Going on safari in Africa has been on my bucket list since forever. I always thought I would do my first one in Kenya or Tanzania, but after a deep research I decided that safari in South Africa is the best option for beginners. Planning a safari trip is quite a challenge itself; in fact, you need to ask yourself a lot of questions even before you start planning your itinerary. Which country is best for safari, should I do it alone or with an agency, how many days do I need, will I see all the animals, is safari dangerous and similar questions that probably brought you to my blog.
So, in this post I will try to respond to all basic questions (and also to the ones I received on my Instagram profile – thank you all very much 😊 ) and also give you some practical tips which will help you prepare for a safari in South Africa. By the way, if you know most of this stuff and you are here only to see my itinerary, just skip to the last paragraph where you will find all the details. 😉
What is a safari and how does it work?
Safari, also known as game drive is basically a tourist drive in national parks and reserves (usually in Africa) with a purpose to observe wild animals in their natural habitat. You have 2 safari options: you can do a self-drive, which is very popular in South Africa, or you can go on a guided tour with a local agency. Each of them has its own advantages:
- Self-drive safari is cheaper (by the way, no convertibles are allowed in the parks so keep this is mind when renting a car) and more time-flexible (you can go whenever for as long as you like).
- Organized safari has more advantages but is also more expensive. Special open top vehicles offer better viewing and photographing of the animals. You get experienced guide and tracker who spot animals you would never see if you were driving yourself and you get a lot of explanation about the wildlife, which is always great to hear.
I did both and if you have the chance, my advice to you is to do the same. There is no guarantee you will see more animals with either option, you just have to be lucky.
Why I chose safari in South Africa over other countries?
Honestly, I had no idea there were so many safari opportunities in Africa. Most first-timers usually choose between Kenya (Masai Mara game reserve), Tanzania (Serengeti national park) and South Africa (Kruger national park), however even these 3 countries offer so many parks that you can visit a different one each day of the year!
I chose South Africa for 3 reasons: 1. The easiest access (just one stop from Ljubljana to Johannesburg via Istanbul, and also the local transfers to Kruger park are very convenient), 2. Price performance (I wanted something special and South Africa offers most affordable “luxury” services), and 3. Time management (I didn’t want to spend more than 5 days for a safari, local transports included – in other countries this can be quite a challenge). If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same; South Africa is definitely the right choice for safari beginners. However, one day I’d like to visit Botswana where safaris are supposed to be even better but also more expensive.
Which animals do you want to see?
First of all, you need to prepare yourself to be disappointed, especially if you want to see the big five. Wild animals don’t care how much you paid for your game drive. However, if you do your homework properly (google for the perfect spots), there is a high chance you will spot your favorite beast. My priority were lions and luckily South Africa ranks quite high in spotting the King. And yay, I got lucky on the very first day! On the other hand, we saw so many giraffes, elephants, antelopes, zebras and impalas that soon no one cared about those “losers” anymore. 😊
How many safari days is enough?
I struggled with this question for quite a while and in the end, I booked 4 days (3 days in private game reserve and 1 day in Kruger). It all depends on what is your objective: if you only want to strike safari off your bucket list, then one day in South Africa is enough. You don’t even need to drive all the way to Kruger – just join one of organized day tours from Johannesburg (or rent your own car) where they take you to smaller parks. But if you want to feel the real pulse of the wilderness and hear the lions roaring at night while you sleep, then trust me, you will want to stay much longer. 3 full days is minimum, but if you can afford it, I’d go for 5 at least. When it comes to safari, each day is a new adventure. On the other hand, maybe you will want to skip a game drive or two to relax by the pool… and boy, time flies!
When is the best time to go on safari?
If you live in the northern hemisphere, keep in mind that your winter is Africa’s summer and vice versa. Winters in Africa are very dry which means low grass, less vegetation and greater chance to spot the animals. So, generally speaking the best time for an African safari is from June through October. But you should also know that it can get cold as ice in the mornings (temperatures can drop to zero Celsius!), so pack smart. My July experience was chilly but still wonderful.
Are game drives safe?
Just the thought of meeting wild beasts in (half) open vehicles makes you wonder “are safaris safe”? Well, the closest to the truth would be: safaris are safe as long as you follow the rules. First rule is to be careful in malaria areas, especially during African summer. The safest advice is to take pills prior to your visit to South Africa. There are practically no mosquitos there during winter, but better be safe than sorry, right? Second rule is to be careful on the roads if you are driving on your own. Highways are magnets for hijacks and robberies in South Africa, so I’d think twice before renting a car.
As far as safaris are concerned, the most important rule is to stay in your car at all times. Don’t open the windows, don’t stand up to draw attention, keep silent and don’t lean out of the vehicle. Beasts consider vehicles as an inedible pile of steel (not as 10 human stakes), however if you just as much as lean out, there is a high chance they will change their minds. You can read more about the tragic accident of Katherine Chappell here.
