At Rhino Walking Safaris and Rhino Post Safari Lodge in the Kruger Park, we frequently hear, “there are so many stunning lodges on the Internet, how is a person supposed to choose!” This informative article was written by Nikki Meyer and published on Africa Geographic.
It’s true, South Africa boasts an array of incredible lodges in stunning settings. Think of choosing a lodge in the same way as choosing a wife/husband. There’s more to life than looks – though they sure do help for that first spark of attraction! There’s personality, financial status, reputation, and, most important of all compatibility. Here’s a breakdown of how to pick the right lodge for you:
Looks: Certain styles will naturally resonate with you, and the Internet is visual medium. Are you into African prints, Biggie Best, Animal Skins, opulence or simplicity? Beware of photographs depicting arrangements of fresh flowers, few if any lodges use fresh flowers outside of advertising shots. Also, if it’s the rose petals and in the bath and on the floor that draw you, then be sure when booking to ask whether these will be available, they are often done either only for publicity shots, or for honeymooners.
Personality/Ambience: Look at the guest reviews on the lodge’s own website. What is it that people praise most about this lodge? The lodge owners/managers are choosing which reviews to post, so you will get an idea of what is important to them. Is it food, friendliness, wine selection, game viewing, pampering, spa-therapies, technology, luxury? What are your three most important criteria and in what order? Would you prefer the formality of a lodge where waiters wear bow ties and call guests Sir or Madam, or the informality of a communal table where staff and guests are on first name terms and dine together?
The lodge isn’t everything, the other important factor to consider is game viewing. Are you focussed on seeing the big five and not that concerned about other smaller things; or wanting a bush experience with time to absorb everything, but it would be nice to see the bigger animals too? Look at how much emphasis the lodge website puts on ‘big five’, if they’re any good, their guides should be aware of the marketing and working in accordance with it.
Are you a passionate conservationist? If you are, then consider the conservation policies of the lodge, most will advertise these on their website if they are important to them. Off-road driving is the ultimate game drive for some, and extremely offensive to others. Ask the lodge or your agent, if this is important to you, because it could make or break your safari.
Financial Status/Price: Is value for money important, or do you want the best that money can buy? There are some fabulous lodges for the uber-wealthy, but there are also some that offer almost as much for a fraction of the price. Remember that lodges in remote areas are expensive to run, much of the budget goes to providing basic services which are available for next to nothing in town, so you cannot compare the price and level of luxury between a city hotel and a game lodge.
You can do a self-catering safari fairly cheaply, but for a fully catered safari, if the price is too low you run the risk of meals, quality of vehicles, staff and room amenities being skimped on. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of some of the great specials that even the best quality lodges run during the traditionally quiet months, but look at the average (rack) rate of a lodge for comparison to get a general idea of standards. Do a little extra homework if a rack rate is less than R1 500 per person sharing per night.
For those who don’t have an endless budget, the best value for money combined with luxury is to be found in the range from R3 500 to R6 000 per person per night. If drinks are not included (and at anything over R6000 we feel they should be), you should feel comfortable to drop the lodge an email and ask them to forward you a copy of their wine list/ laundry prices or even massage menu.
Reputation: There are many independent sites such as www.tripadvisor.com where travellers give candid reviews. What are people saying, and did the lodge care enough to respond to negative reviews – did they do so politely? Look at the number of Excellent reviews, Good reviews and Poor reviews. Don’t be fooled by the number of reviews, but rather look at the ratio it should be well stacked in favour of ‘excellent’– a lodge may only have a few reviews because it is new.
Compatability: You need to consider why you are going on safari, and whether this lodge is going to give you what you want. Are you wanting to impress clients? Then consider famous names, and places frequented by the stars, look at rates of R10 000 per person sharing and upwards. Do you want an authentic bush experience? Then consider a smaller unfenced lodge which can provide the option of walking safaris as well – or even a camp out night. Do you want a pampered holiday? Consider a lodge with a butler, spa and private plunge pools. Do you want to see the big 5 in the shortest time possible – perhaps you only have one night available for safari? Consider a bigger lodge in a private reserve where many vehicles traverse a limited area and guides can call sightings in to each other to get you quickly from one sighting to another.
Please consider marrying your needs with good conservation principles and ethics. There are a few gems that manage outstanding environmental ethics, great game viewing, style and comfort as well as a reasonable price range.