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Amazing safari tour, full of highlights…although…
The Acacia 14 day southern magic tour is a fabulous itinerary and overall we had an unforgettable experience and a great time. It's not for everyone though and we did have one concern. For those thinking of doing this tour I'll explain in some detail (worth it if you're seriously considering it, otherwise I'll probably bore you to tears) and include some tips you may find helpful.
Firstly, its jam packed with highlights and almost every day was a "wow" day. It's well organised and our guide/driver Lawrence did a great job showing us the sights (particularly the animals which is why most of us were there) keeping the tour on track, accommodating everyone where possible and doing it all with a sense of humour. The tour is for up to 12, but we had 8 which gave us a little more room on the bus, and generally made things a little easier. We were also blessed with a great multinational group who were fun, were considerate of each other, and looked after each other even though we'd just met. All essential for the tour to be a real success. We also creamed it when it came to spotting the animals. As you'll be regularly reminded, the animals are wild, and in their natural habitat - so there is no way to guarantee you'll spot what your looking for. However, we were very lucky, and spot we did, time and again and some things beyond everybody's expectations. Hope you're as lucky. The accomodation isn't luxurious, but comfortable enough in most cases- though there were 2 places that we felt needed improving or replacing (I'll have a brief summary of the accomodation at the end). The food varied a bit but was generally quite good. Overall, we loved it. Now why it's not for everyone, and
then to our concern (I'm not trying to build suspense, just keep a logical order!)
To keep to the itinerary, and see all the great things they have lined up, you need to keep a fairly cracking pace. Early starts and full, long days. Many hours spent on the bus and on game drives or other tours. Everyone was pretty tired by the end of each day. Then you have to eat, clean yourself up, and repack so you can bring your bags to the bus before breakfast the next morning, which is usually pretty early. It was all worth it, but if you're looking for a relaxing or easy paced or luxury tour, this isn't for you. TIP: If you're finding the pace tiring, only do the extra optional activities if it's something you really want to do - otherwise use the time to chill and recoup.
Our concern was related to those long days. The tour has only one driver/tour guide. In view of the long days and how tiring they were, most of us were concerned about the driver getting tired. Particularly as they do one tour straight after another, without any break, for several months at a time. Our guy did a great job, but he's only human and did look pretty tired at times. I raised the need for 2 drivers with Acacia after the tour, and they were quick to respond and offer explanations on how they determine the workload. Some of the explanations seemed reasonable, and they did appease me a little - but having experienced the tour firsthand, I wasn't totally convinced. It only takes a tired driver to have a "micro sleep" one time for tragedy to occur. TIP: Our group decided that on the days with long drives, or if the driver was looking tired, we'd take it in turns to sit up the front with him - just to make sure and add that extra bit of interaction that helps keep you alert. And occasionally buy him a cup of coffee at a drive stop, they don't usually spend money on themselves - even for coffee.
Some extra TIPS: The game drives in the mornings in open vehicles get VERY cold. And sometimes at the end of the day too. We did our tour at the start of spring, so probably if you did it in summer it would be fine. But even when the temperature seemed ok standing still, the moment the vehicle started moving it changed dramatically. Take more warm clothing on the game drive than you think you need, you can always leave it on the seat if it warms up; For the ladies- if you need a hairdryer, take one with you. Almost none of the rooms have one and often reception didn't either; For electrical plugs, you only need a South African to your country plug. Zimbabwe and Botswana accomodation already have adaptors to take an SA plug; Take a linen sleeping bag liner and pillow cover with you. Most of the places are fine but there was at least a couple of places we wished we had one; The lighting in most of the rooms is very poor - something common in hotels around the world- so packing and finding things can be a bit painful. You will need a good head torch for the one night you spend camping, so keep it handy for task lighting in your other accommodation; Victoria Falls is the first chance to do some souvenir shopping, but if you go to the markets you'll have to haggle. I thought things would be dearer here, and haggled quite hard. Later I found that prices elsewhere are generally more expensive and felt bad I'd haggled them down so much! After haggling, you will likely get a better price here than South Africa for souvenirs.
