What to Expect on Your First Safari in Kruger National Park
Who doesn’t have “doing a safari in Africa” on their bucket list? This girl sure did! I have always dreamt about doing a safari, since I was young. In fact, it was at the very TOP of my bucket list. However, this dream never seemed like a reality as I was always told safaris cost like 5 grand. WRONG!
If you’re not too high maintenance and don’t mind “roughing it” a little (and by roughing it I mean glamping), they can totally be affordable for most budgets!
As my friend CareBear Abroad and I would be in South Africa, we really wanted to visit Kruger National Park, the biggest safari park in South Africa!
Searching for a tour company can be extremely overwhelming because there are SO many tours in Kruger National Park. The one thing we did know is that we wanted a safari with a SMALL group size for a more personalised experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime-experience and we wanted it to be perfect!
We found a tour company called Africa Spear Safaris that offered small group safaris. It got great reviews and had a very reasonable price. Bingo! We chose the 4day/3night option with a pickup from Johannesburg.
I think I can speak for Carey as well and say this was one of the best experiences of our lives! NOTHING can compare with being in the wild in Africa on a safari!
Note: Please don’t go on a safari unless you have a nice zoom lens. I made the mistake and have literally no good pics to show from it. Thankfully, my travel partner Carebear Abroad was with me on this trip and she was able to supply most of the wildlife pics for this article (as marked). Thank you Carey!!! ♥
Kruger National Park Safari
So, What Exactly do you DO on a Safari?
This may sound stupid, but I have always wondered what you do all day on a safari. Well, I can tell you that you go out searching for animals on a game drive LITERALLY ALL DAY LONG!
Our mornings started at about 5am with a small pre-brekkie snack and coffee at 5:45am. I am so NOT a morning person and nothing can get me out of bed at 5am…except animals! I love animals to death. Maybe even more that people. Is that bad?
The first morning game drive starts at 6am sharp, prime time for large feline viewing! After brekkie, you embark on another game drive in the afternoon, followed by lunch and then a final late afternoon game drive.
Dinner usually commences at 7 or 8 and then it’s time to pass out. It was an exhausting schedule, but 100% worth it. The adrenaline and excitement kept us awake all day! That and coffee…lot’s of it!
The first night we had a BBQ dinner with choice of steak, chicken, or pork. It was really tasty and we were were even offered seconds!
We brought our own wine into the safari camps, which saved us money. I recommend stocking up if you plan to engage in consuming any alcohol (and I fully support this action ♥).
Does a Small Group Size Really Make a Difference?
OMG, HELL YES it does! Carey and I were accompanied by a lovely British family of 3, making a total of only 5 people in our vehicle. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this made! We were really able to bond with this family and now have some new friends in the UK!
As we were driving through Kruger, we saw so many other bigger safari vehicles jam packed with people. The people in the middle had a crappy view and couldn’t really get in position for great photos. I am SO glad we chose the smaller group as it made the experience so much more memorable!
Are you in Danger During a Safari?
A traditional safari vehicle is an open vehicle, meaning the sides and sometimes the top are fully open and exposed. The guide will explain to you on day one to avoid loud noises, sudden movements, or sticking any body part outside of the vehicle as wild animals can see this as a threat.
So really, you aren’t guaranteed full safety, but don’t let that deter you. Nothing is guaranteed in life. They take out 100’s of vehicles daily and the chance of something bad happening is slim. Just follow your guide’s precautions and you will be fine! The fear of a dangerous animal encounter is half the thrill! Trust me on this one.
What Kind of Close Animal Encounters Did We Experience?
Here is s quick clip straight from my iPhone that I put on IG, just to give you a little idea of what you will see…
Our first morning started out with a sunrise over the dewy/foggy land. Out of nowhere, the mysterious elephants appeared in the distance. It was so eerie and beautiful, it’s something I will never forget!
The scariest part was when one huge bull elephant came within 10 feet of our vehicle, stopped and stared us down for a good 5 seconds, and then went on his way. I’m not going to lie, I was trembling as I realised the power of this humungous being weighing a few tons. At any moment he could have charged and trampled us.
