Where to find the Big Five - The Ultimate Guide to Wildlife Safari in South Africa
South Africa is one of the best places to explore wildlife and get close to lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalos. Are you ready to get face to face with the big five?
I couldn't wait to write this blog post for you!! Since I was a kid I was always dreaming of doing a safari in Africa. I pictured myself sitting on a open vehicle with a straw hat and wearing something beige while watching lions. And honestly, I have no idea why I waited so long for it. Two month ago I decided to stop just dreaming about it and fulfilled myself a lifelong dream.
I flew to Johannesburg and planned a one-month trip to Limpopo area with a visit to the world-famous Kruger National Park.
I spent my nights in game lodges in the African bush and my days on safari tours, finding the big five and explore the natural wonders of South Africa.
So... how was it you're asking? Two words: Absolutely amazing. I got addicted seeing wild animals, every day. It's never enough, witnessing those beautiful creatures in their natural habitat was one of the most fascinating travel experiences I ever had.
After sharing countless images of wild animals on Social Media, my readers kept emailing me with questions about how to do a safari tour in South Africa, where to stay and when to go...
I'm here to help you! And to inspire you to explore the beauty of South Africa and experience a country that is incredibly rich in wildlife and culture. This is a lifetime trip and once you're there, you surely can't stop thinking about coming back, because Africa is truly a magical place.
Where is a good location to do game drives and
safari tours in South Africa?
The Kruger National Park itself is the largest game reserve in Africa with over 150 species of birds, 100 reptiles and 148 mammals. You can't miss the park, keep reading, I'll tell and show you more later of that.
There are countless private game reserves and safari camps to choose from, all kinds of lodges from budget to luxury. Some of the most popular game reserves are Sabi Sand, Thornybush, Timbavati, Makalali, Manyeleti, and Balule. You can't go wrong with any of these.
Here is a more detailed map to get an overview of all game reserves around Limpopo.
How to get there?
From Johannesburg, the easiest would be via direct flight to Hoedspruit Airport. Only South African Express serves this route. Flights tend to be pricey, better book in advance and be flexible with dates.
I recommend Skypicker to find the cheapest airfares.
The cheaper alternative is taking a shuttle bus from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. More info at Ashtons Kruger Shuttle. I took the shuttle twice and recommend them, they're fast, comfortable, and reliable. A one way ticket cost R750 ($63).
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What are the Big Five
...and what other animals can you see in South Africa?
In case you haven't heard of that expression, the Big Five stands for Africa's most dangerous animals to hunt on food. The big five are the elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, and leopard. Aside from that there is so much more to see on a wildlife safari: zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, antelopes, cheetahs, wild dogs, baboons, warthogs, turtoises, birds... and so many other wildlife species are as interesting and beautiful as the big five too.
Personally, I adore all the big cats, I'm fascinated with leopards, lions and cheetahs. I could watch them for hours, such majestic animals with interesting characteristics. And well, their cubs are just the cutest little things on earth.
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Where to find
game lodges to stay?
I highly recommend to book online, you don't want to get there and search around, distances are long and you need a car to get from one place to another. The advantage of online booking is that most game lodges will arrange a pick up for you, either from Hoedpruit Airport or from the center of the town.
Agoda.com is my number one resource to find inexpensive accommodation online, they have a wide choice of hotels and lodges near Kruger National Park. If you click on that link, scroll down, you see an overview of all the game reserves and top areas to stay near and around the Kruger National Park.
So where did I end up staying?
I stayed at Masodini Game Lodge and it was brilliant. The lodge is in a 40,000 hectar game reserve called Balule. It's connected with Kruger National Park and a great place to stay if you plan visiting the park.
I did two game drives with Masodini and both of them were great. They also offer bush walks and guided or self-guided tours to the Kruger National Park.
The lodge is budget friendly, the bungalows are clean and basic with kettle, cookies, coffee and tea. Three delicious meals were provided every day. The dinner was served next
to the fire, all guests ate together at one big table. It's a small game lodge with a family atmosphere and I really have to praise to kitchen staff, they prepared wonderful meals every
If you like to stay at the lodge, here are the rates and availability.
Last but not least, here a few images of Masodini Game Lodge... click on the photos for a bigger view.
Where to book a
Safari Tours in Africa are one of the most desired tourist activities at all. Everybody loves watching wild animals, even people who never thought of doing a safari, will quickly fall in love with the animals.
If you stay in one of the luxury resorts, the game drives are usually included in your room rate. This comes often for a hefty price tag, however you can always organize safari tours on your own. More on that later.
