Kruger Safari Tips

Before going on safari in Kruger, I was so unsure on how everything would work, and what we’d be able to accomplish from our own car. The more I tried to include my tips for a successful safari, the more I realised I had enough to say to fill an entire post. So behold! My safari tips for Kruger!

To start, I want to talk about guided vs self-drive safaris. We did two guided tours and the rest we did on our own. As the price isn’t too steep, anyone with a semi-flexible budget can probably do both, and I’m going to outline the pros and cons of each.

Guided

Pros:

  • You can spend more hours on Safari as guided trucks can leave before the gates officially open and return after they close. They have giant lights installed to search the bush in the dark, and everyone looks for eyes reflecting in the lights.
  • There are more eyes to look for hidden animals. I honestly don’t think we ever would have noticed half the lions we saw were it not for others’ keen eyes. Honestly, the only one we discovered for ourselves was moseying down the road only a few feet away.
  • Guides (and sometimes other passengers) know so much about the animals you are seeing, and having that insight is really valuable and adds to the experience.
  • You have a driver – I think Gareth actually loved driving through Kruger, but the freedom of just sitting back and letting someone else do it all for you is really appealing.
  • Guides have a network of other guides who can let them know where the best sightings currently are
  • Some tours (not our government sponsored ones) have both a driver and a spotter, and I imagine these people saw LOADS, as our drivers managed to drive huge trucks while spotting the tiniest, smallest animals from quite far away.

Cons:

  • Our second tour was in a huge truck. It fit about 20 people, and was so big and rattley I can’t imagine a single animal didn’t hear us coming from miles away.
  •  We were also among about 18 other people who were on their first tour and shrieked every time we saw anything – even our tenth zebra. Everyone is having their own experience and if you’re not with a group who wants to be quite and try to spot the rarer animals, then you’re probably going to miss out on them. I definitely left our second tour feeling like we would have seen more and covered much more ground in our quiet, quick little sedan.

Self-Drive


Pros:

  • We loved the freedom of self drive. It feels so much more special when it’s just you and an elephant right next to your car, or giraffes, or a lion! You also have the freedom to do everything at your own pace, like the time we waited for two hours to try to see a leopard.
  • The drive is an adventure – you can choose left or right, when to turn and when to skip a place, and where to end up. Doing that allowed us to spend time at Lower Sabie and Sakuza as well.
  • While you won’t have a guide or ten other people in your car, you still have lots of eyes looking out. The best tip from Kruger is anytime you see a car pulled over, if usually means there’s something cool to see. We may not have been the best at spotting things ourselves, but people are more than willing to tell you what they’ve found. We also made a point to drive with the windows down, so as you passed other cars you could exchange tips – even if it’s just a thumbs up or down. Guides will also tell you want they know (though are more likely to be in a mood to share if you have any info to trade).
  • Self-drive allowed us to spend as much time as we wanted in each place and to take breaks just to be in awe of the scenery. We may have missed a few things, but the best moments we had were all when it was just us, and even more magical for the quiet privacy (or the low tunes of Toto’s Africa).

You can see my pictures here, I made sure to label what we saw on guided vs self guided tours. I think the end result was the same, honestly. I’d recommend a mix of both, but I originally was thinking we’d only do guided tours and I’m so glad we gave self guided a chance. Self-drive allowed us to spend as much time as we wanted in each place and to take breaks just to be in awe of the scenery. We may have missed a few things, but the best moments we had were all when it was just us, and even more magical for the quiet privacy (or the low tunes of Toto’s Africa).

Other Safari tips:

Book Early

We missed out on our first choice, Lower Sabie, because we didn’t book early enough. We almost missed out on our second choice, Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, but luckily three months was enough notice to get one of the last permanent tents – they still had bungalows available three months out as well.

Lights out!

Each permanent structure has its own little deck, and so many people made the mistake of sitting outside with the lights in their tents/bungalows on. By the time they went in to go to sleep, their spaces had filled with bugs. We were really strict with it – but were one of the only people who didn’t wind up covered in bugs while we slept. I didn’t see any inside our tent the whole time.

Charcoal

This will depend on where you’re staying, but I only realised we’d need this about an hour before we arrived. Luckily if you’re going in via Crocodile Bridge Gate, there is a Super Spar in Komatipoort, which is only like ten minutes from the gate. This is also were we stocked up on food and water, though each camp has a shop as well.

When to drive

The animals are far more active in the mornings and evenings. We woke up around half five every morning and came back just before the gates closed every evening. From about 10 am – 4 pm there was much less to see. Still feel free to drive around during this time, but we saw some very disappointed looking people on guided drives in the middle of the day, which would be a real waste of money.

Guide Boards

Every camp has a map with that day’s sightings, so if you’re looking for something in particular (leopards and cheetah alluded us!), they can be pretty helpful.

Guided Tours

We considered doing a tour with a different camp that offered a tour with a driver and a spotter, but it ended after the gates locked and we would have been stuck at the wrong camp. Something to consider when deciding where to stay/booking your guided tours.

I hope this was helpful and I’m always happy to answer any questions!

