Admit it: When you hear someone say they’ve been to South Africa, the first thing that pops into your head are images of animals, rugged landscapes, and everything “wild”. While there is so much to see and do besides the safaris, no first-time visit to South Africa is complete without experiencing the bush.
Arranging a safari trip can be quite intimidating. How do I get to Kruger? Should I even include it in our itinerary given that we have very limited time? Which safari should we go to? Where do we stay? How many days is enough? Will it be safe to do it on our own or should we book with a tour operator? What exactly is a game drive? I researched A LOT before I finally decided on how we would do it.
I initially considered doing a land trip, but found out that getting to Kruger takes around two days of non-stop driving from Cape Town. We only had seven full days to cover the basics, so taking the road was out of the question. We ended up taking a two and a half hour direct flight from Cape Town to Nelspruit via South African Airways, the country’s national flag carrier and largest airline.
Where We Stayed
Visitors typically choose between public rest camps in the Kruger National Park or private game lodges, which are part of the greater Kruger area. Public rest camps have more affordable, less luxurious, and self-catering accommodation. This basically means that no food or drink is included; you’ll have to go to the nearby restaurants or cook for yourself. Game drives aren’t included either, so visitors normally bring their own cars and drive themselves around. Public rest camps usually offer different sorts of game drives conducted by professional rangers, so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about if you have no car or experience in tracking animals.
Private game lodges, on the other hand, are MORE pricey and posh. The thousands of dollars charged by these luxurious lodges are all-inclusive of food, drinks, tours, and excursions. Vehicles can also drive off-road while tracking animals; hence game viewing tends to be more intimate and up close.
My family and I stayed at Casterbridge Hollow for two nights. It’s a modern boutique hotel that’s a 15-minute drive from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. I ended up choosing this hotel because the lodges I looked at were either unavailable or out of our budget, and staying at a self-catering rest camp isn’t exactly my parents’ cup of tea. If a trip to the safari is included in your South African itinerary, I strongly suggest booking your accommodation at least six months ahead.
Located a short 40-minute drive from Kruger National Park, staying at Casterbridge meant we weren’t able to hear the lions roar at night, nor witness elephants right outside our rooms, but we absolutely have no regrets staying at Casterbridge. The management was warm and the service was friendly from start to finish. Laurinda, one of the managers, was very easy to coordinate with; she helped me arrange our game drive, and made sure all of our needs were taken cared of.
The place isn’t that big, but it has complete amenities such as restaurants, shops, spas, and even an art gallery. The rooms are modern, spacious, cozy, and have balconies overseeing the pool and garden. The food and ambiance at the Magnolia Restaurant was wonderful too! There was enough variety in their menu, and serving size was generous. Oh, I’m actually missing their jams and cheeses as I’m writing this!
Our Safari Trip!
We joined Hylton Ross for a private Sunset Safari for day 1 and a Full Day Game Drive for day 2 at Kruger National Park. Below are the basic details for each drive:
Cost: R1, 385.00/$100.00/P4, 700.00 per person
Duration: 3 to 4 hours depending on time of sunset
Departure time: 3:30 pm (pick-up from hotel)
Vehicle: 10-seater open safari vehicle
Entrance Fee: Included
Meals: Not included
Full Day Game Drive
Cost: R1, 500.00/$110.00/P5, 100.00 per person
Duration: 10 hours
Departure time: 4:45 am (pick-up from hotel)
Vehicle: 10-seater open safari vehicle
Entrance Fee: Included
Meals: Not included; Breakfast packed by our hotel.
We had a different ranger for each drive, and both of them were prompt, knowledgeable, experienced, and had VERY quick eyes. We wouldn’t have seen half of the things we saw if we went on our own.
Now that I have laid out all the basic information, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the rest of this photo filled post!
Riding in an open vehicle definitely made the whole experience more “legit”. There was nothing standing between me and the wilderness, sounds were clearer, and taking photos was easier. We had the comforts of water, food, binoculars, and blankets inside the vehicle. For a moment I thought I was working for National Geographic Channel.
The guide was telling us something along the lines of “The safari isn’t a zoo; the animals are wild, unpredictable, and untamed. Don’t put your hands out of the vehicle, and don’t get too close. If you have any questions, see anything interesting, or want to stop to take photos, just tell me”
I didn’t see a single Starbucks shop during my entire trip. I’m unsure why this is the case, but I certainly didn’t look for one, because South Africa seriously has the best coffee! I’m no coffee connoisseur, but I do know when my coffee is good–smooth on the tongue, flavorful with no acidic or burnt taste, and enjoyable even without milk or sugar.
I adore these waste bins! It makes recycling and segregating easier and faster. Yes, I’m that person who’s a little bit confused about the rules of biodegradable and non-biodegradable.
One common practice in the safari is that people share information about important sightings, so expect occasional traffic in some areas should you choose to go to a public game reserve.
I wasn’t able to witness a live killing, but hearing a mother impala give birth to her baby and seeing a dead rhino (killed by a pride of lions) was enough “action” for my first safari adventure.
Going on a safari is exciting; you never know what’s coming next! Seeing the Big Five—the five most dangerous animals to hunt—is an added bonus. And experiencing nature in its rawest is a once in a lifetime privilege I will never forget. Thank you, President Paul Kruger for protecting the wild and to my parents for allowing me to admire this side of the world. I’ll surely be back!