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Planning Kruger Park/Pezulu Treehouse self drive & guided

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Planning Kruger Park/Pezulu Treehouse self drive & guided

Old Jul 8th, 2015, 01:56 PM
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Planning Kruger Park/Pezulu Treehouse self drive & guided

I am planning to take my family of four (2 adults, 2 children over 18) on safari in South Africa. We are true first timers with no safari experience. We are coming from the East Coast of the US. I am shooting for early June or late July, early August of 2016 or most likely 2017. I would like to avoid the SA school holidays if possible. I am on a pretty tight budget, so luxury lodges are not on the agenda. However, I do want to have a varied safari experience - part guided, part tent, part special lodging. Based on my research, here are my thoughts:

Budget : $9400 US
Length: 12 days
Flights: This is half my budget! Fly into Johannesburg and either drive rental car or fly to MQP airport - Hazyview area and get the rental car there. This is flight cost and flight schedule dependent. May spend 1 night in Johannesburg on front end and back end, depends on flight schedules.
Lodging: 7 nights at self catering timeshare apartment in Hazyview (I don't include this in my budget because we trade for it), 1 night mid week in Kruger Park at Tamboti Tent Camp, 2 nights Pezulu Treehouses, 1 or 2 nights in Johannesburg (to be determined).

Plan: Kruger Park - Guided Sunrise Game Drive and a Guided Sunset Game Drive on two different days from the Phabeni Gate mixed in with some self drives of the Southern Kruger area. Mid week we'd self drive safari up to Tamboti Tent Camp for the night and take a morning Guided Bush Walk from Orpen, then self drive safari back to Phabeni Gate & Hazyview. We'd mix in a rest day and a day to do the Panoramic Route. Then we'd move to Pezulu Treehouses for 2 nights to do a Boma dinner, a morning Guided Bush Walk and a Guided Game Drive or two in Thornybush (yes, I know it is a fenced reserve). From here we'd drive or fly back to Johannesburg and depending on flights, spend a night there.

I've budgeted about $5000 for flights, $700 for rental car, $1500 for food and gas, $500 cushion for whatever (entertainment, golf, etc), $700 for lodging (not including timeshare), $650 for guided drives and walks, $350 for Kruger park entry fees. Am I missing anything?

Now, hopefully you South Africa safari experts can help me fine tune my plans. I am open to suggestions!!!
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Old Jul 8th, 2015, 08:06 PM
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Wow that's a tight budget! But you can do it, and might be able to squeeze in a better option than Pezulu.

If you are flying from JFK, the flight to JNB could be closer to $1000 during that season. It's winter, so not high time for S Africans to enjoy the great outdoors. There are a couple of holidays - look them up so you miss them. We were in Kruger during a holiday weekend and it wasn't nearly as bad as we expected. Fly into JNB in the morning (usually through Europe) and you can reach your timeshare before nighttime. Rent the car - an SUV is expensive, but you will appreciate the height when searching for creatures - at JNB and drive. Check online for closest location for a PickNPay or SPAR supermarket. We pack a cooler and check it on the airplane and bring Tupperware for ice and storage. Buying that stuff there is easy and you can leave it at your last location for the staff.

You didn't budget for Kruger entrance fees. For a WildCard pass, it's R2770 per couple - so you need two, or R264 per person per day. You'll have to figure out what works for you - the current exchange rate is over R12/USD, so it's pretty expensive even with the excellent exchange. You also didn't budget tips, which can add up for rangers and maid service.

Look for coupons for Avis car rentals or corporate rates if you have access to the codes. Costco and BJs sometimes have good rental rates. International codes are few - search everywhere to find them. Learn how to drive a shift if you don't, but you will be driving on the other side, so it's odd even if you drive a manual every day.

Does Tamboti have accomodations for four adults? If not, you need two.

If you golf, golf at Skukuza is a hoot. It's in Kruger and unfenced. They have crappy clubs to rent so you don't have to schlep them from home. I don't golf, but they let me walk the course for free while my husband played.

I'm hoping you can work it out to stay in one of the less expensive lodges in klasserie, Timbavati or Sabi Sand. Umkumbe, nThambo, Gomo Gomo, nDzuti or Shindzela might work? I know they are more expensive, not high end though, but it is such a great experience! There might be a couple of self-catering lodges that also have game drives - I will look around. I think they are in Klaserie. I can't tell you how much I hope you can stay in one of the unfenced private reserves for a couple of days.

