If you are a nature lover and you want the trip of a lifetime, one that you will never forget, than you must choose somewhere where you can go on safari. I made this experience after finishing the garden route while I was in South Africa. It is strange for people like me, who live in places where there is a huge lack of wildlife, to find yourself surrounded by huge amounts of animals living in the wild. Seeing elephants, giraffes, rhinos, colourful birds, monkeys etc. is something normal here.
The fact is, that this kind of life is how it always was from the beginning of time! However human beings have changed so much of the world that it has become barely recognisable. We live in big cities, we are surrounded by superficiality and have almost lost all kind of contact with nature. It is a real pity that we have to go so far away from home to realise this, and that something so normal appears so surreal to us who live in cities. I really wish everyone had the opportunity to make such an experience once in a lifetime because it is truly an eye opener! If you would like to live this experience below you can find some tips based on my experience.
1. How to prepare yourself
South Africa’s Kruger park is an excellent option if you are going on your first safari. It can be easily combined with Cape Town and the Garden Route which offer something different if you want to go on a trip that is not just the safari. However there are some things you need to bear in mind:
- Medications: Kruger Park is a malaria zone, so you will need to take anti malarials and anti mosquito spray containing deet. The risk however is very low. If you wish to avoid this risk there are other safari alternatives (malaria free) in Eastern Cape like the Addo Elephant Park.
- When to go: I visited this park in August and the weather was perfect. It was warm during the day and quite chilly at the morning and during the evening (temperatures ranging from 12-28°C). May to September is the best time to visit Kruger as it is the dry season (which also means less mosquitos). The wet season is from November to December which also happens to be the hottest season, so you would rather avoid it.
- What to take: As regards clothing you need to wear in layers. For your morning and evening drives you will need to take a thick jacket with you. However you will need to be able to remove your jacket as the day gets warmer and you will end up wearing just a t-shirt. Moreover we have been advised to wear natural colours; no bright reds for example. This is especially true if you intend to walk in the bush as you might attract unwanted attention.
- Photographic Equipment: If you are a keen photographer you will be happy to know that you will be able to rent lenses and cameras from Johannesburg airport. I was able to rent the superb Nikkor 70-200 f 2.8 VRII for around Eur 45 per day. I was super happy with the shots I was able to take with this lens and I still dream of buying it.
2. Getting into Kruger Park
We reached the park through a flight from Johannesburg. The park is huge and is served by 3 airports: Phalaborwa (north of the park), then Hoedspruit and the southern most airport is Nelspruit. To reach the first two airports you need to fly from/to Johannesburg, while Nelspruit airport is connected as well to Durban and Cape Town. Hoedspruit, the airport through which we entered the park, is very basic and is a former military base. Nelspruit on the other hand, although still small in size, is more modern and more popular with tourists.
3. Finding the right Accommodation
There are several options when it comes to accommodation in the Kruger park. They can be classified in 3 groups:
- Budget Camping – very basic type of accommodation where you can set up your own tent or choose to stay in pre-built permanent tents. They usually include communal facilities like kitchens and bathrooms.
- Medium range bungalows/cottages – they are built rooms like the usual bed & breakfast style accommodation. However they do not include any activities and you need to organise safaris yourself.
- Lodges – there are several types of lodges which usually are all-inclusive (meals and drinks) and also include game drives and walks. Some of them may also arrange transfer to and from airport. I opted for this type of accommodation, having no previous experience in self-drive safaris and also as it was part of my honeymoon. There are different prices for this type of accommodation but usually start from 300 per night and can go up to thousands depending on the level of luxury.
4. A typical day on safari
As explained above we opted for a lodge that organises the drives for you. We had no experience as this was our first safari so we felt safer this way. As soon as you get to a lodge you will need to sign a declaration stating that you are the one responsible should anything happen to you (like being attacked by a lion lol?). You may be shocked when they give you this form but I can guarantee that if you choose a good lodge the game drives are quite safe. However you always need to listen to your guides. There is the option of going on self-drive safari as well, however I do not recommend it. The guides are continuously in contact and they know of all the sightings there are in the park. Moreover they are equipped with guns should something bad happen. So unless you are very well experienced I would suggest staying with guides for safaris.
Early morning: You will need to wake up very early 4/5 am. Just a quick coffee and you are off for the first drive. Animals are mostly active during early morning and evening. You need to make the most of this time window. The morning drive also included a stop in the bush for breakfast. You will be back to the lodge at around 10:00am, when it starts getting quite hot. You will have some free time to rest.
Walking tour: After lunch which is usually around 12:00 you can join an optional walking tour in the bush, where you can learn about tracking animals as well as the smaller wildlife of the park. You need to be very careful and not leave the group as it is very easy to end up close to a herd of buffalos or animals. There are no animals that you can outrun here!
Afternoon: In the afternoon at around 3/4pm there is another drive which will last until dark. This is where we saw most wildlife! There are some nocturnal species like chameleons and owls that can only be seen during this time. However the highlight of all our safari was surely the leopard killing an impala; a little crude yes but the strength and speed of these cats is amazing. After this drive you will return to your lodge for dinner. Some lodges organise braai: the typical south african barbecue. Here you have the opportunity to mingle with the other travellers as well as the guides who will amaze you with their experiences.
5. Learn from my mistakes
This was the experience of a lifetime both for myself and my husband. We have travelled quite a bit, but nothing beats going on safari. It is a real thrill going out in the morning not knowing what you will meet. We would surely like to repeat this experience maybe somewhere else in Africa. Although it was such an amazing experience there are still some things I would change should I go back:
- Stay in more than one lodge in different areas of the park: we stayed for 3 nights at the same lodge and we were very happy with our choice. However we missed seeing lions as they were far away. Kruger park is divided into smaller areas/private parks. I am sure that if you move from one area to the other you will be able to experience a more diverse wildlife as well as different landscapes.
- Rent a car: the lodge can arrange transfers to and from airport yes. However I would have preferred renting a car to move from one lodge to the other as well as do the panorama route that is close to the Kruger park on my own. Instead we had a driver taking us there and it was quite a rush. Obviously you need to be well aware of the safety precautions required to drive in the park.