What a trip - at least the South Africa portion! Despite cool and sometimes wet weather, each of our stops in South Africa (Cape Town, Franschhoek and Sabi Sand) were delightful! We did not find the trip out to White Pearl to be worth the cost, time or effort, and would not return there (see the what would you do differently section below).
This Africa safari travel company was very flexible in putting together an itinerary based on our preferences and happily provided input and suggestions based on their experiences. They also sent a lovely gift with our final travel documents and itinerary and provided responses to our questions within a few days.
We experienced only one hiccup in our itinerary when a charter flight they'd booked for us was cancelled the day prior, and although the initial alternative travel plan offered was something we'd considered to be out of the question and dealt with quite poorly by the local South Africa contact (she told us there were no other options and that we should just enjoy the 7 hour drive from Sabi Sand to Johannesburg), our main contact in the US worked to find additional options that made the disruption to our plans much less frustrating.
The only suggestions I have for this company are:
(1) Provide more details in the travel itinerary and send it earlier - by the time we received the itinerary, some of the recommended restaurants were fully booked during our stay so it was much too late to be able to use the helpful information provided. Also, some details were missing that would have been helpful to know - ie, the name of the charter company operating the charter flight, the specific wine estates we'd be visiting, the name of our guide (or notification once that information was known).
(2) Provide more information on the differences between options offered (ie to do the beach portion of your trip in Mozambique, you'll need to get a Visa and your luggage will be restricted to 22 kilos in a soft-sided duffel, whereas if you choose a beach in Tanzania, you'll need to do x, y and z). We didn't realize all of the additional requirements going to Mozambique would lead to when booking, after being encouraged to go there over some of the other preferences we had by the agency.
(3) Check in with your guests along the way or immediately after their trip - while you wouldn't want to interrupt their holiday, a short email or leaving a letter/message with one of the hotels just checking in would be a nice gesture. When we had the hiccup arise and it was communicated by the receptionist at our safari lodge, we weren't sure who was working on a fix - the charter company, the lodge or the travel agency.
The most memorable parts of our trip were the "full" day Cape Point tour, our bed and breakfast in Franschhoek, and our safari at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge.
The Cape Point tour was really enjoyable despite the cold and overcast weather - seeing the penguins, Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope and the various sections of Cape Town (waterfront, Bantry Bay, Clifton Bay, Camps Bay, Hout Bay, etc.) was a great way to get a lay of the land and hit the highlights on our own schedule (see what would you do differently for only negative experience of this tour).
The hotel in Franschhoek - this place was adorable and we loved the owner! He was so warm and welcoming, very attentive and helpful, provided excellent restaurant recommendations and our experience here was a 180 from that in Cape Town at III Boutique - we'd definitely recommend this B&B to anyone staying in Francschhoek! The wine tram was fun as well - to have something to do for a full day in Franschhoek, as the town is quite small and the wine tram was a great way to taste at several wine estates in the area.
Lion Sands Ivory - we can't say enough great things about this place - the people, the safari/game drives, the accommodations and the food. Everything was top notch and a truly amazing and memorable experience!
We'd do a few things differently next time:
Cape Point tour - I would push our Cape Tours guide harder to go to Kirstenbosch when she wanted to drop us back at the hotel before 3pm (when it specifically said the tour was a full day and that we'd go to the botanical garden, time permitting). She dismissed the request saying we could maybe go the day of our tour of the winelands, however that morning it was pouring rain so we never got to see it. We'd paid for two full day tours and both days felt rushed throughout the day and then were dropped at our respective inns by 3pm.
III Boutique Hotel - we'd stay elsewhere. The staff at this hotel were not very welcoming, we were put in a room directly above reception and the kitchen so were woken up quite early by the loud voices and clanking each morning, and it's not in a good location (it's in the City Bowl) to be able to walk around to see sights or get to restaurants.
Resort in Ponta Mamoli - skip entirely! This place was not all it was cracked up to be, and we actually found it to be a very uncomfortable and frustrating way to end our trip - while it's in a beautiful setting, the service was less than expected and the 'fully inclusive' ended up excluding quite a lot. Very few of the staff members spoke or understood enough English for us to be able to understand menu item descriptions or activity details, let alone have a conversation with them. This was highly frustrating as we ended up receiving things that were not what we'd expected as a result of the language barrier. There was also not much to do unless you paid extra for a motorized activity - nowhere to walk to, no fitness facility, and only 5 lounge chairs by the pool which were often taken over by locals using the resort for the day - another element we were not fond of. There really wasn't much about this place we liked with the exception of the guest room where we ended up spending the vast majority of our time there after being repeatedly frustrated and uncomfortable in the main areas.
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