I don’t know about you, but when I think of travel in South Africa, a safari is one of the first things that comes to mind. Who doesn’t want to see a pride of lions roaming in the wild or a pod of hippos lazily cooling off in a watering hole? Sign me up!
Safaris also have a reputation for being pricey experiences, however, after after embarking on my own safari in Kruger National Park, I’m here to tell you that all safaris are created different and that you can find one that fits your budget and allows you to experience South Africa’s wildlife at its finest.
Sam and I joined Selous African Safaris and Tours for a 4 day safari in Kruger National Park and we ended up having an incredible time spotting the Big Five and soaking in the raw, natural beauty of South Africa. Here’s a look at what that experience was like complete with pricing and other important details listed at the bottom:
The day started early with a 5 a.m. wake up call. This is where we met our driver Goodman, who picked us up from our hostel in Johannesburg.
Now I have to warn you, the first day of this tour is the longest day of travel, since you have to cover close to 500 kilometers to reach the campsite which is just on the outskirts of Kruger National Park. That being said, it is an incredibly scenic drive that will keep you glued to the window.
We did make a few stops along the way to grab breakfast, snap those postcard-perfect views of the Drakensberg Mountains at the J. G. Strijdomtonnel lookout point, and t0 eat some lunch in Hoedspruit.
From there we continued on to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre where we spent the afternoon learning a bit more about the local wildlife and the challenges some of the local animals face. Our visit started off with a very informative presentation that targeted some of the main issues affecting animals, like loss of habitat, traps and snares, power lines and even poisoning. It was at times hard to look at some of the images they were showing, but at the same time I think it’s important to be informed. For every beautiful cheetah that you see roaming free through the park, there are also plenty of others who’ve become entangled in snares and lost part of their limbs, or been poisoned by frustrated farmers who keep losing their cattle and their livelihood.
During our visit, we learned that some of the animals at Moholoholo are rehabilitated in order to be released back into the wild, while others end up calling this place home because the extent of their injuries will never allow them to be able to hunt and survive on their own.
After this sobering truth, we set out to meet the animals that currently call Moholoholo home. We met lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, vultures, eagles, and a funny little honey badger, who is quite the trickster and apparently has become a bit of a YouTube celebrity.
Some of the animals, such as the lions, we respectfully observed from a distance, while others, like the eagles, we were able to approach and admire up close. I also got to feed a vulture out of my hand (with a thick leather glove, of course) and as you can probably tell from the photo it was a slightly terrifying experience. Those birds are massive and have a huge wingspan. Our guide had also just finished telling us that when vultures come across a carcass, the first thing they eat are the eyeballs – hence why I refused to look that bird in the eye!
We then continued on to the Klaserie Caravan Park and arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. There was the option of staying in tents or upgrading to a small lodge with an en suite bathroom and electricity, so Sam and I went with the latter option; as nice as it is to spend time outdoors, I do enjoy coming back to a few comforts at the end of a long day!
Dinner was then prepared by our guide Lloyd, while our group of Canadians, Germans, and a Brit sat around sipping wine (yes, there was free wine at the campsite!) Lloyd managed to make a delicious Chicken a la King even with the power outage, and the meal was so good that we went back for seconds and thirds. We then topped off the evening with a little campfire and got to know our group a little bit better.
After another early wake up call, our group gathered round for a hot cup of tea and cereal. By 5:30 a.m. we were on the road, bundled up in blankets and our warmest layers for an early sunrise drive through Kruger National Park.
We arrived at the gates of Kruger just as the sun was beginning to come up, and this is where the fun began.
First we spotted the wildebeest, which our guide joked is the last animal God created and therefore it looks like a mixture of a horse, goat, and antelope – basically a mishmash of leftover parts.
We also came across impalas, wart hogs, baboons, kudus, vultures, mongoose, springboks, grey duikers, ostriches, elephants and giraffes, just to name a few. Basically, we saw more animals than I ever expected we’d come across in one single morning, and the majority of them were so close by!