Have fun planning. You are off to a great start.
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 05:03 PM
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Oops...you're right, I forgot about tips. Will add that to the budget. We will be flying from the Washington DC area. I hope to keep flights in the $1000 - $1200 range. Will definitely rent an SUV, and luckily both of us can drive stick.

I did include $350 for Kruger gate fees. When I ran the numbers, the breakeven point for the Wild Card was 5 (or 6, don't have my notes handy)days in Kruger. When we finalize the schedule I will revisit the Wild Card.

I need to get the timeshare trade nailed down first. I hear Tamboti books up fast. They have 15 4 person tents. The 4 person ones each have a braai but have to share a communal kitchen...no biggie for me.

I am going to research some of the reserves you mentioned and see what fits the budget. I did check Timbavati and Sabi Sands a couple of weeks ago. Their lodging was too pricey for me. I don't want to do self catering or camping for those last two nights. I'm trying to work in a tiny sip of champagne on my beer budget by staying someplace unique that includes meals, a boma dinner, guided walks & drives but does not have that high luxury price tag. I'll look at Klaserie.

Thanks for all your suggestions! Looks like I have some more research to do.
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 05:22 PM
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I also realized that if we do stay at Pezulu Treehouses, it would be better to do the 1 night in Tamboti Tent Camp at the end of the timeshare stay vs in the middle. Then we could explore the area around Tamboti and exit the park through the Orpen gate...much closer to Pezulu or Klaserie.
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 08:01 PM
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We mix self catering and full service, too. I love to be taken care of for the last few days.

Check out Gomo Gomo and Shindzela. They are only about $50 more pppn than Pezulu. Hopefully you can stretch the budget a bit so you can visit one of them. Shindzela is tented and rustic and very casual, but full service. It's in Timbavati. We liked it a lot, although it changed hands but still gets nice reviews. Gomo Gomo is on our short list for when I take my grand niece and nephew on safari. It's on a waterhole (so great to watch the creatures come to you between game drives) and I just read an incredible trip report on safari talk - they saw wild dogs, all the cats, rhino babies, really spectacular but not common to see so much in a short time. It's surprisingly affordable.

You can't book Tamboti until 11 months ahead. If you can't get availability at first, check back constantly and rooms open up during the year.

You really have done your homework! We rented a Toyota Avanza to save money - it's the same height as an SUV, but not as comfortable. Just putting it out there because it's significantly less $$. Does your medical insurance cover you out of the country? If not, look into medical/evacuation insurance. I use insuremytrip.com and plug in $0 for the trip cost and it spits out a bunch of options. We got one a few years ago that included car rental insurance - your credit card won't likely cover an SUV. Read the fine print on everything to make sure you have the coverage you want/need. I get $100,000 med/$1,000,000 evac. Pretty cheap without insuring the trip - for two 50 year olds it was about $75. Don't leave home without it.

Good luck. Have fun planning.
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Old Jul 19th, 2015, 09:24 AM
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Sorry to wait so long to respond. I was out of commission for a few days.

Your suggestions about Shindzela in Timbavati and Gomo Gomo in Klaserie are great! I ran the numbers and when I add in the extra charges for game walks and drives at Pezulu Treehouses, the costs are very similar. For a 2 night stay it would only be $80 to $200 more total. I am adding these two lodges to my list for sure. Thank you so much!!!

I always need to double check all the numbers in a Rand to USD converter. Those Rand numbers always look soooo high!

I think timeshare wise we are looking at Kruger Park Lodge in Hazyview near the Phabeni Gate and Burchell's Bush Lodge right near the Paul Kruger Gate. Burchell's shares amenities with the Protea Hotel Paul Kruger Gate. this might be my first choice.
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Old Jul 19th, 2015, 08:18 PM
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I'm so glad I was able to help! You will love either option, but GG might be the better option as it's more luxurious. Shindzela is rustic - but such a great vibe there. You really can go on safari on a budget. Since I can guarantee you will be planning your return before you land at your home airport, accumulate airline miles for next time. It saves us a lot - it's not free, but much less expensive.

