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.
- 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.
- 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. I definitely left our second tour feeling like we would have seen more and covered much more ground in our quiet, quick little sedan.
- 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, it 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 what they know (though are more likely to be in the 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.
Other Safari tips:
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.
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.
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 where 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.
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.
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!