Happy new year, dear reader!
I hope you had an awesome festive season and that your year is off to a great start.
As we begin another year, which I am sure we all hope will be filled with fun, beautiful, amazing (travel) experiences and adventures, I want to take the time and tell you about my most memorable travel discovery of last year.
It all began last summer as I was planning a 3-week family road trip across Tanzania. I sort of stumbled across it by accident.
After three amazing finds using this service, though, I think I can rule out luck now.
Let me tell you a little more.
Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater
As I was planning the road trip I mention above, I decided to take my own advice about where to stay when visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and cut costs by staying in Karatu instead of inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
As I told you in this post long ago, my preferred way to plan trips had been to use not only travel guides but more particularly Rough Guides because, in my experience, they were great not only at giving you fantastic travel information but also at breaking down accommodation options by budget.
With Rough Guides, I found it very easy to focus on just budget accommodation, luxury accommodation, or mid-range accommodation depending on what type of trip I was planning.
My first move in planning my “summer” roadtrip, therefore, was to buy the most recent version of The Rough Guide to Tanzania.
With that in hand, I felt I was well placed to plan my trip.
Needing to Look Beyond the Rough Guide
When I looked up accommodation in Karatu, though, all the options listed were either too budget (and I didn’t want my travel companions to hassle me once we got there) or not budget enough (when you are on the road for 3 weeks, costs add up quickly)!
I decided to take a look at TripAdvisor.
I am not sure what it was about TripAdvisor, but after checking my options there, I felt I didn’t have enough information to make a decision I was confident about.
I thought I’d give it a try.
My First Experience with Booking.com
It had VERY good user ratings, but I couldn’t find much else about the lodge online.
Their website didn’t look particularly professional, and when I tried to call the numbers listed on it, no one answered the phone.
Hmmm…I was not convinced.
Except…I didn’t have a lot of time left before my trip, AND…I kept seeing a message on the listing that said “Reservation possible without a credit card”.
For many of you reading this, Booking.com is hardly newsworthy.
After all, it is one of the largest travel e-commerce companies in the world.
In my parts of Africa, though, where so much of our world is not mapped online and many online services require tools that many of us don’t have, such as credit cards, using an online booking engine to book accommodation in a dusty little upcountry town, is not an obvious choice.
After all, being Tanzanian, I suspected I could get cheaper local rates over the phone, rates that would probably not be publicized online.
With my back against the wall because of the time crunch, and knowing that I could make a booking without a credit card, I went ahead and booked TanzanIce Farm Lodge.
Luckily, I was eventually able to get in touch with the lodge once I’d made my booking, so at least I had some sort of assurance, as I headed to Karatu, that my booking was indeed valid though I still didn’t know what I’d find once I got there.
Great Find Number 1: TanzanIce Farm Lodge, Karatu, Tanzania
Oh my gosh, TanzanIce Farm Lodge was lovely!
A well-finished, spacious converted farm house with lots of light overlooking great views, it was the perfect charming surprise addition to what was already set to be a great holiday.
I loved sitting in the lounge, or on the terrace, looking out at great landscapes creating new family memories over a bottle of wine.
The service at TanzanIce Farm Lodge was just fantastic! The staff went out of their way to fulfill our every need.
There is something special about holidaying in a place that feels as cozy as a home when you are travelling with a good group of friends and/or family.
I think all of us on the trip will remember TanzanIce Farm Lodge fondly!
Great Find Number 2: Kasha Boutique Hotel, Matemwe, Zanzibar
A couple of months later, some friends of mine & I decided to go on a weekend getaway to Zanzibar.
Although, I am quite the budget traveler, my friends are not.
Despite being the person who had lived longest in Tanzania and probably had been to Zanzibar most often, I did not want to deal with the burden of being the person to choose our accommodation, in case my friends didn’t like it.
After generally discussing what we each wanted to do during our weekend getaway, when it came to specific accommodation choices, I left that decision to the person who had spearheaded the trip.
What l did do, in an effort to be somewhat helpful, was to point her in the direction of Booking.com, letting her know that I and some other people had had some great luck booking accommodation on the platform in the recent past.
We spent our first night in Stone Town.
For the second night, we were set on exploring a new Zanzibar beach that none of us had ever been to.
After driving way longer than any of us expected, and after I think we’d all started to doubt whether where we were going was worth the long drive, we finally arrived at Kasha Boutique Hotel on the northeastern coast of Zanzibar.
Oh, my God, I kid you not: it was one of the nicest places I have stayed at in a long, long time.
With its bright colors, and good food, its honeymoon suites complete with a personal plunge pool, its swimming pool that seemed like an infinity pool into the ocean, Kasha Boutique Hotel was simply divine! (For those of you who follow me on Instagram, I am sure you’ve seen the pictures, but you’ll also see some of those here in my next Instagram recap post.)
At first I just put it down to my friend’s impeccable taste, but when she told me that she had found and booked Kasha Boutique Hotel on Booking.com, I thought, hey, there might really be something to this service.
Great Find Number 3: Salmiya Place, Nairobi
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in a family situation that necessitated an urgent trip to Nairobi.
It was a medical situation, so a couple of my family members would all be congregating in the city at the same time.
With several hotel rooms to be booked, there is no way I was OK with giving away that kind of money just for a roof over our heads.
For standard Nairobi hotels in certain areas, some of you may know this is virtually impossible!
Of course, that put a big question mark in my mind about what the apartment and room would be like.
What really surprised me, though, was that Salmiya Place had a user rating of 9.6/10 after hosting many, many guests.
Surely, those couldn’t all be fake reviews!
The pictures were alright, and all the reviewers had only the best things to say about Salmiya Place.
Again, I decided to take my chances.
I know some of you think I am “gloriously enthusiastic”, but guys, it really was special.
First and foremost, the decor!
So much attention had been paid to every little detail of the apartment that five days later I was still ooh-ing and aah-ing about design choices.
The beds were comfortable, the service outstanding, the breakfast—even for a non-breakfast-eater like me—was worth writing home about.
Pauline, the caretaker, answered all our questions and catered to our every need.
No request was too big or too small for her to pay attention to.
I was particularly impressed one night when a childhood friend and I had a lunch, that turned into dinner, and then a sleepover just like we used to do when we were younger, and Pauline handled it with such ease and grace because, as she explained to me, the price of the room was per room not per person sharing.
She then proceeded to be the epitome of welcoming hospitality to my friend at breakfast the next morning.
Let’s just say, I’m not sure I would ever stay anywhere else when I am visiting Nairobi (unless, of course, I am staying with a friend 😉 ).
And that’s when I knew I’d have to write this post.
My favorite travel discovery last year was definitely Booking.com.
From now on, if I even think of a destination I want to travel to, Booking.com will be the first place I look to find that great value-for-money gem off the beaten track. (In fact, it was quite a lifesaver just last week in Zanzibar!)
Have you ever used Booking.com? If so, were your experiences good or bad? Would you recommend the service to fellow travelers?
What I will say if ever you do use Booking.com is pay close attention to other guests’ ratings.
In my experience, high ratings really do translate to great places to stay.
The other thing I would like to mention, is that even if you are like me and don’t have a credit card, or are travelling to a place where you can’t possibly imagine that value bargains would be listed online, don’t despair and just check the service out.
I did and was very pleasantly surprised.
Until the next time,
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