I would choose the timeshare that has the best service - they can help with options for outings besides game drives in Kruger. You might want to go to Blyde River Canyon or something. Just no lion or elephant walks (see below).

Here is the BEST list ever created of the affordable safari camps around Kruger. The info is from 2010, but the list that pixelpower put together is excellent. The Rand was R10/USD back then, so the rates might be similar now with the better exchange rate. It might give you more options and more info:

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...und-kruger.cfm

I don't know anything about most of them, just what pixelpower wrote. I miss all those posters. There was so much more feedback then. I really miss SV's passion.

Enjoy the rest of your planning. So glad you can use a private reserve lodge!!
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Old Aug 6th, 2018, 02:27 PM
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Original poster here:

With 2 kids at university, it took me a couple of years longer to save up the money for our safari than I originally thought. We are FINALLY booked for July 2019! It was now or never because my oldest graduates from university, moves away and starts his career at the end of summer 2019. This will be our bucket list last family vacation hurrah!

I tried booking my timeshare for Kruger Park Lodge, Burchell's Bush Lodge, Sanbonani, or Sabi River Sun, but the trade didn't come through in time for me to book the SANParks Tamboti Tent Camp the required 11 months in advance. So we went with Plan B. We opened a Marriott Rewards credit card with a 100,000 rewards points bonus a few months ago. We booked our 5 free rewards nights at both Protea Hazyview (20 min from Phabeni Gate) and Protea Paul Kruger Gate (5 min from Paul Kruger Gate) because I couldn't decide between the two. My husband and 2 kids want to stay in town close to restaurants, grocery stores and our non safari activities (golf, Elephant Whispers - for education not riding, Panoramic Route). I really like the stunning grounds of the Protea Paul Kruger Gate, but it is quite remote - a 45 minute drive to any other activities/restaurants. So we will probably stay 3 nights at one, 2 nights at the other - the best of both worlds. I'll adjust my reservations once I decide for sure. In addition to the non safari stuff above, we will book a guided day game drive with Kurt Safari and then do some self drives to explore the lower Kruger area. I read about the SANParks Park and Ride guided game drive option from the Paul Kruger and Phabeni Gates, but I can't find much info on price or type of vehicle.

After the Protea Hotel stay, we've booked 2 nights at Tamboti Tent Camp along with a sunset game drive from Orpen Camp. We'll do some self driving to explore the middle Kruger area. Then I booked 2 nights at Shindzela. I am super excited to stay there. Thank you so much christabir for suggesting it!!!

I have all my hotels and camps and some of my game drives booked. I still need to book my flights and rental car. I also bought trip insurance for my non refundable deposits and medical/evac coverage. During my research, I found that booking my rental car through the US Dollar, Hertz or Avis site is way less expensive by almost half than booking through the SA sites. At first I thought there must be some sort of catch to it, but the US prices for SA appear legit. We are looking at either a Toyota Avanza or a Rav4. We can drive a stick shift but with the steering wheel on the other side, shifting gears with the left hand and remembering to drive on the correct side of the road, I'm worried it will be a challenge. It might be better to pay $100 extra for an automatic. We are going to pay for the rental car with an AMEX card and purchase the extra AMEX per rental period primary insurance coverage for $19.95. That should cover us. Now I just need the flight prices to drop a bit. I priced out the flights we needed by doing dummy bookings for Summer 2018. Right now the 2019 flights are a budget buster. I hope they go down over the next 6 months. I've got an alert set on Kayak for now.

I had to add a bit to my budget. I think I'm at $11,000 total for my family of 4 verses the original $9,400. We decided to do a 3 day/2 night layover in London on our way to SA to break up the loooong flight and to get acclimated to the new time zone. I've researched all the activities/entrance fees and booked our hotel for London. I have to say my son and husband are very excited about this part of the trip!

Thank you for all the help on this terrific forum!

