Protea Hotel Kruger Gate – a Marriott Rewards Sweet Spot

IMG_9454

Long before discovering points and miles as a method to travel, my wife and I had a shared dream trip: a safari. I think it’s the child within — the chance to see lions and leopards and elephants in their natural habitats rekindles the amazement of seeing them on TV for the first time as kids.

It’s hard to describe the difference between watching Animal Planet and finding those scenes play out in real life in front of your eyes, but suffice it to say that after two trips the magic hasn’t died.  Last month, we returned to Kruger National Park in South Africa for the second time and felt like kids in a candy store as we drove ourselves around the park watching for wildlife and snapping photos along the way. I am no J.M. Hoffman, but the diversity in Kruger park is wonderful and makes it hard not to take a few pictures you like.  You can see elephants playing in the water:

42

Or lions…..lying:

140

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Or maybe even stumble on a leopard:

IMG_9448

Sightings are abundant.  With a few days, some patience, and a good eye, you’re likely to find a little bit of everything.

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

A warthog playing with the kids at the pool

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

IMG_9125

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

IMG_8794

77

If you’ve looked at safari packages before, you’ve probably assumed that it would be a major expense.  And it can be — luxury safari packages can easily run in the thousands and may be the right choice depending on your budget and desires. On the other end of the spectrum, you can rent a bungalow in one of the many rest camps within Kruger National Park for just about $100 a night (or camp for quite a bit less).  Bungalows are simple and typically clean enough, though on our last night this time around we did find a scorpion in our bathroom in the middle of the night:

scorpion

And that led us to find an opportunity to enjoy everything Kruger park has to offer while sleeping cheap on points: The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, a Category 1 Marriott Rewards property.  Sitting just 100m from the Paul Kruger gate, the location of this hotel can not be beat. All of the photos taken above were within a day’s drive from the hotel.

Cash rates at the Protea Kruger Gate can often easily exceed $200 a night, making 7500 Marriott points (or 2500 Starpoints converted to Marriott) a good value redemption:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

The lobby looked very promising — completely open-air:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

As this hotel sits literally 100m from the Paul Kruger entrance gate, it is surrounded by animal life and includes a nice nature walk:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

You can get a spa treatment under one of roofs to the left, listening to monkeys swinging in the trees or watching zebra pass by.

There are monkeys playing in the nearby trees/structures:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

And sometimes even running across the dinner tables as they set up:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

You can’t see any running across the tables here, and when we were eating dinner an hour later, we were happy to be in denial as well.

The room itself looked decent:

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

But the problem here is that each room opens to the outdoor hallways, and the two rooms we saw both included a gap between the door and frame that can allow something like, say, a 3-inch spider into the room. To be fair, we only found one such spider and the hotel offered to have the room cleaned again. We took them up on it and didn’t see another insect while we were there — but in a Malaria zone with venomous spiders and scorpions, I would expect a $250-a-night hotel to have doors that close a bit better.

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Another potential disadvantage to the Protea would be that your access to the park will be about an hour behind those staying within the park (camp gates open earlier than park gates).  Still, the ability to self-drive within the park means that you can choose your own path and adventure in search of the wildlife you hope to find.  While some say that the crowds at Kruger can detract from the experience in comparison to some lesser-visited safari locations, we didn’t find this to be the case during our two trips. In fact, we drove for hours at a time without seeing anyone — though lion sightings do tend to draw a handful of cars.

In the end, the biggest surprise for me on this trip was having access to the wild world above while staying at a Marriott Rewards property. The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate may not be perfect, but I found it to be perfectly well worth 7500 Marriott points. Better yet, convert Starpoints to stay for just 2500 Starpoints per night.  The current signup bonus on the Amex SPG cards would be enough to spend two weeks on safari at this property.  While that’s probably not what I’d do with all of those Starpoints, it’s a pretty strong value nonetheless.

One thing the Protea Hotel Kruger gate did reasonably well: dinner. The Protea’s dinner buffet was large, diverse, and pretty tasty even if a bit expensive compared to the restaurants within the park (neither breakfast nor dinner are included when redeeming points):

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Grilled meats, including Kudu, pork sausage, chicken, etc.

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

Pasta Station with various sauces

163

Dessert Station

And the wildlife viewing in Kruger National Park is amazing. We will definitely be back again (this was our second trip to Kruger in 13 months), and when we go back we will likely use Starwood/Marriott points to stay at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate.  If your travels take you to South Africa, check out what Marriott has to offer — Protea may surprise you!