One of the unspoken rules of safari is that people share information about sightings, so it wasn’t long after we arrived in Kruger that two separate cars stopped us to tell us about a lion sighting ahead. We followed their directions down a small dirt road, and sure enough, we came across a pride of lions lounging less than 10 meters from the main path.
There was a lioness with about 4 or 5 cubs, sleepily passing the day. We pulled over to admire them, and soon enough one of the cubs woke up and started to playfully roll around on its back while the lioness gave him his daily bath. Then, just as we were getting ready to continue on our drive, we spotted the alpha male himself – the leader of the pride. The lion was a bit removed from the rest of the group and he was also having a bit of a lazy day just hanging around. Eventually he decided it was time for a nap and fully stretched out on his side while we stared in awe. We ended up spending a good 45 minutes just watching their lives unfold before us.
We drove through the park until about 10:00 a.m. and then it was time for brunch. Our guide Lloyd took us to a little picnic spot (where we spotted our first water buffalo of the day), and he prepared a delicious breakfast of fried onions, scrambled eggs, bacon, and fried tomatoes while the rest of us continued running around taking photos of the animals. When else are you going to enjoy brunch with a view of impalas grazing in the distance?
During breakfast, Sam also had the great fortune of getting crapped on by a bird, not once, but TWICE! Surely a sign of good luck, and we joked that this certainly meant he would get to spot the ever elusive cheetah. (He didn’t see a cheetah…)
After a wonderful brunch, it was time to return to our campsite for a short afternoon break. We had time for a quick mid-afternoon nap, and then it was time for a sunset safari.
For the sunset drive, we made our way to the Motlala Game Reserve, which was just a short distance from our campsite. Motlala is a private owned reserve and it’s quite exclusive with only 3 safari operators having access to it. This meant we didn’t see a single vehicle the whole time we were there – it was just us and the wildlife in the bush.
This turned out to be a dream come true as we got to spot so many giraffes! There was one shy giraffe trying to hide behind a tree, which was quite amusing considering we could see its modelesque legs popping out from the bottom and it’s long neck craning out from the top of the branches. We also saw two young male giraffes having a bit of a duel as they swiped at each other with their sturdy necks. Again, it was so interesting to watch because their graceful movements almost made it seem like they were being playful, but our guide explained that they were actually trying to establish dominance.
We also saw plenty of water buffalos, zebras, jackals, and a variety of antelopes. Then, just as the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to a nice lookout spot to enjoy the sky as it turned from periwinkle and lavender to fiery shades of pink and orange. It was one of the most beautiful African sunsets I have ever seen, and it didn’t hurt that there was wine and cookies to go around.
The sunset drive then turned into a night drive, as our guide used a floodlight to spot animals in the dark. We didn’t get to see any cats (which are quite active at night) but it was a fun adventure nonetheless.
Our second evening on safari then came to an end with a bunny chow dinner (no bunny in this dish, it’s more of a curry!), and an early bedtime to get rested for the day ahead.
Yes, our safari in Kruger National Park called for lots of early mornings, but those 5 a.m. wake up calls meant we got to enjoy some of the most beautiful sunrises ever. On this particular morning, we had to pull over and park the car to get a shot of this fiery red sunrise that was taking place before our eyes.
Our morning then got off to a very exciting start when we spotted our first leopard. We pulled over to the side of the road when we saw that there were several vehicles expectantly gazing into the bush, and sure enough, a few moments later a leopard crossed the road right in front of us. The leopard can camouflage itself so well that we didn’t even see it approaching until it was right in front of our vehicle. Talk about getting your heart pumping!
That same morning we had another cool encounter when a herd of elephants crossed the road right in front of us. It was a massive herd made up of 15 to 20 elephants and it was so cool to see them crossing together in such an orderly fashion as they made their way towards a water source.
Our next stop was a large watering hole, which on that particular morning was buzzing like a beehive. There were so many different animals drinking from the source, and so many little things were unfolding that it was almost hard to know where to look. A crocodile caught our interest when we noticed that it was making its way to the shore to try and catch his prey. There were a few impalas and wildebeests that nearly ended up on the lunch menu, however, they were spooked at the last minute leaving the crocodile hungry another day.