South African Safari on a Budget

Before I actually started planning our South African safari, I thought it would cost thousands of pounds. And while that can be true, Kruger can absolutely be done on a budget. Yes, there are private reserves that offer the luxury associated with safari, but there are also affordable government run camps. The public camps plus the fact that Kruger allows self-drive through the park, means you have a lot of control over cost. Below I’ll break down how to do a South African safari on a budget.

Cost of a South african Safari

We opted to stay in Crocodile Bridget Rest Camp, which was one of the cheaper camps, but in a great location. We were in a permanent tent, which was a mid-range option — you could also rent a bungalow or spot to pitch a tent. I did feel a bit of regret when we arrived and I saw how cute the bungalows were, but our tent was actually really nice. Larger camps have these options (as well as houses, huts, and cottages), but are generally more expensive.


We stayed for three nights and it was 100 GBP total. However, there are conservation fees that depend on nationality – people from South Africa pay a much lower rate than people from the US or Europe. I support that fully, but make sure to take it into account when budgeting cost. These fees were actually more than our accommodation (an additional 120 GPB). We booked two drives with a guide, and those were 20 GBP per person.

Basically, two of us stayed in Kruger for three nights and went on two guided game drives for £300 total. What!


We also rented a car for four days for 50 pounds. This allowed us to get to Kruger and self-drive, which we ended up preferring anyway!


Who knew that going on safari can be affordable, that it’s something you can possibly do sooner rather than later! It’s so much more accessible than I thought, and now I want to do 100 more identical trips!

A PERFECT SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

This Easter, Gareth and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks in South Africa. It was by far the most exciting and adventurous trip I’ve ever taken (I cried tears of happiness two different times!), as well as the farthest from home. We had 13 packed days in South Africa (and one day in Cairo!) and while it’s impossible to do everything in 13 days, I put hours and hours into researching the perfect South Africa itinerary — all that hard work paid off, because I think I did it!

In the coming weeks I’m going to post about each of the five sections of the trip in detail, but here I’m going to share the basic itinerary. Two weeks always means some things will have to be left off, but I think we fit in a great mix of things. Each of our five segments felt very different — because of that by the time we came back to London two weeks later, it felt like we had been gone for months and been on five completely different trips.

Our South Africa Itinerary

Cairo (Day 1)

We took a red eye from London to Cairo on Egypt Air. While there were cheaper options, this one allowed me to build in an 18 hour layover, which was enough time to do a great tour of the city. While one day is not nearly enough to cover Egypt, it did feel like we saw nearly every major tourist attraction in Cairo itself.

Kruger (Days 2 – 4)

Elephant, Kruger National Park

We landed in Johannesburg at 5:00 am on the second day of our trip. We’d booked ahead so there was a car rental ready, and drove straight to Crocodile Bridge Gate, which was right next to our camp (4.5 hours from Joburg airport). We did an evening game drive on day two, and sunrise and sunset tours days three and four. I have so many tips and recommendations about Kruger, including how to do it on a budget! And a photo diary as well. I think this was the best part of our trip — it was so magical, and completely unlike anything else I’ve ever done. We had three nights and nearly three full days there, and while I would have loved to stay longer I didn’t feel rushed or like we didn’t have enough time to have a real safari experience.

Garden Route (Days 5 – 8)

Garden Route, South Africa

We left Kruger at 4:00 am day five and drove back to Joburg airport to catch our flight to Port Elizabeth. This started the Garden Route! The Garden Route runs from Storms River to Mossel Bay, and while we only stayed in Storms River and Knysna, we did activities in each of the towns along the way. We had four days and three nights for this part of the trip, and it was so fun to move from place to place, making each day its own adventure. During this trip we did one of the best hikes of my life, ziplined, kayaked, cliff jumped, ate some really good food, and drove through some astounding landscapes.

Franschhoek (Days 9 – 10)

Franschhoek, Wine Region

Wine region! During planning, we went back and forth on this — having lived so close to Santa Barbara and in La Rioja, I wasn’t sure taking a few days out of our trip to go on wine tastings would be worth it. I’m so so glad we went! We had planned on Stellenbosch, as I had heard the name thrown around much more often, but Franschhoek is like its cuter, smaller little sister and was an oasis in the mountains. Plus Franschhoek has a wine tram! Need I say more??

Cape Town (Days 10 – 14)

Bo Kaap Colors

Day ten was really just the journey from Franschhoek to Cape Town (we stopped in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins, and took a longer route along the coast which was so. worth. it).

Cape Town was incredible. We did so much — a walking tour of the city, climbed Table Mountain (it was so hard, but so worth it), explored Bo Kaap, ate at some amazing restaurants, went to the Waterfront, hung out in Company’s Gardens, shopped along Green Market Square, and had dinner in a Township. Cape Town was the first place we really had time to just wander and take everything day by day, and it was welcomed after the packed schedule we had leading up to it. It was the perfect, chilled end to an incredible trip.

Like it said, there’s no way to do absolutely everything, and there are some things not on this South Africa itinerary that others may not be willing to skip — we didn’t go shark diving because I don’t think after that I’d ever get in the water unless I was still in a cage. We didn’t to Addo or an Ostrich Park because we had seen so many elephants and ostriches along the way. But in the detailed posts I’ll explain where and how you can do these things and give as much information as I can!