Hotel Review: Protea Ondangwa

Ondangwa is not going to be high on the list of eco-tourism must-sees, but it does make a handy layover point when traveling between Etosha NP (92 kms) and Ruacana (192 kms) which is the access point to Kunene River Lodge.  The Protea Ondangwa is a good deal which usually costs less than $100 or a category 1 in Marriott Rewards points.

We checked in around 8pm and it was pretty dark and the hotel is not well sign-posted from the main road so we had to pull into a petrol station and ask directions.  If we had arrived in the daytime, we probably would have seen the hotel sign, it’s just not lit at night.  It’s accessed on a back road around the corner so a bit tricky but this is what you are looking for.

The reception area looks clean and new and has some cool African art on display.

The room was a good size and nice to see bird art!  The wifi worked ok.

Just what you need after a long, dusty drive!

The next morning, we finally got a look at the hotel and grounds.  They have a security guard on duty and the property is fenced so we felt very safe.  Breakfast is included in the rates and served in the restaurant next to the hotel building.

This is more a business hotel than a tourist destination but it is a decent place to spend the night.  You can book online at their website.

Lodge Review: Eldorado Guest House & Camping

If you can’t actually stay inside the park, this is the next best thing.  Eldorado Guest House & Camping is only 8 kms from the Anderson Gate so you can still be one of the first ones in Etosha NP.  It’s easy to find, just follow the signs.

When traveling in the bush, always leave a gate the same way you find it.

With the sun setting rapidly, we were trying to check in while we could still see the property.

Reception and restaurant area.

The garden is very nice.

This is our cabin, I just loved the stonework! 

The private BBQ on the patio.

The stonework was all through the room with a very cool bathroom feature.

For self-caterers, there is a microwave, kettle and fridge.

We didn’t get a chance to swim due to late arrival and early departure but they do have a very nice pool.

For the price we paid (using Orbitz 15% off coupon) this was an amazing bargain so check your online travel agent portals or you can book with them directly.  It’s a great place to stay and very convenient to Etosha NP!

Hotel Review: Intercontinental, Lusaka

Our journey through Zambia was coming to an end and the next day we would fly to Windhoek via JNB.  After all those bus rides and accommodation ranging from backpackers to cheap hotels to safari lodges.  Now it was time to pamper ourselves in a bit of luxury courtesy of my Chase Free Night benefit with the IHG Rewards card at the Intercontinental Lusaka.

We took a taxi from the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus, I think it was 30-40ish Kwacha.  One of these days I have to remember to write down taxi fares.

The large lobby had a special desk for IHG elite members which I had from my IHG credit card so we had a relaxed check-in, then admired some artwork before heading up to the room with our out-of-place backpacks.

The room was typical of a 4 star hotel and had a nice view of the swimming pool.

Yay, a bath tub!

As an elite, I was gifted with wine and fruit in the room, a nice touch!

Free wifi that works very well!

We decided to just hang out and relax, I wanted to catch up online so we got room service for dinner.  I had some kind of pasta, my husband had kebabs and chips.  We aren’t foodies so it was all good.  I really just wanted internet!

Our hunger sated, I looked out the window for birds, not too many around.  If we hadn’t been so tired we would have gone for a walk, the grounds were pretty nice.

Safari Bar is near the restaurant which overlooks the swimming pool.

The fabulous buffet breakfast wasn’t included on a free stay but it sure was delicious!  We ate so much, we didn’t need lunch!

Waffles & pancakes

Omelette station

Afterwards we went down to the pool.  It was a bit too cold to swim that day so we just hung out a bit.

Dark-capped Bulbul

We really enjoyed out stay here and the staff treated us very well.  One man told us where to find cheaper taxis ( the official hotel taxis are expensive) and when check out was delayed due to a new person not knowing how to process the free stay, I was gifted 5000 IHG Rewards points without even asking!  They have a free airport shuttle which waited for us to settle our bill.  The flight was delayed anyways.  I’m happy to recommend the Intercontinental Lusaka!

