Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger was the best introduction to South Africa. It was the most anticipated, dreamed of part of the trip, and even with sky high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. This post is more of a photo diary, but you can find my tips for going on safari in Kruger here, and a cost breakdown here.

We arrived in Kruger around midday, and spent an hour getting settled in to our home for the next few days. Our tent had everything we needed – even a full-size refrigerator and a wardrobe! It was hot, so the fact that we were in separate twin beds was not as tragic as it could have been.
Kruger National Park Permanent Tent

kruger day one: Guided Drive

We left a few hours later for a sunset game drive, one of the two guided drives we went on. It was a perfect start to an incredible few days – we saw four of the Big Five on that drive alone! This experience was different (read: better) than our second guided tour. Here, we were in a smaller truck with just 5 other people, who were all experienced and knew so much about the animals we were seeing.

Lions in Kruger National Park

Highlights were going off road (I guess technically not allowed!), and seeing four sleepy lionesses semi stalking an impala. We also got up close and personal with an elephant at sunset, saw a group of rhino, and quite a few buffalo. We didn’t see a Leopard (spoiler alert: we never did!), but otherwise saw so much. It was actually quite overwhelming. I was living out a dream I’ve had for so long, and it was even better than I had imagined. It didn’t feel real – here I was, a few feet from a lion, an elephant, giraffe! I settled in, but the dream-like quality lasted the entire trip.

Lions in Kruger National ParkYawning lion in Kruger National ParkRhino in Kruger National Park Rhino in Kruger National ParkGame drive in Kruger National Park

kruger Day Two: Self Drives

The next morning we slept in (for Kruger) until 6:00 am. We decided to drive to the Lower Sabie camp, because the route from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie is one of the best in Kruger. We were alone with four giraffes, just meandering down the street, and an elephant that got so close we had to keep backing away. There was no one else on the road, and being alone with these animals was so cool and special. At one point when we were driving, I put on the song Africa, which I had always known I’d one day listen to while on safari, and maybe shed a tear or two at how incredible big and sprawling and beautiful everything was.

African elephant drinking water in Kruger National Park African elephantGiraffe in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National Park walking giraffe in Kruger National Park

We then came upon a huge group of cars, probably the largest we saw the whole time we were there. It took ages to figure out what everyone was looking at, but finally we spotted it. There was a dead impala that had been dragged up a tree. Everyone was camped out, waiting to see if the leopard who had done it would be back. We waited for two hours, but never spotted her. However, she was there, just under the tree. The woman in the car next to us saw her lift her head, look around at the commotion, and go back to sleep. It’s hard work being a leopard.

Dead impala in a tree in Kruger National Park

We made it to Lower Sabie around noon, where we had lunch, a nap, and read a bit. It was a good place to hang out because from the desk we could see hippo, buffalo, and crocodiles. We’d already had such a busy few days with only one of the past three nights sleeping in actual beds, and we were feeling it.

hippo, crocodile, and buffalo in Kruger National Park

can you spot the crocodile?

After a few hours of blissful relaxation, we headed back out for a final drive before returning to camp. We saw a few more lionesses, and millions (approximately) impala and zebra.

Impala in Kruger National ParkKudu in Kruger National ParkScratching baby monkey in Kruger National ParkMonkey family in Kruger National ParkImpala and lake in Kruger National Park Hornbill bird in Kruger National ParkZebra crossing Zebra in Kruger National ParkLionness in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

kruger day three: guided drive

The next morning we did a sunrise drive, meaning we had to be up at 4:30 for the 5:00 am start. This drive was less fruitful than the last one. The highlight was finding some baby hyenas, which were seriously cute. We also saw a rhino, some zebra, and an elephant, and some gorgeous landscapes.

Baby hyena in Kruger National Park Baby hyena in Kruger National ParkKissing impala in Kruger National Park fighting implala in Kruger National Park eating giraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park River

kruger day three: self drive

We got back to camp and drove around looking for cheetah and leopards on our way to Skakuza. We didn’t see any, but instead had a fully grown male lion walk down the road right near our car! It was incredible! His lady was waiting for him in the grass nearby.

