Going on an African safari conjures up romantic visions such as this, yes?
But if you’ve never planned one before, it can feel completely overwhelming, and out of control expensive.
A lot of the pre-packaged tours are not for people like me. They range from $5,000-$20,000, and that doesn’t include the cost of actually getting to Africa. This is an interesting piece explaining the reasons behind the crazy high costs of safaris.
Before my trip to South Africa, I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But I was hell bent on going, and obsessively fantasizing about seeing my first giraffe in the wild. I was determined to make the numbers work.
Kruger National Park is basically like Yellowstone or any other national park in the United States. It’s enormous (7,000 square miles), has paved roads, and nine main gates that allow entrance to the different camps. If you’ve got oodles of cash, you’d stay outside the park in one of the private reserves where the posh lodges can be found. But if you’re a normal person, you stay at one or more of the camps in the park.
To get there, you fly from Cape Town or Johannesburg to an airport right outside of the park. Then rent a car. The park gates close at dusk, so if you get in after that time you must schedule a ranger to meet you and escort you to your camp. They basically don’t want dumb tourists driving around at night…probably more as an effort to protect the animals versus a legitimate threat of Americans being devoured by hungry hippos.
We began our stay at the Skukuza Rest camp, and made our way for the next week through the park by car and staying at the following camps (Satara, Olifants and Letaba). All the camps feel kind of the same in that the cabins usually have cement floors, beds, a bare kitchen, non descript but clean bathrooms and thatched roofs. Each camp has at least one restaurant, a general store, and sometimes a pool.
While the camps are by no means luxurious, they are totally comfortable. We were barely in our cabins anyway as we were usually out giraffe gawking. I will tell you, though, that the Olifants camp was incredible. Our view from our cabin looked out toward an incredible fertile valley.
The camps have terrific resources. While you can drive yourself around in the park during the day (we did see plenty of wildlife that way), the camps offer early morning and night drives in their big trucks with naturalists as guides. They know where the big game hang out, so it’s a good use of time. However, we often felt like the trucks were too noisy and didn’t make for a super pleasant wildlife viewing experience. Then again, I did see my first giraffe that way. OK, I’ll stop with the giraffes.
We really loved the camp-organized naturalist walks. Most people didn’t seem to take advantage of this offering so it was usually just me, my friend and two naturalists (and their big guns). It was great because they could tell us about the micro (insects, flora)…and the macro (elephants, buffalo, etc)…while we were out walking.
I am dying to go back on safari. I said this before and I’ll say it again. Going to Kruger was like summer camp meets Jurassic Park. Besides the aforementioned animals, we saw zebra, antelope, jaguar, wildebeest, lions, baboons, all sorts of other monkeys, and hundreds of other animals I can’t remember.
I felt so proud of myself too, because I was able to see these amazing creatures at a great value.