Although I’ve been lucky enough to go on many holidays and see many countries from a young age, I think this is the first holiday I’ve been on where I stayed in multiple hotels, and also the first holiday I’ve been on where I had absolutely no idea what to expect from each one! I’ll admit that I really love my home comforts – I have plenty of friends who are perfectly happy to camp, or wing it and stay in dingy hostels but while I can hack being hot and sweaty during the day, when it’s time to sleep I like a nice shower, fresh sheets and a cool room. Obviously I knew that being on safari isn’t exactly synonymous with luxury, but the hotels varied wildly in quality (and some were actually really lovely) so I thought I’d write a separate post in case anyone else is planning a similar trip!
Our first night in South Africa, and the room was pretty nice. It was spacious with air conditioning, a decent sized bathroom, a desk and a kettle with tea, coffee and buttermilk rusks (which are everywhere here!). I was pleasantly surprised to find AC in the room and it was reasonably spacious with some cute but simple decoration, and a pretty cool wooden headboard. There was even a TV, though I didn’t bother turning it on to see if it worked.
Breakfast was pretty good – a full continental buffet and a full English cooked to order. It was slow though, especially with 7 of us all ordering at the same time (and all ordering different things ranging from omelettes to full English breakfasts with every type of egg you can think of!). They also serve dinner in the same small dining area – it’s 165 Rand per person but we went to the mall to eat instead. The food at the mall was far cheaper, though it’s a pricey taxi ride away.
It’s advertised as having a pool, but as we discovered at most of the hotels we stayed at, their pools are often no bigger than a bath tub, and I’d be surprised if they’d ever been used
Of all the places we stayed at, this was probably my least favourite room, but the owners were by far the most welcoming and accommodating. Located in the Guernsey Private Nature Reserve within Kruger Park itself, it’s owned by a couple – Olaf and Stephanie – they’re both so passionate about their guests leaving happy and Olaf is the one who actually took us on the game drive the next day.
The food was really good, particularly the dinner, home cooked by Stephanie. While breakfast was more than good enough for me, it was mainly a continental buffet with cereal, granola, yogurt, ham and cheese. We got eggs cooked to order but everything else was cold. I’m not that bothered about bacon and sausages anyway so I was happy, and they had fresh fruit juice, tea and coffee too. The dinner was definitely the highlight though – they put in a huge effort. On the first night we had a big barbecue with with various meats (including a couple of types of delicious homemade sausage), pulp (a very stodgy maize which resembled mashed potato) with a tomato and onion gravy and the most amazing homemade cornbread, still warm from the oven and served with soft salted butter. The cornbread was divine – I could’ve eaten the entire tray (and luckily since our group was small and the couple that came with us don’t eat carbs/sugar/gluten it didn’t matter if I had far more than my fair share!). The barbecued meats were amazing too but I found the pulp stodgy and very, very bland. After dinner I was surprised that we were served a huge dessert too! The food was definitely outperforming my expectations! It was a huge tray of cake served with custard. We were told it was called Malva which was described as being a bit like sticky toffee pudding without the dates. It was just more like a light, syrupy sponge but it was absolutely delicious. While the tour guide gave us information about the next few days I sneaked back for seconds.. and thirds.. and there was still plenty left!
On the second night, Stephanie cooked traditional South African dishes – served an (incredibly salty!) soup, more of the freshly baked amazing corn bread with salted butter, rice with sultanas and the most bizarre local dish – bobouti I think it was called. It was lamb mince mixed with onions and peaches.. and topped with a banana egg custard!! That’s a sweet and savoury combination I definitely won’t be repeating! The bread, soup and rice were incredible though, and we got another cakey dessert with more custard. Unlike the other places, dinner was served outside under a thatched roof which was lovely and cool since it was their wet season, but it did mean it was pitch black.. so any photos I did manage to get of the food were pretty poor – sorry!
Wifi is available too which is pretty surprising given that we were literally in the middle of nowhere and there’s minimal phone signal. It’s pretty patchy but it only costs 50 Rand to connect (about £4).
