I don’t know about you, but when I think of travel in South Africa, a safari in Kruger National Park 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 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:
Day 1: Travel to Kruger National Park
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.
Day 2: Full Day Safari in Kruger National Park
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.
Day 3: Big 5 in Kruger National Park
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. It was one of my favourite moments on safari.
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.
Day 4: Views and Back to Johannesburg
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!
Cost of Safari in Kruger National Park
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)
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 in Kruger National park?
What was your 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.
Great you had such an amazing time! You saw so much, jealous! I was in Swaziland this Easter and the experience was incredible! What camera do you use? The footage is so good!
Thanks Eleanor! We shoot the videos with a Panasonic HD camcorder. It’s nice and light, but it does the job.
This sounds like a super safari experience! And you have managed to take some amazing photos! Love those elephants and lions. Ah! And your expressions while holding that vulture! 🙂
Haha, yup, my face doesn’t lie. Holding that vulture was pretty scary!
Safari experience of a lifetime..so very fortunate
Fantastic photos and videos..thanks for posting
It really was the experience of a lifetime! I saw more animals than I thought I would, and there were so many species that were completely foreign to me.
Amazing photos Audrey! I love the one with the elephants crossing. Great video footage too!
ALSO: I don’t know if it’s because it was so early in the morning but BOY your Canadian accents are thick in the videos, haha! It’s absolutely adorable. I hope it doesn’t change as you guys start travelling full-time again and leave Canada 🙂
Really?! I always thought Sam was the one with the thick accent!! I guess it’s been rubbing off on me too…haha 😉
I went on that same tour with Goodman at the beginning of March! So incredible! Enjoy South Africa 🙂
That’s so cool! We had Goodman as our driver from Jo’burg to the campsite. He was pretty fun!
Going on a safari like this would be a dream come true for me. Going on a safari definitely seems like the quintessential South African experience. I can’t believe how massive that vulture is…I wouldn’t have looked it in the eye either. And I have to say that I love the last photo of the birds. All different types just hanging out together…so awesome!
That bird shot was so spontaneous! We had stopped to eat brunch and there were all of these birds looking to swoop in and steal some food when we were not looking, and then those 4 just perched themselves on a tree like little models. Perfectly spaced and everything!
Wow, this is fantastic! Were there any animals you missed?! It seems like you saw them all. You two must be pretty lucky. (Well, lucky enough to get pooped on by birds…twice!) Sounds like a great trip and now have it added to my list!
The only one I didn’t get to see in the wild was the cheetah, but I did get to see one at a wildlife rehabilitation centre, so I can’t really complain.
So glad to hear that you’ve been having a great time in SA. You were super lucky on your trip to Kruger, so many sightings. The visit to Moholoholo must have been special, was there last month, they are doing an incredible job! Hope the rest of the trip is as good.
I do feel quite lucky we got to see so many animals. I wasn’t expecting to tick the Big Five with 2 days in Kruger, but we managed it!
South Africa tours always mesmerize me. Thanks for providing great insights especially about Kruger
national park. Surely, I will visit it soon on my next SA visit.
Wooooww, what an adventure! The Kruger National Park is one of my favorite places around the world, so special! Looking forward to reading more about your travels!
This sounds like a great experience and not to pricey for what you get to see & do.
Surprisingly affordable, right? Safaris have a reputation for being quite pricey – and there are luxury safaris for those with the big bucks! – but you can also find safaris that cater to budget travellers.
Your safari adventures look amazing! Love the one sunset photo esp … looks like it was a perfect moment. 🙂
Thanks! Those South African sunsets are pretty spectacular!
Great post, Audrey!! I’ve never been on a safari before but I really want to go on one!! From the pictures I can see that it was an awesome experience for you.
Thanks Izy! It was a really great experience. I hope you get to go on safari too!
Ah, I am dreaming of going on a safari someday. Looks simply amazing and rugged and beautiful. Great photos too, and it is really awesome that you listed the tips and information as well. I’ve always thought that a safari would be out of my reach until I have a ton of money, we’ll see when I can get to Africa. Gnarly videos too!