Finally if you're still reading this treatise (must mean you're keen about going!) then I'm including a brief (ish) comment about each of the accommodation places in the order that we went to them:
Nesele Lodge. Not fancy, but quite ok. Rooms were a little small (which is true of most of the places and sometimes makes it a little difficult to organise your luggage) but clean. Food included traditional African fare, very nice and plentiful. The owner takes you out on your first game drive (in Kruger) and does a great job of finding the animals- that was a sensational day. The only thing was the hired staff at the lodge never smiled or looked you in the eye (unlike everywhere else). One of guys on our tour made the comment that it felt like an old time plantation. Maybe we were imagining things but it made most of us feel a little uncomfortable.
Boma in the Bush. This is a caravan/camping ground with the accomodation being cabins (trailer homes I think our American friends call them). That's fine as they are little roomier with a kitchenette - but they were pretty run down and not that clean. They are need of a refurb and not really up to scratch. Food was fine.
Travellers Guest House. One of the nicer accomodations on tour, but rooms were very small -with the exception of 2 of the rooms that were in a different section. Food was great.
Sprayview hotel. This was the best accomodation on tour. Proper hotel with a higher standard. Breakfast only here, but very good.
Thebe lodge. Accomodation here was fine. Food was a bit ordinary.
Gweta lodge. This was one of the groups favorite places. The accommodation was good (though the roofless ensuite was a challenge for some!) but it was more about the quaintness and vibe to the place - which was really nice. Food was good too.
Delta Rain. This is billed as "simple accomodation" but we found it a little too basic, and not that clean the first night. This was mentioned to the staff by some in our group and it was better the second night. A better standard of accomodation would be nice at this stop.
Elephant camp. Proper bush/ tent camping but made relatively comfortable by your hosts. Was a nice inclusion for 1 night.
Kwa Nokeng. They have various accomodation here and different people on our tour got different accomodation. All were roomy for a change, which was great, and food was good in a lovely outdoor dining area. No real complaints here.
Hope all that helps someone!
Thank you for taking the time to post your detailed review of your tour with us. We are aware that we have responded to your email personally, but wanted to add our comments below for readers to have on hand in response to your comments here.
Thank you again for your valuable feedback and assisting us in keeping our tour standards at their best.
Thank you for your feedback following your recent Acacia tour.
I am pleased to hear you enjoyed the tour and that you would recommend it to others. I am also very grateful for your comments about Lawrence, who has been leading our Southern Africa Magic tour for most of the last 12 months with consistently high passenger approval ratings.
We are conscious of the workload of staff and from time to time review tours as to proper crewing level but believe that this tour is within the capability of a sufficiently experienced driver/ guide. I acknowledge that crew put in a great deal of effort and good work to make the tour a success and I take nothing away from that in discussing driving. There are no specific regulations for driving hours in southern Africa and so we look to the EU for guidance. These allow for a maximum of 56 driving hours per week with no more than 90 driving hours in any two week period. The daily maximum is 9 hours driving, extendible to 10 hours driving twice a week. There are rules for breaks. The Southern Africa Magic requires approximately 29 driving hours in the first week and 30 driving hours in the second. The longest day is the stretch between Maun and Kwa Nokeng (day 13), which is 9-10 driving hours. The shortest is where the driver is not required to drive at all - at Kruger, Bulawayo and Maun (days 2, 5 and 11) - and on days 7 (at Victoria Falls) and 12 (in Maun) where only a small amount of driving is needed.
So while it is a busy tour this tour has operated successfully in in its present format for a number of years and Lawrence has returned repeated high approval ratings over a long period of time. I believe this bears out our assessment that the trip is manageable for one experienced driver/guide. I repeat that we keep matters under review, and retain a flexible approach. I should add that this is a seasonal business: there are other times of the year when tours do not run so frequently and guides including Lawrence get ample time off.
In regard to accommodations, for the most part we avoid chain hotels in favour of smaller individually owned properties but sometimes choice is limited and it is a matter of taking what is available. I am sorry if you felt one or two properties were not up to scratch. If you can let me know which these were I would be grateful because it helps in our quality control. I find is more effective if I can say to our suppliers that comments / concerns are prompted by what our clients have said.
Thank you again for writing to us so promptly following the end of your tour.
The highlight of our entire traveling experiences ever. By far the most amazing tour/safari we've ever done. Incredible staff who are super knowledgeable, kind, and helpful. Amazing food, perfect itinerary, great prices & overall life-changing experience! Couldn't have booked with a better tour company.