Lion walking down road in Kruger National ParkLioness in grass in Kruger National Park
We had lunch there (the steakhouse is delicious), and then headed back out. As this was our last day we wanted to see absolutely everything we could. A fun thing about this area of the park is that there are three camps fairly close to each other, and you bump into the same people over and over. After only three days there were so many familiar faces and people to swap stories with – the couple camped next to us had a leopard and her cubs cross right in front of them!

giraffes in shadow in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrica elephant in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National Parkbathing buffalo in Kruger National Parkwalking rhino in Kruger National ParkJumping Rhino in Kruger National ParkStomping Rhino in Kruger National ParkKruger Road

As we drove back on our final safari, the sun was setting so beautifully and we put Africa back on and it was one of our best drives. We saw elephant and lions and a rhino playing around. I was so, so sad our time in Kruger was coming to an end, but so grateful we got to experience it. I’m happy we did this first, because for the end of the safari to also be the end to our trip might have been too much – at least this way I still had our Garden Route road trip, Franschhoek, and Cape Town to look forward to!

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!

Stopover Tour: 18 hours in Egypt

Anyone familiar with my 30 Before 30 knows I still have quite a few countries to visit before I reach my goal. South Africa had been #1 on my list for a while, so we decided to take advantage of the double bank holiday and go. And once we realized how easy it would be to have a stopover in Egypt, we couldn’t pass that up!

We decided to fly Egyptair from London to Cairo to Johannesburg, with an 18 hour stop over on our journey down. I was worried it would be too hectic after a redeye the night before, but luckily it ended up being AMAZING and so worth it. I cannot recommend a stopover in Cairo enough.

Before leaving we had booked in with Memphis Tours. We had what felt like the perfect Cairo itinerary. It fit everything in but didn’t feel rushed — ideal when you’ve only got a day. When we first arrived, I may or may not have cried a few happy tears – we were IN EGYPT!

I’d wanted to visit Cairo for years and years but kept worrying it was too dangerous. I wasn’t the only one, as tourism dropped considerably in the last few years. In 2010 about 15 million people visited Egypt; by 2016 that number was 5 million. It’s hit the economy quite hard as tourism accounted for 11% of GDP. Tourism is now steadily rising, which is good for everyone – the locals who work in the industry, but also for travellers, as Egypt isn’t a place anyone should miss. Personally, I felt completely, 100% safe during our time there.

Would I go with a guide again?

Other than one walking tour I did in 2010 in Barcelona, I’d never been an organized tour and was worried we’d miss the autonomy, or feel like the guide was an awkward third wheel. I am so happy to report that’s not at all what it felt like, and instead having Ahmed made the whole thing so much more meaningful. It also wasn’t too bad having someone there to force G to pose for pictures!

The Ministry regulates tour guide certifications, and  requires guides to pass licensing tests in Egyptian history, local museums, cultural attractions, and at least one foreign language. As we only had 18 hours, having someone with us who could explain the history behind everything was invaluable. It also allowed us to ask a lot of questions about life in Cairo, and in 18 hours we might not have gotten close enough to another local to get that insight.

Because we had such limited time (and knowledge), a guide was definitely the right choice for us. I’d feel comfortable without a guide, but in a place with such a rich history I could definitely see booking another tour when I go back to explore a different part of the country.

itinerary

1.  The Pyramids

I’m going to really show some ignorance here, but I thought it took hundreds of years to build the pyramids. Apparently it was more like 20 years for each one. The Giza pyramids were built by one ruler, then his son and grandson. Each was a bit smaller than the previous out of respect, and there are smaller pyramids that were built for wives and mothers. Because all the pyramids look the same from the inside, we went into one of the (free) smaller ones. As it was less popular, we had it all to ourselves! This was great because getting down was actually much more scary that I had imagined – it’s really narrow and really steep. It would have been easy to feel claustrophobic had it been more crowded.