Lodge Review: Marula Lodge, South Luangwa NP, Zambia

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is arguably the best safari location I have been to in Africa, and I have been to quite a few!  But before we get to the safari details, first we need a place to stay.  After lots of research, I found the Marula Lodge which is a mere 5 minutes from the gate.  They cater for all budgets with backpacker dorms, camping tents and chalet rooms.  We had a special Backpacker Package for around $450 which included 3 nights for us both in a tent, all meals and 2 game drives per day-morning and late afternoon/evening.  You can pay with a credit card but there is a 5% surcharge, to me it was worth it for the added security and bank transfer fees on my end would have been about the same.

 

We were picked up at the bus station in Mfuwe and driven to the lodge about 5 minutes away.  You are advised not to try to walk as there could be dangerous animals around, lions don’t know the borders of the park!

Heading towards the main building which houses reception, the restaurant, bar, souvenir shop and bathrooms.

Do take some time to read the notice board!

We tried several times but the wifi just didn’t work during our stay.

Daily schedule.

Office building, I think the backpacker dorm is in here as well.

Our tent, here it is by night.

And in the early morning.

Sorry for the blurry shot, you can see the basic set up-2 cots and a table in the middle.  They give you a rechargeable lantern.

The showers and toilets are in this open-air structure.  I got a bit nervous to go there at night but there are security guards around who will escort you if needed.

You hook a chain across the entrance to show it’s occupied.

Our safari vehicle, please note that it is covered on top!  This is an issue as the sun gets very hot during the day and we passed quite a few other vehicles with open tops and red-faced tourists!

Map of South Luangwa NP

Wifi details, I would say don’t bother!  But come prepared with whatever you need for the duration of your stay-downloaded entertainment, books or whatever.

Here’s the restaurant.  You can see the bar in the rear and buffet table with red & white table cloth.  Each couple or group gets their own table.

Breakfast is a small buffet, lunch and dinner are served on a plate.

Some of the hand-made souvenirs from nearby villagers.  Support the local economy and bring something special home!

Dinner the next day, served after the evening game drive.

The bathrooms in the main building have some pretty amazing artwork!

The period between lunch and the afternoon snack is free.  You can sit by the river and watch for animals or have a dip in the pool.  We did both!

During siesta time, I was hanging out at the pool and watched an uninvited guest sneak in a free swim!  Thankfully I was on a lounger and not in the pool at the time!

Marula Lodge is an amazing place with a gorgeous setting and has everything you need for a successful safari.  The management is knowledgeable and friendly, the food is good and the guides top-notch!  We loved this place and were very sorry when we had to leave after 3 days, most people on Trip Advisor were also very happy.  I can highly recommend the Backpacker Special as one of the best deals you could find in Africa!

Stay tuned for our game drives in South Luangwa NP!

 

Hotel Review: Crown Plaza Inn, Lusaka

We had an overnight stay in Lusaka between 2 bus trips.  First we would arrive from Livingstone on Shalom bus and the next morning, we needed to be at the Lusaka Bus Terminal at 4:30 for the Johabie Express but to Mfuwe.  A cheap hotel near the bus station was in order.  After much research, I finally decided on the Crown Plaza Inn which (according to Google maps) was close to the bus station and very cheap.

We arrived around 6pm and it was already dark so I forgot to get the exterior shot.  Please enjoy this bright pink hallway instead!

The room was quite simple but considering it was about $20-ish we couldn’t complain.  The wifi worked but was really slow.

I could say that it was in need of a renovation, but you do get what you pay for. 

The staff were friendly and offered to book a taxi to the bus station the next morning but we had already arranged with the driver who brought us to come back for us.  There is no restaurant on the premises and we left around 4:15 so too early for the included breakfast.  They have soft drinks and water for sale.  Any shopping centres within walking distance were closed so we couldn’t go out for dinner and this isn’t an area where you want to be walking around after dark.  Thankfully we had some snacks we had brought on the bus and that was basically dinner!

Over all, it was ok for an overnight, especially since we arrived late and would be leaving early so the only facility I wanted was wifi and I got it, albeit slower than I liked.

