An African safari adventure tops the list of many as the “once-in-a-lifetime” activity and with safari holiday packages costing anywhere from a few thousand dollars to the tens of thousands of dollars, it’s an activity to be carefully curated to ensure you have the best possible experience. Here how I spent four days at South Africa‘s famed Kruger National Park with Kruger Wildlife Safaris for an unforgettable African safari on a budget and memories that lasts a lifetime!
The very first mentions of Africa immediately conjures up images of scenic landscapes, spectacular wildlife, and the one activity that combines it all, a safari. The word “safari” means journey, and what more appropriate ways are there to explore the beautiful, rugged African landscape but through a journey and epic hunt for the infamous Big Five and guess what? South Africa consistently ranks as one of the best destinations for a safari holiday!
African Safari on a Budget in South Africa
South Africa is home to the world-famous Kruger National Park – the whole of the park is equivalent to the size of the countries of Israel or Belgium – depending on which ones you want to compare it to. With that much space for the wildlife to roam about, you can bet there are quality and diverse game to be found so multiple visits are more than encouraged!
Ranging anywhere from $100/night to $17,000/night (per person), there are different safari package options available to suit different budgets, experiences and travel style. For those who wants something more adventurous in their African safari on a budget itinerary, camping is a safe, exciting way to experience sleeping under the stars and enjoying the sound of wildlife nearby. For those who crave more privacy and prefer private washroom/bathing facilities, or travelling as a family, chalets and private camps are also an option.
Read More: South Africa’s Garden Route Itinerary.
For my recent trip, I booked my safari directly with a company called Kruger Wildlife Safaris which not only had great reviews but delivered a memorable, epic South African safari experience on a budget. As a solo traveller, going on these hoidays can be expensive and I was keen to not skimp on the experience without having to pay an arm and a leg!
How Much does this African safari on a budget costs?
As much as you want to skimp on sightseeing activities, splurging on a more expensive accommodation – don’t. If there’s anywhere you want to spend a little bit more on especially to get those picture-perfect shots and also the most memorable experience, this is it!
I gave a rough total of my Kruger Wildlife Safaris 4-days and 3-nights trip in my South Africa trip budget review – the total cost was around CAD$960 which may sound like a lot of money but definitely falls within the lower-end of the “price range” of a 4-day safari trip.
Here is my best estimates of the separate costs for this trip (the rates below are approximately the same as the 2016 conversion)
|Accommodation + Game Drives||$696 – I opted for the 4 days / 3 nights + Panorama Route Day Tour option which includes 2 nights in a tent and 1 night in an air-conditioned chalet (more expensive option) – the total cost for this “hybrid” option was R7925 (CAD$696). 6 game drives were included in this package (though I only went on 5): 1 sunset drive (with SANParks rangers), 3 morning drives, and 2 afternoon (~3-4PM)
This package included the Panorama Route Day trip which in 2016 was free of charge and in 2020 costs R795/CAD$70 (have to skip the final day of game drives).
|Flights & Transportation||$259 – Round-trip flight between Cape Town (CPT) to Johannesburg (JNB) on the budget South African airlines, FlySafair was R1,696 (CAD$149) and the round-trip transfer between Johannesburg to the Kruger National Park (6 hours each way) was R1280 (CAD$110)|
|Food and Drink||$0 – Breakfast and dinner are covered – lunch is not but I usually skipped lunch because I ended up sleeping during this time before the evening game drive|
|Total Days||4 – $240/day|
|Total Spent ($CAD)||$959 – this is skewed upwards – both my tent and chalet could have been split with another person (i.e. cheaper than going solo)|
Why Kruger Wildlife Safaris?
If you go through the reviews on tripadvisor, you will have come across someone named Elsabe, the lady who manages most (if not all) of the bookings. I received incredibly fast responses, and thorough information, which all served to increase my confidence that I was in good hands. I shared my concerns with her that I was travelling solo, and I wasn’t sure if booking a campsite or tent is the safest way to go, but she assured me that they are quite safe, and added that I could bring my own locks if I wanted to take extra precautions.
I was not too keen about the shared toilets/bathrooms so I asked her if she could customize a package for me, and she did so without incurring ridiculous charges. Overall, from the first email, organization, and payment arrangements, everything went well.
I opted for the 4 Day/3 Nights Combo Safari (Budget and Classic Combo) which was a slightly customized itinerary. The only differentiation is the accommodation, which was 2 nights in a budget tent and 1 night in a chalet. The accommodations are owned by SAN Parks (South Africa National Parks) so they are located inside the park, which is a HUGE boon as you don’t have to wake up too early in order to catch your first drive of the day. Plus staying inside the park just feels so much more authentic.
In case you are also wondering the benefit of staying inside the park vs. outside, know that there is at least 12km drive from the gates (where they do all the checks on the vehicles to prevent illegal poachers from smuggling things out) to our rest camp. Although there are multiple entry points to the park, imagine being stuck in a queue at the gate at 6AM just to get into the park, while everyone else has left, at exactly 6AM (when the park opens).