Thank you for taking the time to review your tour. We are so pleased to hear the experience exceeded your expectations and hope to see you travel with us in Africa again.
Just got back from my two week safari through South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana with Acacia. My parents and I took the Southern Africa Magic tour and we all absolutely loved it! Simply a magical experience and I would not hesitate to use Acacia again. The value of the trip for the money was quite a steal compared to most of the other companies out there. Really makes Africa an affordable destination!
One of the best parts about this tour was being able to see all the major highlights of Southern Africa! Absolutely every stop had something of value to offer. Be aware that there are some very long driving days, but it was worth it to see more of the country and get to hidden gems that I'm sure the bigger and fancier companies do not cover. Our bus was quite spacious and comfortable with large windows and great air conditioning, so the long drives weren't an issue. Was also a good way to bond with the rest of the group. Some of the hidden gems were the game walk in Matobo with Andy where we came about 20 feet from white rhinos and the village walk in Gweta where we were able to talk to the local people and see how they lived. Even the rest and lunch stops were an excellent way to experience local culture. For example, on the road to Polokwane we stopped at a beautiful farm to table restaurant where I discovered the most unbelievable skincare products. Absolutely every game drive was spectacular! We got so close to virtually every kind of animal and it was magical every time. All the local tour operators and guides were extremely impressive. Some other highlights were the whitewater rafting and lion walk in Victoria Falls, our experiences in Chobe National Park, and the horseback riding in Maun. I loved this tour because I felt like it gave us an authentic experience of Africa while still seeing all the tourist highlights. My parents and another woman's mother are all in their 60s and were able to participate in absolutely every activity, so don't hesitate to do this tour if you're a bit older or traveling with your parents!
One of the main reasons why I was so impressed with this tour was our guide, Simon. I've traveled all around the world on tours and he is definitely one of the best guides I've ever had. He kept everything perfectly organized and had the tour planned down to the minute. Simon was also extremely friendly, helpful, and incredibly knowledgeable about African history. I can't say enough about how comfortable we felt with him guiding our trip; he was completely willing to go out of his way in any respect to make sure we had a good tour. I'm vegan and he made sure that there was a suitable food option at absolutely every stop for me. Additionally, Simon had an issue with getting his passport renewed during the trip, and he told us that he might have to leave the tour early. Instead, he traveled all the way to the capital and back with two nights of no sleep to sort out his passport and rejoin our tour! I was so impressed with his dedication to his job, and the issue had absolutely no impact on our tour. In Simon's absence he left us with Sam, another guide, who I was equally impressed with.
I was actually pleasantly surprised with how nice all the lodges were on this trip; was definitely going into it expecting more rustic accommodations. We stayed at small lodges or hotels that were very authentic to Africa. Don't expect anything luxurious, but if you have no issue with standard low-priced chain hotels in the US you should be totally fine. Typically the rooms were basic, with twin beds and small/medium sized bathrooms. There was wifi at virtually every lodge. I was very impressed at how clean and well-kept all the lodges were. Staff was generally friendly and helpful.
I'm vegan, and was extremely worried about the food on this tour. But really had nothing to complain about! Simon did a fantastic job of making sure there was always a vegan meal available for me. Meals on the road were more difficult, but there were always stops for chips and snacks. If you're a picky eater, bring two boxes of your favorite snack bars and you'll be fine. Some of the lodges had downright unbelievable food like Nsele, where Olaf's wife cooked an amazing brai for us. At other lodges the food was not so great, but was never inedible. We got to order off the menu at a number of the lodge restaurants, and there were always safe options like pizza and pasta that were quite tasty.
Overall, if you go into this trip with an open mind and no expectations, I guarantee you will have a wonderful time. Go with the flow! This trip is NOT for high-maintenance people. Don't try to dress fashionably or wear makeup every day. Just relax and have fun. Don't always expect to be on time or for everything to be a picture-perfect vacation. Some things that you'll see are not beautiful, but will teach you a lot about culture and history. The activities, especially involving animals, that Africa has to offer are simply magical and will create the trip of a lifetime! The people are also some of the friendliest you'll ever meet, so don't hesitate to smile, ask questions, and make new friends. I feel like African people can find joy in anything and truly value everything they have in life; tourists especially from the United States can learn a lot from these cultures. Just go to Africa; you will love it and want to return again and again!
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