Although I was the only one with a room to myself, my room was surprisingly spacious which I was grateful for, as it was incredibly hot and stuffy as it was. For someone who loves their home comforts the first night here was a struggle for me. There were bugs everywhere, very little light and what felt like zero ventilation despite there being rather large gaps between the door and the door frame! It had an authentic thatched roof which was great until the torrential rain came down but then it sprouted quite a few leaks. Luckily for me the bathroom and shower area was big, as showering in a small enclosed space with the risk of bugs dropping on me left, right and centre petrifies me! After a lovely dinner we went back to our huts. After giving up trying to dispose of the vast array of wildlife that had congregated in my room, I tried to seal myself up in my mosquito net as best as I could and go to sleep. I really struggled with the heat,and I had to give up on being under the blanket at all despite hating not being covered by anything at night. The bugs in my room where collectively making a ridiculous amount of noise – flying and flapping around my face which I found so hard to ignore despite knowing (or hoping!) that I was protected by the net. As usual I woke up in the night needing the toilet but attempting to crawl out from under my net and risk infesting it was out of the question so I laid there counting down the hours until 4.30!
Food wise, this was by far my least favourite of the lot. Run by a Dutch family, they were also the least welcoming; we didn’t see the owner the whole time we were there and we were just served by a few staff with minimal English. Meal times in general were pretty chaotic – considering that we were all served identical meals. I may have been biased about the dinner, as our stay here came after a full English for breakfast and a cold and soggy KFC for lunch but it was a pretty poor meal. We were all given two giant greasy chicken schnitzel with a pile of equally greasy chips, though there was a huge bowl of an incredibly indulgent creamy cheese sauce which was lovely. The schnitzel was unbearably salty (even compared to the KFC!) and we were given a couple of bowls of veg – cinnamon spiced butternut squash which was decent and some green stuff, that was so overcooked and drowned in cream and oil that I genuinely couldn’t even decipher which vegetable it was supposed to be. After eagerly awaiting dessert I was disappointed there too – we weren’t given anything. Not even a biscuit.
Breakfast was similar – we weren’t given any choice in what we were served up; we were (once again) given a tiny portion with a disproportionately large amount of grease.. complete with a scraggly, undercooked sausage. . There was some stale white bread but no cereal, and we had to ask multiple times for hot water to make tea (there was coffee but it tasted absolutely dreadful – I’m pretty convinced that it wasn’t even coffee!). There was also some granola, but by the time my mum had asked for the third time if we could have some milk she’d given up on having any anyway. I had a couple of random packets of cereal in my bag that I’d taken from the lounge in Madrid so when we eventually got milk I ate those.
The room compared to Nsele lodge was decent though. I drew the short straw as I was staying in a little run down wooden hut, but even so there was a little kitchen area with tea and coffee making favourites and a fridge. There were two single beds and a much appreciated air conditioning unit (though it was pretty temperamental and made a huge racket!).
The bathroom was in desperate need of a makeover – it was small and cramped with a peeling roof and the whole place was covered in dusty, dingy old carpets complete with multiple stains and a rather large gap between the walls and the roof! My parents got a little house though, with two bedrooms, a big bathroom and a kitchen area. It was far more modern with tiled floors and plastered walls; when they offered me the spare bedroom I was tempted, but I like my own space. The grounds were by far the largest of all the places we stayed at. It doubles up as a caravan park, and there’s a big dirt track which runs round the whole place – it was nice to feel like there was more fresh air and space in contrast to the other places which covered a very small area. It was the only place we stayed that had no wifi available.
Despite being in Zimbabwe, which is known to be significantly less wealthy than South Africa, when we arrived I was in no doubt that this was my by far favourite hotel of the trip so far. Watching mile after mile of trailers crossing the border from South Africa back into Zimbabwe carrying everything from crates of fizzy drinks to the biggest cylinders of cellophane wrapped snacks I’ve ever seen, it quickly became apparent that commodities simply weren’t readily available and I wasn’t expecting much from the hotel.