Last edited by mcisik; Aug 6th, 2018 at 02:59 PM.
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Old Feb 16th, 2019, 04:56 AM
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Very excited to hear you are finally booked for your trip! May I ask where you found information on the sunset game drive? I have read about these, but have not been able to find a lot of information.
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Old Feb 18th, 2019, 04:23 AM
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Although your budget is a bit tight I'm sure you can do it. If I might suggest - instead of driving from Johannesburg or flying to an airport close to the Kruger Park, why not make use of a Kruger National Park safaris tour operator that take you from Johannesburg to the Kruger Park
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Old Feb 23rd, 2019, 03:15 AM
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If you need rooms near JNB around flights we recently stayed at Sunrock Guesthouse (28 rooms) really a small hotel. About half the price of Marriott and excellent bkfst included as is shuttle service. Be sure to allow 2 hours extra getting back to JNB from Kruger due to possible road closures.

Better yet spend a night in JNB before any international flight. We had people running to gates.

We stayed at several of the Kruger camps. The few ATMs don't take overseas debit cards but you can use credit cards in all shops and restaurants. The only time I needed cash was to buy some internet at Mopani Conference Center. Other than that Cattle Baron at Berg en Dal had free WiFi.
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Old Jun 11th, 2019, 05:44 PM
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Originally Posted by mlgb View Post
If you need rooms near JNB around flights we recently stayed at Sunrock Guesthouse (28 rooms) really a small hotel. About half the price of Marriott and excellent bkfst included as is shuttle service. Be sure to allow 2 hours extra getting back to JNB from Kruger due to possible road closures.

Better yet spend a night in JNB before any international flight. We had people running to gates.

We stayed at several of the Kruger camps. The few ATMs don't take overseas debit cards but you can use credit cards in all shops and restaurants. The only time I needed cash was to buy some internet at Mopani Conference Center. Other than that Cattle Baron at Berg en Dal had free WiFi.
Thanks for the tip about allowing 2 extra hours to get to JNB from Kruger Park. I would never have thought about road closures. I actually booked a hotel for the night before our flight just in case. I finally purchased flights a couple of months ago. We don't leave JNB until 7:30 at night, so we'll have all day to get there if we decide not to get there the day before. We are pretty locked in to the Protea Marriott hotels because we have enough points to do the whole stay in South Africa for FREE!!!! Yay!

Thank you for the info about the ATMs in Kruger Park. I'll be sure to bring some Rand with me in addition to my credit card.
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Old Jun 11th, 2019, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by jackmohr3 View Post
Very excited to hear you are finally booked for your trip! May I ask where you found information on the sunset game drive? I have read about these, but have not been able to find a lot of information.
I read about the game drives from the SANParks rest camps on the SANParks website. I was able to book the sunset game drive from Orpen Camp at the same time I booked our 2 nights in Tamboti Tent Camp. I booked both things online through the reservation page. Here is info about the game drives:
https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruge...ies/drives.php
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Old Jun 11th, 2019, 05:51 PM
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Originally Posted by southerncircle View Post
Although your budget is a bit tight I'm sure you can do it. If I might suggest - instead of driving from Johannesburg or flying to an airport close to the Kruger Park, why not make use of a Kruger National Park safaris tour operator that take you from Johannesburg to the Kruger Park
We really need a rental car to do all the things we want to do. Plus we plan to do some self drives through Kruger as well. But thanks for the idea.
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Old Jun 13th, 2019, 07:11 AM
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Flights are just to get to one of the gates, right? I would just drive, flights have no real competition on those routes and are expensive. Be sure to observe speed limits, as there are speed traps on the access routes.

And I'm sure you've realized that southerncircle is a tour operator.

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 13th, 2019 at 07:30 AM.
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Old Jun 13th, 2019, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by mlgb View Post
Flights are just to get to one of the gates, right? I would just drive, flights have no real competition on those routes and are expensive. Be sure to observe speed limits, as there are speed traps on the access routes.

And I'm sure you've realized that southerncircle is a tour operator.
I figured!