What to pack and what to wear on a safari?
VISA: First of all, make sure you check if you need visa for South Africa because you probably do. The procedure for Slovenians is quite fussy, as we need to handle everything through SA Embassy in Vienna, Austria. Visa for us costs 33 EUR per person and you can get it 1 month prior to your journey to SA. Plan carefully!
CLOTHES: More important than what to wear is how much to wear. From June to August you need to take warm clothes and dress in layers. A hat and gloves are strongly recommended, I shit you not. You actually don’t need to dress in khaki colors – in fact, avoid “military” camouflage clothing because it is forbidden in some African countries. Wear comfortable and try to stay neutral, although you don’t need to go shopping if you only have a violet jacket.
PACKING LIST: During the day it will get hot (but probably not too hot to take a swim in the pool), so a sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen is highly advisable. I probably don’t need to mention that you need some photo equipment (phones are for pussies only!) and a pair of binoculars never hurts. Make sure you have some extra battery, all chargers, as well as electrical adapters. At last but not the least, take a good mosquito repellant.
How much does safari cost?
A simple answer and quite close to the truth would be: safari can cost as much as you like.
CHEAPEST OPTION: As I said before, self-driving is the cheapest option (cost of your rented car + entrance fees to parks). Renting your own car also means you can sleep in cheaper rooms a bit farther from the parks, for example in Johannesburg, Hoedspruit or Graskop. If you don’t have an account on Booking.com you can get 15 € off by booking through this link. By the way, food in South Africa is fantastic and very reasonably priced (mostly cheaper than in Slovenia).
MID-RANGE OPTION: Book your safari through an agency in your own country, where they will take care of everything, including transfers. But even here you have a variety of choices – you can sleep in tents with shared bathrooms, or more luxury bungalows. Packages in Slovenia start from 2.500 € per person.
CLASSY OPTIONS: Classy doesn’t necessarily mean you will go broke after 3 days. You just need to set your daily budget and requested comfort, and then look for lodgings that fit into that plan. I advise you to check private game reserves for various reasons: they usually offer all-inclusive options, including 2 game drives per day and they are way more intimate compared to “mass tourism”. Personally, I couldn’t be happier with my choice – Vuyani Safari Lodge was amazing in all aspects. And by the way, after reading my review, the management offered 10% discount for all my readers!!! How cool is that?! 😊 (just drop me a line and I’ll hook you up with them!)
To sum up, these are the costs you need to consider when planning a safari in South Africa:
- Return flight ticket to Johannesburg: for me it was around 900 USD pp
- SA Visa: around 40 USD pp
- Local return flight to Hoedspruit or other local airports: around 300 USD pp
- Alternative road transport, arranged by your lodge: around 600 USD per vehicle
- Cheaper lodges, rooms or tents within 1-hour drive from Kruger: around 50 USD per night
- Sleeping in Kruger park: comfort options from 600 USD per night
- Sleeping in private game reserve: around 300 USD pp per night, all-inclusive
- Kruger park entrance fee (with self-driving): less than 20 USD pp
Safari in South Africa – my itinerary
When organizing a safari in South Africa I had the following priorities: comfort, safety and budget somewhere in the range of “Maldives”. Vuyani had it all. In the end, I planned 2 nights in Joburg, 4 days of safari and one day spent around Bryce river canyon and other national parks on the way back was a total winner.
DAY 1: We spent the first night in Joburg to adapt to the “Afrikaaner” spirit (although Slovenia is in the same time zone, but what the hell).
DAY 2 – 6: Next morning at 8 am we were picked up by a fantastic driver booked with Vuyani team. With this very knowledgeable and funny guy, the 5-hour drive went by really fast (with 2 short stops for snacks and coffee). We reached Vuyani Safari Lodge (the property is located in Moditlo private game reserve near Hoedspruit) at 2 pm – fast enough to catch the 4 pm game drive. And boy was I lucky! It was on THAT game drive when I saw a lion and a jaguar in a natural environment for the first time <3. We spent 3 days of game drives within the private game reserve and took one organized daytrip to Kruger national park. Amazing experience in all aspects!
DAY 7: On the way back to Johannesburg we took the scenic drive through Blyde River Canyon (also booked with Vuyani), which was a fantastic surprise. Go for it! Do it on your own or take a tour, you won’t regret it! The drive back (with several stops) took around 3 hours longer, so by the time we reached Jozi it was too late and too dark to do anything special. The next day we visited Lion & Safari park (also an amazing experienc) and took the evening flight back home. Check out the rest of the photos in my Facebook album.
And now I can’t wait to go back! 😉
So, how does everything sound to you? Are you ready to take that big step and book your first safari adventure? Have you been on a safari in South Africa and have something to share with us? Scroll down for questions and comments, I will be happy to read them!