Sorry for the late reply.
Mark and I have never been away for so long before and it was quite a daunting prospect. I have used African Travel Gateway, since Howard first started many years ago and without exception every holiday as been arranged to perfection, without compromise and without fault. The quality on the whole of everything we have ever stayed in is so much better than we experience in Europe - we always know it will be good.
Madagascar was an interesting experience, it was somewhere I had wanted to go since very small. I had always wanted to see the Aye Aye and that was my dream for this holiday. Unfortunately that was never going to happen and I think Assisten Travel could have managed expectations better with this, ending up at a zoo to see one (which we actually never did) is not what we had envisaged.
Our guides were superb. We had a driver - who happened to be a guide also, but as it was the end of the season he was sent to drive for us and our main guide. Apart from the capital there are no cars on the road and for this we were very glad that we had a driver. In places the roads were appalling - sometimes 3 or 4 hours of continuous pot holes, which was very uncomfortable, however again thank goodness for a good vehicle. Also they provided water for us the whole holiday which was well received. They made us feel very safe the whole time, some areas were very poor, it was good having a guide.
I won’t run through all the hotels we stayed at, but the highlights were Couleur Cafe in Antsirabe, a little oasis in a big city, the room was huge, beautifully decorated and the food Michelin star quality.
The other place of note was Jardin du Roy in Ranohira - this hotel was truly spectacular, amidst what can only be described as “The Grand Canyon”.
Our least favourite was Setam Lodge in Ranomafana. Nothing awful, but the place was very dark and the rooms old, but hey we were staying in the rain forest which certainly made up for it.
We would forget the sea bit, the snorkelling was OK, but very rough and it appeared that there were sand storms every afternoon when you just couldn’t go outside.
With regards to wildlife - lemurs, chameleons, frogs in abundance. This was a wildlife paradise and our guides went out of their way to ensure we saw as much as we could. Also the scenery couldn’t have been more different and spectacular. We had every other day travelling, up to 8 hours. In one day you could go from rice fields to almost dessert.
A few things we should have been made aware of by the Madagascar wheels operator:
1. The walking was long and sometime strenuous - we were fine with it, but other people were struggling and we noted some people not doing some walks as they were too tiring. You could not have done 90% of the trekking without walking boots - some people were trying to do it in sandals.
2. On the notes it stated how much we should pay guides - which we of course honoured. However getting money was sometimes difficult - although our guide was pretty good in saying that we wouldn’t see an ATM for 2 days! We had expected that our guide was our wildlife guide - and that is how we budgeted. However on arrival at our first trek, our guide then went and picked up the local guide, some days we had two guides plus our guide - so with the driver we were paying for up to 4 guides per day. Madagascar is VERY cheap, so it wasn’t a problem, however when we were struggling to get money out and when the currency is so poor that we were taking out 100,000’s of notes it was quite difficult. In essence they need to make clear how many people travellers are paying for.
3. The holiday was great, but everyone else was doing exactly the same holiday and staying in the same hotels - it didn’t feel very exclusive or special, it was bit of a route march. We appreciate that tourism is quite new to Madagascar, but maybe Assisten or someone else needs to break away from the mould and try something more exclusive and different?
Would we go back. Yes, but to a different part of the island and maybe a bit off the beaten track. A VERY good experience though.
Having been to SA almost 20 times and my husband half a dozen times, we knew what to expect. We arrived in Cape Town and all went to plan. Our room at the V&A was amazing. we didn’t arrive until about 23:00, but we just sat on the sofa’s looking at the waterfront, sighing with relief, it was nice to have some comfort again!
Next stop Schulphoek Seafront Guest House - beautiful location on the beach, although a little out of Hermanus. We had the best room, but the pictures of the room are much better than the room itself. Its smaller and a little bit faded. However still lovely. The food was excellent.
La Plume - probably the nicest place we stayed - our room was MAGNIFICENT! Every last bit of detail had been seen to, it was large enough to live in. The staff were amazing and the food outstanding. We easily could have stayed another night. Although a little out of Oudshoorn, the restaurant on the second night picked us up for free.
Knysna Hollow - we wouldn’t stay here again. It’s out of town, the room although well decorated was damp smelling. The actual hotel bit was very run down and the breakfast room like being back at the school canteen. Also Knysna for 2 nights was not great, We stopped at Storms River on the way to River Lodge - that was so exciting and buzzing. Maybe somewhere to think of?
Kariega River Lodge - for a hotel it was amazing. Have stayed at lots of lodges in the Kruger and private game reserves - they had done this very well. The setting was beautiful and the rooms lovely. We had however thought that we would have a river view, but only 2 rooms have views, so that was disappointing. They did move us for the second night. I must admit, the game drives were rather boring, as there isn’t much game. I know that sounds very snobbish, but have been spoilt with the Sabi Sands etc when life is teaming. We are glad we went, as it was a lovely way to end the holiday. For first time safari goers I imagine it would be great, but lacked the adrenalin and enormity of the north. Our guide recognised we needed more and on the last morning took us out for a long walk where we got extremely close to about 10 giraffe, which was lovely and got some amazing photos. You of course fulfilled our brief totally with this, but it wouldn’t be something we would do again!
And so back to London…....and home. So that was Mark’s 50th. Mine is next year in November, so really want to look at the boat on the Chobe, Victoria Falls etc! Anyway, let you have a rest from us for now!!
Thank you so much for all the hard work and attention to detail as ever. I know we had a bit of a rocky start with Mark’s job ending etc .. and I imagine you wondered whether it would ever happen?! You were very patient!
Hope not I have rambled too much
Teresa (and Mark) Harrison