Thanks for the info about speed traps and ATMs! You are very helpful!!!
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Old Apr 16th, 2020, 12:08 PM
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Original poster here:

Our July 2019 trip was absolutely AMAZING!!! I was a little stressed about it because I planned it 100% by myself with some help from the Fodor's folks, but no travel agent or tour company, so everything was 100% my responsibility. I am very happy to say that it went flawlessly with the exception of 2 minor car issues at the beginning and at the end of the trip. 1) After an overnight flight from London to Johannesburg, we picked up the rental car and drove the 4 hours to our hotel in Hazyview just outside Kruger Park. It was around 5:15, starting to get dark and we were about 15-20 minutes away from Hazyview when a tire blew. We called Budget Roadside Assistance, but got no help. They just told us to put on the spare, turn the car into the closest Budget office (45 min away) the next day, and pick up a new car. The next thing we knew, a truck load of Afrikaners stopped to help us. It was a dad, his son, nephew and a friend. They changed the tire! They stopped because they could see we were tourists and it was getting dark. They didn't want us out on the side of the road after dark; they wanted us to truly enjoy our visit to their country. We tried to buy them some beer as a thank you, but they said no. We did take a big group picture with all of us though! We were very lucky! 2) After 25 hours of travel back to the US, we got to our car at the airport (Washington/Dulles). It was about 100 degrees outside and the battery was dead. We saw a sign for airport car assistance in the parking lot, called, and were on our way home in about 15 minutes. So all in all, things went very well.


Both the Fodor's community and the Disboards Community helped me plan this trip. The Disboards credit card rewards experts helped me figure out how to get my Marriott/Protea Hotel stays for free for my July 2019 London/South Africa trip, which really helped me stretch my budget! The original plan was to exchange our timeshare for a timeshare stay in Hazyview, but the trade for the dates we needed never came through. I really wish I'd learned how to maximize credit card rewards a few years before I started planning my trip. It would have been awesome to get free flights. But alas, that was not the case. We had to pay OOP for airfare. Our flights were about $2000 over budget (my original trip budget for everything was just under $10,000 - pretty small). When I priced things out for Summer 2018, flights were around $1250 each, so I budgeted $5000. I couldn't find anything under $1600 for Summer 2019, so I kept waiting (shouldn't have waited!!!!) and ended up paying $1800 each. We also ended up adding two more guided game drives while we were there because my husband loved them so much. Out of the 8 game drives we had, 5 of them were private with only the 4 of us in the jeep with the guide!

Here is what we (me, my husband, son 22, daughter 20) did -
London: London House Hotel in Kensington Gardens/Bayswater area (family suite OOP)
Day 1 - We arrived at 10:00 AM, dropped our bags at the hotel and took a double decker bus tour with The Original Tour, dinner at a pub
Day 2 - Tower of London, Thames River cruise, Trafalgar Square, Rock & Roll walking tour of Piccadilly and Soho, pub for lunch (I had high tea scheduled but got outvoted), Evensong at Westminster Abbey, pub for dinner
Day 3 - Churchill's War Room, we also saw the Queen's Guard parading on their horses nearby, then afternoon flight to SA with a short connection in Dubai.