The afternoon was filled with lots of cool sightings of zebras, giraffes, and all manner of birds. However, the highlight came just as we were about to leave the park. Up until that point we had only spotted 4 animals out of the Big Five – the rhino was still missing – but less than 2 kilometers from the gate we were flagged down by a vehicle whose front passenger was pointing at the bush in front of us. Sure enough, a lonely white rhino was munching away. We could hardly contain our excitement when we saw him – not just because we had ticked the Big Five, but because the rhino is such a majestic creature that is really hard to spot in the wild. There was lots of silent hooting and fist pumping in our group, and then we just sat there and soaked in the moment. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end our safari.
Our final evening at the camp concluded with a delicious braai dinner (South African barbecue), songs around the campfire, and a few glasses of wine while we gazed up at the stars.
On our last morning we had a leisurely breakfast, got our bags ready and packed up the car for the drive back to Johannesburg.
Along the way we took a little detour towards the Blyde River Canyon – the largest green canyon in the world – to break up the trip and enjoy the spectacular views. We also saw The Three Rondavels, which is a rock formation that looks a lot like three traditional round huts. And just like that our 4 day tour was over!
Now, I know I’ve rambled on for almost 3000 words, but I wanted to give you all a detailed idea of what a 4 day safari in Kruger National Park looks like, so now you know! Also, if you’re into video, you can check out these two little vlogs Sam and I filmed during our 2 days in Kruger – lots of cool wildlife sightings, that’s for sure!
There are two types of accommodations you can opt for with Selous African Safaris and Tours. The first is the camping safari where you stay in tents. They have a mix of individual tents and double tents on site, and these either have cots or sleeping mats rolled out on the floor of the tent. You will need a sleeping bag, but these are available to rent once you reach the campground for the equivalent of $10 for the whole 3 nights. There are also bathrooms just a short walk away. I think this is a great option if you’ve gone camping before, you’re on a strict budget, and you don’t mind roughing it a little bit.
Rates for camping: 6500 ZAR (~ $546 USD)
The second option was to upgrade from the tents to the nearby lodges. The lodges have real beds, electricity, and an en suite bathroom. The bathroom was what won me over – I think it’s nice having a toilet nearby as opposed to trekking out with a flashlight in hand, but maybe that’s just me!
Rates for lodge: 7500 ZAR (~$631 USD)
Discount: Selous Safaris also offers a friends discount which they said I could share with my readers. So if you’re thinking of going on safari in Kruger National Park and this budget-friendly option sounds like the right fit for you, just tell them Audrey Bergner sent you and you’ll get 5% off!
Tips for going on safari in Kruger National Park
- Pack warm clothes for the early morning drives and late evenings. I would recommend a warm fleece and a windbreaker. You can always peel off the layers as the day warms up. There were also lots of blankets on site, specifically to take on safari since you travel in an open vehicle and it is quite cold when you first set out. You can have a look at what to pack for safari here.
- Bring a flashlight. It gets dark relatively early during the winter months, so it’s worth having a flashlight or a headlamp so that you can easily get around the camp. This will be especially handy if you opt to stay in the tents as opposed to the lodge.
- Consider bringing binoculars. Sometimes you’re really lucky and you come across a herd of elephants munching away by the side of the road, and sometimes the wildlife is a little ways off wandering across the bushveld. Our guide had a pair of binoculars that he gladly shared with our group, but if you want one of your own, bring a pair.
- And last but not least, be patient! I saw so many cars who just zipped by wildlife because they weren’t willing to wait for an elephant to come out from behind the bush, or for a leopard to climb up the ravine. Going on safari requires quite a bit of patience, but the waiting is greatly rewarded when you finally see an animal pop out just a few meters away from you.
Have you ever been of safari?
Where did you go and what was the experience like?
Thank you to Selous Safaris for hosting me. All opinions expressed are my own.
For more info on travel in South Africa visit Travel Now Now.