Going on an African Safari is an experience that features highly on almost everyone’s bucket lists. Most people cite it as a once in a lifetime experience- something that they’ll do when they win the lottery or when a rich relative kicks the bucket. However, getting out into The Bush doesn’t need to be expensive and it can be done independently on a budget.
On our trip to South Africa, we escaped Johannesburg for a few days and headed to Kruger National Park. Rather than going on an organised tour, we decided to do our own self-drive safari and it was easier to plan than you might think.
Due to the size of Kruger National Park, planning a safari there might seem overwhelming but there is no need to pay for a tour when you can do it yourself. Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with doing a self-drive. Plus, to make things easier for you, I’ve created this handy guide with everything you need to know!
These are the main steps you’ll need to take when planning your safari. You can use the following links to skip to each part easily!
- Hiring a car
- Getting to Kruger
- Accommodation: Choosing and booking camps
- Eating and Drinking
- Budget Breakdowns
- Hints and Tips
- Essentials to Pack
- Books to get you in the Mood!
Hiring a Car
Car hire in South Africa is extremely cheap and cheerful! You can pick up a car for as little as 250 ZAR ($20/£15) which is great if you’re on a budget. We drove around in Veeran’s family’s sedan however, I did wish we had a bit more height. For that reason, I recommend getting a 4WD if it’s within your budget. You’re not necessarily going to need it since the roads are well maintained, but the extra height will help you spot more wildlife.
Getting to Kruger
Kruger is easily accessible from both Durban and Johannesburg so I’d recommend pinning it somewhere between these two cities in your South Africa itinerary. If you’re doing a multi-country trip, you could put it between Durban and Mozambique!
Even if you’re planning to base yourself around Cape Town, it is possible to fly into Kruger Airport and hire a car from there. Flights cost around 2,300 ZAR (£130/$175) with a stop over in Johannesburg. It’s expensive but will save you hours of driving. There’s also one direct flight a day which will cost you much more. Have a look at kiwi.com for up to date flight prices.
Accommodation: Choosing and Booking Camps
Kruger is full of camp sites which have all the coffee shops, gift shops and restaurants you’ll ever need. Depending on your budget, you can stay in self-catering cottages, safari huts or even just pitch a tent. Some don’t have personal kitchens but there are always shared kitchen areas where you can prepare your own food (and of course, have a South African braai!)
Bear in mind, that you’ll constantly be driving less than 50km/h- much slower if you’re on dirt roads or trying to spot game. For this reason, I would recommend booking camps close together and not trying to cover too much ground in one day. It might be nice to even stay at the same camp for a few consecutive days and see that area in depth.
We drove to Kruger via Malelane Gate and stayed at Berg-en Dal, Pretoriouskop and Skukuza. The drive between each camp wasn’t too far, so we had no problem moving between each place. We exited the park from Paul Kruger Gate on our final night. This is a great itinerary if you’re coming in from Johannesburg and driving home through Mpumalanga like we did.
Eating and Drinking
Every camp has its own restaurant- a lot of which have beautiful seating areas, perfect for spotting birds and wildlife. I recommend eating at a restaurant at least once or twice on your trip. For South African standards, these restaurants might be considered expensive but, by western standards, they’re a steal! All the food we tried was of a high standard. And, being in South Africa, the wine wasn’t bad either!
Aside from a couple of nice meals, I’d recommend bringing your own food and cooking for yourself. Regardless of whether you stay in a cottage with a fully equipped kitchen, or use the shared kitchens provided, the cooking facilities are sufficient enough. I was glad to have something filling and nutritious after a long day out spotting wildlife.
I’d also recommend bringing ingredients for quick, simple meals. We brought basic breakfast things like bread, eggs, cereal, tea, coffee and long-life milk. For dinners, we made stir fries, quick veggie curries, pasta dishes and salads.
Plus, since you’re in South Africa, you can’t forget your braai goodies! There are places to braai everywhere and a huge meat feast is most people’s meal of choice after a game drive. (We only had one once because I’m not a huge braai fan- sorry Vee!)
As for alcohol, you really can’t go wrong with a box of wine! Wine in South Africa is great value for money and the boxes aren’t bad at all. I don’t usually drink boxed wine but I was pleasantly surprised. Plus, it was nice not to have glass bottles clinking around in the car, scaring all the wildlife away.
Here’s a look at how much you can expect to pay for things in Kruger.
Disclaimer: These are the average prices which are accurate, now, at the time of writing. Currency conversions are, of course, subject to change.
Hiring a Car
Car Hire (Basic, small car): 250 ZAR ($20/£15) per day
Car Hire (Large, 4WD): 600 ZAR ($46/£35) per day
Litre of Petrol: 13 ZAR ($1/£0.77)
Litre of Diesel: 12 ZAR ($0.90/$0.72)
I’m not a driver but the world wide web tells me you’ll probably go through about 10 litres of petrol per day. This is obviously dependent on your car.
Fully equipped, self-catering, 2 person bungalow: 1310 ZAR ($100/£78)
2 person hut with shared kitchen: 1205 ZAR ($93/£72)
2 person safari tent with access to shared kitchen: 600 ZAR ($46/£36)
Camping spot with access to shared kitchen: 305 ZAR ($18/£24)
Eating and Drinking
In the Camp Restaurants:
Lunchtime Snack: 30 – 60 ZAR ($2.40-4.80/£1.80-3.60)
Dinner Main Course: 75 – 150 ZAR ($6-12/£4.50-£9)
Bottle of House Wine: 60 ZAR ($4.80/£3.60)
3 Days worth of Groceries between 2 People: 200 ZAR ($18/£12)
3 Litre Box of Wine: 120 ZAR ($8.50/£7)
Bottle of Amarula: 120 ZAR ($8.50/£7)
Per day for a South African: 76 ZAR ($6/£4.50)
Per day for a foreigner: 304 ZAR ($18/£24)
Wild Card (1 year free entry to every National Park in South Africa) for a South African: 500 ZAR ($39/£30)
Wild Card for a foreigner: 2210 ZAR ($131/£171)
Because I love doing my sums, I’ve worked this out for you and calculated what you can expect to pay in each price range.