South Africa:
Day 4 - Protea Hotel Hazyview (2 rooms for 4 nights plus 5th night free using Marriott points - They had a bottle of wine chilling for us in each room upon arrival, and we got free hot breakfast each morning), didn't get there until around 6:00 PM, dinner at hotel (DS loved watching the Vervet monkeys on the beautiful grounds here.)
Day 5 - Kruger Park sunrise game drive with Kurt Safari guide Crisman. The hotel gave us breakfast boxes to take with us. We saw a leopard sleeping on the side of the road first thing!!! We also saw a hyena with her baby, a Southern Ground Hornbill, steenbok, dwarf mongoose, water buffalo herd, zebras, wildebeests, waterbuck, kudu, some bull elephants, giraffes, hippos. Dinner at hotel
Day 6 - had to exchange the rental car, breakfast at hotel (included each morning), lunch at Harrie's Pancake in Graskop, Panorama Route (didn't get to do the whole thing due to the rental car exchange and late start), dinner in town (I should have researched local restaurant locations a little more thoroughly because we didn't find the ones I'd read about and wanted to try until the end of our time in Hazyview.)
Day 7 - breakfast at hotel, Kruger Park afternoon game drive with Crisman from Kurt Safari (A whole herd of elephants coming up from the Sabi River came right up to our jeep!!!! We were so close and they were still wet and muddy! Also saw an African fish eagle, warthogs, a Southern yellow-billed hornbill), dinner at hotel
Day 8 - breakfast at hotel, DD and I went to the Elephant Sanctuary to learn about and brush down elephants while DH and DS golfed at Sabi River Sun, relaxed by the pool in the afternoon, cultural dinner and show at Shangaan River Club in Hippo Hollow. The singing and dancing was terrific, and the buffet dinner was delicious. We also got to taste some traditional tribal foods, but none of us were brave enough to eat the Mopane worms.
Day 9 - Tamboti Tented Camp (1 family tent), breakfast at hotel, then drove up through Kruger Park (drove ourselves slowly, game drive style and saw sooooo many animals and in such large numbers! elephants, giraffes, rhinos) to Tamboti which is inside Kruger Park, cooked steak and veggie kabobs with seasoned potatoes for dinner over a campfire at camp
Day 10 - sunrise game drive through SANParks with Israel (saw another leopard, and 2 female lions but lions were really far away), lunch at camp, sunset game drive again with Israel (saw a Bateleur, Baboons, Genet and a Honey Badger, also saw the Southern Cross in the gorgeous nighttime sky), cooked dinner of pork and veggie kabobs with rice over the campfire at camp. We also tried to make S'mores over the campfire. We bought large pink and white marshmallows, but they didn't have graham crackers or Hershey's chocolate at the SA grocery store we visited in Hazyview. So we used Cadbury chocolate and Marie biscuits - different but still yummy! Speaking of the marshmallows - I had to fight a baboon for them at our campsite! Tamboti has double meshed cages on the tent deck to keep food and the refrigerator safe from the animals. I pushed all our food to the back of the cage not realizing that the back was only single meshed. We came home from a walk to find a baboon between the tent wall and the back of the cage with his fingers inside the cage. He had a bag of Doritos in one hand and my marshmallows in the other. I opened the cage door, grabbed the Doritos and the bag of marshmallows, which tore open, and marshmallows went everywhere. The baboon wouldn't leave the marshmallows alone despite my waving and yelling and stomping to scare him off until my 6'5'' husband chased him away! It was quite the experience!!!
Day 11 - Shindzela Tented Camp (2 tents), after breakfast we drove out of Kruger into the Timbavati Reserve to Shindzela (a beautiful full service classic safari camp with 3 meals a day, and 2 game drives a day included. The beds had hot water bottles in them and mosquito netting draped over them each night when we got back after dinner - so pretty!). We got there in time for lunch and an afternoon game drive with sundowners. We saw a pride of 5 female lions with 3 sets of cubs that afternoon; we were so close to them; it was INCREDIBLE!
Day 12 - morning game drive, spent time relaxing by the pool, afternoon game drive (saw a hippo marking his territory, so funny! also saw a mother rhino with her baby), all 3 meals at camp (and they were yummy, dinner was served in the Boma around the campfire each night - very lovely!)
Day 13 - Protea OR Tambo (2 rooms for 1 night free with points, with a complimentary late 2:00 checkout the next day). We had one last morning game drive at Shindzela. (We saw a 500 large herd of water buffalo at a watering hole, and the pride of lions came back to drink as well. The male lion was with them this time!!! After drinking, they stalked the herd of buffalo, we followed them hoping to see a kill, but it didn't happen. It was AMAZING nonetheless, and we got some incredible pictures!) After one last breakfast at Shindzela, we left for OR Tambo.
Day 14 - breakfast at hotel, naps to prepare for the looooong travel day/s, early dinner at hotel, flight home that evening

We were really happy that we stayed in 3 different places in the Greater Kruger Area because each area had different animals and different size herds. We could not get over the volume of each species we saw. Driving through Kruger to Tamboti, my DS looked to the left and yelled because he couldn't believe how many giraffes were right there. There were 15-20 walking and running right next to the road. The next second my DD yells "look", so we turned to the right. There were 50 or 60 elephants all gathered at the watering hole drinking. The volume and variety were incredible! We saw all the big five multiple times, plus tons of other animals and lots of amazing birds. And even though it was winter, we saw lots of baby animals (rhino, hippos, baboons, hyenas, zebras, lion cubs, giraffes, water buffalo calves, elephants). It was a GREAT trip! And I can't believe we did all that we did, saw all that we saw, and stayed in the quality lodging that we booked all for a $12,000 budget (total for 4 adults).

Last edited by mcisik; Apr 16th, 2020 at 12:39 PM.
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FODOR'S VIDEO