Thanks Ryan! I think the biggest expense is buying the ticket to fly there – especially coming from North America. However, once you’re there, travel in the country is relatively affordable. Hope you make it here, but in the meantime, enjoy Australia!!!
What an amazing experience this must have been! I’ve always want to go on safari, but have been intimidated by what I assumed with the outrageously high price tag. It’s nice to know there are more affordable options out there!
It was amazing! And I also used to think it was an experience for the wealthy, but there are affordable safaris out there.
Regarding your comment on the need for patience. Who has to be patient, the visitor or the guide? What if I am patient and the guide isn’t? Is a factor of who your guide is or the safari company you sign up with?
I loved Kruger. We did it independently and stayed 3 nights in the park in a permanent tented camp then drove our own car (my fiancé’s parents car to be exact) around the park each day. We had two full days in the park but I would love to go back for longer next time as we didn’t see a rhino or leopard. We did see some lions, a massive herd of elephants, loads of baboons, zebras, giraffes and even an african squirrel (so cute!). I tend to like the smaller animals the most and would have loved to see meerkats
Thank you for writing so beautifully about our lovely sunny South Africa. I am so happy to hear someone telling the world that a Safari can be affordable to almost any budget, and let’s be honest, the South African currency makes it a favorable exchange rate if you come from a country like the USA or UK.
As a Safari and travel company myself, I thoroughly enjoy your point of view, and found your photo with the vulture most amusing! It looks like you had lots of fun.
Keep writing and sharing your stories, I am sure you inspire many people to travel more.
Wow – what an amazing variety of wildlife you saw! Sounds like your safari was quite the memorable trip 🙂
Looks like you guys had heaps of fun, great photos too!
Oh my gosh! This is incredible. I am so insanely jealous. I’ve been wanting to take a safari forever. I am bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks!
I’ll admit that I am not really a fan of safaris as I don’t really enjoy being near animals. I guess I enjoy the trip with nature more than being with animals. I love having pets but not with wildlife.
I am planning on going on a safari. Will first be landing in Johannesburg. Did you & Sam rent a car & drive to Kruger ? or take a shuttle? Any tips? Thanks!
Sam and I took a tour of Kruger National Park. We went with Selous African Safaris and Tours which I’ve written about in this post. We had really experienced guides who made the trip fun, and it was also a budget friendly tour. I would also recommend the upgrade to the cabins as opposed to the tents if you do decide to go with them. (P.S. They also offered my readers a 5% discount if you mention my name.)
Wow! What a great experience! I am a new food and travel blogger, and just came across your blog and I am jealous! I will have to say.. there is no way I could hold that vulture. I would make the same face as you!
I am looking for a last min safari over the new year and am in email contact with this company. I cannot find any reviews aside from this one. Can you tell me more about how you found them? Thanks for this post.
Hi Denise, I found them through a Google search while looking for budget safaris in Kruger; they were one of the first listings. I’m sure they have a TripAdvisor page with independent reviews. Maybe you could ask them to point you over to that?
Wow. Sounds like a great trip. My partner and I are spending a month in South Africa at the end of the year, and we’re looking to include a good value safari!
The prices (in Rands) are about 20% higher than they were when you went – would you still recommend it at the more expensive rate? And do you know if Selous still offer 5% discount when quoting your name?
Hi Dan, I’m not surprised they’ve raised their prices since the rand is quite weak at the moment. I had a very positive experience with the company – everyone from the driver to the guide was fun, informative, and professional – so I do think it’s good value for what you pay. That being said, only you know how far your travel budget can stretch, so stick with what you feel comfortable. They should still be offering the 5% discount, so shoot them an email with this blog post link and see what they say.
Going on a safari is definitely one of the things that are on the top of my bucket list. Being so close to the wildlife seems so amazing. But that cost, though. However, I’m sure it’s absolutely worth it.
Thank you so much for this post! I definitely want to boon my safari with this group! Is that price you listed per person per night?? Or is it the total cost of the trip??
That’s the total for the 4-day safari. Check their website for current prices as I did my safari 3 years ago! Wishing you a wonderful trip. 🙂