It was my dream, as well as many others, to go on an African Safari for as long as I can remember. The problem with safari’s is you always hear how expensive they are. A couple thousand dollars for just a few days. I wasn’t sure when I would ever get to experience a safari due to the price so when I was headed to South Africa I was doing my research and came across Kruger National Park and that’s where my affordable safari adventure began.
Kruger is a 7,523 square mile national park in South Africa. It is the home to thousands of free roaming safari animals and filled with beautiful landscapes with rolling hills, mountains and plains. The animals are wild and live off the land. You can find the big 5 here; lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, black rhino among many other animals species.
How to get there:
Kruger National Park is located in the North Eastern part of South Africa. We flew from the states to Johannesburg and then took a domestic flight from Johannesburg to Nelspruit. Once having arrived in Nelspruit we picked up a rental car and drove to the crocodile bridge entrance of the park.
Where to stay:
You have a couple of options when visiting Kruger. The first is to stay in a resort OUTSIDE of the park. These are usually upscale, expensive but beautiful with plenty of amenities, however you are set to the resorts schedule .
What we did, and what I would recommend, is staying at one of the many camps inside of Kruger National Park. Each camp has different types of lodging, tent spots, platform tents and yurts that feel like hotel rooms. These camps cost from about $50 to ~$120, very affordable. We moved around while in the park to experience the different camps and here is what I can tell you:
Lower Sabie – This camp sits right on the Sabie river with beautiful views. You can enjoy dinner and watch the active river with hippos and crocodiles. This camp is also right near a pond that almost always has hippos in it and is lively with other wildlife such as hyenas and lions.
Olifants – High up on a cliff this gorgeous camp has sweeping views of the valley below. The animals are a little harder to find this north in the park but the landscape is beautiful.
Skakuza – This is the largest rest camp in the park. It has good dining options and plenty of accommodations. This camp also sits on the Sabie river with grand views. This camp does get busy throughout the day as it is a common stop for tours and travelers.
Once you’re inside the park you drive yourself and spot animals. It’s awesome to be on your own schedule and go where you want to go. If you want to take a guided tour those can be arranged at the camps. There’s nothing quite like having a lion pride walk across the street in front of you or a heard of elephants eating alongside your car and it is extremely rewarding when you spot the hard to find leopard.
In the end we spent for an entire week, airfare, rental car, lodging for a safari around $1,000 and I would do it again in a heart beat.
This has been a long time coming. My trip to South Africa was last November and it is now…. July. I got behind and the further behind I got the more I procrastinated and that’s how we wound up to today. Looking back South Africa was definitely one of the best trips I have been on. The animals and the scenery there are unbelievable. This is the summary of our trip and there is a LOT! I plan to go in to more detail on some of our adventures in the future but please if you have questions about any thing in particular leave a comment!
South Africa has been a priority on my list for a long time but I always thought it would be way to expensive just to get down there but with miles from credit card rewards we were able to make it affordable. My next budget concern was a safari, I mean who doesn’t want to go on a safari while in Africa? After doing a lot of research I found that it was manageable so with that new information we decided to go to South Africa.
We left Seattle and had to take a 1.5 hour flight down to Portland, from there we flew about 10 hours to Amsterdam and then about 12 hours down to Johannesburg. It was a LONG trip to get down there. On arrival I had planned of day of just relaxation since I knew the travel time would be rough. We landed late at night and booked a room at the Maslow hotel who arranged a driver to pick us up. Even though our body clock was way off from Johannesburg we were able to fall asleep pretty quickly. The next day we spent resting up in the beautiful hotel and checking out the Sandton Mall and that neighborhood. It is a very modern area and we felt completely safe and comfortable the whole time.
The next day we headed back to the airport and flew from Johannesburg to Nelspruit where we picked up our rental car and started driving to Kruger National Park. The drive over was only a few hours and went very smoothly once Ryan got used to driving on the opposite side of the road. We stopped for pizza along the way but mostly the drive was uneventful until we arrived at Kruger.
Kruger National Park is a national park dedicated to Africa’s wild animals. Safari animals roam the plains and live protected in this 7,500 sq mile park. You can either stay in a luxury resort just outside the park or stay in one of Kruger’s many camps within the park. We opted for the second to 1. save on budget and 2. have the full experience.
As we crossed the bridge to the park we were giddy and ready to see animals not knowing what to expect. Within seconds we noticed a hippo in the water! We were so excited for our first spotting of a Hippo, we probably spent way to long looking and taking photos. Right after the bridge we arrived at the check in station. Since we were staying 5 days in the park and also visiting some of South Africa’s other parks we got a Wild Card which is essentially a national park pass to all of SA’s national parks, it was definitely worth it and saved us a good amount of money.
