Jon Holland review 6 Jul 2017
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The evening we sat on a hilltop in the sunshine and watched several bears doing their thing.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
To some extent.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
A bit of a curate's egg. Overall we had a lovely time. The guide (Alex) was great. Very knowledgeable - and good company once we got to know him better. We liked him a lot. Our vacation operators were really helpful - and nothing was too much trouble. And the scenery is spectacular - once you get to it.
But that's the rub. We were based in Zarnesti, which is 40 minutes from Brasov - and has nothing going on. The owner of the pensione, is lovely and her cooking is very good - but going out in the evening or eating anywhere else are not viable options without your own transport. That would be ok if the pensione had been in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the forest, but Zarnesti is just a big, anonymous and not very lovely town (a bit like basing yourself in Slough for a visit to London). More importantly, it's at least 40 minutes from all the locations where we went to see the bears etc - which is a big chunk of time when you consider you are spending an hour or so (at least) in the car twice a day.
So, if we had known then what we know now, we would have made sure we were either based in a remote location closer to the wildlife (which would have been our preferred option) OR in Brasov itself. It would have been good to have those options explained to us.
Last thing - and I realise this is sounding a bit like a moan, but if no-one tells you, how will you know - having now spent some time in Romania, I think the vacation was somewhat overpriced. I absolutely don't mind taking a fair fee for sorting everything out for us (we travel a lot - and I've never mentioned this issue to any agent we've used previously) but I reckon the mark up on this trip was somewhere between 35% and 45%, which feels a bit too much. By all means tell me if I am wrong.
I'd like to explain the star rating below:
Five stars for the guiding - once we got into the forest.
Four stars for the help when we were there.
Three stars for the pensione overall - but five stars for our host.
Three stars (somewhat generously - but in case my maths is up the spout) for value for money; two if my maths is right.
One star for the location.
So, three stars overall.
I'm very happy to speak to anyone about this if you would like more feedback. I think you could get this trip just right with a few tweaks. But it's not there yet, in my view.
Read the operator's response here:
Thank you for joining us on this trip and for your review.
For this particular trip we use only eco-certified accommodation out of a great number of hotels and guesthouses available in the general area where the researchers do their activity, Zarnesti, the town where you were based, being located somehow centrally. Of course it is possible to locate our guests anywhere, but that would lack the “impact on the local community”, or be not very environmental friendly, which are key aspects for a Responsible Travel trip…
Zarnesti is indeed not the most touristic town in the world (although it is the main gateway into Piatra Craiului National Park). Especially because of its poor economic development, any guest's presence there brings real benefits to the local community (not only the guesthouse owner, but many other local people, too). This aspect should be very important to a responsible traveler (we’re not referring here to the "common tourist" interested only in his/her personal comfort). As for “going out in the evening” – when do you have time to do that during this trip? And we always offer some meals out during daytime when we are visiting the local castles and churches...
As you know, the exact places for wildlife watching are chosen every day by the researcher who accompanies the guests, based on the latest movements of the target species and other factors they keep track of. Unfortunately during your trip you had to be in the car much more than we would have liked, but it was just to maximize your chances to see bears (plus the other species you’ve seen). If you had also hiked during daytime as we proposed - all those activities would have taken place close to the guesthouse.
As for the costs - the bases are wrong/incomplete, can't comment on the math itself.
Thanking you again for your input on the local community and environment,