We contacted Zicasso not knowing what to expect. We usually plan our own trips, but this was kind of a biggie to places we were not familiar with and I thought I would like someone else to do the legwork for a change. We wanted to go to South Africa and Botswana and mostly just see animals in the wild at Kruger National Park, but, I also wanted to go to Cape Town because I had heard wonderful things about that city.
We provided the information requested to Zicasso, and very shortly afterward we were contacted by three agencies. We also contacted a couple of others on our own to see what they could offer. The ones we contacted outside of Zicasso wanted to put us on tours with lots of other people with regimented itineraries... not what we were looking for at all. Of the three agencies that contacted us through Zicasso, one was off the charts with pricing and we were able to eliminate that one fairly quickly. The other two were both fabulous - the tours were just what we were looking for and the people we dealt with really went out of their way to mold the itineraries to what we wanted.
It was a really tough decision between the two remaining agencies. I think the deciding factor ended up being this travel agent had lived in South Africa and was a guide himself, and now lived in Florida (a few hours from where we live). I'm sure the other trip would have been wonderful, but the one we chose was really terrific.
Everything the agent planned worked like clockwork. We were met everywhere we went, driven where we needed to go, and treated very well at each stop. The driver meetings and checkins and border crossings and internal flights were all on schedule.
We really liked Cape Town - wish we could have spent more time there. The hop-on-hop-off busses went very well on the first day. We spent quite a bit of time at the harbor - what a nice place. Unfortunately the table mountain cable car was closed due to weather. Can’t do anything about that. We scheduled a private tour for the next day and and it went really well - we got to see some of the main points our agent mentioned. We needed at least 2 or 3 more days there though - maybe a week - maybe 2…
All of the preserves we visited had their own charms and amenities. I think we probably liked Pondoro the best - it just seemed to have everything. I liked the guides and trackers at all three preserves - each handles the drives a little differently, and all were fun. My wife really enjoyed the drives. This was a dream trip for her. Except for the flights to and from SA, this was a terrific trip. (The flights were just too long, especially the trip home. From the time we left the preserve until the time we got home, we were traveling 42 hours. If we should ever consider doing this again, I think we’ll break up the flights and stay a couple of days somewhere in between, both coming and going.)
The only problem we had on the trip was the weather - nothing to be done about that. It was pretty cool and a bit drizzly in Cape Town, but we dressed for it and were fine. When we arrived at Mashatu Tented Camp, our third preserve, a cold front arrived with us. It was very cold the evening we got there and our evening game drive about froze our butts off. Showering under the stars was not an option. We huddled under the blankets, which kept us quite warm, and slept until a cold early morning game drive called - put on a bunch of layers, and set off. But it did warm up that day, and a shower was welcome around noon. Every day was warmer at Mashatu and more pleasant after that, and our final night, we were finally able to shower under the stars comfortably.
Monwana, our second preserve, was very pleasant as well. We liked it there and enjoyed looking at the pond where the animals came to drink. One of my wifes favorite memories was watching about 35 elephants march down to the pond on a particularly hot day and splash around in the pond. The staff, as with all three places, was very nice.
Our agent must have answered a hundred questions from me from the time I first inquired until final payment. He was always quick to respond (even once when he was on vacation. We are currently Facebook friends and share pictures.
Our guest house at Cape Town was VERY nice. The people there were extremely helpful with planning activities and did not try to upsell all kinds of things. The rooms were comfortable and pleasant and the breakfasts were charming and yummy.
Each lodge was special in it's own way. None of the places we stayed at accommodated more than 10 or 12 people, in fact, 2 of them only slept 8 I believe, so there weren't a lot of people on the game drives with us - one day there was just my wife and I. When you get in to the vehicles, the guides and trackers ask you what you want to see, and off you go to look. We saw so much.
One of the highlights for my wife was watching at the watering hole at Thorneybush Monwana when on a particularly hot day, around 35 elephant came marching in to splash in the water for 15 or 20 minutes, and then march off. We were in Kenya and Tanzania 11 years ago - another terrific trip - but we didn't see any leopards and only a few lions. This time the guides and trackers we able to find them for us, even if they were up in trees. I have some amazing shots of these animals, and experiences my wife and I will cherish.
Hearing the animals at night was also a highlight - the occasional lion roar, the grunts and roars of hippos in the river near our lodge at Pondoro, the cries of hyenas, and not to mention all the friendly people who greeted us at the lodges and fed us such interesting and tasty food.
If I did this again, I would bring a couple of more wraps for the cold weather and evening. Might not need it next time, but good to have just in case.
The other thing - I would do Mashatu Tented Camp in Botswana first, then Thorneybush Monwana next, and Pondoro last. Pondoro seemed to have it all - great location, very nice accommodations (liqueur included), and just seemed a little classier somehow without being pretentious. The Tented Camp was very, very nice - but if it's cold (as it was on our first day), it's just not too pleasant. Also, if it were to be very hot there, which I understand it could be, the tents are not air conditioned, although they do have a couple of very nice fans in them. All the camps were wonderful really. We would do this again in a minute - except for the travel to and from. We'll have to plan that part better next time.
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