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Trip Report Shindzela tented camp in the Timbavati

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As part of our first safari in the Kruger area, we wanted a casual lodge that would feel more like our outdoors national park experiences staying in cabins, tented cabins, etc. I found choosing the lodge and reserve more difficult than most any other trip I've planned because of the sheer volume of opinions and my lack of personal experience with the area. Then there was the consideration of winter (cold) if the units were too basic. I had hoped for self-drive and a mix of in-park and private reserve experience, but my husband vetoed self-drive, so private reserve seemed the way to go.

We ended up booking two lodges in two reserves to get different experiences and to increase our chances of seeing more animals.

We flew into HDS (lovely view of Blythe River Canyon from the air) and transferred with Seasons in Africa to Shindzela Tented Camp in Timbavati for 2 nights. SiA provided all our transfers promptly and professionally. I wish there were a way for travelers transferring to/from the various airports and reserves to ride share to reduce cost and wasted space in so many vans.

Our drive into Timbavati got off to a good start with zebras, vultures, etc. sightings along the road to the lodge. It's fun how everyone is focused on looking for animals and sharing sightings. Dirt roads were rough and signs did not contain Shindzela's name, so were happy someone else was driving. I can't imagine what driving inside the reserves is like in the rainy season. The highways were great. We took back roads when transferring from Timbavati to Sabi Sands and I cannot describe how little pavement there was--some places the potholes created more sand than pavement and the vehicles drove anywhere they could--left shoulder, right shoulder, middle. It was crazy--again glad someone else driving else we would have taken long way around on the highway (behind the chromium trucks).

Although we had read the schedule, it was difficult for me to understand how regimented the routine is at the reserves and how the small amount of free time between breakfast/brunch and lunch/tea quickly slips away, especially if you also take a nature walk. The time passes very quickly and I don't see that having any extras at a lodge would be worthwhile because there would be no time to enjoy them.

I would describe the tented cabins as a step above camping. Slatted wooden floor (can see between slats) under porch, tent, and bathroom walled with bamboo or similar. Thatched roof over all. The tent was stuffed with a comfortable bed, dresser, clothes rack, bedside tables (with solar lights), and fan. The enclosed outdoor bathroom contained a flush toilet, sink, cabinet, and shower head over the slatted floor. The tent was hot during sun of the day (summer would be hot in the tent) and chilly at night (hot water bottle in bed was nice touch). Had to be warmly dressed for the early morning visit to the bathroom like camping. I think we were lucky that we were not there during the coldest part of the winter or it might have been more uncomfortable, but it was fine for us.

The resort is unfenced so not only did we have the wart hogs and badger in camp, but at night elephants came munching on the trees. I was peering out the unzipped "window" of the tent at an elephant not 10 feet from our porch as it sauntered through the camp. We heard that an elephant had rubbed against another tent one night. I really felt we were with the wild animals.

The drives were standard from what we understand of the reserves. There were 6-8 people on a truck. The guides and trackers had a variety of personalities and interests, but we liked them all. Safety was a serious concern despite their casual, joking attitude. They gave us some great experiences like sitting in the dark listening to the lions. Because there are only at most 3 trucks in the area, you don't share the sightings with other trucks, but it also means there are fewer people looking for animals and reporting sightings, so you might go quite a while without seeing any. We did well, seeing lions, buffalo (being chased by lions), rhino, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, jackal, badger, and more, but not the variety and number of animals we later saw in Sabi Sands. Some people saw the wild dogs, but we were not that lucky.

Shindzela offers 3-hour walking tours each morning on request. Every night some group seemed to ask for one the next day and each time were accommodated. One group saw zebras and some other animals. We saw rhinos and elephant. You get a different feeling for the scale of the animals on foot. And you have a better sense of the wildness than in the trucks. Highly recommend.

All meals were buffet and large table seatings. The cook was a delight, announcing all the the dishes and the "ummm" for after dinner. The food was plentiful and good. Reminded me of food at a camp or a potluck dinner. Generally healthy, nothing too fancy. Base rate included the coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Alcohol extra.

Resort is solar powered, so no hair dryers, television. There is an electrical outlet run off the battery that everyone is welcome to use for recharging. I think there is wifi with some free minimum usage, but we welcomed being cut off from internet, cell phone, and TV for a few days. It is that kind of place.

So, if you don't mind roughing it a bit, don't need haute cuisine, a spa, or privacy (noise carries well among tents), Shindzela can provide a clean, friendly tented camp at a "reasonable" price. Nice staff, friendly guests, relaxed place.

Some people said they stayed 4 nights and that was just right, but I think 3 nights in one reserve/lodge is the max for us before we felt like we were going back to look at the same animals or would say "oh, we are headed to the dam". With different people on the truck each day as people come and go, unless you hire a private truck, that is the way it goes so everyone gets a chance to see the lions, for example, if they are hanging around a certain place. Everyone seemed to understand this and were good sports about seeing "more elephants" or stopping for a newcomer to photograph impalas.

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