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Hamiltons Tented Camp – ☆☆☆

October 27, 2010

Heather Atkins

Date of Travel: May 2009

When booking our stay at Hamiltons “Luxury Tented Camp”, we keenly observed the 5 star rating and took notice of the normal May rate of around 700.00 USD per night. For that price, this has got to be an amazing place! ..right?

After a long, spectacularly scenic drive through the Kruger National Park, we pulled up to the Hamilton’s Tented Camp. We walked up to the main deck area. It was deserted. After snooping around the deck sitting area for a good 5 minutes or so, a woman emerged from the dirt road we had come in on. “Checking in?” Uh, yes. Indeed we are here to check in. She was very dry, and seemingly unimpressed with our existence. We were then introduced to our butler who escorted us to our room/tent. There was a hand written plaque on our door reading: “Darrly Party.” Nice gesture, although the misspelled name (and not our surname at that) was a little strange, but no big deal.

Our tent interior was worn and tired. Mildewy canvas walls/roof and mosquito net. Overly worn, squeaky bathroom fixtures, lots of bugs and attention to detail was clearly not a priority for housekeeping. We walked out onto our private deck area overlooking the Ngwenyeni Dam. The location of this establishment is incomparable in it’s immaculate nature. The tree-house concept this property offers is very charming, and we’re sure it was pure luxury some 10 years ago, however, that really can’t make up for it’s multitude of present day flaws. Already uncomfortable from the strange energy sensed from the get go, we seriously contemplated whether or not to request a transfer to one of their sister resorts. We decided to just stick it out. Maybe things would get better?

We made our way to the main deck area for pre game drive snacks. Options were not plentiful or flavorful. They brought us our coffee, but had no soy milk as we had specifically requested at time of booking. Every other 5 star game lodge we’d visited had been very good about fulfilling our dietary needs, so this was a little out of the ordinary for us. They promised to order our requested beverage immediately, but of course being in the middle of nowhere didn’t promise us anything until the day of our departure. While sipping black tea, our ranger introduced himself, and asked what non-alcoholic beverage we wanted on our sunset cocktail stop. Apparently the price we had paid did not include alcohol, but it was just a little weird. I mean, they can always add it to the bill should we choose to indulge in a spirit or two. At least present the option.

The game drive itself was uneventful. Impala was the riveting extent of it. Our initial drive into the Hamilton’s camp earlier that day rendered far more visual interest than any of the game drives throughout our entire stay. Yes. We did end up staying, no relocation for us. When we asked if there was room at any of their alternate establishments, we were denied, and made to feel even more uncomfortable. After our little ‘Get me out of here’ inquiry, our butler must have been told to over deliver on excellent service and attentiveness. He was very sweet, but would not leave us alone. “Is everything Good?? Is everything OKAY??” He would constantly ask, with an ever so vague hint of sarcasm.

One night at dinner he brought a mini champagne bottle for 1 as a complimentary post-complaint gift. Strange. There were 2 of us. I even sweetly asked if we could have one more mini bottle.. but no. That is absolutely not included in your price. It was getting down right comical at that point.

The wildlife sightings were so scarce that we ended up opting out of all A.M. drives. Our driver (very nice, yet highly inexperienced) multitasking (as driver and tracker) was clearly one of the many budget cuts courtesy of Hamiltons. He did however receive a call regarding a cheetah sighting, but turning up last vehicle on the scene featured the end of a tail scurrying into the bushes. In fact, if my husband hadn’t spotted just about every creature we ended up seeing, we may as well have been driving through the outskirts of Temecula, California.

Throughout the entirety of our 3 night stay, the resident hippo casually loitered right outside our room. At one point we observed an elephant crossing the river. He and the hippo engaged in a momentary territory dispute offering an unexpected spectacle for us onlookers. Once the elephant had crossed, he continued bathing himself in shoreside mud for a good hour or so. Much better game viewing on our deck. Lots of great photo op’s!

Every meal was mediocre. The chef clearly is not trained on the art of vegetarian cooking. We resorted to the dwindling stash of protein bars hidden in our luggage after each dining experience.

Lets face it. We were indeed spoiled at all of our previous game lodges, so if this is your first safari experience ever, your naivety will make way for an appreciation of Hamiltons Tented Camp. We just feel that there are far superior choices for this price level and star rating.

*Make sure you set aside some time to drive yourself through the Kruger National Park. You’ll be presented with an abundance of tantalizing photo opportunities.. Don’t put your lens cap on … even for a moment!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 9:12 pm

    Hi Heather, fascinating write-up. Were you just there in October? What was the off-season rate? Cheers!

    • October 27, 2010 9:56 pm

      Hi Mitch! This trip was in May last year. I’m sneaking in a few of my previously written reviews amongst the newer ones:)
      We would always get great last minute rates (about 2000 Rand per night) on mtbeds.co.za, but they’ve recently changed their rules to cater for SA residents only. If you hear of any good booking agencies for safari lodges, please do let me know.. thanks!

      • October 28, 2010 8:16 am

        I’ll keep an eye out for booking agencies that do safaris. Just out of curiosity, do you keep a handwritten journal or travel with a laptop? The details really add a lot to the review. Thanks for the info and the amazing photos!

      • October 28, 2010 8:36 am

        If I’m out of town for more than a week I always travel with my laptop. Otherwise I take notes and elaborate once I’m back home. Hopefully I’ll replace my heavy, 4 year old macbook for a macbook air or ipad.. that should be a slightly more convenient item to schlep along!

  2. Lost in France permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:05 pm

    Loving the way you write, and the fact that it is fantastically honest.

    Also the photos of the animals are fantastic.

    Would have loved to see some shots of the tent, inside and out.

    • October 28, 2010 8:27 am

      Ah! I know! I kicked myself for not photographing the tent. I will most certainly remember to take pictures of all my future hotels:)

  3. October 31, 2010 2:05 pm

    You have a nice way of following up your points with specific details (for example, the offer of just one mini-bottle of champagne). It seems surprising that a resort in that kind of location would be so inflexible. I found myself wondering if there were other guests having similar experiences. Those pictures are beautiful, especially the zebras.

    • October 31, 2010 3:15 pm

      Thank you!
      It was such an awkward experience staying at this place. When this review was originally posted on trip advisor, I had two people contact me with similar experiences.. so unfortunately this kind of service was a very common occurrence at Hamiltons 😦

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