After checking in we were off to our first camp with some animal searching on the way. The speed limit is about 30mph throughout the park so you drive slowly and you need to factor that in when trying to get somewhere. Even though you are driving slow the drive is fun since you always need to keep your eyes out for animals. We first encountered Giraffes, a momma and her baby, it was so surreal! They casually walked in front of our car and event stopped for a little snuggle. It was adorable to say the least. We spotted more hippos and some buffalos along the way to and finally arrived at Lower Sabie Rest Camp.
The first two nights we decided to stay here and they were out of bungalow’s so we stayed in a platform tent. It was pretty clean although I was always a little nervous of the creepy crawlies that might be in the bathroom. We found a lizard in there which I can handle but I was worried about spiders or other big bugs, luckily we never saw any.
Each camp opens it’s gates at 4:00am and closes them at 6:00pm. You MUST be back at your camp when gates are closed. So every night we would go to bed around 8pm and get up at 3:30am to be out the gate at 4:00am since the best animal sightings took place at dawn and dusk. We would then be out all day searching for animals.
Our nights at Lower Sabie were loud, filled with the noises of the nearby pond. The hippos, hyena’s and even Lion’s would make loud noises all through the night. Honestly I slept fine though. Anytime a loud animal would wake me up it was just a reminder of how cool of a place I was in. When we moved camps we stayed in bungalows the rest of the time which were similar to a typical hotel room and had thicker walls so we couldn’t hear the animals as well at night and the bathroom felt very safe.
Over the course of the next 5 days we saw up-close lions, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, monkeys, a leopard(they are HARD to spot), impalas, boars, zebras, elephants, hyenas, buffalo, kudo, turtles, marmots, baboons, wildabeasts, ostriches and more. We stayed two nights at Lower Sabie, Two nights at Olifants and one night at Skukuza.
Lower Sabie was my favorite with its proximity to a pond that always had animal activity. Olifants was set on top a cliff and had a gorgeous view over a river. Skukuza is the biggest camp and had some great food options compared to the other locations. It was amazing to be able to drive your car on these roads and come across lions taking a rest or elephants eating away at the trees.
The animal that took us the longest to find was the leopard. You wouldn’t think they would blend very well with their spots but they blend right in with their surroundings. We knew to look for dead animals up in trees as that is a tell tail sign a leopard has been there. So on one of our final days we saw a boar up in a tree right night to the road. We stopped and got our binoculars out and started looking for a leopard. Meanwhile Ryan took a photo of the boar in the tree since it was a unique sight. A few minutes later I look at the tree and up stands this leopard who had been laying there the ENTIRE TIME. We even got him in that photo Ryan took. He casually stood up and walked away. Leaving Ryan and I in awe. Here is the photo when we didn’t know where he was. Can you spot him?
Here’s some help:
When our five days was up we were completely satisfied with our animal spotting and were ready for a change. We flew from Nelspruit down to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car and started our road trip on the garden route.
We stopped at Jefferey’s Bay to watch the surfers and walk along the beach and then continued on to Storms River Mouth. We were able to enter SRM using our Wild Card once again saving us money!
Storms River blew us away. We knew to expect the beautiful long suspension bridge but we didn’t know the scenery there would be so spectacular. The waves crash on black rocks and as you look down the coast green mountains jut out into the sea. It reminded me of the napali coast in Kauai. After hiking across the suspension bridge and back we had to keep moving on.
That evening we spent in Knynsa. We were able to grab a delicious dinner at 34 Degrees South and enjoy the beautiful quaint town.
The next day we drove from Knynsa to Oudtshoorn to see Cango Wildlife Ranch and learn about their animal conservation efforts. We even got to pet a cheetah here!
We then drove through the mountains and dessert to reach the coast again at L’Agulhas where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans mean. From there we moved on finally reaching our destination of the day, Gansbaai. We stayed in the most adorable guesthouse here White Shark Guesthouse. We then went to bed quite early since we had a great white shark dive the next morning.
We woke up early and headed over to Marine Dynamics to eat breakfast and get briefed before our shark encounters. We then all hopped on the boat and took off to the Shallows to find some great whites. We were lucky and encountered 5+ different great whites. The water was freezing but it was well worth the experience.
After getting back and warming up we started back on our way to Cape Town. We stopped in Hermanus and walked around a bit and then finally made it to the gorgeous city of Cape Town. We got a room at the beautiful Atlantic Gold Guesthouse in Camp’s Bay where our room over looked the ocean.
We then spent the next few days hiking, eating, relaxing, beaching and shopping and finally ended our trip flying out of Cape Town.
South Africa blew my expectations away. This country is stunning to say the least!