Budget: camping in your own tent, preparing your own food and hiring a small car = 1355 ZAR ($105/£80) per day between 2 people.
Mid-range: staying in a safari tent, driving a 4WD and mainly preparing your own food, with a few meals out = 2128 ZAR ($175/£135) per day between 2 people.
Luxury: staying in a fully equipped bungalow, eating out at every meal and driving a 4WD = 3250 ZAR ($250/£195) per day between 2 people.
Obviously, if you manage to get two or three more people to tag along, you can cut down on car hire costs and save money by sharing accommodation, too. There are lots of family sized cottages which would be economical to share between 4 or 5 people.
A Kruger safari doesn’t need to be expensive if you bare bone it. After all, you’re there for the wild life, rather than the frills! But if you do want luxury, doing it yourself is still much better value than going on an organised safari which can cost thousands of pounds!
Hints and Tips
- The park is open between 6am and 6pm every day. The rest of the time, you must stay in your camp.
- The earlier you get up, the better since most predators are nocturnal. Sunset is also a great time for spotting wildlife.
- Most people tend to drive early in the morning, take a long lunch break and then drive again in the late afternoon.
- Most camps also offer early morning drives and night drives out with the usual park opening hours. I recommend doing at least one while you’re there. They’re reasonably priced and cost between 250 ZAR ($20/£15) and 350 ZAR ($27/£21) per person for a 2-3 hour drive. Your chances of seeing wildlife are much higher at these times and you’ll have the added advantage of a trained guide.
- If you want to splash out on one thing, I’d make it a 4WD. Kruger National Park has really lush vegetation and you’ll be happy to have the extra height when trying to spot the elusive leopard!
- Stock up on groceries outside Kruger National Park. There are supermarkets in the towns of Malalane and Nelspruit which are both close by and en route from Johannesburg. You can get things inside the park but the selection isn’t always great and prices are inflated.
- Kruger is well equipped. You’ll find everything- petrol stations, ATMs and even swimming pools. It has it all so don’t think you’ll be deprived of much. I didn’t love this aspect of Kruger but the camps really are like their own city which is handy.
- When you’re in the park, use the wildlife spotting board to see where other people have spotted animals over the past two days. You can use this to decide where you want to drive to. There’s also an app called Latest Kruger Sightings that you can use on the move!
- If you want to upload photos of rhinos to social media, please don’t use any geotags. Rhino poaching is a huge problem in South Africa. Heartbreakingly, a rhino was killed by poachers while we were in the park. Even sadder is the fact that this happens on an almost bi-daily basis.
- Kruger’s mosquitos are vicious and, unlike other parts of South Africa, the park has a high malaria risk. Speak to your doctor before you go and bring some anti-malaria tablets. At night, make sure you’re fully covered and don’t scrimp on the mosquito repellent!
- I don’t leave the country without travel insurance, and neither should you. World Nomads is the most comprehensive policy money can buy.
- You might never see these animals in your life so, if you can, bring a DSLR and an extra long lens.
- Be patient and remember that nature is completely unpredictable. If you want to see the Big 5, you’ll need to go slow and keep your eyes open.
- And, last but not least, for the love of God, don’t get out of your car in the middle of the park!
Essential Things to Pack for your Safari
These are a few of the things that will come in handy on your safari. You can click on any of the images or text links below to buy these items!
If you want those perfect wildlife shots, you’ll need a long lens! I never had one for my Sony A6000 but I wish I did. These are the best entry level zoom lenses for Canon and Nikon cameras.
Binoculars are a must for spotting wildlife and something I recommend you buy before you go.
Mozzies in Kruger are vicious so invest in a good quality, ALL NATURAL mosquito repellent.
Whether or not you’re camping, a head torch always comes in handy for something!
Since Kruger is warm most of the year, you’ll need a cooler box for lunches on the move. Bring a foldable one that won’t take up a lot of space in your luggage.
If you want to start planning your route before you go, it’s best to get an in-depth travel map like this one.
Books to read before you go!
Veeran always gets annoyed at me for not caring about birds but you’ll see some amazing ones on safari. The lilac breasted roller is my favourite. Use this book to help you pick it out from the rest.
Kruger is brimming with wildlife- there are a lot more animals than just the big 5! We were glad to have ours when we came across a rare type of buck.
The Lonely Planet South Africa came in very handy for us when we were travelling around the country but it also has a lot of information about the camps in Kruger National Park, too. If you’re planning a trip through Mpumalanga afterwards, you’ll find a lot of great travel tips here as well!
If you’re looking for some fiction to get you in the mood, Mr Saffa himself (Veeran), tells me that this is the book of choice!
So, there you have it! I hope this guide has shown you how simple it is to book your own self-drive safari in South Africa. In a National Park like Kruger that’s so well beaten, there really is no need to spend all your money on a tour.
If you’re about to go on safari and there’s anything you want to know, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Let me know, is going on an African safari on your bucket list?
Pin it for Later!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As always, I only link to products that I would recommend and use myself. All thoughts and opinions are my own.