Planning an African safari holiday and not sure where to start? You have come to the right place!
This post is mainly about planning a safari in South Africa’s Kruger national park. I am going to write it in a Q&A format to make things simpler. These were the questions I started out with and now I have some answers for you!
Q1. Which country is best for a safari holiday?
A: Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa are the usual suspects. Of these, South Africa is the easiest in terms of logistics and the most family friendly option. All of them offer excellent game viewing, catering to a variety of budgets. Tanzania and Kenya are where the annual wildebeest migration happens, so this is where you want to go if that is your primary interest.
Q2. Then why South Africa?
A: No need for yellow fever vaccination (unless you are from or travelling through a country with yellow fever like Kenya- please check the latest advisory), malaria free reserves like Madikwe ( Kruger itself is a low-malaria risk area so prophylaxis is still recommended), more budget-friendly(a lodge similar to Ivory Wilderness in the Serengeti is eye-wateringly expensive). You can also combine a safari with a visit to beautiful Cape Town, the winelands, the Garden route etc.
Q3. Where in South Africa do I go for a safari?
A: Encompassing nearly 2 million hectares , Kruger national park is your best bet. Other options include the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park in Kwazulu Natal, Madikwe game reserve in the north west, Pilanesberg game reserve near Johannesburg.
Q4: What is the Greater Kruger area?
A: It consists of private game reserves, adjacent to the Kruger national park. Most of these reserves have now dropped fences, allowing free movement of animals between Kruger and their reserve.
Q5: How do I get to Kruger/ Greater Kruger?
A: Johannesburg is the nearest international airport. From here, you can either take a short flight into Kruger ( Skukuza, Nelspruit, Hoedspruit, Phalaborwa airports) or drive down by car/taxi ( 5-6 hours) .
Q6: Should I stay in Kruger or in a private reserve?
A: Kruger national park has rest camps run by the government. Accomodation is in the form of chalets/ bungalows, mostly self catering. These can be incredibly cheap and since self driving is allowed within Kruger, it can make for a very inexpensive safari holiday.
There are also private lodges within Kruger which offer a more luxurious experience. Within private reserves are budget friendly lodges as well as luxury lodges- prices vary considerably depending on what is included and the level of luxury. Self driving is not allowed on the reserves and the lodges normally organise game drives.
Q7: What is the advantage of a private reserve?
A: Firstly vehicles are allowed to go off-road in private reserves. This means if a lion is spotted in the bush few metres away, you can go off road and get very close to them. This makes for some very close encounters with animals, which is not possible in Kruger. Even the private lodges in Kruger have to stay on the roads during game drives.
Also, night game drives are offered in private reserves. This is a great way to see nocturnal creatures. In Kruger, you have to be back at camp by 6 pm if self driving.
Q8: Ok, I want to stay in a private reserve. Which one do I choose?
A: Sabi Sands is the most well known of all the private reserves – it is famed for its leopard sightings. However, lodges here are very expensive. Timbavati , Klaserie, Manyeleti and Balule are also good options – most lodges here are better priced and the game viewing is excellent.
Q9: Do I book through a tour operator or can i do independent travel?
A: Depends. If you are like me and love researching a trip ( sometimes more than the actual trip itself!), then South Africa is very easy for independent travel. Lodges all have their own online booking through websites or email. Rent a car and drive down to your lodge/drive between lodges. The car rental rates are very reasonable and though it will be sitting idle during your stay in the lodge itself, a car is very handy and works out cheaper. If you hate planning transport, accomodation and logistics , then please book through a tour operator to make your life easy.
Q10: Which lodge and how many nights do I stay there?
A: Ideally, combine 2 lodges in different reserves so even if there are a few quiet days in one, the other will ( hopefully) make up for it. I would recommend at least 3 nights at each lodge. That gives you enough time to settle in and get into the rhythm. Remember, it is not about how many animals you see, it is about the experience of seeing them in the wild, doing their wild things!
Some recommended lodges are ( from my trip planning research) :
Sabi Sands : Elephant Plains game lodge ( family friendly), Notten’s Bush camp
Timbavati : Motswari game reserve( family friendly), Bateleur Safari camp, Shindzela Tented camp
Klaserie: Ivory Wilderness River Rock lodge ( family friendly), nThambo tree camp, Senalala safari lodge
Balule: Naledi game lodge (family friendly), Sausage tree safari camp
Kruger national park: Sanparks rest camps ( esp Lower Sabie, Skukuza) , Rhino post safari lodge (family friendly), Jock’s Safari lodge
Q11. Can i take my kids along?
A: Yes you can but choose your lodge accordingly. Sanparks rest camps allow children of all ages. Most private lodges allow only children above 6 years of age to go on game drives, some do not allow children at all. It is also important to consider if your children will enjoy a safari holiday.The schedule of most lodges ( see below) may not be suitable for very young children, game drives can consist of hours of driving around looking for animals and the roads are very bumpy which makes long drives with young (and uninterested children) tiring. We travelled with our 6.5 year old but he is very into wildlife so it was a no-brainer.
Q12. What is a typical day like in a safari lodge?
A: Most lodges have a schedule like this:
4.30am – wake up call
4.45am – coffee/tea , biscuits/fruit
5 am- morning game drive: generally lasts for 3-4 hours with a stop around 7 am for coffee and rusks
9 am – back to lodge for full breakfast
14.30 – light lunch
1600 – evening game drive: again lasts for 3-4 hours with a stop for sundowners at sunset
2000 – back to lodge for pre-dinner drinks
Q13. What do I do between the 2 game drives? Will I get bored?
A: Unlikely. You can catch up on sleep, swim if there is a pool, laze around reading books, play board games with your children, sit on the deck and watch animals at the waterhole ( if there is one at your lodge). I went prepared with games and books for my son but he mostly slept through the day!
Q14. Will I enjoy it? I am not particularly fond of animals.
A: All I can say is you never know till you experience it for yourself – hubby came reluctantly and is now a safari convert! I don’t like dogs or cats either but I enjoyed myself very much, so keep your mind and heart open! Read more about our safari here: http://mytravelprescription.com/2020/03/08/family-safari-in-south-africa/
Q15. I can’t afford it. Should I even bother?
A: Yes, safaris are not cheap but if you want to go really bad, stay at Sanparks rest camps within Kruger and self drive – you can do this for a very modest budget. If even that is beyond your means, I suggest you forego the latest iPhone, cook at home and stop eating takeaways, don’t buy the dress you are eyeing in that expensive boutique – and go to Africa with what you have saved! It is the best gift you can give yourself and your kids!
‘I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy ‘ – E. Hemingway