The amount of tour companies around Kruger Park area is overwhelming, it's hard to decide with who to go. I was fortunate to meet Claudia Schnell, an energetic German woman who fell in love with South Africa a decade ago and decided to stay.
Nowadays, Claudia runs a fine selection of extraordinary safari tours in South Africa. I spent an entire week with Claudia which turned out to be an unforgettable adventure. The first time I saw lions, rhinos, giraffes, wild dogs and so many more animals...
Claudia is not only an expert in safari guiding, she's also a rancher and has an incredible ability to track animals. She's offering all kinds of customized safari tours and packages for your individual interests and budget. If you love yoga and pilates, check out her Body and Soul Safari, a tour with daily exercises and power walks.
Claudia also organizes accommodation or just drive you around for a day at Kruger Park. More info
about her safari tours on her website Claudia Schnell Safari.
My week with Claudia was my highlight of South Africa, she and her partner are such fun people to
be around, it was like spending time with great friends. Here is a photo of us:
Is it possible to travel
South Africa on a budget?
Excellent question. South Africa is an inexpensive country, however wildlife and adventure activities are not that cheap. Safari packages and tours are often very pricey, not forget to mention the game lodges. That can quickly add up and turn your South Africa holidays into an expensive holiday. But... You can cut costs dramatically by doing safari tours by yourself...
Visit the massive Kruger National Park and do self-drive safaris.
I mentioned the Kruger National Park earlier in this article, and one thing is for sure: You can't miss it!
The park is abundant in wildlife and has all the big five. Guaranteed the cheapest way to experience wild cats, rhinos, elephants, buffalos and all other African animals including a wide range of birds.
If you don't have a car, just rent one. Rates starts from $20/day for a small car. Friends recommened me Bidwest Car Rental, they have many positive reviews online.
The iconic Kruger Park is without doubt one of the best places for wildlife viewing where you can discover wild animals at your own pace. The entrance fee is around $30 per day. You're only allowed to drive during the day, the park closes by 6 PM.
Please note, the park is huge, you can spend several days there. You can stay overnight at the park in simple bungalows, tents, or even luxury lodges. For more info head to the website of Kruger National Park.
Please make sure read the rules, there are many dangerous animals in the park! Under no circumstances you should leave your car or open the door (unless in designated areas). Here are the common rules and regulations of Kruger National Park.
When is the best time
to visit South Africa?
The region around Limpopo offers hot summers and dry winters. The sun is shining throughout the year and skies are mostly clear and blue.
The hottest time is from October to March with temperatures up to 40°C. The temperatures drop from April to September and most people prefer coming around this time.
The best time to go to South Africa is May to September, it's the dry season with blue skies and almost no rain. Wildlife is easier to spot because of less vegetation in winter.
The coldest time is June, July, and August. It can get very chilly at night and in the morning. If you're a person like me (who is always freezing!), better skip these months!
Do I need medical precautions
before going to South Africa?
Visit your doctor six to eight weeks before departure and check if your standard vaccinations are still up to date (Cholera, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Tetanus, Typhoid). Other than that, you don't need any other vaccinations unless you're coming from a yellow-fever infected area.
Malaria is a fatal disease, transmitted by the biting of mosquitos. There is no vaccination against Malaria, prophylaxis is highly recommended. There is malaria risk in Limpopo region and at Kruger National Park.
I have to admit I did not take any pills to prevent Malaria. Speak with your doctor and decide for yourself. Instead of taking pills I decided to prevent as much as possible, by wearing long pants always, I covered most of my skin in the evening, used mosquito repellent and slept under a net.
Going in the colder season (from May - August) can also reduce the risk of getting Malaria.
should I bring?
Bring a hat, sunglasses, sun blocker, mosquito repellent and malaria prophylaxis tablets. Most of these things you can also buy in South Africa, don't worry if you can't find them all at home.
Bring a great camera with an enormous zoom! Seriously, I deeply regretted that I did not buy another zoom lens. I highly recommend to bring at least a 300mm lens, the more the better,
you'll get so many more details from the animals.
Are you ready
for an unforgettable safari experience?
I hope you enjoyed my blog post and my photos from my safari trips. I would love to hear your opinions! If you went on safaris in South Africa, please help fellow readers and tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
I wish you all happy and safe travels! And who knows, maybe we'll do a safari together next time...?! I can't wait to see the big cats again...
Thank you for reading.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sabrina Iovino is the founder of JustOneWayTicket.com. She's half German, half Italian and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe. She feels weird to write about herself in the third person, so she'll switch now. Phew...much better! Let's restart:
Hi, I'm Sab! This is my blog and I write about the things I love. Mostly.
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