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

51
Leave a Reply

avatar
20 Comment threads
31 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
20 Comment authors
Nick ReyesBoobaholicRS_WIGauravIRIS Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
sil
Guest
sil

I will be staying there in July. Do you remember how much breakfast and dinner buffet was?

bb
Guest
bb

Second that. Staying in April on points.

fathiss
Guest
fathiss

Nice pictures. I was never sure when I saw a leopard if it was a leopard or a cheetah. They look alike to me.
I stayed in a “luxury” tent just outside the gate 6 months ago. Best part about the accomodations was the evening brai where all the tenters got together to eat and share sighting stories.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Will you take tape for the cracks in the doors? Looks like a great bargain except those cracks would be a concern for me. Did you have any mosquitoes in the room?

Mary
Guest
Mary

Love the pictures! Would also enjoy a post on how you got there and costs involved.

Pat
Guest
Pat

Second to that.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Love tme photos. What focal lengths are a lot of these photos being taken with? Some of these look like you are close enough to reach out and touch the animals

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

We took our 3 boys to South Africa for a safari last March. We stayed at a ‘luxury’ safari place (Phinda) and it was FANTASTIC, but pricey. We used United miles for our 5 tickets on South African Airways, however, which really helped with the costs. I cannot recommend a safari enough. We don’t typically plan to return to our destinations as we like new experiences, but I have no doubt that another safari is in our future.

Deb
Guest
Deb

The time of year has a lot to do with bugs…we were in South Africa [Sabi Sands] in mid September which is late winter, early spring and there were few mosquitoes or other bugs about.

We stayed at a Protea in Johannesburg for 3 nights…Fire and Ice – Melrose Arch. It was a lovely hotel in a great area with lots of excellent restaurants. This was in 2015 when Marriott had just taken over Protea. No points at that time, sadly.

The one thing to consider, and this shouldn’t deter anyone from what looks like a great way to use points — Kruger, being a Public/National park, you must stay on the roads; that is, you cannot follow or search for animals. In Sabi Sands [as in other private reserves that border Kruger] you can go off road. But you can’t self drive, so I guess it’s a trade off.

I too have wonderful photos of what is probably the best trip I have ever taken, and that includes some grand trips elsewhere. Seeing the wildlife was life changing, truly a bucket list item.

FYI – we flew from NY to JNB on Etihad via Abbu Dahbi on the error airfare of Dec 2014. It was $300 TR each!! We did take advantage of the option to bid for an upgrade to business and got it for $1100 pp each leg.

JP
Guest
JP

Did you do anything else on this trip or just Kruger? Would love to see your full itinerary, including all hotel stays. Just love this post!!!!!

Ken
Guest
Ken

Does the Protea give free breakfast based on status?

Aaron L
Guest
Aaron L

Noticed that the inline images are huge files, scaled down for display. This is pretty punishing for mobile users. You might want to consider generating scaled-down images for the blog post and linking to full-res originals.

FLL
Guest
FLL

Worth to mention is, the cash rates you post, are half-board rates. It include breakfast and dinner. However 7500 pts award night does NOT include any meal plan. Not sure if one could buy it.

We stayed at Protea Kruger Gate before and after our 4 days inside Kruger. We checked out the buffet offerings but did not like what we saw – it was almost 7pm (we exit the park at the nick of the time at 6pm) the restaurant was not “officially” opened for business, probably due to the big tour groups haven’t returned yet. We asked to see what were offered – most everything was out and covered with shrink wrapped but they did not look appetizing. So we passed.

We did take Malaria prevention pills before heading to the area. No matter which month you go, you should take the prevention pill even it is not really 100% prevention. There are reports of infections among the workers who do not care when out and about (not wearing long sleeves/long pants). So if a mosquito bit an infected person and later bit you, you would be in danger.

You are very lucky to see Leopard and the very illusive Cheetah.

We went in Sept. Only saw Leopard once, he was atop of a tree after finished his meal. We got the news when we arrived Satara rest camp and checking the board on reported sightings. A couple told us they saw the Leopard killed, just about 30 min drive and inside a dirt road for about 2 to 3 km. So off we went and found it was still there but now up a tree. Plenty of vehicles waiting around to get a close glimpse though.

Did not see Cheetah but saw 2 groups of Wild Dogs at different locations – one quite near Skukuza main camp.

Kruger is amazing but I think Swaziland would be even more so as the parks there are much smaller so the driving would be far less in order to see games – to us it is more efficient to use the limited time any visitors from far away countries.

Boobaholic
Guest
Boobaholic

So an accurate comparison would be 7500 (now 10,000) points vs the cash rate minus $70 per room (based upon double occupancy, $20 per dinner, $15 per breakfast).
That does make the cash rates look quite a bit more reasonable.
However as we’d skip breakfast its less of a concern.
My concern is how long the queue could be to get into the park every morning vs staying at an inside SANPark camp. You’re already 1hr later and then you might get hit by a queue too 🙁
How long did you tend to queue most days ?

Joe W.
Guest
Joe W.

Nice! A South African safari is definitely on our bucket list. Where did you rent the car from to drive around in the park?

