you can afford a better trip. Staying in the parks is not expensive and the SanParks game drives are a good value. Check out:

    http://www.wild-wings.co.za/

    They have affordable tours to Kruger and should be able to help with Cape Town as well.

    We stayed at Rhino River Lodge, Tembe Elephant Park and Hilltop Camp (in Hluhluwe NP) in June in KwaZulu Natal. All are affordable and transfers from Durban and/or Richards Bay (closer) can be arranged. Although all of these are more expensive than the tour, the accommodations will give you a better experience at a price that won't break the bank too much.

    The best game viewing is from May/June - Sept.

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    We did the SmarTour to SA in Oct 2011. I thought it was a great trip (and better than expected) but I did my research and knew what to expect. The group size is 42 . Sounds like a lot but it worked just fine and some of us will be life long friends. 42 means you're not stuck with anyone. We had a really nice bus (actually 2: 1 in Cape Town and then another when we flew to Durban for the rest of the ground tour) and Jeremy was the best tour guide I've ever had. He is probably in his 60s and has lived in SA his whole life through the ups and downs and is extremely knowledgeable of his country. He was also very honest with ALL of our questions. He stayed with us the whole trip and offered assistance with booking independent stuff too.

    The hotels were rumored to be not that great. They were much better than expected. I read all of the reviews and was expecting so-so rooms but they must have been remodeled because they were mostly all great. The Hluhluwe Hotel was the weakest room (no window screens and a little mildew in the shower) but they had a nice bird hide on the grounds. The Protea Kruger Gate Hotel was at the entrance to the park and we were at the gate waiting when it opened so I thought the location was excellent. The food was mostly outstanding for the whole trip.

    The weakest part of the whole trip was the quality of game drives in Hluhluwe and Kruger. Now I am used to private vehicles in Tanzania so a group of 6 or 9 was a little rude to me. We had good enough sightings but the vehicle placement for photography was terrible and in Kruger we stopped, we clicked and then we raced off. We had no option to stay longer and he wouldn't always stop when we asked. At Hluhluwe we saw rhino, cheetah mom and 2 babies, giraffe, buff, and the usual deer like things. At Kruger we saw 2 leopards, rhino, lions and cubs, elephants and babies and buffalo.

    We augmented the trip with a wildlife fix on our last free day in Johannesburg. We booked a private tour to the De Wildt Cheetah Reserve now named Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre to watch the cheetahs run, pet a cheetah and tour their park. Great visits to the wild dog and cheetah enclosures. FYI, this is an excellent outing and I would repeat it in a heartbeat. In fact, any future trips to SA will be planned around a trip to the Centre. Check ahead as they don't run the cheetahs every morning.

    I have been on 2 SmarTours, Egypt and SA. I thought both were excellent. Friends just went to Kenya and thought it was terrible because it involved too much driving and too many different hotels. You need to read carefully and see if they meet your needs. The price can't be beat.

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    Berliz,
    You already have some good replies so I'll try to keep it short. We took this trip (with the VF extension) July 2010. We also had a full bus, not especially to my liking, but kind of knew it would be a big group going in. I'm a little jealous of Wildlifepainter since he seemed to hit the guide-jackpot with Jeremy! I didn't care for our guide at all (personality-wise) though some of our group liked him, so I'll leave it at that. We actually liked all of the hotels. They were first-class - this isn't a budget nor a deluxe tour. We also loved all of the safaris, especially Hluhluwe and Chobe (on the extension). We knew we would be staying outside of the parks-we took the trip was to get an overview of SA & VF and see if we enjoyed safaris, which we did and next time will most likely go with a small group or private. We had lots of different safari drivers and there was only one who tried to rush us to the next spot. All of the others were extremely accommodating to make sure we had great views and good photo ops of the animals and also birds and we were not rushed off. When we said, go, then they left. Of course, that was also because we made sure we had a pretty compatible group in our jeep.

    We thought July was a great time to go - had good animal viewing since it was their "winter" and less leaves makes better viewing. If you are set on seeing the wine country, July wouldn't be your best time. I'm sure it is lovely in their opposite season.

    If you go, take a double-check thru your checked luggage to ensure that you don't have anything in there you mind "losing". In the airports, they cut the locks off of the bags of some of the group and stole items. They will cut right thru the zipper holds so if you don't want to ruin a bag, better off just leaving it unlocked with just clothes and toiletries - no camera, binoculars, jewelry, etc.

    Went on one other SmarTours trip and it was fabulous! That was to Thailand & Angkor Wat. Best guide ever and we had a smaller group of 20 (though it could have been more, we lucked out). We had so much fun and some of us (just a handful) did a lot of extras with the guide outside of the planned tour - if we mentioned we wanted to go somewhere unique, she was up for it. So we had little small group tours within the tour.

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