Protea Hotel by Marriott, Kruger Gate, South Africa
Of the 5 gates to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, only one has a Protea Hotel. The Protea Kruger Gate hotel is perfectly positioned just a 5 minute walk to the entrance to the park.
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Marriott acquired the Protea family of hotels back in April of 2014, and if you haven’t heard of Protea before now, don’t be surprised. It is, however, one of if not the leading brand in Africa with over 100 hotels in South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Malawi, Ghana and Uganda. I’ve got to admit that I thought to myself “well, this is one hotel chain I don’t see myself visiting anytime soon…” but I’m glad that we did.
When Marriott introduced these hotels, most if not all of the hotels were loaded into the system as a “Category 1” hotel for redeeming points. This is the lowest category and only requires 7,500 points for one free night. Usually it’s reserved for hotels that are in horrible locations and places where in your right mind you wouldn’t go if your life depended on it. To give you an idea of where Marriott ranks hotels, another Category 1 hotel is the Courtyard Marriott in Oxford, Alabama, and as I’m sure Oxford, Alabama is on EVERYONE’s list of must see destinations.
“Category 9” hotels on the other hand are supposed to be the most exclusive hotels in the most exclusive locations with the best features. In practice what I see is that Category 9 hotels are where most Americans go with their families on vacation, and where they try and get business travelers to blow all their points on a simple stay. For example, EVERY Key West hotel from the posh, chic Autograph Hotel to the basic Courtyard are all Category 9 hotels. Category 9 hotels require 45,000 points per night, which in order to earn that many you’ll need to spend upwards of $4,500 sleeping in Marriott hotels to earn, or spend $45,000 on your Marriott credit card. It’s Marriott’s way of saying “we know your company spends boatloads of money for you to stay with us on business, now we’re going to suck every last point out of you when you wanna bring the kids for a weekend getaway.”
As you can see the category of the hotels has nothing to do with the cost of the hotel rooms, since the Protea Hotel converts to around $134 USD. But, considering that American tourists aren’t traveling much to South Africa, the hotel is cheap on points.
Once we saw that this was an INSANE value for points, we redeemed 15,000 points for two nights at the hotel.
When we drove up to the hotel, the first thing that we noticed was the open air feel that it had. It felt as it you were walking through a tree canopy on your way to a treehouse.
Since it was upwards of 95 degrees (35 degrees celsius), I was excited to see that bottled water and juice was everywhere in the hotel, including at all times in the lobby. Sweat is not my friend, but when it’s that freaking hot, you don’t have any choice BUT to sweat. Word of warning, bring extra T-Shirts and underwear, as I think in our two day stay we changed clothes 4 times.
There was also a board where you could report if you saw anything on your safari drives that day. All the “tings” that you find.
We were recognized as Platinum members, and said that we were one of the first Platinum members that have arrived at the hotel (shocking), as the Protea/Marriott transition was still very new. We were offered as a welcome amenity a choice of many snacks, but we decided to go for Biltong, which is a local dried and cured meat. Think of it as South African beef jerky, but usually made with game meats like ostrich or springbok. What I didn’t know until later is that the word biltong comes from the dutch words bil (buttock) and tong (tongue), so literally, everywhere in South Africa they eat butt tongue. Mmmm appetizing. They also offered a bottle of local wine to go with it, which was spectacular (and not made from butt tongue).
Before we headed off to the room we sat down with the coordinator of safaris and events and confirmed all the safaris that we booked before our arrival. Once finished, the purser helped us to our rooms.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the rooms, being that we were in the middle of nowhere in Africa, and this was a category 1 hotel for Marriott, but BOY were we pleasantly surprised. The hotel rooms were gorgeously appointed and extremely comfortable, if you’re into the safari theme.
The bathroom was unique in that the glass for the shower was actually a history lesson of the Kruger Park, ya know, in case you wanted a history lesson while naked.
The room view wasn’t too spectacular, but we were just a short distance from the pool. And let me tell you that when it’s 95 degrees outside (or 102 on our last day) that pool was like an oasis. Just don’t keep the doors open, as mosquitos are a thing, and bug spray is a must in all of South Africa. Just like Maine governor Paul LePage said, you gotta watch out for that “Ziki Fly”
Perhaps the best feature of this hotel is the viewing deck into the park. Since the hotel is situated on the boundary of the Kruger National Park, animals roam freely around the outside of the park, and some smaller animals actually roam inside the hotel grounds. Don’t worry, there are large fences so that elephants don’t come up to the doors of your rooms. And even if they did, you’re 15 feet off the ground, so no worries!
So what kind of animals can you see? It truly depends on how lucky you are. We were INCREDIBLY LUCKY on our first day as a herd of over 35 elephants went walking by and grazing.
As there was almost no noise at the hotel, all you could hear was the crunching of the grass and trees underfoot and when they would grab food with their trunks to eat. It was a surreal experience.
For being such a remote location, the food and wine list was remarkably inexpensive. Keep in mind that 160 rand = $10, 320 rand = $20, etc. So you could order a bottle of wine for $7, and just sit and watch the animals go by. That’s cheaper than any hotel I’ve even seen in the USA, and I’m sure cheaper than the Courtyard Marriott in Oxford (and for sure Key West…).
The food was equally as cheap, where toasted sandwiches were only $3.50 and heartier meals ran only $6-7.
As we sat and drank for the first 45 minutes of our arrival at the hotel, we were “greeted” by lots of different animals including monkeys and antelopes.
There was also an outdoor dining area incase you wanted a more formal sit down lunch or dinner experience, which I have to ask… why?! When you can sit out and lounge underneath a covered table and watch all the wildlife walking by, there’s nothing better. We did see the standard demographic for the people doing this was 75+, perhaps not looking for as much of an adventure as us youngin’…
Just off to the side through a nice raised walkway is Dee’s African Spa, which is a ‘full service’ spa that offers everything from massages to manicures to facials. Since we wanted to experience the full relaxation that this trip could offer, we opted for the full package. The two of us got a “tribal” massage (where they roll a Xigiya stick over your body), a facial, and a mani/pedi for 2,280 ZAR. That equates to about $150 or around $75 each. Not bad for a three hour spa trip with views of rhinos and elephants in the background. I encourage you to google the term Xigiya Stick. We couldn’t find anything before we left, but apparently it’s a three foot long stick with a baseball sized knot on the end, and they roll that all over your body from neck to toe. Unique, to say the least.
This hotel is an unbelievable value. A lot of the resorts in the area offer “all inclusive” packages and try to
rip off market to tourists. They offer day and night game drives, full food and dinner packages, and other amenities, but it comes at a high price. Some of these hotels that we investigated ran upwards of $400 per person per night. RIP OFF! As you can tell, food is cheap, and as you’ll see in a future post, the cost of getting game drives is a fraction of that cost.
Even without using the points to make the hotel stay free, it was only around $135 a night, but for only 7,500 points, it’s a steal. As a reminder, you can earn Marriott points by staying at Marriott hotels or through a points transfer via Chase Ultimate Rewards. Do yourself a favor and make sure to include the Protea hotels in your next visit to South Africa.
Has anyone stayed at any of the Protea resorts since they’ve become part of the Marriott family of brands?