When planning my trip to South Africa my main goal was to see the wildlife. I was going to be on a very tight budget so I needed a tour package that was inexpensive but that also focused on viewing the animals. I choose to go with a tour verses traveling independently because I wanted to make sure that I was able to see everything I wanted to see and having a guide with us who knew the right places to go would be our best option. I also didn’t want to have to drive myself or worry about transportation.
I chose Viva Safari’s, who offered a five day package for about $600, the tour included all our breakfasts and dinners. We flew into Johannesburg the day before our tour was to begin, which I highly recommend. It takes a fair amount of time to get through customs and morning pickup time was 9:00 am so timing your flight arrival and leaving plenty of time to get through customs all by 9 am was not realistic. The following morning Viva Safari’s picked us up at our hotel and after stopping at a couple of other hotels to pickup additional guests we were on our way. Our first night was spent at Tremisana Lodge which was about a six drive away. Tremisana was a lovely lodge with bungalow styles rooms located on a private game reserve. The remote lodge is surrounded by a wired fence to keep out the large wildlife however the monkey’s had no problem getting onto the grounds. While walking around early in the morning we could hear the monkeys who had gotten into the kitchen area and were having a good ole time throwing the pots and pans around. The rooms at the lodge were basic but pleasant, there was no TV and one of the rooms had no hot water but when you are in the middle of the African bush you have to expect these sorts of bumps in the road.
Upon arriving at the lodge we were served dinner around an outdoor table. The food was very good and the staff was very friendly. After dinner we had our first game drive where we saw four of the “big five” animals you want to see, elephants, zebra, a lion, and giraffe. We also saw a lot of impala’s and plenty of birds. Our first game drive was a huge success and our small tour group (8 people) we more than satisfied.
The following day after an early morning game drive we were off to Marc’s Treehouse Lodge. Upon arriving at Marc’s we were all given a short briefing on what to do if we ran across any wildlife while walking on the grounds. Marc’s is also located on a game reserve but unlike Tremisana they have no fences to keep the wildlife out so it was very likely you were going to come across some animals while walking about. During the early morning there were plenty of Impala’s and Kudu’s, which is similar to a deer or impala. The monkeys were usually pretty active during the early part of the day as well.
Each guest was given a key and then staff members escorted us to our tree houses. The tree houses were spread out so you didn’t have other guests right next to you. It gave you the feeling of being out in the bush by yourself. The tree houses were very rustic with wide plank wooden floors that in some spots you could see the ground below in between the cracks. The walls were made of bamboo shoots with some chicken wire along the top. Our tree house had a nice deck out back which overlooked the river. There was no TV or phone so you couldn’t call the front desk if you needed something, you would have to make the ten minute (or so) walk back to the small main building. Some of the tree houses were en-suite while others had a small bathroom and shower located just a few steps away. Ours was en-suite but the bathroom was fairly ruff. Along the top of the shower was a gap which seemed to be a favorite place for lizards to hangout. The bamboo walls in the bathroom gapped in a few spots so you could look outside while sitting on the pot. I guess it was a good thing we didn’t have any neighbors. You were never alone in there either, you were always sharing it with some small creature, mostly frogs and lizards. There were plenty of frogs inside the tree house, you always shook out any cloths that had been hanging out or your shoes before putting them on. There were no dressers. I suppose to discourage you from leaving any cloths out in them, probably so nothing would crawl inside. We zipped our cloths up every night in our suit cases. There is no heating or air but that wasn’t a problem. We traveled during the month of May, the days were warm but not hot and at night the heavy blankets provided plenty of warmth while the mosquito nets over the beds kept out any unwanted visitors from crawling into bed with you. Bugs were not a problem but one morning my son awoke to find a frog cuddled up on his hand that was sticking out from under the net.
Our days were spent out on game drives and walks and there was no shortage of wildlife. During one drive we came across a herd of elephants in which one in particular took offense to our being there and she tried to scare us off. First, by pushing over some small trees and then by charging at our open jeep. Fortunately our bush guide knew exactly what to do. He stood his ground rather than driving off, which apparently will make the elephant chase after you and he revved the jeeps engine to make us sound like big, mean animal. At the last minute the charging elephant veered off and ran back into the bush. After a moment of silent disbelief we all let out a nervous laughter. It was quiet exciting once we realized we would survive the encounter.
Our evenings were spent having dinner around an open fire pit. The food was delicious and we had a great time recounting the day’s activities. Breakfast was served on an open deck down by the river. The monkeys often joined us and were quite creative about how to get their hands on the muffins. On one morning one of the baby monkeys came up to the tables and was making quite a scene, distracting us while the adult monkeys slipped in behind us and grabbed the muffins off the tables. We all had a good laugh and no one seemed to mind the missing muffins.
We had an amazing time with Viva Safari’s and thoroughly enjoyed staying in the tree house. I highly recommend getting one of the en-suite tree houses. Even though the other tree houses had a bathroom only a few feet away if I had to use the restroom in the middle of the night I’m not sure I would want to have to go outside to do so. The larger and more dangerous animals came out at night and would come right up to the tree houses. Each morning we would see paw and hoof prints all around our tree house. On one night we had a group of hyenas pay us a visit and on another we could hear the sound of a leopard killing a wart hog so for me the little extra money it cost for an en-suite room was well worth the price.
I also recommend bring a small flashlight. The trails to the tree houses are very dimly lit, having a flashlight with you will help you find your way easier and give you a little added comfort while making that long, dark walk back to your tree house at night.
Overall I give Viva Safari’s and Marc’s Treehouse Lodge two thumbs up. The price was great, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable and we had an experience we will never forget. It was everything we had hoped for in our African Safari.