Photo by @CarebearAbroad
The most thrilling animal encounter came when we spotted a pack of lions and adorable (yet ferocious) baby cubs. There were about 4 lionesses and 6 cubs laying around being lazy.
We stayed for awhile until they started to get up and attempted to cross the street. At this point, there were about 15 other vehicles at this spot trying to get a better glimpse.
My favorite safari photo shot by @CarebearAbroad
We had a prime location on the road and the lions started to cross RIGHT beside our vehicle. They literally came within 2 inches of the car. At any point, they could have jumped up and mauled us to death and my heart was racing like I had never experienced before.
We were able to see the whole pack of lions cross with a front row seat! Our guide Dave said that in 30 years that was the second best lion encounter he has ever witnessed.
The thrill and adrenaline that runs through your veins when you’re up close and personal with a deadly wild animal is the most exciting thing I have ever experienced in my life. It’s something hard to explain and you would only understand once it happens to you! It gives me goosebumps just thinking of it.♥
What kind of animals do you see at Kruger National Park?
A shit ton! Here is a list of animals we saw:
- water bucks
What is the Big 5?
The coveted big 5 consists of the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard. This is why most people go on safaris, to see the prized big 5!
Photo by @CarebearAbroad
How Likely Are you to See the Big 5?
You are never guaranteed to see the Big 5 quite honestly. But I’d say you have a good chance in Kruger. We were lucky enough to see the big 5 twice! We actually saw the big 5 on one single game drive in the afternoon. It was incredible!
Photo by @CarebearAbroad
“Oh my God, oh my God, go back, go back…..leopard…in..tree”.
I could barely speak as I saw this beautiful creature lounging high up in the tree. The above photo is of the leopard I spotted with my own eyes after we were eagerly searching for the last of the Big 5 animals.
At one point I thought we might not get to see one as the leopard is the most elusive and difficult to spot out of all the Big 5. My crazy cat lady instincts kicked in big time and of course I would be the one to spot this gorgeous large cat. #catwhisperer ♥
What Should You Wear During a Safari?
We had our safari in August, which is technically their summer. Winter is their dry season, and we were told by our guide that August and September were the best months to visit Kruger National Park.
Anyway, winter in South Africa means frigid mornings and evenings and very hot afternoons. I would definitely recommend bringing a jacket, hat, gloves, wool socks. It was also a little windy when were were driving, adding to the cold.
We always brought a change of clothes for the afternoon as it got super hot. You will have time to change during lunch hour so keep that in mind! We were bundled up for winter in the mornings and evenings, and in tank tops and shorts in the afternoons.
You also want to keep in mind that you will want to wear something comfy as you will be sitting in a vehicle literally all day. I wore my gym pants/leggings every day and it worked out perfect. When it comes to safaris, comfort definitely wins over style!
Note: you definitely want to bring some bug spray and/or mosquito repellant bracelets for your safari. I didn’t want to take malaria pills due to the possible side effects (personal choice) so I made sure I covered myself from getting eaten alive. I used a combo of natural bug spray and bracelets. I also do NOT like Deet chemicals so I went with the natural alternatives which worked out excellent! I didn’t get ANY mosquito bites on my entire 4-day safari so I highly recommend the below products I used.
Is Kruger National Park too Touristy?
Yes and no. But for the most part no. Let me explain. At some points, especially with the lion viewings, there were way too may vehicles there than we would have liked. Our guide Dave informed us that there are even FaceBook group dedicated to spotting the big cats (lions and leopards). With real time updates, these vehicles were able to get to the scene very quickly. But half the fun of a safari is spotting the animals on your own! So I don’t get it.
Photo by @CarebearAbroad
On the other hand, the fact that there are daily vehicles cruising through the park, the animals are used to the noise of the engines. Therefore, they never get scared away and you can view them in their natural habitat! A huge plus! I would also assume they are less likely to attack humans due to this, but hey, that’s just my opinion.
What are the Accommodations Like?