2. The Sphynx

The Sphynx was erected  around 3000 BC for the pharaoh Khafra, who also built the second pyramid. The nose was carved off by a Sufi Muslim man who disapproved the of iconoclasm, and he was hanged for this offense.  Not much else is known, but wikipedia has some cool images of the Sphynx from the 1800s when it was still half buried in sand.

3. Camel Ride!

This was such a cool experience. I remember first learning about the ancient Egyptians in school, and I NEVER imagined that one day I’d be riding a camel through the Sahara to the Pyramids. And yet, there I was! On a surprisingly wobbly, tall camel, making our way through the desert. I was really into it.

4. Felucca

We had the boat to ourselves and cruised around the Nile for about 45 minutes. Again, 7 year old Kristen’s head would explode.

5. Shopping

The one part of the tour I didn’t love were the shops. They weren’t presented as shopping as much as we were told we’d be taken to see how Papyrus was made, and after the demonstration it was incredibly clear we were then meant to buy something. The shopkeeper followed us around, and once we made our choice (around £30), was clearly angry we hadn’t spent more. The guy at the next store was less aggressive, but it still felt like we were completely obligated to make a purchase. This part of the tour was optional, so after the second shop we just opted out.  I understand tourism is suffering, so tried not to be too put off by the aggressive expectation that we drop some serious cash.

6. egyptian Museum

This museum was incredible! It housed SO many treasures, it would take days to go through everything. However, Ahmed knew exactly where the most important stuff was, and gave a thorough history of everything we saw. The highlight was King Tut’s tombs and the artefacts found inside. Did you know that Egyptian pharaohs were buried with everything? And I mean everything — beds, chairs, cats, cows, you name it, and it’s there.

7. Hotel

Do not book an 18 hour stop over without also booking a hotel. We didn’t but by pure luck our airline gave anyone with an 8 hour or more layover a free hotel room. Originally the plan was to land at 5:00 am, “do Cairo,” and depart at 23:30. Without the hotel that would have been terrible, and I’m so happy Egyptair saved us that experience. After our tour we were exhausted, so we had a shower and went down to our free buffet dinner, also provided by Egyptair (as well we breakfast and lunch, what!). We flew out that night for our next adventure: a safari in Kruger!

My first Egyptian excursion was wonderful, but not nearly long enough. I can’t wait to go back!

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!

How I got Italian Citizenship (and how you could too!)

Today is a year since I was notified my Italian citizenship application went through. I posted that it happened, but gave very little further detail. As it was a huge life moment, it’s beyond time I posted about how I became recognized Italian Citizen (and how potentially you could be too!).

I think perhaps the best way to start would be to go back to the beginning. It was 2010, I had just come back from studying in London, and was desperate to get back to Europe. It was my first time out of the country, and I had loved London, and my visits to France and Spain.

I did some research and quickly discovered I didn’t qualify for Irish citizenship, as my great grandmother was born there and it only allows you to go back to grandparent. (My mom, however, did qualify, and she’s in the process of applying as well!)

Then I looked into Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by blood) and lo and behold – there was no generational limit! There were some other requirements though—my qualifying ancestor couldn’t have renounced his Italian citizenship (aka become American) before the next person in my lineage was born—otherwise he wouldn’t have had the citizenship to pass down to his child, my great grandfather. Yes, that’s right—I qualify because my great-great grandparents were born in Italy. It’s a tenuous claim, but a legal one nonetheless. Other technicalities include a woman not being able to pass on citizenship prior to 1948, however this is never upheld in court, so if you fight that you’ll win.

My first step was getting my great great-grandfather’s immigration paperwork from USCIS/NARA. It took quite a while to come, and wasn’t cheap, but when it finally arrived I had confirmation that I qualified for citizenship—Giovanni (my great great grandfather) declared his intent to naturalize in his 70s, but died before he could ever finish the process. Either way, my great grandfather was born well before the declaration of intent, and therefore the citizenship was passed, unbeknownst to us, “by blood” right down to me, born almost 150 years later.