I was wrong though – it was lovely. I guess it was the most Westernised – it was clean, spacious and surprisingly modern – the bathroom was so clean it almost looked unused and it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a European hotel. There was even a little guest handbook with the usual information about check in/breakfast/things to do locally etc. My room was in the main building, with plastered walls, high ceilings and a wooden floor. It wasn’t faultless – the windows were broken and wouldn’t shut and there was no AC – but it was surprisingly cool so it didn’t matter as it was still a comfortable temperature at night. There was a wooden wardrobe and a chest of drawers that did shake every time I walked on the floor though!! (I’m heavy footed but not that much of an elephant!).
There were two single beds with clean white sheets and a little lamp. There was a TV (Nsele lodge was actually the only place without a TV) but I didn’t bother turning it on. There’s good wifi too – by far the fastest and most reliable of all the places we stayed at, and the staff were lovely and friendly. It’s only a B&B so we ate elsewhere for dinner, next door at some questionable – and ridiculously pricey – American diner on the first night, and Roosters, another American diner (which was far better) on the second night. I think my mum was a little disappointed not to get to try traditional food (apparently they cook a lot with peanut butter in Zimbabwe!) and I guess it would have been pretty nice to try something different, but the dinner on the second night was nice.. even if it did involve yet more greasy, fried food!
The breakfast here was probably my favourite of the lot. Similarly to the other places, there was a continental section with cereals, yogurt, fruit, granola and bread, but there were muffins and scones too 🙂 You could help yourself to tea, coffee, juice, bacon, sausages, beans, tomatoes and onions and then order eggs anyway you liked.
The kitchen area was big and there was a fridge with milk, jam and butter that you could help yourself to, and the staff were incredibly friendly and couldn’t do enough to help.
After thinking the Travellers Guest House would be my favourite hotel, on the last day we checked into Cresta. It was such a shame because we arrived late and had to leave almost immediately for the sunset dinner cruise, then we were up at 5am to visit Victoria Falls the next morning so we didn’t get an opportunity to enjoy it properly.
This was a classic ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – though admittedly when it comes to hotels perhaps that’s not a suitable saying as I do think that hotels should look beautiful from the outside as well as the inside, and first impressions count for a lot. As we were driving down the road I could see the accommodation blocks though, and it was reminiscent of a council estate or a run down set of University halls – all of the rooms were just block after block of identical pale grey bungalows – unsightly would be putting it kindly.
Once inside though the reception area was beautiful and the facilities were the best of all the hotels we’d stayed at though – there was a huge pool, a big restaurant, café and bar area which served up a lovely buffet breakfast (as well as lunch and dinner which we weren’t around for). The breakfast spread was by far the most extensive of all the hotels we’d stayed at. There were cereals, breads, fruit, granola, yogurt, pastries and scones. There was a wooden board which had a few different cheeses and meats and their croissants were honestly the best I’ve had in a really long time! Opposite the continental food is a hot section with bacon, sausages, frittatas, hash browns, beans and tomatoes, and there’s a chef in the middle to cook fresh eggs.
Despite looking far from pretty from the outside the rooms are big, very clean and modern with an AC unit, a decent sized bathroom and even a desk with a chair and a British plug. There was also a kettle with a selection of teas and coffee.
I really like my home comforts, and while I can deal with being uncomfortable during the day, feeling fresh and clean at night is so important to me (I don’t know how people went for a whole day without showering!) so personally I much preferred the more modern hotels. That said, despite Cresta being the cleanest and the most modern, I think overall my personal favourite was the Travellers Guest House. It was modern but still had a hint of a traditional feel to it, with wooden floors and some traditional paintings, sculptures and furniture. The grounds were green and beautiful (if small) and the staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming. For me that was the perfect mix of comfort with an African twist.
I know that everyone looks for different things in a hotel, and particularly when travelling to somewhere like Africa, a lot of people may deliberately choose to steer well clear of anything like what they might find at home but hopefully my review and pictures give an idea of what each one is like 🙂