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wlbox Jul 17th, 2009 12:13 PM

help me decide which tour for South Africa
I am thinking of traveling to South Africa in late October or early November and looking at differnt companies which offer two different tours. They both go to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

One tour goes to Edeni Game Reserve and stays at Shiduli Lodge, they take you on two evening and one morning game drives. Then you go to Kruger and only have a morning drive.

The other tour goes to Hluhluwe Game Reserve for a morning drive. Then to Swaziland and stay at Lugogo Sun Hotel. You then go to Kruger and stay at the Protea Kruger Gate Lodge for two nights and have one morning and two afternoon game drives.

both of these tours total about 12 days, are very close in price and take about 35 people

LAleslie Jul 17th, 2009 03:05 PM

Wow, here's an advertisement for Morocco on a South Africa query. Moroccosahara, don't you get how stupid you look? I've hit the alert button asking it to be removed, but clever posting on Fri. nite I'll admit.
WLbox, haven't been to either of those places but what's the primary purpose of your trip? If it's going on safari/seeing animals, I would humbly suggest this is far too little time.

Safari_Craig Jul 18th, 2009 12:11 PM

wlbox - that is an aweful itinerary and i have been to all these places. you are coming so close to world-class safari lodges but settling for public game reserves and seriously compromised safari experiences with a group of 35 possibly obnoxious strangers. the protea paul kruger gate is OUTSIDE the park in a town. the hotel is fine, but this is not being on safari. at least get inside the park and stay at a rest camp.

much better - go to the private game reserves in the sabi sands (about 2 hr from the protea). if your budget is restricted, check out elephant plains or arathusa. for the best big five experience in southern africa, go to lion sands or malamala.

when in the hluhluwe wet lands, don't go to hluhluwe public park. go to phinda instead. i was also there two months ago (and i drove through hluhluwe). phinda has the best cheetah and rhino population in southern africa and was voted #3 safari lodge in the world last year by Conde Nast magazine readers. we saw 31 rhino and 5 cheetah on one game drive.

save your money by getting from place to place in a rental car. don't be subjected to a group of 35 strangers. you will have as much fun as the most annoying guest, latest person, and the biggest drinker dictate.

start in durban and drive to phinda (4 hr). from there, drive to swaziland (5 hr) to spend the night. from there, drive to the sabi sands (5 hr). from there, drop the car in johannesburg (6 hr). i have done all these drives alone, with co-workers, and with family. safe, easy, adventurous, and fun.

good luck

craig beal

Temba Jul 18th, 2009 12:53 PM

+1 what Craig said!

satpacker Jul 20th, 2009 03:04 AM

Craig is spot on, including his suggested itinerary. I'm sure your tour companies are charging a lot, but you're getting nothing like the experience you should. Timbavati (e.g. Umlani Bushcamp) is a good alternative to Sabi. Would strongly recommend hiring a car, or perhaps fly to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit and get your accommodation to arrange a pick up.

mkhonzo Jul 20th, 2009 07:02 AM

What Craig said is fair, but IMO it does not recognise the original posters inclination. As a travel agent I am disappointed with the response. The OP was looking for a tour, maybe a single traveller, maybe limited budget and dipping his/her toe into the African continent for the first time, maybe not able to self drive... etc. Aside from that an (Craig) agent no doubt who knows enough about the destination to lead the blind, but insufficient to be true wealth of knowledge... BIG Five, come on Craig, there is an entire eco-system out where fork tailed drongos can be al lot more entertaining than a dagga boy chewing the cud! Maybe you can point out which private reserve delivers in that respect and not just the stereo-typed "big 5"?

We South Africans are particularly fond of our National parks and particularly the Umfolozi/Hluhluwe (even though it if an Ezemvelo park)complex, for it to be dismissed by Craig for a rehabilitated sugar farm burns my fuse a little! BTW, Hluhluwe National Park... wetlands? Perhaps the world famous heritage sight, st Lucia wetlands??

Sorry safari Craig, but private in SA is quite elitist, damned expensive, sometimes for the less affluent traveler just simply unaffordable... I found your website after googling your name...and appreciate that you sell a wilderness product so can understand your perspective.

