I’ve given myself some time before posting this review, as I’ve been churning it over on how to write it.
The question is not did I enjoy my time at the Impala Hotel in Arusha, that answer is easy — I did not. The real question for the review is, was it a good value and on this I am torn. I’ve waited some time before posting the review because I feel it important to balance the issues of ‘expectations’ — you can’t expect the same as if this were a hotel in Europe. I also didn’t want to write with “fresh off the plane” prejudice. I wanted to take into account the resources available in Arusha and the ‘frame of reference’ that needs to provide. This is not a well off area and so a ‘luxury’ hotel (as it bills itself) here needs that taken into account.
Now that I’ve been in Africa for 2 weeks and seen a variety of other places, I feel more solid in my critique.
Because of the vagaries of my travels, I spent 5 nights at the Impala, while I think most Safari-goers spend 1 night before and maybe after. In those 5 nights I had 4 different rooms, and saw the rooms of two other people.
The Lonely Planet Guidebook notes the Impala has good rooms if you are in the “new wing”. The problem is, there’s no real way to ensure you are in the new wing.
My other hesitation with this review is since I did not even see the inside of, much less stay, anywhere else in Arusha, it’s really hard for me to make a valid comparison for the locale so can only base on the comparison BETWEEN the various rooms I had plus my general sense of things. But, here goes.
My first night there, I arrived around 10pm, coming off a 22+ hour flight. I was shown my room (in the new wing) and it had two insurmountable problems. First, the only electric plug in the room looked like someone had kicked it, and the shattered plastic pieces long-since gone. There was no way it would hold a plug to charge anything. Also, the windows didn’t close so the room was really loud and cold. Other minor things, like the cigarrette burns in the bedcovers, would not have been a decision-maker for me but the other two were.
Now, when you ask for a change of rooms, either they can try to accomodate you, or they punish you for complaining. I was hoping by the look on the hotel staff’s face when she was given my new room number by the guy behind the desk, I hoped I was just imagining the look of ‘surprise’ on her face that I was being given that room… I didn’t imagine it.
The first-floor room was not outfitted in the typical african kitch as the other rooms, so I knew immediately this was not likely a room they usually give to tourists. The room was tiny (which was fine), and the window was right on top of the peaked roof of the entrance way, so in essence it looked out on a wall. Since I would be in africa for months I didn’t care about the view, but if I’d been a vacationer with this my one big holiday of the year, it would have been a bummer. But, it had a functioning plug and the windows closed, so who was I to complain?
The problems with the room started the next morning at 5 am when they began to set up for breakfast, which happened to be right outside my room. Also, the shower stall had a broken/missing door to water poured out into the bathroom and the drain was so slow, it filled to overflowing in less than 5 minutes. On the second morning it did not have hot water, either.
Also, the room was cold and I asked for a blanket, it took literally 6 hours to get (the front desk kept insisting it had been delivered when it hadn’t).
I later heard another guest complain that the room he’d been given 2 hours ago still had not had cleaning service from the previous occupant and they’d been told it would be cleaned “right away’. Must take into account “african time” I suppose…
I was then switched from a single into a room with twin beds because the next night I’d be sharing a room with me safari-mate. It was up in the “new wing” and I found no flaws given the brief stay I was there. That room even had a hair dryer, which was a luxury versus the other rooms.
After my trip I asked the guys from my safari to help me make sure I got a good room. The front desk immediately gave good, new wing rooms to my safari-mates who had “day rooms” (regular rooms, but pay a less rate because they are not overnighting). I expected to be given a room near their’s, but was again given a room on the first floor. I patently refused, saying it was right next the room I’d had before that was awful. They insisted it was a great room, so even the intervention of my swahili-speaking friends didn’t necessarily get me a good room. I had to insist on a different room, and then I got one up in the new wing.
The room superficially was fine. I later found the bathroom leaked whenever the person in the room above me used their shower/tub, but that was a minor issue at that point. The bed was turned down to have just one sheet and a thin blanket, but I didn’t bother trying to get another one, I just bundled up. Also the room didn’t have a ‘do not disturb’ sign, which is a pet peeve of mine as I don’t like having maid service if I’m only staying somewhere one or two nights and would just as soon people not be in the room mucking with my stuff.
Despite all that, it must be taken into account that this was NOT a luxury hotel compared to where I was staying before, the cost ($75/night) was probably 1/3 to 1/2 of what the luxury lodges cost.
Now, on the positive side, the hotel did have a nice pool and “garden area” (lawn next to pool) where it was a quiet place to relax and read. The hotel was outside of the mainstay of town which if you don’t like or fear the bustle, noise, and touts, is an advantage. The bathrooms with tubs are luxuriously large and I had two very nice long hot baths out of it (the only I’ll get here, I’m sure).
The staff were moderately nice and helpful, though I will say less so than almost anywhere else I’ve been in Africa where everyone seems very eager to please.
Their food was decent and reasonably priced (I did have one incident where it took almost 45 minutes to get a pizza when there were only 3-4 other tables taken and they couldn’t tell me what the problem was) and there is an internet cafe that had half the computers working decently half the time. [NB: if you are willing to venture the 2k away to the "pastisserie" internet cafe, it was only $1.20 per hour rather than $5/hour, and had much better connections, but you need to be comfortable walking there, or else take a $3 taxi. During the day, only].
So, the question is, at $75 is Impala a worthwhile stay. *IF* you get a decent room, and the pool, hotel, i-cafe, etc are worthwhile extras for you, then I’d say yes.
If you want to be ensured of a good room and better western-comfort and have the money to spend, I’d say paying an extra $50-100/night for a better place may be worth it.
If you are looking to save money and the above-mentioned amenities (pool, restaurant, etc) are not worth the cost, then I think just based on rooms you’d be better off going somewhere cheaper and probably getting the same or better value for your rooms.
Overall, since I can’t compare with other places in Arusha, I can only compare to the two sets of rooms I stayed in (OK and not-OK). I paid the same $75/night per each, but the first floor rooms were really only worthwhile if I’d paid less than half that much. So, I feel ripped off for those nights, But for the other rooms, given the other perks, I think it was OK.
So, not a definitive review, but hopefully enough meat for you to chew on and make your own decisions. If you do stay there through a tour company, ask them to ensure you get a “new wing” room if possible, and NOT on the first floor.