Lodge Review: Fawlty Towers, Livingstone

Although Fawlty Towers is better known as a backpackers lodge, they do have nice private rooms available and this is the product I will be reviewing.  I chose to stay here because we basically only needed a place to lay our heads at night, the 2 full days we planned in Livingstone were jam-packed with activities so no time to enjoy luxury facilities.  The location can’t be beat, right in the middle of town with a shopping centre across the street.

We arrived around 8am after the bus ride from Lusaka with a stop in Monze and as one would expect it was too early to check in.  We went to the restaurant upstairs for breakfast (paid separately, not included in rate) and I checked my emails.  The wifi is not great but not bad, it may be due to having several people on all at once, some of them were Skype-ing.

There is a security guard on duty round the clock which was really good for us as we had a 3am pick up for Machile IBA.

Taxis congregate just outside and the security guard will help you if needed.

Courtyard with places to sit and use wifi or eat & drink.

Breakfast is paid downstairs, they have a menu to choose from and they give you a ticket to bring to the kitchen.  You can help yourself to coffee and tea. 

 

The receptionist can book any tours you want and they have a wide variety of things to do.   Everyone is catered for whether adrenaline enthusiasts or relaxing cruises down the Zambezi.  Although I had originally inquired about the budget Booze Cruise, it wasn’t running and they booked us on the Lady Livingstone.  This turned out to be a great cruise which will be covered in a separate post. 

This section has the private rooms which are a fantastic deal, especially if you can get some portal points or airline miles or cashback.  After using a coupon on Orbitz, I got it for around $36 a night!

Our room was on the end.

Very comfortable beds and plenty of room to spread out.

The shopping centre across the street has most of what travelers need – ATMs, souvenirs, a supermarket and a couple small restaurants & fast food places.

Hungry Lion is like a KFC, good for cheap fast food.

Honestly you can spend hundreds of $$ in Livingstone and stay at some stunning eco-lodges in the bush but if you aren’t going to be around during the day, why bother?  There is just so much to do in Livingstone & Victoria Falls area that unless you have lots of time to spare, you won’t be at your accommodation all that much.  Fawlty Towers was a great little budget place, very well-run and the staff are very nice and helpful.

Hotel Review: Ghion Hotel, Addis Ababa

The Ghion Hotel is the most popular hotel in Addis Ababa for birders thanks to its beautiful grounds and garden so no wonder I was keen to stay here!  Full disclosure, non-birders may not like the hotel as it is rather dated and the wifi is very weak at best in some rooms, many rooms don’t have it at all and you need to go to the lobby.

We arrived in the evening just before dark after a long journey from Lake Langano so there was no chance to see the grounds that day.  Driving from the bus station, I was dismayed to see it had been raining, not good for birders!

The next morning, we could see a lot more!  Here is the entrance where the taxi will drop you off.

Restaurants are also accessible from this section.

This is the room we got which turned out to be a good location as I could get a wifi signal from just outside the door.

I haven’t seen a tv like this in years!

So the room is simple and definitely channeling the 60’s.  We weren’t here to sit around the room so it was ok.

Back to the lobby to organize a driver for birding Menagesha Forest with the manager who knew a driver, then on to dinner.

For dinner you can choose the buffet or order off the menu.  We went for menu items as we weren’t really that hungry.  Breakfast is included in the rate and also includes the buffet and freshly made omelets.

If the weather is nice, you can also eat outside.

Interesting decorations!

There are several shops in the lobby area.

They also have an Ethiopian style restaurant where we had lunch after returning from the Menagesha excursion.  We opted to sit outside to look for birds while we ate.

I ordered some local food just to try it, I think it was the 3rd item down from the English side.  It was like a curry served with injera.  It was OK, I wasn’t wild about the injera and the portion was huge so I couldn’t finish it all.

The views were great!

A few little birds were hopping around looking for food.

Now the main reason to choose the Ghion is to have access to the beautiful gardens so look for the next post to focus on birding the gardens!

The Ghion Hotel is available on most online booking sites or you can book direct.