Safari_Craig Jul 20th, 2009 12:19 PM

mkhonzo - your comments seem fair to me. i would like to say i love your national parks and meant no offense. most of my family, including my sister, are south african citizens and live/work/farm in south africa. i realize the parks are a national treasure. i have been in the KNP many times during my life with great experiences and memories each time.

i just can't imagine an american enjoying a group of 35 total strangers and staying in protea hotels while in safari... this tour uses the protea in hluhluwe.

regarding safaris near the paul kruger gate - i think any reserve in the sabi sands would be a great choice. prices start as low as elephant plains for about ZAR 1,300 per night to singita for ZAR 12,500 per night.

to be specific - on my last trip to the sabi sands, i saw the big five every day at singita and djuma. i saw the big five EVERY game drive at lion sands and malamala. on the same trip (december 2008) i drove the entire south-to-north length of the kruger national park (about 300 km) from the paul kruger gate to the pafuri gate on the zimbabwe border. the only big five animal i saw was elephants. no predators at all.

thanks for visiting our web site!


wlbox Jul 21st, 2009 05:45 PM

You were correct, I am a single female who is budget and time constrained. I would love a longer more intense safari experience but not possible. Yes this is a tour. One with Friendly Planet the other Smartours. I wanted a nice overview of your country. I now wonder if I should choose another location. It would be my first S. African experience.

LAleslie Jul 21st, 2009 09:36 PM

OK, here are the questions. How much time do you have? What's your budget? Do you prefer a tour, or just don't think a single person can go it alone? What exactly do you want to see/experience, and where? Answer these, and maybe we can help.

shelleyk Jul 22nd, 2009 05:23 AM

Wlbox-Do not be dissuaded by the above comments, especially if you have been on a large group tour and enjoyed it. I have been on many, as well as travelled independently, and each has its pros and cons, IMO. I have gone on several Smartours and found them very well run and worth the money. The guides have been excellent. I have not gone on the Smartours South Africa tour yet, but I have spoken to many people who have, and they have all had very good comments about it and recommended it. Smartours has many repeat travellers, so they must be doing something right for those people who do not mind or even like group tours. The responders above obviously would not ever consider a group tour, and I understand their bias, but I do not think that should dissuade you from doing one in South Africa, if you feel it covers what you want to see, and seeing animals is not your number one priority.

sandi Jul 22nd, 2009 11:32 AM

There are all kinds of travelers - age, budget, accommodations, number of days, expectations, in-depth or "just a taste of" - whether with a group or independently.

Even though many here on Fodor's prefer independent travel, regardless the budget, not everyone can or wishes to do so. Why there are so many group operators out there!!!

Wlbox - whether Friendly Planet or Smartours (can't offer comments on either, but friends did visit at Edeni, loved SA overall that they up and moved there for 3/yrs, now back in the States), get as much info as necessary to make "your" decision and as long as group travel and budget work for you... go for it! It will be an amazing experience.

... then, you're expected to report back to us :)

mkhonzo Jul 23rd, 2009 05:22 AM

I would suggest that you opt for the tour that includes the Kruger.

Pleased that I read you correctly and want to reiterate what the others have said: A group trip to SA is NOT a bad option and certainly an economical an safe way to experience what my country has to offer.

Sorry about the discouraging comments made by the agent on the board.

wlbox Jul 23rd, 2009 04:57 PM

Shelleyk are you going on the Smartours trip to S Africa in October? Thats the one I was considering.

Safari_Craig Jul 23rd, 2009 05:28 PM

mkhonzo - why are you sorry about the discouraging comment made by an agent? what exactly brings you feelings of sorrow? as the only agent on this thread i assume you are speaking of me? other people agreed with me and you did not mention them.

people like you need to get over the fact that the forums are open to agents providing opinions just like anyone else. my opinions are born from a lifetime of traveling to south africa (25+ trips) and they are relavent to many people. i encourage you to check out francifree's thread going on right now on this very web site. she is thanking me in just about every post for useful advice. i have no idea who she is and will likely not be getting her business.

the best way for you to voice your opinion is to not do business with my company. i have enough business coming in from the many happy clients my company has sent to africa over the past 35 years that i certainly don't need the business of someone who randomly singles-out travel agents for attack. do you go after all middlemen? do you insult your grocer since he is the middle-man between you and a farmer? probably not. if you don't like him go to the farmers market.

did you read about me in newsweek magazine back in april ? with good publicity and good service to match i am not exaclty hurting for business.