Let me start by saying I am SO not a camper. It doesn’t mean i’m high maintenance. It just means I like electricity and NO bugs. So I knew this would be a challenge for me.
Have you heard of glamping? Welp, this was kinda like that and it ended up being not that bad! We were able to try out 3 different accommodation types on this safari.
1.Simple “tent cabin”: this was basically like a little hut with 2 beds, a fridge, and a small dresser, and thats about it! The communal bathrooms/showers were about a 50 meter walk from our place. It was scary at night and we were warned of possible monkeys and/or hyenas, so once it got dark, we decided to hold it until the morning.
2.Cabin with ensuite bathroom: this was definitely the best of the 3 and consisted of 3 single beds, a fridge, and in-house bathroom and shower. It also had the most space of the 3.
3. Cute little circular cabin: this was very similar to the first cabin, with the exception of a sink inside the room. It was very small and cramped so minimal luggage is recommended!
Note: most the cabins had only one or 2 outlets, so keep that in mind if you have a lot of electronics to charge. In the last cabin, there was only ONE outlet so we had to share, which really sucked seeing as we both had our phones, cameras, Gopro’s, and extra power banks to charge. We made it work, but barely!
I have been using the Jackery dual power bank for the past year and it was a total lifesaver on this trip! It has 2 USB ports to charge and it charged my iPhone and camera batteries at least 3 full charges each. This power bank is slightly heavier than I would like it to be, but it’s by far the BEST I’ve ever used and a must have for my travels.
*You also have the option to upgrade accommodations so make sure to check when booking your safari!
The Importance of a Great Safari Guide
Iv’e said this many times before: a tour guide can really make or break a tour! We got lucky with the BEST guide named Dave.
He had been a park ranger for 25+ years and his passion for it seeped through his skin. A plus was that he knew a bunch of secret spots for viewings and never let us down!
Photo by @CarebearAbroad
He was highly engaged with us and always made sure were were comfortable and having a good time. He had a soft demeanour and was the nicest guy! We miss you Dave!
He was constantly informing of us animal behaviours, pointing out each and every bird species, and telling us some crazy stories. If you happen to get a tour guide named Dave, please ask him about the elephant whisperer story! Pretty creepy!
Pros and Cons
- small group size (5 total)
- private transport all the way from Johannesburg
- our awesome guide Dave
- 3 game drives a day
- high chance of seeing the big 5 (we saw them twice!)
- BBQ dinner was great
- thrilling animal encounters
- accommodations were basic, but much better than sleeping in a zip-up tent!
- not many gluten free options (story of my life)
- not many food options in general
- lack of outlets (hey, this is supposed to be roughing it, isn’t it? Haha)
Note: I must mention one of the cons specifically was that the owner forgot about my gluten allergy (not cool). I was able to eat the BBQ, but the early morning snacks of muffins, etc I couldn’t eat so I was literally starving and hangry. On the other hand, Dave was awesome and went with me to a little shop and personally bought me some snacks to eat in the mornings, so it worked out. Forgetting about a food allergy is NOT something to take lightly because some people DIE from it. (My condition is not life or death, but some are…). So ya, I have had some bad luck with tour companies “forgetting” about my allergy and it seems to be happening more often. I would recommend double checking a few days before your tour to make sure they have note of it! It didn’t ruin my time or anything, but I had to mention it because I can’t just highlight all the good.
The Final Verdict
Overall, you must do a safari once in your life before you die. You just have to! It is one of the top 3 experiences of not just traveling, but of my life!
The thrill of findings these animals and then to have a close encounter is the most thrilling thing I have ever experienced. At some moments, I cried tears of joy because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I am so glad we chose to tour with Africa Spear Safaris on our first Kruger National Park Safari and I would 100% recommend them! This one goes down in the books! Thanks guys!♥
Note: Carey and I were guests of Africa Spear Safaris during our safari. My opinions, however, remain my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. This experience was AMAZING and I would highly recommend this company.
Full disclosure: the few Amazon products in this article are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission if you purchase these products, at no extra cost to you. This is what keeps the blog up and running so a special thank you for that! ♥
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