Lodge Review: Hara Langano Lodge, Ethiopia

I really have Trip Advisor to thank for finding this beautiful lodge.  We were originally going to stay at another place which had been the main birders lodge in this area but sadly burned down in the Oct 2016 riots.  So I went looking for somewhere else to stay in the area and the Hara Langano Lodge came highly recommended.

We arrived on time at Addis Ababa airport and quickly passed the formalities.  When we exited, there was no guide with a sign waiting so another hotel rep used his phone to call our driver.  The driver was on his way and we found him at the car park.  We had an interesting 3 hour drive to the lodge passing through the Ethiopian countryside and some small villages and markets.  They charged us $50 each for this transfer which was in a minibus and would have been shared with anyone else headed to the lodge that day but we were the only ones.

Leaving the main road, there is about 20 km drive to the lodge.

Bungalows like this one are scattered around the property with enough distance to feel private.

Entrance to the reception area which shares the building with the restaurant.

Fair warning!  Hippos do come into the property although they didn’t when we were there.

Our bungalow was near the reception and surrounded by trees – good for birders!  You can also request one closer to the lake if you prefer but they cost more.

The bungalows are tastefully furnished in a nice Ethiopian style.

Sitting on the porch we can still see the lake.

The restaurant – all meals are included.

That steak ala bismark was really good!

Desserts were really good too!

There are several places you can sit by the lake and watch birds or just relax. 

The resident birding guide is Hakim and he is absolutely brilliant!  He knows all the local bird calls and where to find most species.  He worked really hard to find my target birds.  The Black-winged Lovebirds coooperated and came pretty close.  The Yellow-fronted Parrots were only heard the last day in distant trees in the farmlands.  But the birding reports are yet to come so stay tuned for pics and more!

Hara Langano Lodge is a wonderful place and any birder would love it!  You can book with them on their website.  They can only accept cash at the lodge in either USD or Birr so plan ahead.

Hotel Review: Lake Heights, Entebbe

I had some special criteria when choosing the accommodation for our 2 night stay in Entebbe.  I wanted a nice birdy location and I wanted it to feel African.  Finally, it had to be bookable through the Flying Bue/Pointshound portal so I could get 10,000 miles bonus!  After doing some searches, I found the Lake Heights Hotel in Entebbe.  As an added bonus, people on eBIrd had reported seeing African Grey Parrots fly over!

I had emailed them ahead of time and their driver was waiting for us at the airport.  He led us out to the minibus and it was about 8 minutes to the hotel.

Security is tight and we felt very safe there.

The grounds are beautiful…………….

………..the staff very friendly……………………..

…………………and the room was awesome!

The decor was simple but elegant.

The bathroom was spacious and very clean.

The pool was beautiful albeit somewhat too cold to swim (April) but still a nice place to hang out.

There’s a roof top bar and you can also have them bring food up from the restaurant below.

From the rooftop, the view gets even better!

We did see a few birds but we also were out most of the day so not much time to bird the grounds.

The breakfast buffet had a lot of choices for both African and Western palates.

The last night there was a BBQ with delicious roast meats and live entertainment.

On top of all that, the wifi was very strong and they were nice about letting us use the facilities up to 11pm (after the BBQ) when we had to go to the airport in their shuttle for a 3am flight.  I really loved this place and would definitely stay there again if we returned to Entebbe!

Hotel Review: Ibis Al Rigga, Dubai

I had some Le Club Accor points to burn and we just needed a well-located budget hotel to crash at night so I chose the Ibis Al Rigga, Dubai when Accor was running one of their sales.  They don’t always accept points during these sales but luckily for me they did on this one and breakfast was included!  The location is excellent, just 5 minutes walk from a Metro station.

It’s a decent budget hotel, really it’s the location that makes the place.

The staff are very friendly and were happy to make phone calls for me to check on restaurants so we wouldn’t have a huge phone bill.  They also gave us a late check out and kept our bags after check out as we didn’t have to go to the airport until 11pm.  I chose this hotel intending to use the Metro to go everywhere but that plan fell apart after the heat got the best of me and the Metro proved to be rather crowded, at least crowded enough to make getting a seat difficult.  We used Uber to go everywhere using the hotel wifi and that  worked really well.