one reason i use the forums is to hone my own knowlegde. kindly allow me to share my opinions without people like you and "skimmer" attacking me. if you really want to go after me, try and discredit the advice i give. i think you will have a tough time doing that since all i do for a living is plan safaris to southern africa. and yes, a reasonable amount of the lodge's money serves as my renumberation.

i have traveled in every style imaginable in south africa. i don't think anyone should go to south africa and spend less on the land than they do on their airfare to get there. the smartour itinerary is set-up this way.

craig beal

shelleyk Jul 25th, 2009 05:38 AM

Wlbox-I am going on the Smartours SA tour in early Oct. They have another leaving mid Oct. Craig, I know you have given much helpful advice to those who want an independent tour to SA that emphasizes game viewing. The Smartours trip is a survey trip of SA which is certainly not focused on the game viewing aspect of the trip. But it appears to be a good overall view of SA for the amount of time and money spent. And some people, me included, do not want to do their own driving on a first trip to certain countries, even though I may well do it on the next trip. As you know, many people return to South Africa after their first trip to see more of the country.. My only fault with your response was that it did not answer wlbox's question which was which tour was better. I always feel that no trip is perfectt, even those planned independently, and whatever you see or experience during foreign travel is more than you would see/experience if you stayed home. Wlbox-I encourage you to go on the tour. It will be better than staying home.

Go2Maui Jul 25th, 2009 05:42 AM

Friends of ours just returned from South Africa with SmarTours and really enjoyed it. I also heard that the Friendly Planet trip to South Africa is wonderful. However, both of these tours drive through Kruger National Park in a motor coach for just a day, so it's difficult to take photos with about 40+ other passengers crammed in a bus all trying to take photos also. We've taken a tour to South America with SmarTours and really enjoyed it, but being driven through Kruger in a motor coach is not appealing to us. We are planning a trip with Africa Adventures Company or Go2Africa since we've read many good things about these two companies. Would love any suggestions or feedback on these or other companies. Thanks.

Go2Maui Jul 25th, 2009 06:06 AM

P.S. - I initially compared SmarTours vs. Friendly Planet for this tour and found the customer service to be excellent with Friendly Planet (not so with SmartTours). Friendly Planet's website also provides much more details such as hotel descriptions and flight info. You can also pay by credit card with Friendly Planet which provides added protection, whereas SmarTours only accepts cash for payment.

torimooney Jul 25th, 2009 11:46 AM

We have taken 5 smartour trips to various areas of the world. A few years ago, we did a Capetown trip with smartours. It inculded rt air from Atlanta, transfers, one day tour and 5 nights lodging in capetown. We had plenty of time to explore Capetown on our own including the wine districts by rented car. Hard to believe but the smartour price for the package was less than the price of any airfare being offered at the time. Smartours allowed us to extend our stay and catch the flight two weeks later. We then traveled on our own by rented car, traveling along the garden route and then on to Durban and various game parks, making our way up to Krueger. We then drove to Joberg, dropped the car off and flew to Zambia for two nights then back to Joberg and home.
When you are on a smartour trip, most fellow travelers have been on several other tours with them. That speaks for itself. we much prefer independent travel but when we are restricted by time and money, we find smartours a great alternative. i would recommend them for people that are looking for a tour with great value. You will find that you will want to get back to South Africa for exploration on your own. We had no problems at all in the two weeks we were on the road. You'll love it no matter how you decide to travel. Unless things have changed, you can use a credit card for a 3% addtional cost to what they quote. i am not familiar with Friendly Planet.

Safari_Craig Jul 25th, 2009 11:59 AM

shelly - thanks for getting this back on subject. you are right!

regarding how to book: i highly recommend mark or allison nolting at the africa adventure company. they are a competitor of my company and i have met both of them several times. they are the owners.

before working with go2africa i would read this thread from trip advisor:

several of their key employees left in april to start their own company called AfricanTravelExperts.

I am sure Go2Africa will bounce back from this setback. They are a good company.

africa adventure company and go2africa have the same business model. neither own anything in africa on the ground (lodges, etc.) they are both safari consulting firms with contracts for the lodges and hotels.

mark nolting just got named as a "top safari specialist" by conde nast magazine for the 6th strait year. he is also the author of africa's top wildlife countries.

craig beal

wlbox Jul 26th, 2009 12:05 PM

I was surprised to hear that your tour of Kruger is in a tour bus. Then I went to the Smartours website and read that it is in open safari vehicles. You also get to go on more then one game drive.

I still wonder if late October is a good time to visit.

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