What’s included in the group tour package?
Morning, Afternoon and Sunset Game Drives
A total of 6 game drives were included in this package (though I only went on 5): 1 sunset drive (with SANParks rangers), 3 morning drives, and 2 afternoon (~3-4PM)
The price I paid included breakfast/snacks, dinner, game drives and transports within the park. There is also an optional sightseeing trip of the Panorama Route (full day tour) in Mpumalanga which covers the best stops on this famous South African sightseeing route including the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window and the glass elevator near the town of Graskop. At the time of writing, this day tour now costs R795 (CAD$70) – when I went in 2016, the tour was offered for free though 1) it was only a half-day trip and 2) you have to skip the last day morning game drive to make it back to the camp and airport on time.
In terms of value for money, I definitely feel this has been a great use of money. Safaris are typically more expensive, especially if you are picky about sharing toilets with strangers. After doing a lot of research, I would say this is one of the less expensive and more budget-friendly safaris out there.
The group size is also quite reasonable. On the day I arrived, I was joined by a family of 3 from India (Mom / Dad / Daughter) who practically adopted me since their daughter and myself are the same age, and 2 friends from Norway. As a group of 6, we bonded so quickly and became instant friends, lamenting when some of us leave. We got along so well that we spent one evening drinking the all you can drink wine from Outlook well into the night. We were such instant friends that it was hard to bond with the new groups that arrived several days later – we were our own little clique.
The Accommodation: The SANPark Tents and Chalets
In terms of the accommodation, I would say that the camps and tents are quite nice, if you are used to the outdoors, comfortable with shared toilets, and have done a bit of camping in your life. It’s bearable for me who did not meet the criteria of the 3 items above. The tents are spacious, and there is a fridge to store your food. The tent (not camping tent) has a fridge and electrical outlets.
The chalets, by camping standard, is luxurious! It was more than what I had expected – the rooms are equipped with an AC, fridge, fan, private bathrooms, lounge area and safes. I think if you are used to staying in hotels all your life (which is my case) and haven’t been outdoors very much, the chalets is a premium worth paying for.
The good news is that each chalet and tents are cleaned daily similar to housekeeping at hotels. This was a welcome surprise for me as I had not expected it at all!
In terms of safety, this is where I have a bit of feedback. I’ve never camped in my life, so I didn’t realize how dark dark it gets at night and at 5AM. I brought a flashlight, but even then, using my camera flashlight and my own flashlight, the light was barely enough to walk back to my tent. The camp site is located very close to the rest camp (Skukuza), quite literally outside of the rest camp, so if you are lucky enough to get one of those camp sites, you don’t even have to wake up too early. The chalets are slightly further, but at most, 5 minutes walk away.
You can actually see the chalets from the rest camp. The budget tents are the furthest – and this was where I felt incredibly uncomfortable because combine the dark night, distance (it can be anywhere fr 15-30 minutes walk) and the fact that it’s very easy to get lost, I felt that Kruger Wildlife Safaris could have gone a bit more out of their way to help drop me off at my tent, especially since there are not many people in the tents around me.
Meals and On-Site Chefs
Kruger Wildlife Safaris also has their own in-house chef, and he makes some incredible dinner for us to enjoy. From ostrich steak, lamb chops, and braai chicken with pap as well as traditional African dessert, each meal outdid the previous ones in the best ways possible.
Airport Transfers & Additional Transfer Options (Extra Cost)
Transfers from the airport is an additional fee, but worthwhile to arrange it with them as it will save you the hassle and headache trying to find someone to arrange a 6-hour transfer. In terms of the drive, you get 1 evening/night drive led by the SANParks Rangers (Only official SAN Parks Rangers are authorized to lead night drives), 3 morning drives, 2 evening drives, and optional excursions (Panoramic Route or Bush Walk) all of which can be booked once you arrive and are free of charge.
The Kruger Wildlife Safaris staff are incredibly accommodating, patient, helpful and go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. The owner, Peter is personally involved every evening, to arrange the next day’s activities and can help you take care of things. All the staff do multiple jobs, from leading the drives, cleaning the tables after dinner, and / or transferring you from the camp to your accommodation.
Overall for my first safari, Kruger Wildlife Safaris has delivered and exceeded my expectation. I would gladly book with them again in the future when I am back on another safari.
Is going on a safari in South Africa on your bucket list? Where would you go to do it? Share your suggestions with me in the comment below!
Where to Next?
- If you’re looking to explore all of South Africa, consider taking the BazBus – a hop-on-hop-off cross country bus!
- Here’s how much it costs to go to South Africa as a solo traveller
- Stay connected and get a SIM Card and consider taking rideshare like Uber/Bolt to get around
- Make time to in surf in Muizenberg; here are spots closer to Cape Town
- Don’t forget to plan a day for hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head!