JP
Guest
JP

Looks like 40K on United for economy each way from the States (have to fly 4 ppl, so can’t do business). Could fly into Jburg and home from Cape Town (or vice versa). One way flights between those 2 cities are only $70 pp.

Did you need to stay somewhere in addition to Marriott in order to see all of Kruger? Just looking at a map, it seems that it might be easiest to stay somewhere up north for part of the trip.

Loving this trip. Ready to go right now!

Karen
Guest
Karen

Thrilled to read this post as I arrive Johanasburg in a few days for safari. Your pictures were great and we will be doing a self drive for a few days before arriving at our camp. Did you just do a transfer in Maputo or did you enter Mozambique? If you entered, did you arrange for a visa prior to your arrival? I have been reading that visa on arrival rules have been relaxed. I am very interested in your experience.

Gaurav
Guest
Gaurav

One of the cool things about Kruger is also the activities. If you are staying at one of the camps you can set up ranger guided drives. They will take you on some of the off the beaten path routes that you cannot drive yourself. You can also book one of the walks which is the only way to walk around outside the camps.

Nick, I’m curious about a couple of the shots that seem like they were taken from a pretty low perspectives (especially the lions). Were you out of your car?

Boobaholic
Guest
Boobaholic

I did quite a few of the evening / night drives from the parks as you can’t self-drive those. I found them generally to be pretty poor – but of course that all depends upon what you see !!
One great benefit of the SANPark safari drives is that you have a very knowledgeable guide explaining things to you. I would still do some again next time I go even though my personal experiences on my last visit weren’t great. Its also a good opportunity to interact with other people which you don’t do much of if you’re self driving all day every day !

Boobaholic
Guest
Boobaholic

You will get shouted at if you get out of your car and there are rangers about. Saw one guy do it. The guides in the trucks were telling him that the animals aren’t really scared of the vehicles but if they see human shapes then they get wary and leave. So its not ‘just’ for your safety but also so that you don’t spook the animals for the other guests of the park. I wouldn’t want to be the reason 30 angry people had their view of something special cut short !!
I did roll down my window on occasion to be fair to get better shots. Just don’t do it around predators – or giraffes !!
Bear in mind that the truks used by the SANPark safaris are open top & sides so opening your window at sensible select times shouldn’t be too dangerous – though not guaranteed !

trackback

[…] of my trip — talking about hotels like the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, and the JW Marriott Phu Quoc. Several readers asked about how I had gone about booking that trip. […]

trackback

[…] hotels along the way — like the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshius & Spa, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, and the JW Marriott Phu Quoc. A few weeks ago, I wrote about booking the first few legs of the […]

IRIS
Guest
IRIS

HELLO

WE WOULD STAY AT THE PROTEA KRUGER ON AUGUST.
DID YOU TAKE GAME DRIVE / TOUR FROM THE HOTEL OR SELF-DRIVING ONLY ?

DO YOU REMEMBER BREAKFAST / DINNER HOURS ?
THANKS
IRIS

RS_WI
Guest
RS_WI

Reviving this thread with a specific question: Can anyone speak to the internet at the Protea Kruger Gate Marriott? We’re going to be there in May/June 2018 and SO just got an invite to participate in a very prestigious panel. She can do it remotely, but not so much if the internet/wifi stinks.

Any insights from recent guests?? Reliably stayed connected? Speed was acceptable? (not looking to stream Netflix.. just to be able to participate in discussion). Is there cost? (Marriott Gold, if it matters)

Thanks!

Boobaholic
Guest
Boobaholic

Have been looking at IC Mauritius (although seems very remote) and combining it with some time in Kruger. Despite having gone up one category level to Level 2 now this Marriott property still seems good value (10k Marriott points but 5th night free) however I had thought the points cost would include breakfast 🙁
That is a bit of a let-down. I doubt we’ll be sitting for a sumptuous breakfast feast every morning so the cash price for breakfast won’t be worth it for us. Therefore we’d just grab something at a cafe outside or inside the park.

Do Marriott Gold members (matched from SPG thanks to AMEX Plat) get any benefits here ? On points stays ?? I appreciate that things will be changing with the merger too 🙁

I visited Kruger a couple of years ago and stayed inside the parks at the SANPark accommodations and found them to be decent enough and a good bonus was being able to enter the park earlier each day and from different locations (if you moved between the camps). I am surprised and shocked at the gaps in the doors at a Marriott property !!

I recall my first day entering the park was quite a queue and that would eat into your visiting time too (I could see that being an hour if you were unlucky) not just the one hour addition to the opening times at the outside gates vs internal accommodation gates.
How long did you find it took you to gain entrance each day ?

Thinking this might be quite a good use of some SPG points I have saved up (only 40K = 120K Marriott !).
Being from the UK we don’t get the huge numbers of points you guys do from credit card signups so have top earn them the hard way 🙁