Another requirement to note that is your ancestor must have been born after Italy became a country, which didn’t happen until 1861. My great-great grandfather came a bit close to this date, but was born in 1866. Lucky me! I’m the first generation that can really go back so many generations—my parents great great grandparents were all born before Italy existed—which I think confused the man who runs the Italian consulate in Boston. The first time I called, he told me I didn’t qualify and couldn’t go that far back. It wasn’t my favorite conversation, but obviously all worked out.

After getting the naturalization paperwork and confirming I was eligible, I began collecting documents. Exactly what you need varies from consulate to consulate, but I applied in LA and needed:

  • My great, great grandfather’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandmother’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great, great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My father’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My mother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My parent’s marriage certificate – from MA
  • My birth certificate – from MA

After collecting everything, I needed to get all the certificates not from Italy Apostilled and translated into Italian. Not exactly cheap!

At my appointment with the LA consulate in December of 2014 I was accepted, paid my fee, and was told to expect to hear back five months later, in May of 2015.

Many, many months passed, and finally I heard back in May of 2016 that I was retroactively rejected. To be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised—I had a lot of errors in my application. My great grandfather was called Secondino Negrotti, Secondo Negrotti, and Andrew Negrotti on different documents. My great, great grandfather went by Giovanni, Joseph, and John. Dates didn’t match, spellings changed. But, I had expected to be denied back in 2014, meaning I could begin working on corrections. Instead two years went by and suddenly I was back at square one. Only worse, because I was halfway through year two of a long distance relationship and beyond ready to move to Europe.

I hired a lawyer to make the changes. The case was rejected, my lawyer took a few months off from responding to my emails, and finally on Christmas day, 2016, I heard she’d gone back to court and had success! I had the changes I needed and a much stronger case. I sent the court order to the LA consulate and on March 21st at around 3:00 am Spain time, I saw an email with the subject: ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP.

It had happened!

For anyone who is also thinking about applying for recognition of their Italian Citizenship, please see my tips and advice below.

  • As soon as you decide to start the process, step number one should be making the appointment at the consulate. These appointments are a year+ out at nearly every consulate, and it would be incredibly rare for it to take more than a year to gather everything (unless you need to make amendments, which can take a while).
  • The next step should be getting the naturalization paperwork, as this can take a few months. I ordered through both NARA and USCIS, as I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, and they both sent me copies of the same documents, however NARA was much faster and the copies were much, much clearer. So in my experience, they are the better option.
  • At the same time, you should reach out to to your ancestors’ comune in Italy. There is a template you can use on the Facebook page, in case you don’t speak any Italian. I used that and google translate, and had a fantastic time with my comune. They sent me multiple copies of everything after I had some paperwork destroyed, each time for free.
  • A huge and costly mistake I made was getting all my vital records from city hall in my hometown. These versions aren’t accepted–they need to come from the state records (most people use Vitalchek to order them, but it’s quite expensive).
  • You can only have records Apostilled in the states they are from, another mistake I made. Give this a few weeks, as if you’re mailing it in it can take quite a while.
  • Make sure you use a translator that is approved by your consulate.
  • For more information about how to obtain Italian citizenship, go to your local consulate’s website. Additionally, there is a Facebook group which is an amazing resource—I don’t know how anyone could DIY it without them.

Please note  that this was just my experience from the requirements in LA. In 2015 they made me produce all my non-linear records, which weren’t required in 2014, though they didn’t need to be translated or Apostilled and could come from city hall. But requirements vary massively from consulate to consulate, and can change from one month to another.

All in it cost me about 3,000 — the application fee is 300 euros, and the documents, Apostilles, and legal fees were about 2,700 more. If your case is easy, with few documents and no errors, it could come to much less. If you apply within Italy using a service, it’ll be at least 1,000 more. Though at the time spending the money was incredibly stressful and felt quite risky, looking back I feel confident saying it was the best 3,000 I’ve ever spent in my life!